Does your new business idea fit cultural norms?

Share these new ideas
(Copyright © 2014 by Chesney Bradshaw, all rights reserved)
(Copyright © 2014 by Chesney Bradshaw, all rights reserved)

An Italian family opened a package from the US that was sent by an aunt who had immigrated there. Inside the package was a jar of dark powder. The mother thought it was an exotic spice and made a pasta sauce with the powder. The family ate the meal and enjoyed the flavour of the powder. But they were horrified some time afterwards when they received the letter from the aunt explaining that they should expect the uncle’s cremated remains soon.

Perhaps a tall story? But it does illustrate how cultural norms or cultural filters allow people to even see a jar of cremated ashes as a jar of delicious spices.

Cultural filters determine how we view even the most simple of objects. How have you been led to make decisions because of cultural norms? Have you considered cultural moms or filters when trying to introduce a new product or service?

An interesting example of a product that was hailed as “genius” but failed to in hospitals was the NeoNurture Incubator. In 2010 Time Magazine listed the incubator as one of the year’s best inventions. The originator tried to introduce the incubator to the developing world but then encountered resistance. Hospitals in the developing world did not want new technology that looked like it was made from car parts. They preferred to have no equipment than something that looked “cheap and crummy”, according to the innovator.
A basic principle for new products or services is that the adoption of technology is often determined by existing cultural norms that could prevent widespread use.

I remember years ago when my father brought Japanese fishing lures on our ski boat. The crew looked at the Japanese lures and laughed. They didn’t believe that these lures, which were about the quarter size of the normal lure that we used to catch yellowtail, bonito and snoek in False Bay, would work. My father, despite the howls of laughter, went ahead and tested the lures while trolling for game fish in False Bay. Suddenly, he got a strike on one of the Japanese lures while the rest of the crew caught nothing. He caught several fish on the lures and then soon the rest of the crew wanted them too.

When I was working in the food manufacturing industry one of the company’s divisions launched a baby food product made from maize meal. It was a highly nutritious product, fortified with vitamins, but consumer demand never took off. Potential customers were used to similar baby food cereals made from wheat and were not convinced of the benefits of a maize-based baby cereal. Feeding scheme personnel recognised the nutritious qualities of the maize-based baby cereal and couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The product found better adoption with these feeding schemes, hospitals and clinics than from consumers.

Whatever product or service that stems from your new business idea, it pays to test its acceptance with your local market. If cultural norms or filters are present, you may face an uphill battle in trying to introduce your new product or service onto the market. Before you invest your hard-earned savings or hard-won business loan on a new product or service, make sure you find out what will be acceptable to your potential customers.


Leave a Reply