6 Psychology dimensions to make sure your website is culturally fit

Consumer behavior varies from one culture to another — both offline and online.

Sherwette Mansour
Aug 31, 2019 · 7 min read

Learning about different cultures is usually associated with travel, but also, the more you interact with people from different cultures, regardless of whether you have actually visited their country, the more exposure you get.

People introduce you to their culture.

Culture is the study of social behavior and norms.

Culture is not just a different language. It’s not just about the location on the map or the music they like to listen to. It’s not just about whether they prefer to have tea or coffee in the morning.

When I started to interact with different people from different backgrounds, I started to learn how the different hand gestures could be interpreted as rude or friendly, depending on who you are talking to. Small gestures ranging from where you look, how you sit, or how loud you speak can make a huge difference in your interaction with someone from another culture.

Take for example shaking hands. Shaking hands is a pretty ‘normal’ interaction in Western countries. You meet someone. You shake hands. Simple.

Many people who come from the West to the Middle East try to imitate that social interaction, usually in a business context. They go to a meeting, they meet a business encounter and want to shake hands. This interaction would go very smoothly if a man is shaking hands with another man, or a woman is shaking hands with another woman.

The awkward surprise though happens when someone from the West wants to shake hands with someone from the Middle East from the opposite sex. While there a lot of “open” Middle Easterns who don’t mind that handshake, there is no way for them to actually know if the person in front of them would happily shake hands or turn them down, leaving them feeling awkward until the end of that meeting.

The online world is no exception.

A lot of business owners and entrepreneurs out there think that because they have a website, they are ready to reach the whole world. They can go global, right from their couch, and while that is true, it doesn’t come without customization.

Coca-Cola is one of the largest global companies and is known for a unique beverage, Coca-Cola, and yet, Coca-Cola still customizes the taste of its beverage to each country.

Why?

Because one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work.

I already knew about cultures and the differences they impact on the interactions with other people, and I guess, you also already knew about those differences. You might be reading this contemplating, “I already knew that, so what’s new?”

Just like I said before, the online world is no exception… and consumer behavior studies unravel some interesting aspects of how culture impacts how we differently interact and perceive certain things — both offline and online.

People from different cultures interact online in different ways — and so they interact differently on your website.

In her book, Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, Nathalie Nahai mentioned six key psychology dimensions that could be used to improve the performance of your website and marketing efforts based on culture. Those six key psychological dimensions were identified by the Dutch psychologist Professor Hofstede, in his book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, where he researched 70 countries over 4 decades on their cultural traits.

1. Power Distance Index (PDI)

“The first dimension, power distance, deals with our cultural attitudes towards inequality. It measures the extent to which the less powerful members within a society expect and accept unequal power distribution.” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest PDI: Saudi Arabia (95)

The country with the lowest PDI: Austria (11)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high PDI, ensure the website is structured, be authoritative and organized. Limit choices and make share to showcase certifications and endorsement by authority figures and experts.

If you are targeting countries with low PDI, make sure to be transparent, and allow a search feature, where users can ‘explore’ on their own. Showcase testimonials and reviews from other customers who are similar to them. Use visuals to your advantage and select images that are similar to your target customer segment on your website.

2. Individualism v. Collectivism (IDV)

“This dimension addresses the degree to which a culture’s members are interdependent and explores whether people define their self-image in terms of ‘I’ (themselves) or ‘we’ (the group).” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest IDV: USA (91)

The country with the lowest IDV: China (20)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high IDV, emphasize what makes you stand out as a brand. Reward your users for personal achievements, and run a challenge where they can show their uniqueness.

If you are targeting countries with low IDV, highlight the importance of relationships. If you use visuals, use group pictures instead of individuals, and when you write your content, use “we” instead of “I”. Respect elders and show appreciation to their wisdom.

3. Masculinity v. Femininity (MAS)

“Based on traditional gender roles, Hofstede describes masculine cultures as those in which people express distinct (stereotypical) gender roles — that is, women are tender, modest and focused on the quality of life and men are tough, assertive and concerned with material success.” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest MAS: Japan (95)

The country with the lowest MAS: Sweden (5)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high MAS, create multiple levels of subpages to cater to the “explorer” side of the user. Make the best out of interactive user experiences by using polls or online games.

If you are targeting countries with low MAS, emphasize the importance of quality of life and relationships. Ask for feedback and encourage collaboration and use online communities for social engagement.

4. Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)

“The uncertainty avoidance index measures how uncomfortable we are with ambiguity. The truth is that none of us can predict the future, but when it comes to accepting this reality, some cultures seem to find it easier than others.” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest UAI: Portugal (104)

The country with the lowest UAI: Sweden (29)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high UAI, make sure your navigation is clear and structured. Introduce clarity, whether that is by the written word, images or numbers.

If you are targeting countries with high UAI, encourage open-ended dialogue, and don’t be afraid to add a little complexity to your content. Don’t forget to keep the search box on your website so they can explore on their own.

5. Long-term orientation (LTO)

“Based on Confucian dynamism, this fifth dimension explores our human quest for virtue…

Cultures that score highly on long-term orientation (such as China and Hong Kong) tend to base their values around Confucianism and consider truth to be relative and context-dependent…

In contrast, short-term orientated (typically Western) cultures, such as Spain, enjoy living in the moment and like to achieve quick results without too much concern for the future.” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest LTO: China (118)

The country with the lowest LTO: Spain (19)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high LTO, be practical and flexible — and make content available for later viewing, especially if you run live events such as webinars. Your connections impact your reputation and credibility, so make them count. Education is highly valued so showcase your achievements.

If you are targeting countries with low LTO, share facts and figures. Capitalize on instant gratification and show instant results.

6. Indulgence v. Restraint (IVR)

“It measures the extent to which our society allows us to have fun and enjoy life through the free gratification of our natural drives.” — Nathalie Nahai. Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

The country with the highest IVR: Mexico (97)

The country with the lowest IVR: Egypt (4)

What does this mean to your website?

If you are targeting countries with high IVR, get ready for online debates and make sure you can backup any product claims. Smile. Use gender blend in your media and introduce some fun interactions. Perhaps offer freebies?

If you are targeting countries with low IVR, focus on how your product is aligned to the social norms, and how it can benefit society. Be cautious with how you portray gender roles. Offer discounts or coupons to help them save, and make sure the navigation of your website is structured and formal.


I have tried to briefly mention how to deal with each of the six key psychology dimensions that could be used to improve the performance of your website and marketing efforts based on culture.

Nathalie Nahai, in her book, Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, mentioned them in much more detail. If you think this intriguing, check out her book. The scales for each of those dimensions are available for 70 countries.

That said — here is something to think about.

Do you still think you can target your customers in the USA and your customers in Saudi Arabia using the same website?

Sherwette Mansour

Written by

Management consultant. Abstract artist. Interested in psychology and consumer behavior… Food, travel, photography, water sports... Spontaneous otherwise.

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