From Culture Difference


A life lesson that an art student taught me today

Today I was invited by my sister-in-law to a graduation exhibition of her design school at Lille. It was a simple setup: each graduate took an empty class, and introduced his or her project to the visitors.

To my great surprise, the exhibited projects were not, by common standard, good art works. They were intriguing, but not technically good. I mean my sister-in-law is on her second year of the school, and I’ve seen how she showed great drawing techniques and art sense. I couldn’t understand why, with three extra years of study, the graduates would do such a lousy job.

This question haunted my mind during the whole exhibition, but I didn’t bring it out, until I saw this project. The project, comparing to others which were intriguing or at least interestingly weird, seemed extraordinarily banal. There were a dozen of Facebook type selfies on the wall, with the number of “likes” and a list of hashtags written at the bottoms. Below each photo there is a small black box containing a smaller photo of this person’s normal day. The idea was not bad but not very special either, especially there seemed very little work done considering the 6 months time. “That’s convenient” I couldn’t bear this anymore and complained with a low voice. The student looked at me with an embarrassed smile and explained that his idea was to illustrate the contrast between what people show on Facebook and who they really are. Then he told how stressful and anxious he felt when he put his selfies out there and wait for strangers to “like”, how he intentionally posed himself similar to people who he thought to be narcissistic and feminine, and how he chose those stupid hashtags to get his selfies wider spread.

At the end of the exhibition, I met a teacher of the school and he expressed his astonishment that this student had chosen such a project, because the student was technically talented but had an extremely introverted character.

Suddenly I got the answer to my question. Instead of doing something easy to them such as drawing aesthetically appealing pictures, the students had chosen the difficult thing to do, even though the difficult thing for them was as easy as posting a selfie on Facebook.

It takes great courage for us to confront and overcome our fears. It takes even more courage to make the decision in the first place: abandoning what we are good at and giving the future to the unknown.

I felt so sorry for my ignorance. Today an art student taught me a very important lesson about living a wholehearted life. Daring greatly, experiencing the process rather than focusing on the result.


Marketing lessons that I’ve learnt in Korea

Experience in a foreign country will always leave something to us, whether we like it or not. It gives us another way to look at, think about and do things.

Since I’m leaving South Korea, it’s a good time to reflect on things that I’ve experienced and learnt here.

In the first article, I want to talk about some marketing techniques that Korean companies do extremely well, that we can consider in our own business.

Lesson 1: Appearance is important

At childhood, We got lectured by parents that the inner beauty is more important than outside appearance. At school, we were told the function of a product should be emphasised over its form.

But in Korea, things are ironically different. Everything is judged by its appearance – whether it’s people, fashion, product or food. The look plays an extremely important role for someone or something to be accepted.

cosmetic packages
Packages for cosmetic products

I was quite annoyed by this appearance obsession at first. Slowly I started to see the value in this culture, especially the vital energy it brings to the market.

The appearance of your product gives you unfair advantages in competitions. You might argue that the function and quality are more important, but in many cases, the functionality of a product is very difficult to quantify:
– all the products have acceptable quality but have slightly different functions. ex: cosmetics
– the function of a product is too complicated for a single customer to understand. ex: CRM system

In these cases, customers cannot rely on pure quality comparison to decide. They have to consider more illusory aspects of the product, such as branding, experience, trustfulness. For any of these aspects, the appearance plays a vital role. Design of the package, quality of the catalog, posters, flyers, looks of your website influence how customers would perceive the value of your product, attribute your brand to high-end or lower-end of the market.

Lesson 2: Sell a dream, not a product

Korean drama suddenly stormed the international entertainment market in few years. One of the reasons that people like it is Korean drama is very dream-like. Handsome young man and kind-hearted young lady overcome all the obstacles and emotional moments to come to the happy ending. Everything – settings, lights, fashions and flawless makeups, contributes to the dream.

After I came to Korea, I discovered that the Korean’s dream-making ability is not limited to its dramas.

Entering a cosmetic shop, you instantly feel that you are in the center of beauty palace. It only makes sense to care for beauty. All the colorful boxes and shining bottles call for your attention.

cosmetic store
A cosmetic store featured with pink decoration in South Korea

During weekends, some downtown areas are transformed to paradise for young couples. Hundreds of small coffee shops and western restaurants feature the theme of romance. You’d feel forbade to go there alone.

Korean beef created its image of prestige through great marketing campaigns in grocery stores, restaurants, and TV programs about how local foods are fresh, nutritious and healthy. It only makes sense to feel Korean beef taste better than imported ones.

A typical promotional poster about Korean beef made by Korean beef association

Sell a dream, not a product. By selling a product, you are selling functionalities. by selling a dream, perceived value of your product is beyond the imagination. People are not buying a bottle of lotion, they are buying the expectation of beauty. Young couples don’t go to restaurant for food, they go there for creating a memory.