Emotional concepts need cultural context

Sep 01 2017

TapestryWorks have long used visual stimuli to capture the motivations and emotions associated with customer jobs, categories, brands and executions, and in a recent self-funded study we looked at the role of context, and specifically cultural context, in shaping the feelings of women about beauty.

TapestryWorks chose beauty as it’s a topic that we have previously researched in detail. We set out to measure how beauty relates to different emotional ‘concepts’ (motivational segments), but through three different measurement techniques. The online survey was conducted in the UK and Indonesia, so we tested sets of visual stimuli that reflect ‘Western’ (not specifically British) portrayal of motivations, visual stimuli that reflect Indonesian portrayal of motivations, and a set of words and phrases (in English and Bahasa Indonesia) that correspond with the same motivational segments.

We asked women, “What is the beauty that you desire for yourself?”, in each case giving them the option to pick three items from a collection of 36 stimuli (words or pictures). What did they have to say?

Let’s start with their choice of words and phrases. You will probably not be surprised to learn that Confidence is important to women and one of the key goals from beauty. In fact, word selections were dominated by the concept of ‘Confidence’, which was chosen by a majority of British and Indonesian women and three times more than any other concept.

The words we used to express Confidence were confident, charismatic and surprised in the UK and percaya diri, karismatik and terkejut in Indonesia. [Note that surprise is something that confident people sometimes fear as it means that they are not completely in command of the situation. It is therefore a neutral or negative version of confidence.]

The word confident (or percaya diri) itself was chosen by 63% of Indonesian women and 55% of British women, again much more frequently than any other word. Does that mean that all beauty brands have to do is help women be confident?

Let’s take a pause here. What does ‘confident’ actually mean to you? And is that the same thing as it means to me, or to the person sat next to you? We are probably all familiar with the view of confidence taken by many international beauty brands, but does that hold true in the UK and Indonesia?

The answer is that concept of Confidence can mean many things, depending on the cultural context. While a majority of British women choose the word confidence much more frequently than others, when presented with images they are equally likely to choose confidence in the sense of enjoying life and confidence in the sense of physical (and mental) power. Likewise, Indonesian women use the phrase percaya diri much more frequently than any other, but are equally likely to choose images that reflect confidence in the sense of enjoying life (just like British women) and confidence in the sense of hope and serenity (i.e., optimism).

Overall the key concepts associated with ideal beauty are Confidence, Courage and Fun for British women and Confidence, Idealism and Fun for Indonesian women. Women in the UK and Indonesia share much in common, but there are also differences in the key concepts and, just as importantly, the way that these concepts are expressed in a local context.

Emotional concepts only work when we understand the local cultural context, consistent with the latest understanding of how emotions work as constructions of the mind rather than hard-wired physiological responses.

If you would like to know more about exploring brand experience, emotions and culture please get in touch.

[Look out for more on this study, including whether images have to be local to be understood and age, life stage and regional differences in the UK and Indonesia. TapestryWorks also collected data on different beauty categories, four leading brands, product and brand purchase, and attitudes and beliefs and will be reporting these findings in future articles and newsletters. If you are interested to see more findings from this study, please contact me at neil@tapestryworks.asia ]

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