The purpose of this paper is to deliver a proper understanding about cross-cultural communications through comparison of two academic definitions of this complex process and analysis of the theories of barriers as well as factors in designing and implementing an intercultural communication.
The findings of this paper is that the barriers and factors of multicultural communications are performed in very different manners depending on different cultural background; they exist in perception of people in host cultures as well as in mindsets of people from home cultures; and more importantly, these barriers and factors can be diminished or developed respectively depending largely on attitude, ability and efforts of multinational companies.
Cross-cultural communications are defined similarly by the University of Pennsylvania (1989) and Samovar & Porter (1982) as a process of communications between people from differently cultural background. However, the two definitions are different in terms of the condition of this process . In terms of design and implementation of a successful cross-cultural communication, there are a number of barriers as well as factors. Barriers are objective such as cultural distance, difference in cultural dimensions and cultural sensitivity to creative communications; or subjective such as ethnocentrism and illusion of control. Accordingly, the objective factor is cultural diffusion; subjective factors are positive cross-cultural attitudes, cross-cultural training, and adaptation strategies. Further, these barriers and factors are mentioned in relation to McDonalds’ company and they can be found in other four samples summarized from academic articles.
1. Two definitions.
1.1 First definition .
“The process of communications across cultural boundaries” (University of Pennsylvania, 1989).
1.2 Second definition
“Intercultural communications entails the investigations of cultural and the difficulties of communicating across cultural boundaries. Intercultural communications occurs whenever a message produced in one culture must be processed in another culture” (Samovar & Porter, 1982).
The similarity of these two definitions is that cross-cultural communications are said to occur between different cultural groups (i.e. cultural boundaries) regardless the countries they live. For example, cross-cultural communications can be taken place between Chinese-Australians and Greek-Australian in Australia (i.e. in the same national market), between Chinese people from China to other countries (i.e. across market) and between Chinese and Americans (i.e. separate markets).
However, unlike the first definition, the second one plays more emphasis on difficulties of intercultural communications. On the perspective of marketing communication, this indication is more likely to close to the perception of marketers to whom the issue of communicating with people in diverse culture is seen as one of the greatest challenge in marketing communication (Ricks, 1998, cited in Kale, 1991). Secondly, whereas the fist definition just states the intercultural communication merely as a process, ignoring conditions when and how this complex process happens, Samovar and Porter (1982) point out that the interactive process between people from different cultural groups actually occurs when the message by senders in one culture is comprehended by people from another culture. In the marketing circumstance, cross-cultural communications occurs when a message from a seller from a culture is necessary in the process by buyer form another culture (Bush and Ingram, 1996, cited in Bush et al. 2001).
2. Barriers of cross-cultural communications
2.1 High level of ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism comes from the love for one’s own country resulting to reluctance to buy foreign products. Ethnocentrism is one of the elements of a framework for intercultural disposition (Gudykunst et al.1977, cited in Bush et al. 2001). However, unlike other elements of cross-cultural attitudes, high level of ethnocentrism is viewed as a barrier that multinational companies must overcome entering a new market. Hence, despite the high extent of global sales, McDonalds’ may encounter difficulties in promoting “fast-food” culture in Asian countries like China , Japan or Vietnam where traditional foods are a pride and integral of national cultural values.
Furthermore, ethnocentrism exists not only in consumers’ mindset and attitude towards foreign products but also in the perception of foreign entrepreneurs themselves. According to Gladstone (1998), there are a number of the US businesses are resistant sending their people abroad for international training because of the existence of ethnocentrism within the corporate culture.
Illusion of control
In process of marketing multicultural communications, this paper argues that the proper attitude and respect of transnational corporations towards cultural value of host countries are said to be much crucial to gain acceptance form local customers. According to Cummings (1994), the greatest barrier to cross-cultural communications is the illusion of control that is illustrated by a number of characters like impatience, arrogance or misconception that “the rest of the world is a slightly difference vision of ourselves). As Americans are thought to be egocentric or personal-oriented (Gladstone, 1998) or they are characterized by inherent biases of individualism, superiority that do not fit the nature of global thinking or cross-cultural thoughts (Barnett and Weathers, 1995 cited in Firos at al. 2002).
As a result, American-originated companies, including McDonalds’, inevitably face much negative reaction from customers in host markets. The negative biases against American businessmen’s’ low level of cultural adaptation can be seen even in European countries where there is low degree of schychic distance in comparison with the United Stated of America. For example, Americans executives are complained by their European counterparts as people who do not know how and when to eat and drink properly; or they do not know evething about European history; or simply address European counterparts by their first name (Barnett and Weathers, 1995 cited in Firos at al. 2002). Obviously, McDonalds’, like other US enterprises, essentially needs to set up cross-cultural communications that “stand guard against the delusion that such communication has already occurred” (Cummings, 1994).
Cultural distance is concerned with the extent of difference between the senders and the receivers in perceiving and interpreting messages (Samover at al. 1991). It means, the closer and more similar schychic distance in culture between two countries is, and the more similar their repertoire in communication is. Certainly, some cultures are said to possess more difficulties in cultural communications than others (Gladstone, 1998). That is, a Big Max product of McDonalds’ is obviously more culturally acceptable in Germany and in India as the USA and Germany are more similar in cultural values than the USA and Asian countries (Mueller, 1991).
Because of the cultural distance, McDonalds’ may save more money from a standardized advertising program in Western European countries that that from a localized advertising program in Asian countries as the overall usage of standardized messages was more workable for advertisement used between Western markets than for massage transferred between Western and Eastern markets (Meller, 1989).
Cultural sensitivity towards advertising
As advertising perception plays a significant role over consumers’ intention to resist the products (Chan et al, 2007), and as there is no opportunity for the seller to correct mistakes when advertising images are received from the buyers (Kale, 1991) any negligence of cultural values of advertising massages may lead to bad response from local audience. For example, foreign actors face linguistic boundaries in speaking Japanese on national television commercials because many Japanese people regard these gaijin tarento (foreign talent) as anomalies (Miller, 1995 cited in Martin, 2005). In order to avoid any unintentional abuse of cultural norms and values, multicultural companies need to a similar message is accepted in one culture but is unaccepted in another. For example, while high-context culture is more strait-laced about sexually intimate matters, low-context is more liberal towards sex theme (Shao & Hill, 1994 cited in Chan et al. 2007). Consequently, an advertising video clip on television using sex appeal is acceptable in US (e.g. low context culture) but it entirely is seen as a taboo in China or Vietnam (e.g. high-context culture).
Differences in the four cultural dimensions
Hofstede’s (1980) work on cultural differences in intercultural comparison in areas like management, social psychology, anthropology, sociology, marketing and communication (Albers, 1994 Kale, 1991 cited in An, 2006). Accordingly, four main cultural dimensions comprise power distance (i.e. social desire for hierarchy or egalitarianism), individualism (i.e. societal preference for a group or individual recognition); masculinity–femininity (i.e. gender role), and uncertainty avoidance. A lot of multicultural communication barriers between the seller and the buyer can be illuminated by differences in their position on these four cultural dimensions (Kale, 1991). For example, businesses operating in the South East Asia found that power distance structure of the society does not permit personal contact with any of the local authorities or the individualism-collectivism dischnomy’s influence on business communication is blamed for premature termination of the assignment (Gladstone, 1998).
3. Factors of cross-cultural communications
3.1 The diffusion of consumer culture
According to Solomon el al. (2007), global companies apparently benefit from increasing diffusion of consumer culture. Obviously, in today’s consumption market, consumers in every country worldwide are inclined to accept import product from other countries as they are willing to absorb any culture they like For example, consumers like using products of Coke, Pepsi or McDolads’ because these global corporations’ images gives them positive assurance, psychological reinforcement or social acceptance (Clow and Baak, 2007).
3.2 Positive cross-cultural attitudes
According to Bush et al. (2001) the success of cross-cultural communications is primarily attributed to intercultural disposition including following factors.
Empathy: Ability to understand and share with other’s thoughts, feeling and experience. It said that a person will be more likely to be multicultural effective in communication if he/she knows how to empathize with others (Cleveland et al. 1960, Ruben, 1976, cited in Bush et al. 2001)
Worldmindedness: Refers to extent of willingness to accept new ideas, new cultures. Consequently, the worldminded marketing people are thought to be in better position to build up a good relationship with a buyer from a new cultural group.
Attribution complexity: refers to accuracy in comprehending differences and similarities between one culture and another (Gudykunst et al.1977, cited in Busg et al. 2001).
Hence, these factors of positive cross-cultural communications are thought to make up communication competence that ensures the success of marketers in communications with culturally diverse customers from different cultural background.
3.3 Cross-cultural training
Cross-cultural training involves increasing the ability to communicate with people form differently cultural background (Gladstone, 1998). According to Tung (1979, cited in Gladstone, 1998), training for marketers working abroad involves language training, environmental briefings, and cultural specific training. In terms of corporation perspective, the cross-cultural training is easier to be implemented in corporations with lower level of perceived ethnocentrism and the opposite. As discussed in barrier section, intercultural training is significant for the global marketing communications of McDonalds’ due to following reasons.
McDonald’s is a typical American company and as Americans are globally thought to be egocentric and personal-oriented (Gladstone, 1998). That is, McDonalds’ executives as well as sale force staff are essentially need to be trained how to ease this negative biases to gain more favorable treatment for local stakeholders.
McDonalds’ has hundred thousand chains supplying fats food in absolutely culturally diverse countries. Obviously, sale force people without training can not handle their tasks successfully in their daily communications with customers.
3.4 Adaptation strategies
Consumers behave differently based on their different cultural background and they tend to highly appreciate marketing efforts that respect their cultural heritage (Solomon et al. 2007, p.433). Therefore, this paper argues that adaptation is primarily significant in cross-cultural communications as opposed to standardization as stated by Fatt (1967, cited in Mueller, 1989) arguing that clients may be satisfied with similarity of products and advertising messages.
Relationship building (i.e. marketing relationship) is supposedly very important in business-to-business communication and the way of this process performed is very specific depending on cultural differences of low-context or high-context nature; individualism or collectivism societies. For example, building relationship is known as “old mate” for New Zealand culture, Guanxi or friendship for Chinese, right connection for Indians (Zhu et al. 2005) or in Vietnam, people tend to get to know their counterparts as a person before setting down to business (Smith, 1996). Whereas messages are very explicit in a low-context societies (i.e. words contain most of information in communications) and managers tend to go straightforward to business discussion, in high-context societies like Asian countries “if you are not willing to take the time to sit down and have a cup of green tea, you have a problem” (Cateora, 2001 cited in Firoz et al.2002).
Therefore, although McDonalds’ engages in business-to-consumer market, the marketing cross-cultural communication application in relationship building is very crucial in establishing favorable relationship with other stakeholders – government, local communities, outlets owners and media.
Based on distinctive differences between collectivism and individualism cultures, advertising messages are said to be designed and presented in accordance with cultural values where messages are in existence. For example, in order to demonstrate effectively it’s slogan “I am lovin it” through visual advertising messages, this paper recommends that McDonalds’ may take advantages of individual images of celebrities to promote McDonals’ brand image in cultures that are characterized by individualism. In contrast, a visual message that displays a happy image of family enjoying themselves with Big Max is said to be very appropriate in a collectivism cultures.
4. Samples of cross-cultural communications
4.1 Successful adaptation story of the Canadian’s largest tobacco manufacturer (Davis and Dewhirst, 2005)
The Imperia Tobacco Limited (ITL) had been successful in their advertising campaign of launching new cigarette brand namely Prayers in Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province of Canada by keeping the balance between adaptation to the culturally specific market and retention of the product’s core identity. For example, models used in the advertising are required to look like Quebecois rather than those with features of Anglo/American people; on the other hand, image advertising represents a consistent brand image (e.g. youthful self-expression, independence and freedom).
This sample is illustrated for Factor 3.4 (i.e. adaptation strategies)
4.2 Successful Public Relation story of McDonalds’ in Thailand (Business Asia, 1998 cited in Fletcher and Brown, p.561, 2005)
After the Asian crisis in 1997, the government of Thailand launched a campaign urging consumers to “buy Thai, eat Thai”. Further, McDonald’s ‘golden arches’ was used in Thai TV as a sample to justify that buying foreign products compromises Thailand. McDonalds wisely responded to this boycott campaign by PR campaign promoting the ideal that its sales positively impact Thailand’s foreign exchange reverses instead of draining them indicating that up to 90% of a meal of McDonald’s contained local ingredients. Further, the advertising of next new product was based on Traditional Thai image. As the result, the sales quickly recovered for McDonalds’ products.
This sample is illustrated for Factor 3.3 (i.e. positive cross-cultural attitudes)
4.3 Unsuccessful story of poor communication adaptation of Indian Department of Tourism (Kale, 1991).
India’s failure in their campaign to publicize the tourism industry to Americans illustrates a poor application of Hofsted’s cultural dimension. Accordingly, characteristics of highly individualistic Americans’ culture such as autonomy, pleasure and variety were ignored in tour packages designed by Indian Department of Tourism. Consequently, only one per cent of all Americans going abroad for holiday visit India (Kale, 1991).
This sample is illustrated for barrier 2.5 (i.e.difference in four cultural dimentions)
4.4 Unsuccessful story of Toyota’s advertising mistake in China (Liu & Han, 2006)
The slogan of Toyota’s advertising campaign for new car Prado in China “you have to respect to Prado” in a picture where stone lions salute Toyota’s car has accused of insulating China history and sparked protection from Chinese people. The reason is that the images of Dragon along with Lion are historically sacred symbols of China and the use of these images by Toyota are regarded as a cultural taboo.
This sample is illustrated for Factor 2.4 (i.e. cultural sensitivity to advertisings)
Barriers and factors of cross-cultural communications are characterized as both objective and subjective. In order to be successful and avoid culturally unexpected mistakes in this process, multinational companies are said to understand profoundly objective barriers (e.g. cultural distance, differences in cultural dimensions and cultural sensitivity to creative communications); decrease bad effects of subjective barriers (ethnocentrism, illusion of control); and take advantages of factors (e.g. cultural diffusion, positive cross-cultural attitudes, cross-cultural training, and adaptation strategies).
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