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Introduction To Culture In Sri Lanka

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Marketing
Wordcount: 3132 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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When we consider the word “culture” it carries a lot of weight and history. We feel it but find it very hard to explain. We know it affects our behavior. Hence culture is a good starting point to understand how people behave. If looking from the perspective of a marketer, if to develop a effective marketing strategy he should have an idea on what drives his target market. So, it is worthwhile to get an understanding of the underlying culture and the cultural values. This study looks in to what culture and cultural value are, how product demand or consumption is affected by the culture as well as how culture should be assessed when developing a marketing strategy.

What is Culture?

I see Culture as a combination of values and norms which affect the behavior of individuals which has the distinct features of the particular religions and history of that particular society.

To further extend the understanding I would refer to (…………..the book) where it has been defined culture to be as the sum total of learned beliefs, values, and customs that serve to direct the consumer behavior of members of a particular society. Accordingly, beliefs refers to accumulated feelings and priorities that individuals have about things, where as Values differ from beliefs because they are relatively few in number, they serve as a guide for culturally appropriate behavior, the are enduring or difficult to change, they are tied to specific objects or situations and they are widely accepted by the members of the society. And finally Customs refers to overt modes of behavior that constitutes culturally approved or acceptable ways of behaving in specific situations.

The importance of culture is considered so special because it links people and their value systems.

Having an understanding on the aspects of culture, I would have to state that culture moulds people to what they become and deciding on what they want. Before moving in to the heart of the study it is worth while to obtain an understanding of the Sri Lankan culture and what has molded it.

Culture in Sri Lanka.

Current cultural diversity in Sri Lanka is owed to its rich history. The Yaksha and Naga tribes Civilized before 300 B.C. using agriculture and irrigation, Nourished from the Buddhism in early 2nd Century B.C. and also influenced by Indian invasions and going through Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, Sri Lankan Culture is diverse like it’s Natural Heritage.

In the early 19th century the British rule introduced democracy, modern education, legal and commercial agriculture system. Sri Lanka now is a mirror of it’s own ancient and modern cultures diverse from it’s cities to far villages across the tiny island.

Sinhalese and Tamil are the most widely spoken languages in Sri Lanka, with around 74% of population can speak in Sinhalese, while more than 18% can speak Tamil. The colonization initiated by the Dutch followed by the Portuguese and the British has had an impact on the languages, as well as opening the history to the international trade. English is fluently spoken by only 10% of the Sri Lankan population, and is commonly used for commercial purposes.

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Sri Lanka with a multi-religious and a multi-ethnic population where Buddhist constitute to a about 69.1% of the population, followed by the Sinhalese. Hinduism is the next most followed religion in Sri Lanka, with around 7.1% of the population following it. Also gifted by India, Hinduism too has a long and rich history in the country. Most Hindus are Tamil and they account for a majority in Northern Sri Lanka, as well as in the Eastern, Western and Central regions of the country.

Islamic community accounts for around 7.6% with a majority in the Eastern and

Western regions; as well as around 6.2% followers of Christianity. Having a healthy 92% literacy rate where 83% of the population having Secondary Education which is considered to be high among developing nations. The complex ethnic and religious mix of Sri Lankan society is a given rise to a highly complex mixture of laws which include Roman-Dutch Law, English common law, , Kandyan, and Jaffna Tamil law.

Sri Lanka is a country rich with culture and diversity. Its people live their daily lives very close to their religious beliefs and their families. Hence, what ever the product that a marketers are confronted of promoting , they will have to take the Sri Lankan culture and cultural values to be a major influencing factor to the success of the product.

Cultural values.

Societies have values that are shared by its members. The values emphasis those objects, conditions that those members consider important. Values are more related to the norms of a culture, but they can be found to be more abstract than norms. For example raising of the national flag during nationally significant occasion or a holiday is a norm, where as it also shows the value of patriotism. Dressing with white or dark clothing and appearing solemn are normal behaviors at a funeral. In certain cultures they reflect the values of respect and support of friends and family. Different cultures reflect different values.

Why is cultural values so important? The cultural values of a community give it an unique identity of its own. People are the driving force of this uniqueness. Culture is shared among the people in the community. Culture is passed down from one generation to the other. It links people of a region or society together. The customs and traditions the society follow, the clothing they wear, the festivals, the food they eat, and importantly, the cultural values they follow, binds them.

Product analysis on how Sri Lankan Cultural values affect the consumption.

First we will get a brief understanding of Sri Lanka as a Customer. Following information has been obtained from the Annual Report of the Central bank of Sri Lanka 2009. The population statistics can be summarized as follows,

Mid-year population (‘000) in 2009 : 20,450

Age distribution (‘000) 2009

0 – 14 yrs : 5,378

15 – 64 yrs : 13,784

65 years and over : 1,288

Also the Per Capita income is hovering around USD 2,400 and is expected to double corresponding to the GDP growth by 2016.

Having the understanding of what culture is, what cultural values and the Sri Lankan culture we will now evaluate how those aspects have influenced the consumption of several products and a service in the Sri Lankan market.

Herbal Soap:

Sri Lankan culture is very related to the nature. All most all the aspects of the Sri Lankan culture is linked with the wonders of the nature. Ayurwedik medicine is treatment method unique to Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans (particularly Sinhalese) know and have faith on its healing capabilities. We did not see herbal soap in the market at the beginning, until few local manufactures saw the opportunity in herbal products. Then we saw even foreign brands like Lux and Lifebuoy taking up the herbal route since the herbal soap prove to be profitable. Generally Sri Lankans value old things. Ayurwedic medicine as been practiced in Sri Lanka for thousands of years and people still have faith in it and values it. This has been used by various marketers and now we can almost get anything in its herbal format.

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Child milk powder:

The bond between the mother and her child is cherished and valued in almost in any civilized culture. When considering the modern era the state of that bond in Sri Lanka is stronger than in many countries. The bond between the child and the mother is built mainly through the nurturing aspect of that relationship. In the Sri Lankan context it is believed that there in nothing more vital to child than the love and warmth of a mother and mothers milk. Breast feeding is fading away in many European countries, but in Sri Lanka it still holds strong. Sri Lankan mother generally breast feed their children for at least one and half years. In this context child milk powder does not much of market because it is widely believed that there is no replacement for breast milk. Hence, what the marketers approach has been is the product to place as a supplementary. It is positioned as giving the child what is lacking in breast milk in adequate quantities. If it were to come as a replacement the product wouldn’t have survived for long.


Sri Lanka has been using automobiles since the British has been using them. First automobiles seen the Sri Lankan roads were European made. But now we can see automobiles from India, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia as our own brands. At first also European vehicles were used by the higher end of the society. That has been kept as it is and now also European vehicles are driven by upper class people in the country. Those vehicles are priced higher and can be afforded by only those people. But when the Japanese entered the market, they came up with economical vehicles that can be afforded by the middle class people as well. There is strong belief among the Sri Lankans still that if one wants to buy a good vehicle, go for a Japanese vehicle. This is proven by the high prices in the second hand market as well. European vehicles are relatively less valued in the second hand market. Hence the demand for Japanese vehicle is geared by that belief among the Sri Lankan people that a Japanese vehicle is economical and gives value to the purchase consideration. We rarely see advertising to sell Japanese vehicles but the demand is there. But we have recently seen Indian brands promoting their vehicle to be the most economical but still we cannot see the demand for Japanese vehicles going down. Indian vehicles are more or less treated like inferior goods.

Pain relief balms:

Sri Lanka having a rich heritage in Ayurwedhik medicine, people were used to applying Ayurwedhik oils and pastes to their every day bruises. The recepies and formulas has been passed down generations and some receipies are household known facts. During the last decade or two we saw the market bombarded with various balms to be used on bruises and to relive pain. Wintegino a famous UK brand can be highlighted for usage among the people and now sprays with the same effect can be seen in the market. However, it is a known fact that Siddhalepa a product which has its roots in the Ayurwedhik medicine tops all such balms and oils in the market by sales, and it has been doing this for decades. The secret of this success is the faith that Sri Lankan people have on Ayurwedhik medicine which the effects has being proven over centuries. The people still has the faith that Ayurwedha is the most safest way of medication with minimal or almost no side effects. Siddhalepa is proven product with real Ayurwedik essence. Unless its to be used in quick and convenient manner (in a sport event to be treated to injured players, where most likely a spray would be used) Ayurwedhi balms are preferred by Sri Lankans where the demand is directly linked to cultural beliefs and rich heritage.

Banking services:

Sri Lankan banking sector was dominated by state owned bank till the 1980s. But when we really consider the facts we can still say that the case is same now also.

The middle aged Sri Lankans rarely go and deposit their money in a private bank, because they still have the belief that their money is more safe with a state owned bank than with a privately owned organization. They cannot be blamed of thinking like that considering the recent crisis in the financial institutions in the country. It was the state owned banks who stood tall under the local as well as the global economic crisis. Hence, the majority of the people have belief or faith that what ever happens the government will pay their money. Hence, the state owned banks Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and Peoples Bank (PB) uses their advantages as pioneers to draw people towards them and the main fact that they emphasis is the “TRUST” aspect. This trust has being built in to the perception of majority of the Sri Lankans and BOC and PB is felt as part of the Sri Lankan culture. The banks on the other hand has identified the changing environment and has developed marketing strategies to capture the modern Sri Lankans also. They are offering almost every financial service as and private bank and as the banks move down the cultural levels they have come up with more customized financial services to suit the customer needs. The demand for the state owned banks is geared by the cultural beliefs and can be expected to be there through the decades to come.

Analysis on how values are important for marketing strategic decisions.

Cultural value has to be considered in marketing when they have an impact on the purchasing behavior of the consumer. When does culture or cultural values influence consumer purchasing decisions? This is a complex and under-examined issue. Culture-based differences show up when information is processed in a cursory and spontaneous manner. So when you passed a roadside billboard, you will likely to be influenced by advertising that appealed to your particular culture.

When coming up with a marketing strategy for a product, it is important to understand the level of the culture of the market since behavior at different levels of the culture varies. Referring to the marketing context, the four levels of culture treated in the literature can be described as follows (Article by Dr. Katharina J. Srnka on Culture’s Role in Marketers’ Ethical Decision Making: An Integrated Theoretical Framework):

• Supraculture is shared by nations with similar economic systems and development, ethnicity, religion, etc.

• Macroculture is shared by people of the same nationality, origin or country of residence

• Mesoculture is shared by groups or communities, e.g., a professional group or industry, within a macroculture

• Microculture is shared by smallest social collectivities, e.g., the organization, family or clan

As we move down the cultural levels the approach of the marketer needs to be customized, because when we move down the number of people in that level comes down as well as the detail of their preferences increases.

It is not possible to assess the impact of a consumer’s respective cultural background on marketing strategies in general, because the specific elements of the marketing- mix, i.e., 1. pricing, 2. distribution policy, 3.product development and 4. communication strategies, are all more or less affected by culture.

Pricing, which is the first element of the marketing- mix, refers to decisions about the actual product price the consumer has to pay and considers production costs, as well as the consumer’s willingness to pay, which might especially be affected by his or her cultural background. The willingness to pay represents the valuation of products. Since consumer s learned during the process of which products they should approve of and which they should not, the culture influences the appreciation of certain products as well as the willingness to pay. On the other hand, decisions concerning pricing interact with the economic development of a country. Hence, cultural background might serve as a determinant of the target market.

In the context of distribution policy, culture might also be important to differentiate between several target markets, even if the characteristics of the culture do not have a direct impact on decisions concerning product distribution. Nonetheless, different cultures have to be considered when distributing products because consumers from different cultures have different buying habits in terms of preferring hypermarkets, supermarkets or peasant markets. The preferences for different retail formats might partly be due to the economic development of the respective cultural area. Thus, cultural background has to be taken into account when distributing products, but the differences between cultures that are of interest for decisions on distribution policy are observable, which makes it easier to consider these differences in product distribution.

The third element of the marketing- mix, product development, is much more affected by the consumer s’ cultural background. As the consequences product attributes are perceived to bring about and the values which should be satisfied differ according to the consumer s’ cultural background, culture has to be considered in the development of products. Otherwise, products are not in accordance with what the consumers expect the products to be. Moreover, products which are preferred in certain usage situations such as religious ceremonies vary because of culture.

The fourth element of the marketing- mix is the development of communication strategies. If a company wants to communicate that its product is particularly appropriate to certain usage situations, it is not satisfactory to only observe consumption patterns, it is also necessary to get to know the reasons for culture – specific consumption habits. Hence, in order to convince consumers of the appropriateness of certain products, it is of major importance to know the reasons why consumers prefer some products over others. Usually, a communication strategy must consider differences in languages (e.g. the translation of adages and different meanings of words in the same language, but different cultures), differences in infrastructure (e.g. diffusion of television and the world wide web) and in legal parameters (e.g. comparative advertising). Differences in culture and their impact on the development of communication strategies is our main interest. The interdependency between culture – specific buying motives and the development of communication strategies is due to the main elements of culture (1. symbols, 2. heroes, 3. rituals, 4. values). These culture – specific elements often are used in several parts of the communication strategy as a whole. For example, direct marketing probably is affected by culture, because culture influences people’s personality and hence has an impact on different manners, such as the style of greeting and the interpersonal distance kept. As advertising plays a major role in a company’s communication strategy and is affected by all kinds of cultural elements, advertising especially has to consider cross – cultural differences.


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