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Global Marketing

Korean Trends Crossing Cultural Barriers

In the last 18 months, the West saw a rise in Korean influence, notably within the beauty and cosmetics industry. Estimated at around $13 billion in 2017, Korean beauty, or K-beauty, trends soared across Asia and resonated across the world.

What’s all the hype about?

I went into a deeper dive into the Korean cosmetics market, and here are some interesting insights:

In recent years, K-beauty companies began to expand internationally, with hallyu (Korean Wave) culture becoming more widespread. Uniquely, “South Korea's beauty industry is typically about 10-12 years ahead of the rest of the world” says Marie Claire’s digital beauty editor, Katie Thomas, in an interview she gave to BBC News. Essentially, the pillars of the makeup industry are deeply rooted into the Korean culture, and K-beauty practices are well received across Asia and the rest of the world. To K-beauty fans, the products not only offer the best quality of the best ingredients but attached to that product is the identity value that K-beauty offers consumers. Let’s break it down:

First, skincare is the essential pillar and is “ingrained in Korean culture from a very young age to look after your skin”, explains Thomas. As such, customers who use K-beauty products will rest at ease knowing they invested their money in products that have been used for centuries. Sephora then hopped on the K-beauty train, and co-developed Kaja. This was the first U.S. – K-beauty brand partnership. K-beauty became so popular that even Business Insider compiled a list of 17 of the best Korean skin-care products you can find at Sephora.

Second, there are active ingredients and new, innovative formulas constantly being developed in South Korea that would likely not be considered in the United States, simply due to lack of knowledge of such unique ingredients’ properties (snail mucus, pearl for brightening).

Additionally, the K-beauty industry has a keen focus on facial care products rather than decorative, or makeup, products. This holistic approach is desired by consumers, and the practice is consequently embodied through K-beauty products.

Third, and more importantly, K-beauty boomed online, and thousands of bloggers published video reviews of K-beauty products on a daily basis.

Interestingly, an advantage that South Korea had over countries like the United States is the widespread use of makeup by men, and thus, the amount of social influencers and bloggers was drastically higher in South Korea, just because their target market was inherently larger.

However, that didn’t stop K-beauty from resonating with non-Koreans. That’s because the added value that K-beauty is bringing to the table is coated with an extra layer of culture. K-beauty is perfected because culturally, this has been a common practice in all Korean households, and knowledge and expertise have been passed down from generation to generation. Additionally, the novelty of unknown or new ingredients adds to the appeal of such products.

Have you ever tried K-beauty products? Let us know below!

– Maria Khalil

Categories
Global Marketing

Righteousness and Marketing, Should They Go Hand In Hand?

The 2014 Winter Olympics were set to be hosted in Sochi, Russia, with roughly 10 major global sponsors endorsing the highly anticipated events. The Olympics, being truly global events, attract major players like Procter&Gamble, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, General Electric…

However, as the Olympics neared, these global companies were facing immense pressure from the media, their consumers, their business partners and really from anyone with an opinion.

The issue lied in Russia's strict anti-gay laws and propaganda. Protests erupted in Melbourne, London, Paris and even St. Petersburg. Gay rights organization such as All Out sponsored trucks with pro-gay signage to drive around Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta. Activists took to the streets to dump out Coca-Cola, symbolizing their discontent at Coca-Cola's ongoing sponsorship of the Olympic Games. The hashtag #CheersToSochi quickly trended as more and more discontent people joined the movement.

A re-made vintage Coke Ad by Queer Nation NY, denouncing their sponsorship of the Winter Olympics in Russia.

Even during the games, Swedish athletes painted their nails vivid rainbow colors as a statement, whilst Russian players from the women's relay team embraced and publicly kissed on the podium after winning. As such, the games started showing a growing potential for a highly charged, emotional and political event. Potential for arrests was very high, and the games were under intense scrutiny in the international media.

Since these major sponsors were mostly US-based companies, each sponsor was facing intense pressure at-home, and it quickly became a challenge for these brands.

Should the sponsors respect Russia's laws and culture, which are largely anti-gay and criminalize the LGBTQIA+ community, or should they take a stance and join the protests in solidarity, thus risking their sponsorship?

As it relates to our class session on cross-cultural marketing, there is the issue of the self'-reference criterion. Essentially, it's the natural tendency of a company to evaluate what they see through the lens of of their own experience, environment, and by extension, cultures and norms. This criterion could very well be the downfall of a company.

To Westerners, specifically in the US, it seems pretty self-evident that the “right” decision for companies is to stand by the LGBTQIA+ community, and refuse Russia's strict laws. However, when we consider that other countries in the Middle East or in Africa also grossly and legally denounce homosexuality and persecute it, the decision becomes that much harder. It's hard for me to write this and critically evaluate the situation, because of my own self-reference criterion. But from a business perspective, should companies sacrifice their brand, their earnings, their standing in an international market, for a cause that is only deemed valid in more Western Countries?

Tough questions, right? Especially if you're an aspiring businessperson, who will undoubtedly eventually operate in global markets. Where do you draw the line when doing business?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Thank you for reading – MK

Categories
Global Marketing

Cross-Cultural Considerations in Business

When we think of the world, we tend to associate certain traits, or behaviors, with specific countries. If you stumble upon an overly helpful/nice person, the joke can be made that they’re Canadian, or if you know any Indian “aunties”, you’ll know they’ll constantly and persistently offer you food.

Why is it that we associate specific traits, behaviors, personalities to specific countries? The answer is: culture.

Culture is one of the main considerations of the international marketing environment as explained by our peers last week.

How does culture drive behavior?

Culture begins to embed in us at a very young age, and as we grow and become more perceptive of the world, we are more and more influenced by our surrounding environments. When I (Maria) first moved to California, the more I conversed with California residents, the more my English evolved and was enhanced. I no longer speak English the way they do in Lebanon – my home country. As such, I have been, according to my friends, “Americanized”.

In his TedTalk on “How Culture Drives Behavior”, Bourrelle argues that “we all see the world through cultural glasses”. This lens, or this perspective, is an inherent part of human beings.

Consequently, how does behavior drive our choices?


Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist, pioneered the research on cross-cultural groups and organization. Hofstede successfully developed the first empirical model, originally delimiting 5 “dimensions” of a national culture. Later, Hofstede Insights added a sixth dimension: Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR).

Power Distance Index (PDI)

A large degree of power distance indicates that societies accept a specific hierarchical order, where each entity has a “rightful place”. A low PDI indicates more distribution of power and providing equality to all. This HBR article depicts the large PDI in Malaysia, mostly attributed to the Malay feudal system. In reality, global brands operating in high PDI countries focus on the “rightful place” concept, and operate its business under that pretext so as not to disrupt the social construct of a country/area.

Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)

This dimension tackles how people look after themselves within a society. Individualism is when a person focuses more on the immediate “I”, or “me”, which also engulfs family and close ones. On the other end, collectivism is based on communities, whereas each individual belongs to a specific group, with strong emphasis on loyalty and belonging. In reality, a collectivist society values relationship-building, after which business can be conducted, whereas in an individualist society, a person would much rather gather all the information about a product/service and be on their way.

Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)

In masculine cultures, a male and a female’s role are different, whereas a feminine society is one where cultural roles overlap. In masculine cultures, household work is mostly handled by women. For example, in Lebanon, you will rarely see an ad for a detergent featuring a man, as that can be perceived as offensive to the traditional role a male holds in the family, or just simply because it’s not relatable.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as “the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity and try to avoid these situations'  (de Mooji & Hofstede 2011). Countries with high UAI have a need for structure, clarity, rules and formality, and are less open to innovative or new concepts. As such, introducing technological innovations that are new (and probably not yet regulated) in a country like Greece, which has a very high UAI (roughly 100), can result in failure.

“The Greek myth about the “birth” of the world tells us a lot about high Uncertainty Avoidance: at the very beginning there was only Chaos but then Cronos (Time) came in to organize life and make it easier to manage.”

Hofstede Insights

Long/Short Term Orientations (LTO)

This dimension measures the extent (or limit) to which a society thinks into the future. In long term orientation societies, the focus isn’t on imminent happiness, rather it’s pursuing a more long-term steadiness. However, in short term orientation societies, the focus is mainly on the day to day, and how to be happy or present in the moment. This would highly influence a consumer’s behavior vis-a-vis willingness to invest in a certain product, service, market etc…

Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR)

Social norms and expectations highly drive this dimension. It essentially measures how much a society gratifies itself. In Lebanon and if you’re a woman, you may find yourself in situations where you really want that extra piece of cake. If you do reach for it, brace yourself for “but you’re going to gain weight!” comments. These dynamics highly influence an individual’s indulgence, or lack of.

Before getting into these dimensions however, don't forget about the importance of language, and don't do what IKEA did:

IKEA: What's Swedish for OOPS?

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any examples of how your own culture/background influences your behavior? Let us know in the comments section!