The Power of Power Distance Belief
By Eric Butterman
Lingjiang Lora Tu
The reach to potential consumers in education is stronger than ever before—these researchers argue the message needs to be more tailored to the audience.
Success in the education industry partly hinges on successful marketing, but the potential pie is much larger due to the global reach of the internet and other channels. But to be effective for this vast opportunity, should marketing have the same strategy for different cultural backgrounds?
Clinical Associate Professor Lingjiang Lora Tu and Associate Professor JaeHwan Kwon both say no. Joined by co-author Huachao Gao, assistant professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, they utilized a popular concept which was developed by famed social psychologist Geert Hofstede: Power Distance Belief (PDB).
Their paper, “Heart or Mind? The Impact of Power Distance Belief on the Persuasiveness of Cognitive versus Affective Appeal in Education Marketing Messages,” truly opens possibilities, Tu said, as little research attention has been paid to the potential impacts of PDB on education marketing.
What is power distance belief?
“It is an attitude toward social hierarchy or status inequality and it is originally a cultural measure,” Tu said. “People with high PDB value hierarchy and accept inequality as legitimate and facts of life. People with low PDB believe in the inherent equal worth of all people and perceive inequality as illegitimate.”
PDB, Tu said, focuses on attitude and sometimes is not always consistent with the actual inequality in a society. For example, American people have lower PDB than Japanese people, she said. Tu added that the actual inequality in the U.S. is higher than that in Japan. The authors found that consumers who value hierarchy are more likely to be persuaded by rational and outcome-focused education advertisements, whereas consumers who value equality are more likely to be persuaded by emotional and process-focused education ads.
For the authors’ research, which is slated to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research, they tested the impact of PDB on consumers’ responses to emotional and rational education ads in a series of experiments. They also looked at a field study and a content analysis across 37 countries using a wide range of education products and services. The research assessed learning which spanned from how to play the guitar to learning mobile app development. Their results revealed that low PDB consumers would overall prefer educational products presented with an emotional appeal and high distance belief consumers prefer to hear about the results it will yield.
“For example, you are marketing a textbook, in the United States you may see better results by focusing on how enjoyable it will be,” Kwon said. “For Asia, you may want to highlight what you will get out of the book.”
Tu offers that low PDB and high-power distance belief are actually two perceptions which co-exist in everyone’s mind.
“There are two perceptions about education,” she said. “Sometimes you think of education more as a tool and sometimes more as a process but we found PDB can actually activate one learning mindset.”
Next, the researchers want to see if the same results would hold true with products other than educational marketing.
“We believe we will find similar findings in multiple other categories,” Kwon said.
For now, Tu is excited about the effect the research can have on the ever-widening expanse of educational marketing.
“People don’t really think as much about education as a commercial product but with the internet and education providers like Coursera, education is getting more commercialized and universities recruit students from all over the globe,” she said. “Communication can be improved with customers by thinking about the culture involved. It’s time to think further about how you tailor your message to different parts of the world.”