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Self reference criterion and sub cultural groups

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Marketing
Wordcount: 3164 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this assignment, I have tried to answer the assigned questions with explanation. Several online documents and books are used as guideline to refer to the subject matter. This assignment has given me an opportunity to probe in to the matter deeply. This task contains detail description on the subjects: self-reference criterion and importance of foreign sub cultural groups. This piece of work discusses the positive and negative effect of the issues on marketing plan. It explains what can and cannot happen when marketers neglect or emphasize on these matters while thinking of introducing their products to other countries. Some real life examples are also provided in the writing to make the explanation more clear.

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Self-reference criterion and sub cultural groups are two significant aspects of to be considered while making marketing plan. It is very important to learn the consumer preferences and purchase intensions before proposing new products to them. The effectiveness of the current advertising campaign also depends on marketer’s knowledge about the markets and the prospects. Self-reference criterion is the assumption that products can be successfully put on the foreign market depending on its achievement in domestic market. As we read the following sections, we will see that this concept is not right rather it is an obstacle for the business organizations that plans to enter international markets for the first time. It is more important to understand the sub cultural characteristics of the foreign market very carefully before entering in it. Marketers should understand the self-reference criterion avoid applying it and concentrate studying the sub cultural characteristics in planning for international markets.

Question A

Explain the concept of ‘self reference criterion’ and demonstrate its importance to a marketing firm planning to enter the international markets for the first time.


A subject to represent himself, herself, or itself uses ‘Self-reference’. It is a kind of thought expressed by the pronoun, the word “I” in English. Self-reference criterion is a similar concept. Self-reference criterion (SRC) is a concept that talks about the situation where a company tries to sell products to another country using the same beliefs, action, and considering the same situation, as he used in his own country. The self-reference criterion is the tendency of an individual to use the principles and values of one’s own culture to evaluate others. For example [1] American may observe more traditional societies to be “backward” and “unmotivated” because they usually cannot come up with the adaptation of new technologies or social customs and instead prefer to stick to the traditional values.

Generally, when an individual put in a situation, the way s/he responds is associated with his/her culture. When organizations carry their operations internationally, working a different cultural environment is obvious. At these circumstances, self-reference behaviour may not be the correct behaviour from the viewpoint of the target culture. Hence, comprehensive understanding and realization of cultural differences and possibility is very important in case of international marketing. Since domestically cultural differences are minor, SRC is not necessary in domestic marketing. For example, in Bangladesh, there is a difference between the culture of rural people and urban people but a greater cultural difference exists between Bangladesh and America. The important issue is to know how these biases may come in the way in dealing with members of other cultures.

Ethnocentrism is another term similar to self-reference criterion. It means the tendency of viewing one’s culture superior to others. Normally there is a tendency of outsiders to a culture to exaggerate the similarity of members of that culture to each other. Ethnocentrism occurs generally when managers from affluent countries work with managers and markets in less affluent countries. SRC and ethnocentrism are both hindrance in the way of achievement to success. One of the barriers in succeeding in the international market are a person’s self-reference criterion (SRC) and an associated ethnocentrism. While SRC is an unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values, experiences, and knowledge but it is intimately related to ethnocentrism.

From our birth to being adult a set of facts, beliefs, norms, principles and ethics are cultivated inside us. Our behaviour, thoughts and reaction (both voluntary and involuntary) are influenced by our cultural education. When we are stuck in a situation or face a problem, we refer to our SRC in search of the solution. Our response and decisions are based on meanings, values, symbols and behaviour relevant to our own culture; different from foreign culture. Any decisions taken from own cultural point of view is right until it is for domestic purpose. When we mix with people of another culture, intentionally or inadvertently, a gap is generated or to be better said maintained. This space usually leads to a misunderstanding between people of different cultures. Only way to stop or get out of such misunderstandings is to grow the ability of acceptance of understanding, behaving and thinking like the person we are talking to.

The key to successful marketing is to accept the environmental differences between each market. The behaviour pattern of consumers of any market will not match with that of the consumers of another market exactly. Although some similarities might exit but for a company, in order to enter a new market and position itself successfully it is very important to understand the characteristics of the market and design the offerings. For an international marketer, adaptation is a conscious effort to anticipate the factors that influence the marketing mix and plan the marketing mix to minimize the effects. Two examples [2] : the word “Pet” in pet milk. This name has been used many years, but in France the word Pet means, among other things, flatulence again, and is not right image for canned milk. Esso, the brand name of a gasoline, was a successful name in the United States; however, in Japan the name phonetically means stalled car an undesirable image for gasoline. These two examples were real blunders made by the major companies shooting from reliance on their SRC in making decision. Thus for international marketing, relying on one’s SRC is not good idea as it leads to failure.

The assessment of market needs can be impeded by one’s own cultural experience. Lee (1965) [3] suggested a way, to systemically reduce this perception. He suggested a four-point approach.

To define the problem or goal in terms home country’s persona, lifestyle and norms.

To define the problem or goal in terms of the foreign persona, lifestyle and norms.

Separate the influence of SRC in the problem and scrutinize it carefully to see how it completes the pattern

Redefine the problem without the influence of SRC and find out a solution for the foreign market situation.

The negative approach of this approach is that culture may be hidden or non-apparent. Hidden factors in b) may be difficult. Nonetheless, the approach gives beneficial guidelines for the need of standardization or adaptation in marketing planning.

SRC Product Influence Matrix

It is apparent from previous discussion that whenever it is a question of globalizing a product there must be some space for adaption in the marketing plan and decisions regarding foreign cultures. SRC product matrix [4] is a simple guideline that helps to remember the steps to analysis one’s domestic cultural expectation and put this in comparison with the admired foreign cultural market in terms of core features, geographic and societal influence.

Initial step to understand a market is to identify the customer needs, desire etc. At the same time, the marketer should also look for the social and geographical influential factors that can affect a market. However, the factors identified domestically are different form international factors. Usually while on international business, a company cannot satisfy a whole country rather they chose geographical units such as nations, states, regions, cities or neighbourhoods. For example [5] , Hilton Hotels customizes rooms and lobbies according to location. Kmart allow local managers to stock products that suit the local community. Geographical factors also includes city or metro size, density, climate etc. Social factors that can influence international marketing are naming value system, colours, language etc. As for instance, French connection UK is a British retailer of clothing and accessories in many parts of the world. This is a company of England, founded in 1992. They have styled their name is “FCUK”. French connection UK when went to Singapore and California could not succeed there. The reason was that their styled name “FCUK” has resemblance to a slang word and so was not accepted by the people of Singapore and California.

A market analyst’s study about a market will bring out some perceived newness or causes for obstacles in the market. His SRC may be biased when interpreting the characteristics of a product. He should evaluate product characteristics from the foreign user’s frame of reference rather than his own frame of reference, which might result in misinterpretation of the products cultural importance. Therefore, to enter an international market for the first time, a marketer should avoid self-reference criterion and try to understand the behaviour of the foreign market from the foreign cultural point of view.

Question B

Why should the international marketer have knowledge of sub cultural groups when attempting to segment markets in a particular country or region?


As defined by Kotler [6] “Culture is the fundamental determinant of a person’s wants and behaviours”. From the birth and at the stage of growing we are exposed to values like achievement and success, activity, efficiency and practicality, progress, material comfort, individualism, freedom, external comfort, humanitarianism, and youthfulness. Culture creates bond between a groups of people who shares a community. It is a pattern of humanity. Culture shapes people’s life and represents their moral value. The different culture in the world brought variations in ways of living style and standard. Sometimes mixtures of various cultures are also seen. As for instance people in Bangladesh have brought changes in their dress style by following western fashions like girls wearing T-shirts and jeans, teen agers having too much of fast foods. Marketers must attentively look into the cultural values in every country to understand the success of their existing product in new markets and find opportunities for new products.

Subcultures are part of cultures that provide more precise identification and social recognition for their members. Subcultures consist of nationalities, religions, racial groups, and geographic regions. If a subculture is large and wealthy enough, organizations, marketers consider it as a separate segment and designs specialized marketing programs to serve them. In other words, subculture is a cluster of like-minded people who have separate recognition in the society. Subculture is also defined [7] as “Distinctive group of people in a society that share common cultural meanings for affective and cognitive responses, behaviour, and environmental factors.

For example: age, religion, ethnicity, and geographic. Subculture is ambiguous and lends itself to different interpretations. [8] For marketing purposes, “a subculture may be described as any cultural patterning that preserves important features of the dominant society but provides values and life styles of its own”.

Subcultures are more complex part of a society and needs to be monitored carefully by a marketer who wishes to serve a particular people of same behaviour pattern. For example [9] Black subculture is: women head most of the families, they influences purchases, and they are deprived of income, and have educational limitations. This gives the blacks different attitudes than whites towards product choice, brand selection and spending criterion.

For marketers or market, analysts understanding sub cultural segment whether domestic or international is important as it gives them an opportunity to think of a market segment separately. It might help them creating a new market. They can use focus or differentiation strategy in order to satisfy the sub-cultural segment. They can offer products with special features, styles, colour, and sizes along with taking care of their income and spending ability. This can extend competition in the market appearing as a strong competitor in the eyes of business rivals. By serving sub-cultural segment, a company can influence its market positioning.

Marketers use various demographic characteristics to identify subcultures; as for example [10] :

Demographic Characteristics

Examples of subcultures


Adolescents, Young Adults, Middle Aged, Elderly


Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim


Black, Caucasian, Asian

Income level

Affluent, Middle Income, Poor, Destitute


French, Malaysian, Australian, Canadian


Female, Male

Family type

Single Parent, Divorced/No Kids, Two Parents/Kids


Mechanic, Accountant, Priest, Professor, Clerk

Geographic region

New England, Southwest, Midwest


Rural, Small Town, Suburb, City

For mass marketing purposes religious subcultures are not usually treated as important segments. But those who market exclusively to religious segments are often quite successful.

It is usually seen, that people of a country are always attracted to foreign products. Nations of developing countries have belief that foreign products are more reliable, full of quality and the packaging of such products tends to be more attractive. This is an advantage for foreign companies. In order to maintain this belief of people it is imperative for the marketers to probe into the cultural aspects of the country they want to enter. Marketers need to find out the right target market for their product/service. Once they find out the people’s desire and understand what is right for that society and what are the likings and disliking of the potential customer, they help formulate an effective 4P’s for a company. For example, in today’s date, in Bangladesh Chinese handsets are enjoying in the market. Most of the users are the low class people (amounting a large number) who had a latent demand of additional features like camera, double sim, and touch screen, wide screen etc in their mobile phones. Usually, mobile phones having these features were very expensive. Chinese handset companies added this features, gave the phone an attractive look and the most important thing, charges price affordable by low-income people. The lower segment felt their dream come true and accepted the product with all their heart. The truth is because of its attractive, smart look even wealthy people also like the product. Chinese handsets like Sprint, Symphony, Green, Noka, Nokla, Maximus, Bluetooth etc are now competing with Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericson etc in Bangladesh. Low segment usually constitute a large market in developing countries. If this segment is targeted and can be understood properly, it can lead to huge profit for any organization.

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Segmentation results to be fruitful only if the correct segment is chosen. The chosen segment has to be measurable in terms of market size, substantial, accessible, and differentiable. Understanding the sub culture is not only important for product design but also to identify the promotional tools, arrange the message to be delivered to the customers and how it is to be done i.e. selection of the media, find out the distribution outlets. Promoting a product in the shed of local cultures of where the product is to be sold attracts the customer emotionally. A feeling that “yes, the company is thinking about us seriously” gives the customer a mental satisfaction and they reward the company with purchasing the product.

Customers are emotional and sensitive to cultural and sub-cultural issues. To win customers faith companies should never overlook their (customers’) beliefs, norms and values. Organizations should remember that once they get into customers’ brain with a good image they will always live in customer’s heart.


From the above discussion, we got a clear idea about the two vital topics of marketing: ‘Self-reference criterion’ (SRC) and ‘sub cultural groups’. Both of the subjects are sensitive issue for the marketers while planning the market. It is not always appropriate to judge one’s behaviour from own point of view. An organization wanting to cross its own country border should be culturally open. SRC can create hindrance in the way of victory of an organization internationally whereas understanding the sub cultural features can make an organization live in the heart of people abroad.


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