SF State News {University Communications}

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Culture counts in marketing efforts

August 19, 2009 -- A new study co-authored by Associate Professor of Marketing Judi Strebel may soon have companies thinking twice about the effects of cultural differences on customer promotions.

A photo of Associate Professor of Marketing Judi Strebel.Associate Professor of Marketing Judi Strebel.

In a recently published paper, Strebel and her co-authors found that when given an unexpected gift, East Asians reported feeling less surprise and less pleasure than Westerners. But if an unexpected gift could be attributed to good luck, such as through a random drawing, East Asians reported experiencing far greater pleasure than Westerners. The findings, published July 15 in the Journal of Consumer Research, could have significant implications for companies' Internet marketing efforts in an increasingly wired world.

"Let's say you have a promotion and give people a 10 percent off coupon after the third purchase," Strebel said, "will you get more bang for your buck across all cultures? We found that companies should definitely consider different cultures when framing promotions."

The researchers measured emotional reactions to unexpected incentives. Previous research showed that Westerners viewed an unexpected incentive as a signal of individual success or worth, while East Asians would not respond as favorably to unexpected incentives because of cultural inclinations to downplay surprise.

The authors conducted four studies in which participants received a gift as a token of appreciation for participating in a survey. Some of the participants knew about the gifts before participating, while others were surprised with the gift. Participants from the United States enjoyed the surprise more than participants in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. When participants were presented with the opportunity of winning a prize by drawing from a jar, East Asian participants reported significantly higher feelings of momentary pleasure than their Western counterparts.

Strebel said companies conducting business online would be wise to consider the study's findings when planning marketing efforts. She said few companies change giveaways when customers from different countries visit their Web sites, even though changing the ways coupons or free gifts are distributed could result in a better bottom line.

Strebel anticipates that smart marketers will acknowledge specific cultural differences and tailor Web sites and promotional campaigns to specific Web visitors.

"Pleasurable Surprises: A Cross-Cultural Study of Consumer Responses to Unexpected Incentives," was published in the online edition of the Journal of Consumer Research. The paper is co-authored by Strebel, Ana Valenzuela of Baruch College and Barbara Mellers of the University of California, Berkeley.

-- Michael Bruntz


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