Round stamp with text: Quality

Quick, what color means “go” at a traffic signal? If you speak English, odds are you just said “green” (and if you don’t speak English, why are you here? The articles with pictures of cute girls and cool robots are in a different part of the site).

On the other hand, in Japanese that same light is considered ao, which translates as “blue.” Crazy as it may seem, the Japanese concept of the color extends all the way down to the hues of traffic signals and mountain forests. It’s just one example of how the same word can have different meanings in different cultures.

OK, so that may be true for artsy fartsy things like colors, but surely this kind of linguistic flatulence isn’t present in the world of business, right? Wrong. Even seemingly simple things like the term “quality” can have vastly different meanings depending on the nation, as one expert demonstrates by explaining the differing definitions consumers in the U.S., Japan, Korea, and China have for it.

Singapore-based author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers recently sat down for a talk with Benjamin Joffe. Joffe, a French-born consultant and investor who has spent more than a decade living in Asia, was asked by Sivers what the most important thing he had learned during his time abroad was.

▼ Our personal answer? Squat toilets are a lot easier to use if you face towards the wall instead of away from it.

AQ 8

Joffe answered with the realization that the same word can mean different things to different people, and that their perception is heavily influenced by the society in which they were raised and live. To prove his point, he asked Sivers for his personal definition of the word “quality.”

Quality, Sivers responded, meant that the item in question could perform its function. Logically, an item can’t be called high quality if it doesn’t perform the task for which it was intended, or if it breaks after only a few uses.

Joffe knowingly replied that he had expected just such an answer from the American Sivers. In other places though, things aren’t quite the same, he explained.

In Korea, Joffe contends, quality is considered to be embodied in the newness of an item. Usable or not, something that is old, by its very nature, cannot be considered “quality.” As such, Joffe believes that marketers and designers targeting Korean customers are wasting their efforts if they’re focusing on making long-lasting products. In this economy, quality has an expiration date, and after enough time passes, high-end users won’t find the items satisfying anymore.

▼ “Still runs/looks great!” may not seal the deal in Korea

AQ 3

On the other hand, Joffe says Japan defines quality as the absence of defects, which the consultant says underlines the esteem Japanese society holds for those who strive for perfection.

The agricultural sector provides an easy example of this. California produces some of the finest fruit in the world, but its most visually enticing specimens are regularly exported to Japan. Whereas American shoppers don’t care so much if an orange’s skin is scratched or blemished as long as the fruit itself tastes fine, Japanese consumers are sticklers for the complete package, and any shortcoming is seen as a black mark, even if the product’s functionality is untarnished.

▼ Next stop, Yokohama!

AQ 1

So how does China define quality? Joffe feels it all comes down to a single word: status. Personal relationships and connections are everything in the world’s most populous nation, he believes, and the best way to attract new members to your network is by employing the trappings of wealth and success.

▼ The second best way to draw new people to your social circle is, of course, cookies.

AQ 4

Going by this meaning of the word, Joffe asserts that anything that bestows social status can be considered, in and of itself, as embodying quality in the Chinese market. He expands upon this theory by rephrasing it as that as long as something conveys status, it doesn’t have to be well-made or functional in order to attract buyers.

There’s a certain level of credibility to each of these definitions of quality. Given the international make-up of the team here at RocketNews24, we can’t help but try to assimilate them all, leading us to the conclusion that the highest form of quality is that which is functional, new, free of defects, and shows a touch of class.

▼ In other words, a freshly-poured, high alcohol content craft beer with only the minimum of head.

AQ 6

Sources: Hatena, Derek Sivers
Top image: Treasure Rooms
Insert images: Lost Laowai, Car Spec, Flickr, Blogspot, Shuckers