What are among the first five things that you think of when someone mentions "Turkish culture?" Probably Turkish coffee and belly dancing—though neither are native to the culture. However, unlike many other people, the Turks are not bothered at all in sharing the limelight for what one might consider two of their most visible cultural icons.
Nescafe vs. Turkish Coffee: The Winner Is …
In the case of Turkish coffee, Nescafe has made huge inroads here. It is preferred by women in the countryside, because it is so much faster and easier to prepare than the traditional form. There are two Starbucks (and two Gloria Jean's for that matter) in the Istanbul Airport, and Starbucks is busily expanding throughout Istanbul, the European Capital of Culture for 2010. (http://www.en.istanbul2010.org/index.htm) It's not the coffee, stupid, it's the lifestyle!
Shakira Wins Over the Turks: Young and Old
This same openness on the part of the Turks, regardless of their age or sex, also applies to belly dancing. Shakira was amazed, as many international performers before her, at the number of fans she had in Turkey when she came to give her first concert in 2007. What was interesting was how people compared her belly dancing (or "dans oryantal," as it is popularly known here) favorably to those of Turkish belly dancers, including one of the most popular ones at the time, Asena. Suffice it to say that a popular online shopping site still sells a " Shakira Belly Dance Göbekdansı Kemeri" (a "Shakira Bellydance Belt" ) for 25 TL (US$15.78 at today's rate), but there are no products named for Asena.
Rap Music Set to Turkish Rhythms
The Turks continue to adopt trends from around the world to make them their own. Rap music is very popular, with local variations based on the trends in Turkish music, along with the more "original, bling" version. 50 Cent was blown away when he came last year to appear on Turkey's most popular game show at the time ("Var Mısın? Yok Musun?" – it in itself a Turkish adaptation of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" ) as a guest host. The Turks appreciated his donating the proceeds to the up and coming rap industry and its labels here in Turkey.
International Web Properties and Their Turkish Fans
It is not just trends and products associated with those under 25 that are adopted and adapted here. One might assume that a Web property like iStockphoto would launch its products in most of Western Europe before tackling Turkey. However, based on Web traffic and sales, Turkey is on its list of markets to enter next. When Facebook became available in Turkey a few years ago, the Turks quickly took over the #1 position of fastest growth worldwide for a time. Ads constantly appeared on my mobile, and new acquaintances in their 20's and 30's started requesting my Facebook moniker—not my e-mail address or mobile phone number.
Life Is Too Short to Reinvent
There is a lot that international marketers can learn from the Turks regarding the right strategies to win and keep customers in today's emerging markets. Based on general requirements from 10 to 15 years ago, marketers often make the mistake of assuming that all products and services need to be translated, tweaked and perhaps even overhauled for many emerging markets. Oftentimes, this is not the case. Instead, the attitude (in contrast to that of many countries in Western Europe) is often one of "Life is too short! Why reinvent when you can adapt or use something as is?" It can even go as far as the language itself – just ask any gamer in Turkey if they would prefer to play their favorite MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) in Turkish or in its original.
Understanding when and where "Life is to short to reinvent" applies –based on geography, culture, and market demographic – is critical to achieving real, long-lasting success in emerging markets that are now the key to medium- and long-term survival for many industries and companies. According to figures from one of Common Sense Advisory's latest surveys, 33% of respondents perceived that the demand from markets that have not traditionally bought their companies' products is currently greater than normal, and fully half expected this new market demand to continue over the next year.
Follow the Money
With the preferences and attitudes of both business customers and consumers morphing in emerging markets just as fast – and oftentimes faster – than those in more established markets, what is an international marketer based in the U.S. or Germany supposed to do? Follow the money and get to know your local staff, partners, language service providers, and brand supporters as well as you can and as soon as you can. They are the only ones who can really provide the perspective and input that you need.
Pull up Ceza on Your iPod
Time to retool your emerging markets strategy? Kick your shoes off, pull up some Ceza (pronounced " Jayza," meaning "penalty, punishment" ) or Black Sea ("Karadeniz" ) rap music on your iPod, and set up a conference call with your counterparts in a non-BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) emerging market. Then cast your assumptions and your cultural prejudices to the wind, as you let your creative juices flow!
Rebecca Ray ([email protected]) is a senior analyst at market research firm Common Sense Advisory and is based in Turkey.