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Cultural Targeting: The Key to Online Consumer Receptivity

by David S.B. Butler  |  
May 25, 2012
  |  13,685 views

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Why cultural understanding is critical to online marketing
  • How to implement cultural qualification in an online marketing strategy

Since the beginning of advertising, successful marketers have recognized the importance of consumer research. And it has long been accepted that consumer research should establish how promotional offers can satisfy the needs of customers in specific target markets.

The analysis presented in this article suggests that the cultural context (the social, technological, political, economic, and physical environment) of consumers should set the foundation for understanding how to satisfy their needs and for meeting their expectations. This article will explore why cultural target market research should be analyzed to qualify relevant content and viable consumers.

Why is cultural understanding important to online marketing?

Culture is significant to online marketing because it establishes the foundation for how consumers think, communicate, and process information (Chaffey 2009, Sing and Pereira 2005, Smith et al. 2004, Sudhir et al. 2007). By providing contextual information about potential consumers, cultural target market research sets the stage for strategic targeted marketing, and it is the foundation for online promotional content.

Chaffey (2009) contends that understanding the cultural background of prospects and customers is fundamental to traditional marketing and is equally important online. The culture of online consumers should be embodied in promotional content that is consistent with cultural expectations. Online marketers (Chaffey 2009, Singh and Pereira 2005) have begun to recognize the importance of this cultural connection by advocating localization and customization based on the location and cultural background of their clients' target audience.


If we consider how we might disconnect online content from culture and attempt to communicate with consumers without a cultural foundation, we will quickly conclude that this is a futile exercise. In other words, it's impossible to disconnect the Web from culture because online content is generated via the cultural filter of the folks who produce content (designers, marketers, advertisers, corporations, governments, etc.).

In fact, contemporary researchers assert that the entire Web represents a cultural document that emulates cultural values and ideals, as well as cultural standards of economic exchange and communication (Singh, Furrer, and Massimilaino: 2004). By including cultural research as a component of target market research, online marketers and their clients have an opportunity to embrace and capitalize on cultural variation by producing culturally relevant content that is consistent with the ideals and expectations of a specific cultural group.

After all, traditional advertisements (TV, radio, and print) in American culture resonate with you because they are designed to be consistent with your cultural expectations. One can easily take that for granted, since, as Americans, we are consistently and effectively targeted by "Americanized" marketing initiatives with familiar imagery, symbols, jargon, references, language, etc.


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David S.B. Butler, a PhD in applied anthropology, is a full-time professor in the Internet Marketing program at Full Sail University. He also works as an Internet marketing consultant specializing in cultural marketing, consumer behavior analysis, and target market analysis. Dr. Butler is part owner of League Development Inc., an online marketing consulting company.

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  • by @jenkellyjen Mon May 28, 2012 via web

    I very much enjoyed your article.

    This topic is so often underestimated. I come across this all the time.
    For example - phrases and words people in one country use to search for your product may be very different in another country...even one that speaks the same language (ie: USA to Canada to England to Australia). Taking the time to understand your new geographical market is so very very important.

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