What is Culture? Definition, Characteristics, Components, Types

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What is Culture?

Culture is defined as the collective values, customs, norms, arts, social institutions, and intellectual achievements of a particular society.

Culture influences consumers through the norms and values established by the society in which they live. It is the broadest environmental factor that influences you as consumer. Cultural values are enduring and any attempts to change them generally fail.

The study of culture is concerned with a comprehensive examination of factors such as language, religion, knowledge, laws, art, music, work patterns, social customs, festivals and food etc. of a society. The impact of culture is automatic and almost invisible and its influence on behaviour is usually taken for granted.

Definition of culture

The collective values, customs, norms, arts, social institutions, and intellectual achievements of a particular society.

  • Culture is the complex whole that includes knowledge, art, law, morals, customs, belief and any other capabilities and habits acquired by human as members of society.

  • Learned behavior and results of behavior whose component elements are shared and transmitted by members of a particular society. It is learned as opposed to genetically inherited behavior.

  • It is a (shaped) configuration of behaviors rather than fragmented isolated behavioral elements. It also implies that culture is interactive and passed from one generation to another.

Characteristics of culture

There are following characteristics of culture:

  1. Functional
  2. Socialization
  3. Prescriptive
  4. Learnable
  5. Arbitrariness
  6. Evaluative
  7. Cumulative
  8. Adaptive


The culture of every society has specific functions that it performs. It offers stability, dependability framework of common values, traditions, beliefs, practices and facilitative behavior for societal interaction.


It is a social process which arises out of human interaction and is human making; it is created by the society for the society, presented by the society and transmitted through social means.


Acceptable norms and behaviors are defined and prescribed by the society through the culture. The cultural norm provides the range of desired or acceptable behaviors. Behaviors that fall outside these ranges are frowned at or ignored.


Culture is not inherited, nor is it a flexible behavior. It is rather the result of learning it was handed down through formal teaching from parents or teachers. It is also learned through imitation or observation.


What is acceptable in one culture may be rejected or frowned at in another. In India, most of the states have banned eating Beef but few states are there those do not have any rules related to eating Beef.


Cultural concepts consist of those things we should or ought to do; we should respect our elders, we should as parents love our children, we should respect the title members of the society, and we should respect authority.


Cultures are an accumulation of years of experience and knowledge. Each generation adds its own to the one it inherited from the previous generation.


As the society changes, so do value, goals, standards and culture, but cultural changes take a long period of time.

Components of culture

Three principal components of culture are:

  1. Cognitive
  2. Material components are the artifacts
  3. Normative components are the values


This refers to knowledge or idea that is relevant in observable factual evidence. It includes ideas about gods, supernatural phenomenon and concepts of life after death.

Material components are the artifacts

They vary among cultures; in some areas are bronze sculptures, others, high rise Palace, e.g. Taj Mahal.

Normative components are the values

Rules and codes of conduct those serve as the guide and regulator of behavior.

Types of cultures

Cultural values are enduring beliefs that a given behavior or outcome is desirable or good (Milton J. Rokeach). Our values, as enduring beliefs, serve as standards that guide our behavior across situations and over time. Values are so ingrained that most of us are not really consciously aware of them and individuals often have difficulty describing them.

Social values represent “normal” behavior for a society or group. Personal values define “normal” behavior for an individual. Personal values mirror the individual’s choices made from the variety of social values to which that individual gets exposed. Our value systems refer to the total set of values and the relative importance cultures place on them.

7 Types of cultures are:

  1. Maturity
  2. Security
  3. Pro-social behavior (doing nice things to others)
  4. Restrictive conformity
  5. Enjoyment in life
  6. Achievement
  7. Self-direction

Other Concepts of Culture

  1. Cultural symbolism
  2. Culture relativism
  3. Cultural change
  4. Culture and marketing

Cultural symbolism

A symbol is anything that stands for or suggests something else by association such as words, numbers or illustrations, symbols which could be either referential from one generation to another or expressive.

Expensive symbolisms are subject to interpretation, meanings are inferred to them to get the desired message across to the recipient. Symbols could make a product cheap, or prestigious. Car designers make extensive use of expressive symbols.

Culture relativism

This is the tendency of judging any behavior from the context of its own environment and cultural context. For a grown up first son of the father to die before the father is unacceptable in Ibo Land despite the fact that death is not negotiable.

To each culture, there is doubt that each will tend to uphold and defend the values and standards of its own. That is why ethnocentrism concludes that the day we do things is right and the way others do things is right and the way others do things is wrong because we are judging them from the context and standards of our own cultural setting.

Cultural change

Culture must be adaptive to survive. Cultural change therefore must be a continuous process to accommodate the technological and cultural diffusion. When a technological innovation occurs, the culture must change to accommodate it.

To clean one’s teeth is the first thing in the morning in may culture. That could be done with the chewing stick (Stick of Neem, Babool and other medicinal trees). Today, the culture has not changed but the exercise is predominantly done with the tooth brush and paste.

Culture and marketing

To succeed as an effective marketing manager, one must subscribe to the culture, its values, accept its symbols and reflect the appropriate behaviors and norms at the appropriate times.

To market same product with same promotional ideas are not successful every time and in every culture/country. Only a few products such as Coca-Cola and Limca enjoy such cross-cultural acceptance.

The same product could be marketed with different options because of the relativity and symbolism of culture. To an American, refrigerator is a kitchen appliance and should be in the kitchen. In another culture, it could be just any furniture displayed in the sitting room.

Different products and different promotions could be a strategy when the cultural way of life and the individual lifestyles are divergent in any market.

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