On Friday April 29th 2011, the royal wedding of Prince William of England and Kate Middleton will take place. Millions of eyes around the world will be glued to televisions transmitting the momentous event. In the U.S. at around six in the morning, many Americans will be tuning in to live coverage of the royal wedding. Every major media network in the country will be 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 often seen in international business. Psychological distance is the perceived distance from a firm to a foreign market, caused by cultural variables, legal factors, and other societal norms. A common model used to demonstrate this theory is a comparison between 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, however for reasons of language and culture, there appears to be much less psychological distance between Canada and the United States than there is between United States and Mexico.
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 their 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 royal.
However, as international business theory shows us, the best psychological proximity is close but not too close. Closeness does make it easier for firms to enter markets, but too much of a focus on similarities can let managers lose sight of important differences. 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, with Mariele Marki