Web design in high and low context cultures

An analysis of Starbucks’ websites in the German and Korean markets

Term Paper, 2020

18 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Intercultural communication approach by Edward Hall
2.1 High context cultures
2.2 Low context cultures

3 Cross-cultural communication in digital marketing
3.1 Particularities in intercultural marketing
3.2 Cultural adaptions in web design

4 Analysis of Starbucks’ websites of high and low context countries .
4.1 Low context example: Germany
4.2 High context example: South Korea
4.3 Comparisonandresults

5 Conclusion

6 Reference list

List of figures

Figure 1: Examples of High- and Low-context cultures

Figure 2: German homepage of Starbucks

Figure 3: The only product presentation on the homepage

Figure 4: Product titles in English with Korean subtitles

Figure 5: Soft-sell approach trough Christmas-themed colors and animations

List of tables

Table 1: Summaryofthe German and Korean Starbucks homepage analysis

1 Introduction

ln 1976, Edward Twitchell Hall introduced context in regards to cultures. By trying to explain intercultural communication, he defined high context and low context cultures. Thereby, the communication within a culture is characterized by several factors, such as the background of a specific country. For example, in low context countries the information is explicit, whereas in high context countries messages are conveyed mainly through the surroundings ofa situation (Browaeys & Price 2015, p. 156 - 157).

Intercultural communication plays an essential role in companies’ international marketing. Marketing activities in an international context can arouse additional costs in order to comply with the culture of a certain nation. This sometimes leads to standardized communication measures. However, choosing this approach has shown that products with the exact advertising lose selling potential as the marketing is not accepted by the culture’s populations (Bolten 2018, p. 158- 160).

Therefore, the planning of intercultural marketing activities is essential. Factors as the organization of a society, the religion, traditions, values and aesthetics need to be taken into consideration (Genkova 2019, p. 318). In fact, those factors may influence consumer behavior. As a consequence, companies need intercultural competences to act successfully in international markets (Gutting 2020, p. 101).

The focus in this paper shall lie on the business’ website. When planning a website, the development process includes the research and analysis of the target group in order to catch their attention. Colors and symbols for instance are relevant for many cultures and need to be taken into account when designing a website (Marcus & West Gould, 2020). Due to the increasing globalization of markets, websites have to be adapted to the customer’s needs. Therefore, an investigation on cultural preferences is needed (Hsieh, Holland & Young 2009).

Based on the study of the IT University of Copenhagen of 2005 (Würtz 2005), this paper aims to answer the question ofwhether the company Starbucks is adapting its websites to the cultures of their international markets. Furthermore, it shall examine what the main differences of the websites are. Before that, the contexting theory by Edward T. Hall will be explained, followed by an outline on intercultural web design. The analyzed low context country will be Germany, whereas the high context country will be South Korea. As a conclusion, this paper will summarize the findings and give an outlook on the future of Hall’s theory.

2 Intercultural communication approach by Edward Hall

The term of culture has often been defined in scientific literature. Therefore, there is no concrete definition of it. Depending on the context the notion is put in, the meaning of culture might change (Bolten 2018, pp. 37 -38). Anthropologists developed several theories in order to explain culture by studying ethnographic data and observing behaviors. Thereof, they tried to draw conclusions for interactions within and across cultures (Browaeys & Price 2015, p. 10).

One widely known approach to explain the term of culture is the GLOBE study (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior). It is one of the largest researches that analyzed the influence of culture on behaviors and societies (GLOBE 2020). Before the GLOBE study, Geert Hofstede’s approach on culture and management gained relevance in the field. He created a dimensional concept to understand cross-cultural interactions. His work allows to compare cultures on the five dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individual versus group orientation, masculine versus feminine orientation and short-term versus long-term orientation (Browaeys & Price 2015, p. 32).

Both theories explain how cultures interact with each other. They are also a basis when talking about intercultural communication. This paper however will focus on the work done by Edward Twitchell Hall who introduced the contexting concept in relation to intercultural communication.

In his studies, Hall states that context carries the most of the meaning of an information. In order to understand what another person is perceiving, five aspects play an important role: subject or activity, the situation, one’s status in a social system, past experiences and culture. In his attempt of defining cross-cultural communication, he divided the contexting concept in high and low context (Hall 1989). That shall be applied on cultures in specific countries (Hall & Hall 1990):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Examples of high- and low-context cultures (Source: Own illustration based on Hall & Hall 1990 and Würtz 2005)

In the following, the typical characteristics of high and low context cultures are being outlined. At this point it is important to mention that the following explanations represent a fragment of the entire theory. A holistic examination would go beyond the scope of this paper.

2.1 High context cultures

Speaking about context, it can also be seen as an information network. In those informal networks, relevant information is exchanged. In high context cultures, the well-informed informal network provides all relevant information that is needed to understand a message. Those relationships are built through family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors (Broszinsky-Schwabe 2011, pp. 83 - 84). It can therefore be assumed that in this kind of culture, communication is more open and relationships with one another play an important role.

In fact, the primary goal is to build and strengthen relationships and to avoid confrontation. Stories from one’s private live cover the biggest part of conversations. By knowing these kinds of information, the message being sent is understood within the known context of the personal background (Browaeys & Price 2015 pp. 331 - 339). Further characteristics of the interaction in high context cultures are indirect statements, feeling shame, revenge and avoiding denial (Brinker Dozier, Husted & McMahon 1998).

According to Hall (1989 pp. 111 - 113), people from high context cultures take much into account and put the focus on the person itself and its background. In extreme cases, such as in Japan, when talking to each other there is no need to be specific. As a matter of fact, it is expected that the interlocutor finds out what’s on one’s mind. The conversation partner shall therefore not come to the point.

To give a concrete example for a high culture’s mindset, the activity of planning shall be used. Companies in high context cultures tend to develop more implicit plans which do not include many details in terms of instructions. This is due to the fact that most of the information can be obtained via the before mentioned informal networks (Browaeys & Price 2015 p. 156).

2.2 Low context cultures

Low context means that the need for more detailed information is higher. This is due to the lack of informal networks that provide additional facts to understand the meaning of a message. Hence, people belonging to a low context culture might be less informed and need more indications. This is especially important when talking to others from high context cultures. Within a low context culture, people know exactly how much information has to be conveyed in order to make the conversation partner what is meant (Broszinsky- Schwabe 2011, pp. 83 - 84).

One goal when having a conversation is to be efficient. This means that low context cultures come straight to the point, principally seen in business relationships. Only the relevant information is exchanged and it is perceived by the words used. Context does not play a big role (Browaeys & Price 2015 pp. 331 - 339). In addition, linear logic is applied, there is the willingness to say no and to argue, the separation of personal and work-related relationship is essential and a rapid negotiation also with strangers is preferred (Brinker Dozier, Husted & McMahon 1998).

Hall (1989 pp. 105 - 113) also states that failures are blamed on the individual or the social system. The circumstances of the situation, such as the details of instructions, are not seen as responsible. Furthermore, low context countries can become subject of manipulation as they rely on the information that is given to them without questioning the context.

Finally, the example of planning shall be taken up for low context countries as well. Plans made by those kinds of cultures are very detailed and include quantifiable goals that can be measured. The instructions are clear and explicit so that everyone dealing with the plan knows exactly what is being expected (Browaeys & Price 2015p. 156).

The previously outlined characteristics show a general approach in dividing cultures in high and low context. Depending on the country, there might also be differences within one kind of culture. As a consequence, misunderstandings may arise (Hall 1990, p. 131). In order to prevent unpleasant situations, it is advisable to get to know the culture of the respective country in advance. This is also relevant when it comes to business relationships.

3 Cross-cultural communication in digital marketing

Standardized marketing activities have a cost saving aspect as a global strategy similar to “one-fits-all” is applied. However, some marketing measures might not be successful in other markets. That is due to their cultural differences and divergent perception of marketing communication. A differentiation of the marketing activities for international markets involves higher costs and is time consuming but is needed to sell the product abroad (Gutting 2020, p. 120).

Concretely, this means that the classical four P’s of marketing (product, price, promotion and placement) have to be adjusted. In regards to the product, marketers need to examine the context of the consumer behavior and know what values exist in the targeted country. As for pricing, the framework in the specific country has to be found out. Additionally, the channels commonly used for distribution should be identified. Finally, in promotion it is essential to detect the media usage of the target group, the topics of current interest and what kind of advertising measures work in the country (Bolten 2018 pp. 162 -163).

In fact, advertising is one ofthe principal promotion activities to successfully sell a product. Ads however are not only needed to spread information but also to create the need to buy the product on the customer’s side. To persuade people in international markets, a cultural approach is essential. Using the internet and the company’s website as one channel has become a matter of routine. The website on the one hand provides information on the product itself and on the other hand on the company (Browaeys & Price 2015 pp. 288 - 289).

In order to be able to analyze companies’ websites in international markets, the next two chapters will go more into detail in regards to the aspects that need to be taken into account in intercultural marketing and how cultural adaptions influence web design.

3.1 Particularities in intercultural marketing

When planning intercultural marketing activities, several aspects come into play. Gen- kova (2019 p. 320) mentions some ofthe particularities relevant for intercultural marketing, such as the organization of a society, religion, traditions and habits, lifestyle in general and aesthetics. In order to showcase why a cultural approach in marketing is necessary, the following list addresses some ofthe before mentioned aspects explained by Gutting (2020 pp. 106 - 107) mostly with examples from Asian cultures:

- Numbers
- Numbers have different meanings in cultures
- In China, the number four stands for the death as the pronunciation is similar for both words
- In hotels for example the fourth floor is not mentioned on hotel maps

- Colors
- Colors often have a certain connotation in different cultures
- Pink colors symbolize feminism and romantics in western cultures. Therefore, it is often used to promote products for women
- In some Asian cultures however, the color means strength and can be used in advertising men’s products

- Preferences
- Preferences are especially important in the food sector
- European would prefer a pizza with a thin dough, whereas Americans would choose a thicker crust

- Aesthetics
- Beauty is also interpreted and perceived differently
- Western cultures combine tanned skin with vacation and relaxation
- In Asian cultures, beauty comes with a lighter skin tone
- Whitening products would thereof be more successful in Asian countries and tanning products in Western countries

In addition to Gutting’s (2020) explanations, Bolten (2018) mentions additional issues that are not less important to highlight:

- Legal framework
- Advertising bans can restrict marketing activities for certain products
- In some countries, the product placement for tobacco products, e.g. cigarettes is forbidden

- Social aspects
- Informal social networks as well as reciprocity can facilitate or impede marketing activities
- In cultures with less trustworthy networks, a promotional gift might be apprehended as corruption

3.2 Cultural adaptions in web design

Since the development of the internet, websites were ever since part of the marketing strategy of companies. The platform is mostly used to disseminate information on the company’s products. At first, the pages were text based and it was enough to simply copywrite the content in the language of a foreign country to meet cultural differences. However, interactive elements, such as video or sound, have leveraged the web design and had a bigger impact on ailien markets. In order to advertise products on a website more successfully, it is the task of marketing departments and of web designers to study the target group and to reflect how the company’s message can be conveyed correctly (Würtz 2005).

In a study conducted by Marcus and West Gould (2000) it was found out that “different cultures look for different data to make decisions” (Marcus & West Gould 2000). The main goal of web designers should therefore be to convert page visitors to customers. Therefore, it is essential to display the right information for the right target group without stereotyping (Marcus & West Gould 2000). To achieve that, the user experience of a website should be regularly improved together with people belonging to a certain culture (Rohles 2017).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Web design in high and low context cultures
An analysis of Starbucks’ websites in the German and Korean markets
Fresenius University of Applied Sciences Idstein
Intercultural Competences
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Culture, webdesign, starbucks, marketing, intercultural communication, intercultural marketing, Hall, edward hall, communication
Quote paper
Martina Cimminiello (Author), 2020, Web design in high and low context cultures, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/989794


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