Cross-Cultural Consumer Profiles: an Exploratory Investigation

Robert T. Green, The University of Texas at Austin
Isabella C. M. Cunningham, The University of Texas at Austin
William H. Cunningham, The University of Texas at Austin
[ to cite ]:
Robert T. Green, Isabella C. M. Cunningham, and William H. Cunningham (1974) ,"Cross-Cultural Consumer Profiles: an Exploratory Investigation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01, eds. Scott Ward and Peter Wright, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 136-144.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1974    Pages 136-144

CROSS-CULTURAL CONSUMER PROFILES: AN EXPLORATORY INVESTIGATION

Robert T. Green, The University of Texas at Austin

Isabella C. M. Cunningham, The University of Texas at Austin

William H. Cunningham, The University of Texas at Austin

[The authors wish to thank Professor Henry O. Pruden of The University of Texas at Austin, Professor Daya Singh of Punjab Agricultural University, Professor Eric Langeard of Institut d' Administration des Entreprises, Professors Carlos J. Malferrari and Carlos O. Bertero of Escola de Administracao de Empresas de Sao Paulo da Fundacao Getulio Vargas, and Elizabeth Jones of The University of Texas at Austin for their valuable assistance in the conduct of this study. The authors are also grateful to Professor Donald J. Veldman for his valuable assistance in the development and application of the analytical tools used in this research. Finally, the authors wish to thank the University Research Institute of The University of Texas at Austin for providing funds which made the study possible.]

[William H. Cunningham and Robert T. Green are Assistant Professors of Marketing Administration in the Graduate School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin. Isabella C. M. Cunningham is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing Administration in the Graduate School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin.]

The concept of market segmentation implies that consumers of most products can often be distinguished by such factors as demographic variables, psychographic constructs, or consumption patterns. It should be expected that this concept applies equally to firms marketing internationally as to those operating domestically: in each nation which a firm operates, the consumers who provide the market for a product will tend to share distinguishing traits. However, since each nation possesses its own unique set of social, political, and economic characteristics, it is likely that the consumers of a product in different nations will not exhibit the same set of distinguishing traits.

Past literature has implied that such differences in consumer characteristics between countries should not significantly affect marketing practices. This implication is particularly strong for the product differentiation and advertising strategies of firms that well products which fulfill "universal" needs (Buzzell, 1967; Fatt, 1967; Keegan, 1969; Roostal, 1963; Ryans, 1969; and Ryans and Donnelly, 1969). However, these ideas concerning international marketing strategy are contrary to prevailing marketing thought with respect to products and advertising directed toward different groups of consumers (Frank, Massey, and Wind, 1972).

The present paper reports the results of an exploratory cross-cultural study which attempts to provide evidence concerning whether differences exist in the characteristics of consumers of four products in four nations, and the types of characteristics which tend to distinguish the consumers of these products in the countries under investigation. To date, there has been no cross-cultural consumer research conducted on this topic. Past cross-cultural studies have attempted to determine the comparability of certain aspects of purchasing behavior in two countries (Ehrenberg and Goodhardt, 1968) and attitudes toward products made in various nations (Nagashima, 1970; and Reierson, 1967). However, there have not been any studies which focus upon the existence or extent of consumer differences across nations.

HYPOTHESIS

The null hypothesis to be tested in this study is that there are no differences between the perceived image of consumers of the same products across four nations. That is, socio-cultural factors do not affect the perceptions of profiles of a typical user of a specific product.

The acceptance of the null hypothesis will imply that consumer characteristics tend to be similar across countries, at least for some products. Rejection of the hypothesis will imply the opposite.

METHODOLOGY

Subjects and Nations

A primary concern in cross-cultural research design is the selection of parallel samples, i.e., samples that are closely comparable (Rath, 1968). The use of parallel sampling permits the researcher to ascribe significant differences found in his data to environmental factors rather than to differences in the other characteristics of the sample. This would be true even if the samples were not representative of the overall populations of the nations; differences in findings for each nation may be ascribed to differences in environmental factors.

The samples employed in this study consisted of college students from four nations: United States, France, India, and Brazil. The sample sizes were 95 from the United States, 64 from France, 49 from India, and 95 from Brazil. The samples were comparable in terms of age, marital status and consumption patterns of the products under study, in addition to all being students. Each sample completed a survey questionnaire in its home country in a classroom setting. The translations of the questionnaire were made in the following manner: First, a foreign national translated the English version of the questionnaire into his native language. Then, a second foreign national translated the questionnaire back into English, and finally, a third foreign national, together with the authors and the original two translators, resolved the differences that existed between the re-translated version and the original English questionnaire (Sinaiko, 1973).

Perceived Profiles of Product Users

The study employed the projective technique frequently used by motivation researchers whereby subjects are asked to identify the characteristics of a typical user of a product (Evans, 1968; Ferber, 1958; and Wells et al., 1957). These projected characteristics can be used to develop profiles of consumer groups. In this case the subjects in each nation were asked to identify the consumers of four products (soft drinks, automobile gasoline, toothpaste and ballpoint pens) according to thirteen socio-psychological attributes. The attributes were classified on a five point semantic differential scale, a frequently used scaling technique in cross-cultural research (Lorimor and Dunn, 1968; and Nagashima, 1970). Because of space limitations, an analysis will be made of only the toothpaste and ballpoint pens results.

The attributes used to determine the perceived consumer profiles were selected to represent many of the general socio-psychological variables frequently employed in market segmentation (Alpert, 1971). The same list of attributes was utilized for each of the products.

Analytical Procedures

The analytical procedures were done in three stages. First, the data was ipsatized with a mean equal to 50 and standard deviation equal to 10 (Clemans, 1966). This procedure forces every individual in the sample to a common base. As a result, the response set bias that might exist because subjects in one culture answer all questions either more negatively or affirmatively than subjects in another culture is eliminated.

Second, multiple discriminant analysis was used to determine ii- overall differences exist between the four countries based on the product attributes. Wilks Lambda tests were used to determine if the overall results of the discriminant analysis were significant, and chi-square tests were calculated to examine the significance of the respective discriminant roots. The four nations' discriminant centroids were used to plot the position of the countries in space. Third, univariate F-tests were calculated to determine the specific attributes for which significant differences existed between the countries

RESULTS

Toothpaste

Figure 1 presents the two dimensional discriminant map for toothpaste. The Wilks Lambda test of the discriminant analysis was .619 (F = 3.83, d.f. = 39, 851, p < .001). The chi-square tests found that the first two discriminant vectors were significant at the < .01 level while the third was not statistically significant. The first vector accounted for 65.8% of the predictable variation while the second vector accounted for 21.3% of the variation

Figure 1 shows that the first vector rather effectively separates Brazil from the remaining three countries. The second vector distinguishes the United States from Brazil and France while India falls between the sets of countries.

The correlations in Table 1 indicate how strongly the respective variables contribute to the predictive power of the discriminant function. The variables providing the greatest amount of predictive power for the first vector are exciting-dull, old fashioned-modern and young-old, while sophisticated-unsophisticated, nonconformist-conventional, and creative-noncreative are the most important for the second vector.

The mean values in Table 1 indicate that Indian subjects perceived users of toothpaste as being relatively more exciting, modern and younger than did the subjects in the remaining three countries. In addition the Brazilian and French subjects felt that toothpaste users were relatively more unsophisticated and more creative than did the subjects in the United States or India. The Brazilian and French samples perceived toothpaste users as being less conventional than the U.S. sample and more conventional than the Indian sample.

Ballpoint Pens

Figure 2 illustrates the two dimensional discriminant map for pens. The Wilks Lambda test of the discriminant function was .638 (F = 3.57, d.f. = 39, 851, p < .001). The first two discriminant vectors were significant at the < .01 level. The third vector was not statistically significant. The first vector accounted for 62.72% of the predictable variation while the second vector accounted for 23.22% of the variation. Figure 1 indicates that the first vector rather effectively separates all four countries while the second vector seems to distinguish the most between the United States and India.

The correlations for the first vector indicate that sophisticated-unsophisticated and nonconformist-conventional provide the greatest contribution to the discriminating power of vector I while old fashioned-modern and young-old play the largest role in the predictive power of the second function.

FIGURE 1

GROUP CENTROIDS IN DISCRIMINANT SPACE

TABLE 1

MEANS, UNIVARIATE F TESTS, AND CORRELATIONS FOR TOOTHPASTE

The mean values in Table 2 indicate that the Indian pen users were perceived as being the most sophisticated and the most conventional. The subjects in the French sample felt that pen users had the opposite characteristics. The United States and Brazilian samples were located between the two countries with respect to the predictive variables in vector I. In the case of vector II the Indian subjects felt pen users to be relatively more modern and younger than did the subjects in the remaining three countries. The French were perceived as being the most old fashioned while the subjects in the United States sample felt pen users to be relatively older.

IMPLICATIONS

The findings suggest that the consumers in the four nations tend to be distinguished from each other along several dimensions. Thus, the null hypothesis of no differences between nations was rejected.

Analysis of the results provides some indication that consumer characteristics across nations may vary according to the product's stage in the life cycle. The Indian consumer of toothpaste was characterized as being more exciting, more modern, and younger than consumers in the other nations. These findings may reflect the fact that toothpaste is in an earlier stage of the life cycle in India and is not as widely diffused as in the other three nations. These distinguishing characteristics could represent the perceived characteristics of innovators in India. This interpretation is supported by the finding that the Indian consumer of toothpaste is viewed as being more nonconforming than are toothpaste consumers in any of the other countries. Conversely, in the United States, where one would expect that toothpaste is most widely adopted, the toothpaste consumer is seen as being more conventional than in the other nations.

A similar pattern can be noted with respect to the ballpoint pens findings. The Indian consumer is perceived as being more sophisticated, more modern, and younger than consumers in the other nations. These findings may reflect the growing literacy (and therefore the need for writing instruments) among the younger segments of the population in India.

The French consumer of ballpoint pens is perceived as being less sophisticated and more unconventional than consumers in the other nations. These findings may suggest a resistance to ballpoint pens among the French, since, by implication, the consumers of other (unspecified) writing instruments might be considered more sophisticated and more in line with traditions (i.e., conventional).

CONCLUSION

The foregoing implications must be considered tentative due to the exploratory nature of the research. The use of student samples, while legitimate from the standpoint of the requirements of cross-cultural research, does not permit the findings to be generalized to the nations as a whole. However, the findings can be considered indicative of the types of differences in consumer characteristics that marketers can expect when marketing abroad. The findings of this study would appear to suggest the advisability of devising individual strategies for many of the nations studied due to the large number of significant differences that exist in perceived consumer characteristics between the nations. While these findings may not portray the actual differences between the populations of these countries as a whole, they do indicate that substantial differences in market segments could exist with implications for the formulation of marketing strategy.

TABLE 2

MEANS, UNIVARIATE F TESTS AND CORRELATIONS FOR BALLPOINT PENS

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