Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Korean Consumerism: Korean Alpha Girls

Insights into Korean consumerism

I found this article fascinating and confirming what I see occurring in Korea. In my training programs, both in the U.S. and globally, one popular question in the role of women in the Korean workplace. Although the Korean workplace once saw women as "temporary" workers, who leave upon marriage--today many seek long-term careers.

Who are this new generation of Korean women? Some of my Korean friends call them K women; others call them Doenjang (bean paste) girls--both terms somewhat derogatory.

For the group of highly qualified and professional woman grads I find entering the Korean workplace, I see many as Alpha girls. In fact, this trend comes as no surprise to me, since in my experience in academia, the women grad students are more focused and very career focused---more so than the guys.

This article in Chosun Ilbo looks at their role in Korean consumerism....and gives us some insights into Korean popular culture.

The term "alpha girls" has been applied to that elite class of females who are equal to -- and often superior to -- boys in every respect, from academics to sports to leadership. Dan Kindlon, a professor at Havard University in the U.S., coined the term in his book "Alpha Girls" last year. While former generations of feminists demanded rights that were denied to them, alpha girls don't feel discriminated against because they have been treated and educated the same as boys.

Marketers Chase Korean 'Alpha Girls'

Kim Young-hui, 28, an employee with an imported apparel company, recently switched cars, trading her beefy SUV for a slimmer GM Daewoo Matiz compact. "I bought a SUV when I started working five years ago, and it was uncomfortable to climb into wearing a skirt," Kim said. "The new car is more convenient -- I have a place to put my high heels while I'm driving."

So-called "alpha girls" like Kim are at the forefront of a new consumer trend, demanding and buying products with feminine features instead of asking to be treated the same as men.

In their demand for recognition, they are similar to their predecessors, the "super women" who tried to fill every role perfectly and the "working moms" who held jobs and raised kids. But alpha girls are distinctive for embracing their femininity and making good use of it.

College student Hwang Hyo-jung, 26, was part of a team evaluating a new cracker product. After trying the snack, she suggested the company make a smaller version for women. At first the company rejected the idea, saying that women don't prefer small or pretty products. But after a lot of other young women made the same suggestion, the company eventually tried making a smaller pack of crackers -- and to their surprise, it was explosively popular with young female students. "Girls these days don't think it's passive or negative to use smaller or prettier products," Hwang said.

Jung Yoo-jung, 30, a staffer with an international organization, recently opened a "Luxury Ladies" account at Kookmin Bank, a product the bank has designed for women. The product offers several benefits exclusively to women, including preferential interest rates and exemptions from online transaction commissions. "As more women are getting into economic activities, some of them are getting paid better than men," Jung said. "I take full advantage of the products that banks offer to attract female customers."

With alpha girls on the rise, businesses are developing marketing strategies to attract them. For example, some cosmetics firms are selling men's cosmetics under brand names that appeal to women because women hold sway over their partners' consumption. The men's products are differentiated by tagging the word "homme" to the end of the brand name, as in Dior Homme, Laneige Homme and Hera Homme. The financial industry is also developing products exclusively for women, such as Shinhan Bank's "Ladies' Savings Deposit Plan," National Agricultural Cooperative Federation's "Happiness Diary," Kookmin Bank's "Luxury Ladies" and Woori Bank's "Beauty Account."

Lee Dong-hun, a senior researcher with the Samsung Economics Research Institute, said, "Alpha girls are a new development in the consumer market because they are openly demanding goods and treatments for women. If businesses don't catch the alpha girls, they won't succeed in marketing."

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