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How Cultural Background Calls the Shots in Individual Responses

How Cultural Background Calls the Shots in Individual Responses

While there is more to us than our cultural background, the way we act, think and react to our environment is largely modelled by it. Of course, not all the people from a given group will behave in the same way, but certain generalisations can be made.

Marketers, especially those in highly diverse countries, should keep this in mind. Even when a campaign manages to transcend cultural barriers and the message is understood in the same way by all viewers, the response from people from different backgrounds is hardly identical.

Human communication always has two sides: the explicit and the implicit. The extent to which special focus will be placed on what is explicitly said or on what is being implied by other factors, namely body language, is determined by the individual’s cultural background.

But how exactly does culture influence communication? And what are the key aspects to look out for while developing a campaign that targets a specific group? But let’s get something straight first.

High context cultures vs. low context cultures

Defining culture is simple; it is a set of values shared by a group of people. What is not so simple, is when two people from different cultures interact. Aspects such as the role of both verbal and non-verbal communication, or the varying degrees of straightforwardness can be difficult to bridge.

The first step to tackle this issue is understanding the differences between the so-called high context and low context cultures. Asian, African, Latin American and Southern European cultures constitute the former, while North European and North American cultures comprise the latter.


In high context cultures, communication tends to be less straightforward, and the context can sometimes say more than words themselves. Intuition also plays an important role; given the lack of clarity in verbal communication, the receiver has to read the other person’s body language in order to get the full picture. Even silence is a legitimate means of communication.

The story is quite the opposite for low context cultures. Here, communication is completely straightforward and specific. Therefore, there is little or no room for misinterpretation. Body language is not necessarily neglected, but it does hold a less important role than in high context cultures. Instead, communication is largely driven by logic.

Which of these as the best way to communicate is a question with no answer; both have their positive and negative traits. What marketers should focus on is in understanding both kinds of cultures and finding ways to use them to their advantage.

How does this apply to marketing?

A successful multicultural marketing campaign will always be based on extensive research of its target groups. However, analysing the behaviour and habits of these two types of cultures can be slightly more complex than one might think.

 Low context cultures, for instance, are easier to learn from because all the information you need is quickly provided in the clearest ways possible. In high context cultures, on the other hand, a high degree of intuition is required to fully understand what is being conveyed.

Once the research stage of a campaign is over, marketers will have to decide whether they will try to develop a campaign that is able to speak to both cultures, or if they will instead create one campaign for each type of culture. Whichever the choice, the aim is to gain the same response from different-minded people.

In the case of people exposed to different cultural backgrounds from an early age, it can be difficult to put them into one marketing box, since their individual responses will, most likely, be influenced by both contexts. This should not be seen as negative, though; people with such upbringings might be equally responsive to both styles of communication.

It is not about what you say, but how you say it

How deeply an individual is defined by their cultural background is entirely relative, as it depends on one’s self consciousness as a member of a certain group, and the extent to which they adhere to its values.

But what is certain, is that our responses to the situations we encounter tend to be unconscious, given the fact that our culture is something we have been exposed to since birth, hence we recommend that brands do not take this for granted.

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