Michael R. Czinkota
By Michael R. Czinkota and Mariele Marki
On Friday, the royal wedding of Prince William of England and Kate Middleton took place. Hundreds of million of viewers around the world had their eyes glued to television units transmitting the momentous event.
If student action at Georgetown University is an indicator, in the U.S. at three in the morning, many Americans tuned in to live coverage of the royal wedding. Most major media networks were broadcasting from London.
According to a study by Nielsen, a leader in market research, “United States news and media outlets have out-published their U.K. counterparts in terms of wedding coverage.”
The fascination and romanticism that the United States has for the royal family and the increase in attention ever since the engagement was announced last November, demonstrates the strong ties between the United States and the United Kingdom.
This cultural connection is an excellent example of a concept developed in international business. Psychological distance is the perceived distance from a firm to a foreign market, caused by cultural variables, legal factors, history and other societal norms.
A common model used to demonstrate this theory is a comparison of the link between the United States and Canada, and the United States and Mexico.
Americans tend to identify more with Canada than with Mexico. Both countries border the United States, but for reasons of language and culture, Canada appears to be psychologically much closer.
While the U.S. and the U.K. share the same language and have a linked history, one can also see the allure of royalty in both cultures.
Disney princesses have a strong presence in every young girl’s childhood in the United States and many movies center around the plot of a fairytale with the prince and princess living happily ever after.
Women want to be treated like princesses and it is culturally very common to rejoice when one has “found her prince.” Even though the U.S. hasn’t had a royal leader in centuries, news on royal families is a regular part of television and magazine entertainment.
A large portion of the American population maintains a high level of interest in all that is regal.
Psychological proximity is much preferable to psychological distance. It helps business, creates friendships and leads to national decisions which are often unabashedly in favor of one’s friends.
Psychological distance in turn tends to slow down relationships and, in a proverb mentioned by international travelers, affects the quality of the water one might otherwise share. That makes it important that all nations work on bridging distances through collaboration, mutual visits, and confidence-building measures.
Every business transaction is another step in mutual diplomacy which links nations together. Some nations even built their growth and success based on tying the knot and closing the distance.
For example, for centuries, the proverb in Europe was “Tu Felix Austria, nube,” meaning that (in order to prosper,) you, lucky Austria, just get married.
However, as international business theory shows us, the best quality of psychological proximity occurs when it is close but not too close. Closeness creates better relationships and does make it easier for firms to enter markets.
But too much of a focus on similarities can lead to what may be considered unwelcome intrusiveness, and lets managers lose sight of important differences.
Even between the U.S. and the U.K. there are behavioral and language differences which are ignored at great peril. Just think of how new acquaintances address each other or how one talks about past accomplishments.
The fact that England still has a royal family and a society quite different from the U.S. makes the wedding interesting.
But interest does not mean that Americans would want to have royalty at home. Actually, many Americans would quite resent attempts to crown a domestic king. But that is discussed best over a spot of tea.
Michael R. Czinkota is a professor of international business and marketing at Georgetown University and the University of Birmingham in the U.K. Mariele Marki is a research assistant at Georgetown University. E-mail Prof. Czinkota at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ms. Marki at email@example.com.