It seemed fitting for me as a planner in a global role to write something about understanding people & brands across different countries. However, the idea of thinking about context – cultural, social, political – is of course more personal than just looking at an entire country level.
When it comes to planning communications, we obviously understand that the context within which a message is delivered is central to making an impact. In the world of content & connections, this context is doubly important because it defines what shape the message should take and what links to other parts of the system should be prioritised.
As we see from recognition such as last night’s MediaTel Connected Agency of the Year, we’re pretty good at understanding the context as defined by someone’s purchase journey. Another opportunity to bring context to bear is in terms of the culture within which that journey is taking place.
You don’t have to be concerned with delivering strategy across lots of different countries for this to be interesting; we don’t think about the actual characteristics of our country very much, we just think we’re British. If any further introspection of this cultural credo occurs, then it might be something like “avoid embarrassing others at all costs, even if it means allowing someone to call you the wrong name for 4 years. Simultaneously hate them for it, all without their knowledge. This is normal.” (FYI, other countries think we are insane for doing this).
But actually a bit of an independent POV on why certain things work well in the UK and others don’t is worth having. Something we’re looking at is called Hofstede. Professor Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social scientist who has broken down cultural differences into something measurable, definable. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s definitely interesting.
He & the institute that bears his name have defined these axes of difference as follows (full details here):
- Centralised power vs decentralised. This means to what extent do the less influential members of society accept that power is distributed unequally amongst a few elite.
- Individualism vs collectivism. This means the extent to which people are expected to take care of themselves – but also be free to do so.
- Feminine vs masculine. This doesn’t mean literal gender, it means to what extent is society competitive, success-oriented and macho. Femininity means more instinct for cooperation & consensus.
- High uncertainty avoidance vs low. This means, as you would expect, to what extent society is comfortable with future uncertainty – with less comfort implying stricter rules.
- Long term vs short term orientation. This means how traditional in outlook a society is, and therefore how suspicious of change they are. Pretty similar to the above axis.
- Indulgent vs restrained. I can’t summarise this one better than them: “restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms”
Let’s look at the UK. Let’s compare it to… oh, I don’t know, say Germany.
We see that the UK is about as equal in power distribution terms, but substantially more individualist, and substantially less cautious about the future.
No colossal surprises perhaps, but i think it’s interesting to think about the background competitiveness and permission for individual indulgence of the UK culture for the next stretch session or pitch idea.
Also: in this increasingly borderless world, got a client from another cultural background? Maybe worth looking at what his or her perception of these same factors might be, before presenting another competition or cooperation idea.
This dataset is multi-national, but what other sources are there that could enable you take this kind of look at cultural values between segments within the UK? It might mean your connections system and therefore social strategy or emphasis on paid media needs to flex regionally or by interest group. Just a thought.