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Malaysia Cultural Compatabilities

In: Business and Management

Submitted By silvers8
Words 2775
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Over the past few decades, Malaysia has experienced both growth and decline economically. Relying mainly on exports, this country is predicted to experience a more stable growth period between the years 2011-2015. GDP is predicted to increase in the future years and investments in the country will be the main factor of this economic growth (Economic Forecast, 2011). With a population of 28.3 million and an expected population growth rate of 1.7%, this country provides an excellent opportunity for exporters looking to invest in another country by way of goods and services (Profile, 2011). In order for exports in Malaysia to be successful however, one must understand the values and subcultures Malays possess in order to market to them appropriately.
This report will focus on the influences of these concepts on the behaviour of Malaysian consumers in comparison to Australian consumers. This report will also highlight the importance of understanding certain cultural differences and their implications for marketers if Australia is to export goods and services to Malaysia.
Religious Subcultures
The concept of subcultures, more specifically religious subcultures, is an important aspect of consumer behaviour to consider. Strongly held religious beliefs and customs can exert a significant influence upon the values people hold. These values may include choosing to adopt a simple and humble existence devoid of materialism or choosing to lead a lifestyle that balances simplicity and materialism.
The Population and Housing census of 2010 revealed that in Malaysia, 61.3% of the population is practising Islam, 19.8% Buddhism, 9.2% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism and 1.3% practice other traditional Chinese religions. These figures contrast the religious figures in Australia. According to the Census of Population and Housing of 2006 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics 56.8% of Australians are practicing Christianity, 2.1% Buddhism, 1.7% Islam, 0.4% Judaism, 0.7% Hinduism and 18.7% are non-religious.
It is widely understood that religious affiliations influence consumer behaviour by way of making purchase decisions that are in conformity with the consumer’s religious identity. In the post-war period, many devout Catholics in Australia would to eat fish on Sundays and avoid the popular shopping culture for the entire day. However, this tradition has changed as Australia has become more secularised, and religion is playing less of a role in people’s lives. This diminished effect of religion is evident as 18.7% of the population recorded is not practicing a religion. Purchase decisions made in line with religious beliefs often involve purchasing products that are not only symbolically associated, but also ritualistically associated with religious holidays. For example, though Christmas and Easter were once viewed as sacred seasons in Australia, they now represent both a major gift purchasing season as well as holiday breaks as a result of Australia’s increasing secularisation.
Cultures and subcultures such as ethnicity and religion serve as powerful forces that to a large extent shape an individual’s values and lifestyle. In terms of consumer behaviour; subculture, in particularl religion and ethnicity, affect the cognitive and affective choices of consumption and expenditure (Sian et al. 2010, pp. 180). Purchase decisions in terms of food, specifically for Muslims, will be much different compared to other religions because certain rules exist regarding what foods they should consume. As a result of this, Muslims may have special requests on certain products such as Halal meets. This would provide a good example of how religious subcultures can affect purchase decisions, since a Muslim would spend more money and time on purchasing Halal meets in order to satisfy their spiritual needs; In Malaysia, its citizens are mostly Muslim, with 65% practicing the religion. Cultures and customary practices such as weddings, festivals and funerals are all performed in accordance with the Malaysian state religion, which is Islam. The entire Malaysian race is bonded together by their religion which acts a cohesive element. The notion of collectivism through religion is opposite to the situation in Australia, where over half of the nation professes Christianity as their religion. Comparatively, Australians are more individualistic and value freedom of choice more so than Malaysians where relationships amongst Malays are largely hierarchical and collective.
Moschis and Ong (2011, pp.9) discuss that religious people tend to be less materialistic because material objects are viewed as obstacles on their way to spiritual transcendence. The researchers of the article also hypothesise that religious people are more dogmatic in their purchase behaviours and this is positively associated with national or well known brands. The results reveal that whilst there was a positive relation between religion, self esteem and life satisfaction, there was a negative relation between religion and health (Moschis & Ong 2011, pp.13). The researchers also hypothesised that since religious people were more dogmatic consumers, there would be an inverse relationship between religion and changes in brand preferences and changes in store preferences. The actual results were surprising and did not support the hypothesised inverse relationship between the above mentioned variables. Therefore it is without doubt that the subcultural influence of religion renders deep impacts on the core values that people hold. As a result of these diverse core values, purchase and consumption behaviours differ between religious subcultures.
In terms of religious subcultures, it is important to understand their influence on specific values of consumer behaviour. One value that is becomingly increasingly evident globally is Materialism. Materialism can be defined as, “the importance people attach to owning worldly possessions” (Schiffman, et al. 2011). The topic of materialism is becoming a widely researched area, as different priorities and purchasing behaviours influence the formation of attachments with positions. Originally developed as a western idea, Materialism was thought to be the most prominent in the United States. Now, through globalisation, cultures are becoming more ‘westernized’ and the topic of materialism is thought to be increasingly globally relevant (Ger and Belk, 1995). With globalisation and westernisation comes the theory that developing countries are emulating westernised lifestyles (Ger and Belk, 1995). As Malaysia’s economy grows and the country itself is becoming more industrialised, materialistic values are becoming increasingly important. Although evidence suggests that marketing appeals to materialism do exist in Malaysia (, it is not a popular trend and there are many forces against the growth of it. Malaysia has had periods in time in which spending increases and in turn, materialism is a more legitimate concern, but this country is mainly focused on happiness through religion, family and culture (Staying Cool, 1992). As mentioned earlier, most of the Malaysian population follows Islam; this would affect how westernized of a country Malaysia is. Both the Islamic and Buddhist religions do not promote materialistic values, making the idea of materialism in Malaysia unsuitable. Research also suggests that in Malaysia, economic conditions do not necessarily have an impact on how individual consumers evaluate their own levels of materialism and concern with status (Jusoh, Heaney and Goldsmith, 2001). When considering both religious and economic factors in terms of Malaysian consumer behaviour, it is clear to see that their values do not relate directly to those of a materialistic nature. Some materialistic behaviour would include the showing off of possessions and relating the accumulation of possessions to happiness. To add to both the religious and economic ideas regarding materialism, Malaysia has also introduced laws in the past to reduce spending. Mahathir Mo-hamad, the Malaysian prime minister in the 1990’s, created credit controls to reduce the threat of materialism in order to protect vulnerable, spiritual easterners. Making it more difficult to apply and obtain a credit card as well as purchasing items on credit is not as easy in Malaysia as it is in other countries. This will hopefully continue to protect Malaysian consumers from becoming a highly materialistic country. Australian consumers can be considered quite different than Malaysian consumers in terms of Materialism. It is mentioned that materialism is often thought of to be an American value. Since Americans and Australians are mostly similar, it is said that Australians are thought to be materialistic as well; Australia is known to be a more market-driven society in which the idea of materialism can be more easily accepted than in Malaysia (Saunders, 2007). Based on a variety of research, Australia can be seen as a country in which the possession of goods is equated with happiness and satisfaction. It is often a goal of Australian consumers to be happy in terms of owning possessions and being financially stable (Schiffman, et al. 2011). The Census of Population and Housing of 2006 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics stated that 56.8% of Australians are practicing Christianity, 2.1% Buddhism, 1.7% Islam, 0.4% Judaism, 0.7% Hinduism and 18.7% do not follow a religion. With 56.8% being Christian and 18.7% having no religion, spirituality is not as major in Australia as it is in Malaysia. Australia does not have strict spiritual guidelines to follow that are as in-depth as the Islam religion of Malaysia. This could potentially be one of the main reasons Australians can be considered quite materialistic compared to Malaysians.
Marketing opportunity for an Australian exporter
The differences between Australian and Malaysian cultures and subcultures mentioned earlier shows that if an Australian firm wishes to export their good or service to Malaysia, they will have to first understand these differences, and alter their marketing strategy accordingly.
Although Malaysia is still technically a developing country, its Government has high ambitions to achieve the status of ‘developed’ by 2020 according to World Bank classification (Koh & Lim 2010, p. 4719). One of the ways the Malaysian Government has decided to achieve economic development within this time period is through vast and advanced infrastructure developments, including telecommunications. Malaysia’s telecommunications network is the most advanced in South-East Asia with the exception of Singapore (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2002). According to the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (2007), there is a great digital divide in Malaysia between urban and rural populations in terms of fixed telephones and internet access but not with mobile phones. There are more mobile phones in Malaysia than people; 1.06 mobile phones per person, which is close to Australia’s figure of 1.11 mobile phones per person (Central Intelligence Agency 2009). This shows that Malaysians are using mobile phones for a majority of their digital communication and that there is a great opportunity for an Australian exporter to provide the service of communication and mobile internet to the consumers of mobile phones.
Telstra Corporation Limited is Australia’s leading communications and information services company with one of the most recognisable brands in the country; Telstra. It has an international division aptly named ‘Telstra International’ which supplies “managed network services and international data, voice and satellite services” (Telstra Corporation Limited 2011). In February 2010, Telstra International announced that they would be expanding its International Private Line and Ethernet Private Line services to Indonesia and Malaysia to meet demand from multinational customers (Telstra Corporation Limited 2010). This sets a precedent for Telstra to expand their already present services to mobile phone service provision in Malaysia.
Since Australian and Malaysian cultures and sub-cultures are so vastly different; from the religious make-up of the countries, to the adoption or rejection of the concept of materialism, it is essential that Telstra and its marketing department take this into consideration when considering the expanding their services to consumers. In Australia, mobile phone service providers market their services’ media and information capabilities such as in this Australian Vodafone television commercial; This is due to the value Australian consumers put on easily accessed mobile media, social networking and online shopping. The desire Australians have to stay ‘connected’ with the rest of the world is not echoed in Malaysia, but a variant of this could be utilised in a marketing strategy for Telstra.
In Malaysia, rather than marketing the services that could be considered ‘obstacles to spiritual transcendence’, Telstra could market the connectivity that their service could provide between family members and other members of society. As mentioned earlier, Malays tend to be collectivistic due to their Buddhist and Muslim religious backgrounds and therefore value family, friends and the community they live in. Therefore, Telstra could market the possibility of keeping family members and friends connected through traditional mobile phone services (talk and text) mobile internet (social networking) and video calls. An example of how a mobile phone service provider (Orange) has used this marketing strategy is shown below where a woman away on business keeps in contact with her husband and young child through their service; This type of marketing strategy, rather than one more suited to Australian consumers, would be more appropriate for Malaysian consumers. A more detailed description of the type of ‘plan’ Telstra could advertise for its customers would be one that includes free talk, text or video calling to nominated numbers (the consumer could choose family and friends), as well as the provision of free access to social networking sites.
It is essential that if Telstra were to grow their services in Malaysia, and provide these services to consumers, its marketing strategy must align with Malaysian culture in terms of its religious backgrounds and core values.
We have seen that different subcultures can affect the purchasing habits and values that consumers hold. Specifically talking about religious subcultures, vast differences between countries cause different behaviours, depending on the religion. Due to the differences in the main religious subcultures of Malaysians and Australians, values such as materialism have differing levels of importance. In order for an Australian firm to export a good or service to Malaysia, these differences in subculture and materialism must be better understood. With the strong level of spiritualism due to religion in partnership with the low levels of materialism among Malays, a company like Telstra still would have a unique opportunity to export its services to Malaysia. It would be important for Telstra to consider not marketing the actual phone service, but the benefit of staying in touch with loved ones through use of this mobile network.

Journal Articles
Fatt Sian, Lai, Shyue Chuan, Chong, Bik Kai, Sia and Bee Chen, Ooi 2010, ‘Culture and Consumer Behaviour: Comparisons between Malays and Chinese in Malaysia’, International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology, Vol. 1, No. 2.

Ger, Güliz & Belk, Russell W. 1996, ‘Cross-cultural Differences in Materialism’, Journal of Economic Psychology, Vol. 17, Iss. 1, pp. 55-77. Jusoh, Wan Jamaliah Wan, Heaney, Joo-Gim and Goldsmith, Ronald E. 2001, ‘Self-ratings of Materialism and Status Consumption in a Malaysian Sample: Effects of Answering During and Assumed Recession Versus Economic Growth’, Psychological Reports, Vol. 88, Iss. 3c, pp. 1142-1144. Moschis, George P.; Ong, Fon Sim 2011, Religiosity and consumer behaviour of older adults: A study of subcultural influences in Malaysia, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Jan/Feb2011, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p8-17, 10p. Saunders, Shaun A. 2007, ‘A Snapshot of Five Materialism Studies in Australia’, Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, Vol. 1, Iss. 1, pp. 14-19.

Siong Lee Koh & Yun Seng Lim 2010, ‘Meeting energy demand in a developing economy without damaging the environment—A case study in Sabah, Malaysia, from technical, environmental and economic perspectives’, Energy Policy, Vol: 38, Iss: 8, pp. 4719-4728.

Schiffman, L, Bednall, D, O’Cass, A, Paladino, A, Ward, S, Kanuk L 2009, Consumer Behaviour, Pearson Education Australia, Sydney.

Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific, 2007. ‘Infrastructure and Rural Development in Malaysia’. Viewed 2/11/2011. <>.

Central Intelligence Agency 2009, ‘The World Factbook’. Viewed 2/11/2011. <>.

Telstra Corporation Limited 2011, ‘Telstra International’. Viewed 2/11/2011. <>.

Telstra Corporation Limited 2010, ‘Telstra International expands coverage into Indonesia and Malaysia’. Viewed 2/11/2011. <>.

'Economic forecast' 2011, Country Report. Malaysia, 4, pp. 7-10, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 November 2011.

Executive Briefing. The Economist Intelligence Unit. 20 Apr 2002.
'PROFILE' 2011, Background Notes On Countries Of The World: Malaysia, p. 2, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 November 2011.

Staying cool 1992, Economist, 325, 7781, p. 41, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 October 2011

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