New York, NY 13.07.2021

What their values reveal about Asia’s powerhouse cultures

by Veronica Chen

When we speak in shorthand, the potential for false assumptions grows by leaps and bounds. Sometimes we need to talk broadly about generations or eras or continents – but we have to balance this macro thinking with deep dives into the people and places within those big units.

In the past 20 years, the Asian Pacific region has taken on huge significance, accounting for over 40% of global GDP by 2017, up from 32% in 2000. And the rise of Asia and its people is bound to continue. The region is projected to account for half of the global consumption growth in the coming decade, offering a $10 trillion opportunity.

A new GfK report, Asia Powerhouses, sheds fresh light on key aspects of the top Asia economies (China, India, Indonesia, Japan and S. Korea) – their populations, economic prospects, mindsets and lifestyles, tech and media preferences, and shopping and consumption habits. Based on research from GfK Consumer Life, the new study shows again and again that we cannot jump to conclusions about any of these diverse consumers and their cultures.

Values as markers of difference

Looking at just one aspect of the report – personal values – provides a glimpse of the great differences among Asian Pacific cultures. As part of the long-running GfK Consumer Life Global study, we ask consumers to rate a list of 57 personal values – and determine which Values Types these people fall into. Our research in Asia reveals quite distinct personal orientations and cultures.

India: A nation aspiring to get ahead
With over half of its people under the age of 30 and over two-thirds under 40, India’s youthful population is eager to establish itself and take advantage of the opportunities this country’s rapidly emerging economy promises. We find that India is dominated by Aspirers, the Values Type that is image-conscious, status-seeking, and motivated by upward mobility. Indians recognize what it takes today to realize their dreams and ambitions: Working Hard, Knowledge, and Learning are among the top and most differentiating personal values for the nation.

China: Patriotism emerges as the #1 value among Gen Z
China boasts the second highest proportion of Aspirers – second only to India – out of the 21 markets we survey. However, a re-evaluation of priorities seems to be taking hold in China, as grueling work hours take a toll, driving up the demand for work/life balance.

Compared to their close neighbors, Chinese are also more motivated by a sense of social commitment, with Duty and Patriotism their #4 and #5 personal values on the list of 57 measured, compared with #14 and #31 respectively among global consumers. Patriotism is by far the most differentiating personal value for the nation today – and the #1 value among Chinese Gen Z, who were often at the forefront of the high-profile boycotts in recent years against global brands perceived by China’s patriots as being disrespectful of the country or its people.

Indonesia: A mindful existence
While Indonesia is another fast-growing emerging market in Asia, its mindset and culture are a world apart from those of China and India. As the most religious nation globally, with the largest Muslim population, Indonesia stands out among all nations surveyed with the highest proportion of Mindfuls – the Values Type that prioritizes spirituality and tradition, and is more focused on living a balanced life.

Japan and S. Korea: Looking for fun
Japan and S. Korea may be long known for their hard-working cultures, but a strong experience-seeking mindset now sets them apart from their local and global peers. Both nations feature a relatively large share of pleasure-seeking Indulgers. In fact, Having Fun is the #1 personal value in Japan on the list of 57 values tracked, and #8 in Korea, compared with #19 globally, #20 in Developing Asia, and #22 in the US.

The above snapshots offer just a glimpse of the profound variations and subtleties we see in each area of our comparison – from smartphone use to online shopping to streaming preferences. The five Asia powerhouses are rarely predictable, defying quick summarization or generalizations. Each is powerful in its own right, and demands careful attention from brands and marketers of every type.

Veronica Chen is Vice President, Client Service, at GfK Consumer Life and author of the Asia Powerhouses report.