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Understanding Cultural Marketing

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Modern marketing initiatives in todays consumer driven economies, are primarily based on information that tracks quantitative data sets including demographic details, consumer psychology, behaviour and taste. Marketers have used these types of analyses to great effect and have delivered substantial returns of investment for many shareholders while establishing various brands to iconic status in the marketplace. Yet it is becoming more and more obvious especially in small markets like the Caribbean that while traditional marketing tools are effective, it presents an incomplete picture of consumer behaviour and taste and most importantly the motivation behind a relationship with a product or service and the consumer. What is missing in this mix is the cultural or ethnographic perspective that has profound effects on consumer behaviour and choice. As Jure Kelpic notes, “By paying attention to these cultural insights, marketers can get ahead of the curve and offer messages that anticipate changing consumer attitudes rather than simply responding the present needs and wants of consumers.”

Marketers in the Caribbean have relied for far too long on consumer insights from market research which tracks the motivations, behaviors, needs and psychology, of consumers. A fatal mistake has also been the reliance of anecdotal evidence and personal hunches or worse, what works in developed countries for example the United States. Luckily this approach cannot be labeled as normative, but I have seen this type of unscientific approach being utilized far too often for comfort. Consumer information for the most part is based on quantitative analysis of the market. Unfortunately for the majority of companies who are international conglomerates, and the top tier companies in manufacturing, retail, distribution and financial services; the scientific data invariably does not originate in this market. Yet it is expected to fit the consumer patterns of the region. We have seen the cookie cutter and culturally incongruent marketing that are constantly used to limited or no effect. We have also seen nationally produced campaign that has annoyed consumers instead of creating a desire for the product or service. Marketing disasters of epic proportions are legendary in the Caribbean and date back as early as the 1980s. The effect of this approach is to create a disconnect between retailers and consumers with service and product providers, not understanding the relationship between the consumer and their product which ultimately leads to poor sales and a loss of market share. So while standard market research can deliver results, through the development of marketing strategies aimed at reaching their target markets, many have been miserable failures, resulting in significant loses and disconnect between product and consumers.

With cultural insights added to the mix of traditional marketing research and strategies companies are more able to understand in a more deep way the importance of culture and cultural trends in affecting the ever changing consumer behaviour, loyalty and needs. How does this type of research methodology works? Well ethnographic consumer research is about the culture of the consumers. Consumers are a part of our society and are influenced by societal norms, values and attitudes, religions and behaviour, superstitions, tribe influences and taboos. Describing culture marketing Kelpic states, “This matrix influences how messages are received by individuals in a way that is hard to quantify and fit into a strategic marketing plan.” With cultural marketing strategies, valuable information can be gleaned about current and future trends occurring in the marketplace, which almost impossible to discern from standard quantitative market research.

As Mary Douglas declares, “product is neutral, usage is social,” this statement underscores the significance of utilizing ethnographic tools in the marketing research strategy and that relying on traditional quantitative approaches is insufficient. To prove this point one only has to take a look at the uses of one Jamaican product, blue soap, which in our society is used in multiple ways, not intended by the manufacture and the marketing strategies employed by its suppliers. The soap is marketed a detergent cake of soap, yet consumers have used it as a bleaching agent for white clothes, some use it as a cosmetic product (known for giving your face a smooth and cool appearance) it is also used to maintain and restore the elasticity of a particular female organ and of course a bleaching agent for skin toning.

While it would silly to expect the manufacturers to market this product to capitalize on the social uses of its product. This underscores the fact that culture plays a significant part in the use, relationship, and social capital of a product. Cultural marketing helps a business understand where its products or services fits in the everyday life of the consumer and hence how it is valued in reality. Consumer marketing paradigm has shifted from product branding and profit maximization towards cultivating a loyal and satisfied customer. Companies must understand that culture is a critical driver of demand for products and services, hence it is critical that companies realize they have to be creators of cultural trends instead of continuously responding to it.

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