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'One size fits all' approach to global marketing a recipe for failure

Major global brands are at risk of failing to win new customers from Eastern countries because they don’t take into account key cultural differences when marketing their products, new research has found.

According to researchers from the London School of Economics and ESCP Europe Business School, some of the world’s most recognised brands fall into the trap of marketing their products in a global way, while ignoring cross-cultural differences in consumer psychology.

Dr Ben Voyer, a visiting fellow in the Department of Psychology at the LSE, says the psychology of consumers in the East is often vastly different to the West, leading to recurring market failures when new products are launched.

“Simple things such as how people perceive the colour white can make a huge difference. For example, people in Western cultures associate a white dress with purity, whereas in Eastern cultures white signifies death, so using the colour in advertising requires some sensitivity.”

Dr Voyer says Eastern cultures are less focused on the individual and value conformity, so any products which focus on being unique or ‘standing out from the crowd’ are less likely to succeed.

“The West and East respond to very different marketing strategies,” he says.

“When pitching products to the former, particularly luxury goods, the emphasis is very much on promoting products that show they are unique and different.

“Eastern consumers, on the other hand, value similarity and belonging to groups so they will be looking for products that reflect those values.

“Car advertising, for instance, should display a family enjoying being together in the vehicle. That is very different to the West, where the feeling of driving a special or unique car is the main draw card for customers.”

Dr Voyer says McDonald’s has struggled to understand the food culture in some Latin American countries, leading to its withdrawal of the Bolivian market in 2002, and Starbucks has been forced to adapt its café outlets in France and Italy to please its customers.

Dr Voyer and Dr Minas Kastanakis from ESCP Europe Business School’s London campus have had their findings published online in the Journal of Business Research.

The paper is available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0148296313001227 and will be featured in the journal’s April edition.

For more details contact Dr Voyer at b.voyer@lse.ac.uk or Candy Gibson, LSE Senior Press Officer, 020 7955 7440, or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

Additional notes

Dr Ben Voyer is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Marketing Professor at ESCP Europe Business School. He is a chartered psychologist and scientist and a researcher in applied psychology and marketing.

Dr Minas Kastanakis is Associate Professor of Marketing at ESCP Europe Business School. He teaches a range of marketing courses at a postgraduate level; conducts and publishes research on luxury and cross-cultural consumer psychology and consults companies on these issues

20 February 2014