Executive summary of “Tangibilizing services through visual tangible cues in corporate Web sites: a six-country cross-cultural analysis”

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



(2014), "Executive summary of “Tangibilizing services through visual tangible cues in corporate Web sites: a six-country cross-cultural analysis”", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 28 No. 7. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-09-2014-0303



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Executive summary of “Tangibilizing services through visual tangible cues in corporate Web sites: a six-country cross-cultural analysis”

Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Services Marketing, Volume 28, Issue 7

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

Advertise your company’s services on the corporate Web site, and you have a whole array of tools to play with. Will there be photographs or illustrations, stills or animations? Will the information offered be direct and literal or more symbolic – in other words will the visuals identify, describe, compare and demonstrate what is on offer, or will there be “storytelling”, perhaps associated with a character or celebrity, to get the message across? Important questions, bearing in mind the intangibility of services, and the consequent need of visual tangible clues in advertising.

Whatever the Web-design choices made, so long as the services available are communicated to potential customers, does it matter? Well it does, because, depending on what market you are operating in, consumers might have very different attitudes towards such messages. How you communicate might be just as important as the fact that you are communicating.

An increasing number of service firms have been expanding into international markets and organizations need to be aware of cultural differences in how their marketing strategies might be received. Advertising messages are often built on the shared cultural values of a particular society because culture is believed to be one of the influential factors affecting consumer attitudes towards advertising. Advertising should appeal to the unique cultural characteristics of the target country which reflect consumers’ needs, tastes and desires. Even the Web, deemed to be a more global medium due to its universal access, is bound to culture.

Previous research has classified cultures into high-context cultures, where most information is already shared by people in the society and very little information is in the coded, explicit and transmitted part of the message, and low-context cultures, where most of the information is vested in the message and detailed background information is needed in the interaction with others. Much information remains unspoken and messages are delivered in an abstract, implicit and indirect manner in high-context cultures because dependence on the context is very high. In contrast, communication is straightforward, explicit and direct in low-context cultures because people convey messages directly with little need for context. Most Eastern countries, such as Japan, Korea and China, and Arabian countries are high-context, where people have extensive information networks with family, friends and organizations. The USA, Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Scandinavia and other Northern Europeans are low-context cultures.

In “Tangibilizing services through visual tangible cues in corporate Web sites: a six-country cross-cultural analysis”, Dr Daechun An examines differences in the use of visual tangible cues in the local corporate websites of six nations. The USA, the UK and Germany were chosen to represent Western cultures, characterized by small power distance, individualism, low uncertainty avoidance and low information context, whereas Japan, China and Korea are representative of Eastern cultures, characterized by large power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, collectivism and high information context.

Dr An observed a clear pattern of differences in the major visual functions (literal versus symbolic), the use of photographs versus illustrations, and the utilization of interactive elements between the two groups of nations. Eastern visuals tend to rely more on symbolic visuals performing association function, mixed use of photographs and illustrations and customer endorsement, whereas Western visuals are more likely to perform literal functions, use photographs and feature customer – employee interactions.

Eastern marketers may need to avoid assertive, direct visual cues. Visuals explicitly identifying brand/company name, providing detailed information (i.e. price, quality and performance of the service), or comparing other services may be disturbing when communicating with customers of Eastern markets. Instead, the Eastern style is to put greater emphasis on the associated images of services and mood-creating visual cues, such as cultural icons, beautiful scenery and animated stories, which may be better communicated in the form of illustrations. Instead of relying on customer – employee interactions, effective Eastern visuals may focus on featuring knowledgeable customers to share information with potential customers. In doing so, a variety of interactive tools need to be inserted into the visual to help tangibilize the service.

On the other hand, marketers need to understand the assertiveness and directness of low-context cultures and how these characteristics relate to the use of visual tangible cues in Western markets. Here, services marketers may want to rely more on visuals clearly displaying what the service is, what it contains, and how it works, by using photographs. Given the importance of an emotional connection between customers and service providers in shaping customers’ perception of service quality, Western visuals might benefit from displaying customer – employee interactions as a means of delivering service quality information. Like in Eastern markets, another alternative for improving tangibility in Western markets is to utilize interactive tools in their visuals.

Instead of tailoring an advertisement to individual target countries, marketers can benefit from grouping target markets and using the standardized visuals within each group and consequently maximize advantages the standardized approach offers.

To read the full article enter 10.1108/JSM-04-2013-0097 into your search engine.

(A précis of the article “Tangibilizing services through visual tangible cues in corporate Web sites: a six-country cross-cultural analysis”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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