Effects of Self Reference Criterion in International Marketing

If you take a look around yourself you will find how many goods and services are solely produced in your own country around you? Your clothes might be produced in India, your cell phone from China, your computer in Taiwan; your Coffee might be from Latin America. Whatever we talk about music, clothes, movies or our soft drinks for everything there are good chances that most of these products are produced in somewhere else in the globe. This is the global market place where good price and quality is welcomed by consumers irrespective of the region of its origination. In this scenario the need is to adopt the marketing practices that are effective beyond the borders so the importance of international marketing cannot be denied.

International marketing is not an easy task. The international marketer has to face many obstacles in the way to achieve his goals. One of the primary obstacles is whenever we face a problem; we react abruptly and take decisions on the basis of values, meanings, behaviors and symbols that we have taken from our own culture. This type of decisions usually do not proved to be correct, as values, meanings and all other elements of culture usually differ from country to country. This is called self reference criterion (SRC). The self reference criterion is when decisions are taken on the basis of experiences, values and knowledge of one’s own culture.

Self-reference criterion (SRC) is an unconscious reference to one’s own ability to assess a foreign market in its true light. Having sold a product successfully in the domestic market a firm may assume that the product will, without adaptation, also be successful in foreign markets. Frequently this assumption leads to failure. The SRC refers to the assumption that what is suitable for the home market will be suitable for the foreign market and therefore there is no need to test whether or not the product should be altered.

The understanding of self reference criterion is very much important for the marketing firm that plans to enter in international markets. In local markets on the basis of self reference criterion; the marketer can predict the future responses of customers to a particular product but in the markets of some other country or culture the responses of customers will be based on their unique cultural environment. Even when the marketing strategy for international market is developed very carefully, chances of misunderstandings cannot be entirely vanished due to many un-avoidable factors. The intervention of self reference criterion in international marketing practices can be easily understood with the help of following examples.

In an advertisement created by Nestle’ corporation for their Kit Kat, a voice cover of local language was used for both countries UK and Italy. In that advertisement the quack, universal language of ducks, and duck callers were used by duck hunter to attract the ducks. Meanwhile in the commercial they became frustrated and to have a cheerful break they need a Kit Kat. That advertisement could not be succeeded because of the cultural differences between the consumer’s culture and marketer’s culture. In Italy the hunting is considered as a negative act and Italian also took Kit Kat as a luxury and product. From this example we can clearly say that the success of a marketing strategy is critically based on customer understandings and its important is raised more when we talk about international marketing.

In 1996 McDonald’s opened seven restaurants in India. The 40% population of India is vegetarian and they do not eat meat or animal proteins. The fish, frozen meat and spicy foods were also not frequently used by remaining meat eaters. So in order to be successful in new market the McDonald’s had make many changes to its prime products and needed to use separate tools and kitchens to make burgers and other products according to the needs of Indian markets. This all created many problems for the company and company had also incurred many extra costs. This example shows that how companies have to face self-referencing criterion when expanding their business in new international markets.

When Unilever started its operations in Brazil and wanted to introduce detergents, the biggest issues that company faced ware that people in Brazil don’t have washing machines, in rural areas people used to wash their clothes at the river and most of the population of Brazil was poor and they were very much conscious about the products. So to avoid self reference criterion the Unilever first developed a formula of soap, they made the plastic packing of soaps to conveniently use while washing clothes on rivers and they made small packing of detergents in order to low their prices and made them affordable for maximum number of population that have low incomes. This was the most successful tool used by the company to avoid the effects of self reference criterion and recognized the existence of this influence in our behaviors.

Cultural differences and especially language difference have a significant on the way a product may be used in a market, its brand name and the advertisement campaign. Such as Coca-Cola had to withdraw their two-liter bottle from Spain when they found that Spaniards did not own fridges with sufficiently large compartments. Again Johnson’s floor wax was doomed to failure in Japan as it made the wooden floors very slippery and Johnson failed to take into account the custom of not wearing shoes inside the home. Initially, Coca-Cola had enormous problems in China as Coca-Cola sounded like ‘Kooke Koula’ which translates into ‘A thirsty mouthful of candle wax’. They managed to find a new pronunciation ‘Kee Kou Keele’ which means ‘joyful tastes and happiness’.

It is argued that one can never understand deeply each and every aspect of the culture but awareness about major aspects can be obtained, and he should ask bout that he does not know and should be open enough to accept the differences. The global awareness can be used as most effective tool to control the effects of self reference criterion and ensure the success of an international marketing campaign.

Objective to understand the opportunities in correct manners make correct assessments of organizations potential and design responses to the expected problems. Mostly the western companies attracted towards India due to its huge market of more than one billion population and take it as a good opportunity and market with a lot of potential but they ignore the purchasing power and low income factors of the economy of India, the inefficient media, poor distribution, poor and low standard of infrastructures and many other factors that cause the reduction in potential of this huge markets for many kind of products.

Tolerant towards the differences prevail among cultures. It is referred to the understanding of differences prevail among cultures and acceptance of these differences when working in a common working place with those who belongs to different cultural group.

Knowledgeable of history, cultures, general trends and real potentials of markets. The awareness of culture is very much important if one wants to know the behaviors of some particular market place. The basic element of the environment in which the company is going to start its business is culture of that place and consumer behaviors are very much influenced by this. The history of that place is very much important to understand the behaviors of consumers as past events always have great effects on the way people behave in a particular case. By analyzing the history we can understand why British were not in favor of the channel tunnel between France and Britain and why Turkish products are not liked in Greek. The understanding of market potential is important because they are varying very fast. If we see now we will find many regions of the world that showing increasing potential, many markets have emerging trends and most of the European markets have been saturated. In next twenty years the emerging markets from Asia will show huge potentials for future businesses. The understandings of general trends like global political, economical and social trends are very much important because growth process of the market is depend upon these trends. A good marketer will identify the market opportunities before anyone else could know them.

Now it is very much clear that the success of marketing firm is very much dependent on its ability to understand the customers and even more like a life blood for firms that are operating at international level. Following are some more examples to develop more understanding of the concept.

  • In China green color is used to represent the people who sells vegetables so British racing green has no chances to be successful in China.
  • In Brunei the Yellow color is considered as royal color and its public use is not appreciated.
  • In order to show the sorrow of death purple color is used in Mexico.
  • In china number 8 is taken as lucky number and considered as premium number to take as number of cars but number 4 is considered vice versa.

The firms operating at international level must be very much conscious about the translations of their slogans, tag lines or brand names etc. in local language of that place. If they don’t take it seriously it can be very harmful for their marketing campaigns. Hundred of examples can be presented about the improper selection of Brand names and designs that caused failures because of self referencing criterion.

  • Superpiss that is a Scandinavian dicer it cannot be translated into English properly.
  • Pschitt is lemonade from France and cannot be advertised in Germany as its proper translation is not possible in German.
  • Bimbo bread and Bum Crisps are brands from Spain and their advertisement is not possible in United States as their names are not acceptable there.
  • The slogan of Pepsi Cola ”Come Alive with Pepsi” is not acceptable in china as in Chinese it means ”Pepsi raises relatives from the dead.”

James Lee (1966) used the term ‘self reference criterion’ (SRC) to characterize our unconscious reference to our own culture values when examining other cultures. He accepted the importance of self-reference criterion for marketing firms and provided an approach of four stages in order to mitigate the biases raised by this self-referencing criterion especially in international marketing.

  1. In first step the problem is defined on the basis of culture of home country.
  2. In second step the problem should be defined again on the basis of culture of the country in which company wants to start operations without involving value judgments.
  3. Control the effects of self-referencing criterion on problem definition and analyze the problem.
  4. Then problem is redefined without the self-referencing criterion.

The importance to understand the effects of self-reference criterion cannot be overlooked by the marketing firm that wants to operate at international level. It can act as life blood for the success of the marketing campaigns designed by the company and their effectiveness is based on the understanding of the campaigns developers about the culture of the host country.

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