Multichannel Marketing in Asia Q&A
Answered October 28th, 2009 by Expert:
Asia is amongst the most diversified market across all continents. It is a unique amalgamation of developed and developing worlds, and everything in-between. What binds these worlds together as one culture is belief in society’s collective growth, prosperity and advancement. Despite wide diversities in the basic life philosophy between Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians, belief systems across Asia reinforce stability and order as the only ultimate “good”, and chaos as evil. These thoughts lead most Asian cultures towards collectivistic and morally relativistic values, in a sharp contrast with Western individualistic and “enlightened” values of rational absolutism.
However, just knowing the basic characteristics of Asian societies as collectivists does not guarantee success of ‘one size fit all strategy’ for Asian markets. For instance, in both Japan and China, “harmony” is core to societal existence. In China, it’s a means to an end and characterized by “stability” and “order.” Individual or national advancement is the ultimate objective. In Japan, harmony means “fitting in” and becomes an end in itself and means “peace” and “mutual respect.” Primary satisfaction is taken in consensus. Yes, the young Japanese generation is, relatively speaking, more “individualistic” but not in a rebellious (i.e., Western) sense.
One must understand that though Asian societies are collectivists and relativists in their basic tenets, each market has its own nuance within these frameworks, driven by historical, political, and technological environment. As a marketer, one must understand these nuances carefully before developing marketing materials for these markets. Japan is an anxious society today, therefore, the collective value is more about security and safety; China’s ambitious society is driven by the collective value of achievements and reward; India’s catching-up society responds well to collective values of “rewards for job well done,” and “smart thinking taking them ahead in life.”
It is telling that Japan and China, both anti-individualistic, express the importance of collectivism in subtle but significantly different ways. Chinese say, “The leading goose gets shot down.” The Japanese say, “The nail that sticks up gets hits down.” The former is ambitious, recognizing the impulse of forward advancement, albeit within a regimented structure. The latter is collective, harmony-driven.
In the ambitious race within the expected societal frameworks, “face saving” is very important for the Chinese, and to be harmonious in all aspects of life – personal and professional – “being polite” is important for the Japanese.
India, on the other hand, with its history full of invasions since the 11th century, from Turks to British, is an interesting mix of several cultural values woven into one. These values range from the fundamental Brahman hierarchy and belief in “karma” (doing one’s duties well and leaving the rewards to the divine forces of universe and nature) inherited from their prehistoric scriptures, to liberal thoughts that developed with the mixing of several cultures during medieval and modern history, where today even a person from foreign origins is well-accepted and respected as head of a ruling political party. Southeast Asia, with their centuries-old trade and cultural ties with the Indian subcontinent, has an influence of “original” Indian values of a patriarchal society, with a desire for individual liberalization acquired from close interactions and exposure to the Western world fueled by tourism industry in the recent past.
These historical nuances in values become more complex with the differences in current political, demographic and technological environment of these markets. For example, China – with its strict media control on self expression, single-child policy leading to an unrestricted and over indulged childhood, and a young population which is craving for Western thoughts and way of life – is turning out to be “netizen” society with the highest number of bloggers in the world. Japan, with its aging population and inherent love for technological gizmos such as electronically controlled toilet seats and digital games for physical exercise, is a “lonely” society with collectivist values. Indians, with more than half of its population below 30 years of age, enjoys the highest form of freedom in self-expression and a liberal democratic frame work, and are a self-indulgent and highly vocal lot in public life but follow collectivist values in matters related to family and extended family.
To be successful in Asia, brands must align themselves with the complex Asian world view, lest they sacrifice both revenue and profits in a market which is currently the economic growth engine of the world.
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