CSUN Prof’s Study Suggests U.S. Marketers Should Take Different Approach Internationally


Photo courtesy of Stephen Samaha

Marketing strategies in the United States are 55 percent less effective in a global market because of cultural differences, according to research conducted by California State University, Northridge marketing professor Stephen A. Samaha.

The results of Samaha’s research – the effectiveness of various relationship-marketing (RM) strategies in different cultures – were published in the September issue of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing.

“The United States ranks 13th of 25 countries in terms of the effectiveness of market relationships for enhancing performance,” Samaha said in the study. “The United States is less than half as effective in using RM to drive performance as China.”

The results indicate that using different relationship-marketing strategies based on cultural differences can potentially greatly impact their effectiveness. This is the first study that discusses how one marketing strategy in a certain culture will not always be as effective in another.

“Communication is highly intertwined with culture, and RM research studying the effects of communication should account for culture to prevent misleading findings as well as to help disentangle the mechanisms that generate the complex pattern of results,” according to the study.

Samaha explained that culture has a huge impact on marketing across the globe, and research provides a map for strategists to gain more success across cultures.

“We know that culture matters in marketing. You can’t assume that the same strategy in one culture is going to work in another,” he said. “It gives you a template for understanding how to adopt your marketing strategies to maximize your success.”

His results indicate that relationship-marketing is less effective in cultures with a higher emphasis on individualism, like the U.S., while the opposite is found in cultures with a stronger sense of collectivism, like China.

“Individualism is the most important cultural dimension: it suppresses the effectiveness of many relationship-building strategies (communication, dependence, expertise, and duration) as well as the effect of relationships on performance,” the study said. “Perhaps most notably, relationships increase performance substantially in Asia, where their impact is calculated to be 70 [percent] higher than in the United States.”

Samaha found the effects of individualism on marketing important to working in a continuously more global market.

“One of the interesting things is that individualism has a negative effect on building relationships with customers,” he said. “When you come from a highly individualistic culture it creates more individualistic markets. Managers need to adopt their marketing strategies accordingly.”