The Role of Culture in Consumer Behavior

by Dennis Hartman; Updated September 26, 2017

The culture a person is born into goes a long way toward determining that individual's behavior patterns, beliefs and values. Culture is defined as a shared set of practices or beliefs among a group of people in a particular place and time. Marketers, analysts and consumers themselves use an awareness of culture to learn how and why consumers in a particular culture behave the way they do.

Significance

Culture is an important factor in determining consumer behavior. It explains why some products sell well in certain regions or among specific groups, but not as well elsewhere. Besides purchasing decisions, culture also affects how consumers use the products they buy and how they dispose of them. Product use helps marketers position their products differently in each market, while the culture's effects on product disposal can lead governments to adopt more effective recycling and waste reduction strategies. Consumers can examine how members of other cultures use the same products, or fulfill the same needs with different products, as a way to find more efficient, cost-effective options in the marketplace.

Traditions

Traditions are central to the ways that culture influences consumer behavior. For example, in mainstream American culture, turkey is a traditional food for Thanksgiving. This culturally specific behavior allows companies that produce poultry, along with the retailers who sell it, to prepare for increases in demand near the Thanksgiving holiday, but only in the United States. Other countries have traditions that put special demands on the suppliers and retailers that serve those markets. Traditional patterns change over time as a culture evolves, but marketers who study and understand such patterns have an advantage.

Intensity

Culture exerts different levels of influence on members. Age, language, ethnicity, gender and education level all affect which consumer behaviors a member of a given culture demonstrates. Young people may not adopt cultural practices that are common for adults, and may develop practices unique to their own subculture. This can involve everything from new buying trends to new product use trends. As people relocate and cultures come together in new ways, the intensity of culturally determined consumer behavior changes even more.

Marketing Response

Marketers spend a great deal of time and money studying the effects of culture on consumer behavior. This is especially true for multinational companies that have customers from a diverse series of cultural backgrounds. A strong marketing strategy in one culture might be unappealing, or even offensive, to members of another culture. Marketers cater to specific cultural behaviors by offering different versions of the same product that are tailored to appeal to the target audience.