Now here is one attempt to make use of the time I spent at the University back in Cologne. To be completely honest, most of my courses in Business and Marketing seemed very theoretical and dealt with a world that either didn’t exist anymore or never existed at all. However, there were some bits and pieces that indeed helped me gain a better understanding of certain thought processes. One of them is Hofstede’s theory about “cultural dimensions”.

To learn about the background of the underlying studies and how the theory came up, the institute of Hofstede itself provides the best possible explanation. I’m a friend of keeping things to the point, so here is my brief definition: Hofstede’s theory deals with six different dimensions of human behaviour, that according to a culture are sometimes more, sometimes less distinctive. They give insights into certain biases people of a society can have, that in turns have an impact on how people react to products, marketing or even website appearances. Here is a definition of those six dimensions in my own words.

  1. Power Distance: The tendency by which people either like status symbols and authority, or find it mildy irritating.
  2. Individualism: The extent to which people need to find their own purpose, fulfill their own wishes, or put their family and friend before anything else, in comparison to more collective societies where one would make personal sacrifices in order for the whole country to advance.
  3. Masculinity: How much do people tend towards accepting “old-fashioned” rules?
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance: As an example, how much would the average person pay to be safe in a rather unlikely case of emergency?
  5. Long Term Orientation: Do people tend to have the distant future in mind or would they rather live in the moment?
  6. Indulgence: The degree to which people of one culture just enjoys themselves, whereas others would prefer to keep it low and find it unseemly to have too much fun.

Now for each country Hofstede tried to find out where it would be located within those dimensions. On a scale from 0 to 100 the institute`s numbers give you an indication about possible preferences of the people living there. The example below shows a comparison between the UK, Germany and Venezuela with regards to their level of indulgence. Germany has the lowest score, Venezuela seems to have mastered the concept of having fun, with the UK balancing it somewhere in the middle. While this might not come as a big surprise, I’d always prefer to have a hypothesis backed by real life numbers.

Implications for your Online Business

Of course, not every person is the same. An individual being raised in a certain culture, even though s/he might be influenced by any standards of their surroundings, still can show different behaviour from the norm. However, the chances are higher to find certain behavioural patterns in one location compared to another one. For your online business this could mean that you might have to:

  • …change the way you’re framing your product/service, including the main marketing message you want to deliver.
  • …alter your website UI in order to improve UX for the specific country.
  • …change promotions/incentives for user retention or attraction of new users.
  • …introduce new payment systems to make sure users feel safe, as well as insert different trust elements.

Depending on the product or service you’re offering a country might even lose its appeal once you’ve discovered that people would tend to use other solutions. In that case listening to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as a first step might save you money and time you’d otherwise waste if you enter the wrong market.