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Cultures and Subcultures

13 May, 2016 - 13:23

All of us are part of a cultural fabric that affects our behavior, including our behavior as consumers. Culture is the sum of learned beliefs, values, and customs that regulate the behavior of members of a particular society. Through our culture, we are taught how to adjust to the environmental, biological, psychological, and historical parts of our environment.

Beliefs and values are guides of behavior, and customs are acceptable ways of behaving. A belief is an opinion that reflects a person's particular knowledge and assessment of ("I believe that ..."). Values are general statements that guide behavior and influence beliefs and attitudes ("Honesty is the best policy"). A value system helps people choose between alternatives in everyday life. Customs are overt modes of behavior that constitute culturally approved ways of behaving in specific situations. Customs vary among countries, regions, and even families. In Arab societies, for instance, usury (payment of interest) is prohibited, so special Islamic banks exist that provide three types of accounts: non-profit accounts, profit sharing deposit accounts, and social service funds. A US custom is to eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. However, exact Thanksgiving Day menu may depend on family customs.

Dominant cultural values are referred to as core values; they tend to affect and reflect the core character of a particular society. For example, if a culture does not value efficiency but does value a sense of belonging and neighborliness, few people in the culture will want to use automatic teller machines. What do Americans value? Clearly, a catchall phrase such as the "Protestant work ethic" no longer captures the whole value system.

Core values are slow and difficult to change. Consequently, marketing communication strategies must accurately portray and reflect these values.

Secondary values also exist in any culture. Secondary values are less permanent values that can sometimes be influenced by marketing communications. In addition, secondary values are often shared by some people but not others. These values serve as a basis for subcultures.

A natural evolution that occurs in any culture is the emergence of subcultures. Core values are held by virtually an entire culture, whereas secondary values are not. A subculture is a group of people who share a set of secondary values. Examples include Generation X and environmentally concerned people. Many factors can place an individual in one or several subcultures. Five of the most important factors that create subcultures are:

  • Material culture. People with similar income may create a subculture. The poor, the affluent, and the white-collar middle class are examples of material subcultures.
  • Social institutions. Those who participate in a social institution may form a subculture. Examples include participation in marriage, parenthood, a retirement community, the army, and so on.
  • Belief systems. People with shared beliefs may create a subculture, such as shared beliefs in religion or politics. For example, traditional Amish do not use several types of products, including electricity and automobiles. A whole set of factors has also been correlated with whether a person is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, or Socialist.
  • Aesthetics. Artistic people often form a subculture of their own associated with their common interests, including art, music, dance, drama, and folklore.
  • Language. People with similar dialects, accents, and vocabulary can form a subculture. Southerners and northerners are two traditional categories in the US.


  • Environmental scanning refers to activities directed toward obtaining information about events and trends that occur outside the organization and that can influence the organization's decision making.
  • The following external factors affect planning:
  1. external agencies
  2. competitors
  3. legal and ethical factors
  4. economic and political issues
  5. technology
  6. social trends