More and more brands from the UK and beyond are setting their sites on the Far East. Being a big international/western brand carries with it a certain cache almost without trying in Asia. The premiumness, trust and quality associated with these products create desirability and TV and radio advertising is having a strong effect on consumers. However there are many factors that brands in Asia need to consider if they want to succeed.
The right blend of talent
When it comes to brands being successful in Asia, the first thing to remember is that they are not inanimate objects that enter a market all by themselves. By this I mean that success or failure of a brand is, first and foremost, determined by the quality of the team working on it.
During my time in Asia, I had the pleasure of working with global blue-chip companies such as Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble and Reebok. A characteristic that they all shared was the ability to blend a team of top quality local talent with imported talent from the ‘hub’. The local talent brought, amongst other things, a deep understanding of the local market and cultural insights whilst the imported talent brought an understanding of the corporate culture, ways of working and, invariably, knowledge around specific brands.
The second characteristic of success is the attitude of the ‘centre’ to doing business in Asia (presupposing that it is a ‘Western’ brand under consideration). In some circles, a posting to Asia used to be viewed as ‘Failed In London Try Hong Kong’.
By and large those days are long gone, but there are occasions when brands do not enjoy as much success as they should do in Asia because the ‘centre’ holds them back through a misplaced attitude. However, with talent much more mobile these days, a successful role building brand success in Asia is a prerequisite for future progress up the corporate ladder.
Respecting local cultural sensitivities
This sounds like a statement of the obvious, but mistakes still happen. If the right blend of talent has been put in place, then the local element of the team should be able to contribute and advise accordingly. Over and above this though, an entire industry has grown up around cultural translation – companies that not just provide straightforward copy translations but, more importantly, rich insights into local nuances.
There is no doubt that Asia moves at a different pace to the West. This is what makes it so exciting and exhilarating doing business there. But, often the systems and processes that have been the key to success for a brand elsewhere in the world, can be the very things that slow the brand down in Asia. Consider how these can flex to accommodate a different pace. The world is moving and changing very quickly in Asia, and the most successful brands seem to be those are able to keep pace with this change and identify shifting consumer needs.
Understanding geographical complexity
When I was in India recently a taxi driver said to me that it is not one country but 22 that share the same continent. One can travel just 150 kilometres and experience an entirely different culture – a different language, different food, different attitudes. I would imagine that many global players have learned this the hard way. Recognise it, embrace it.
Recognising some basic human differences
In northern Europe approximately 5% of people suffer from lactose intolerance. In Asia this rises to some 90% in certain parts of the region. This is due to some fundamental differences in human physiology. So, if you’re a dairy based brand or a brand in dairy reliant categories, such as cereal, this has important implications.
Unearthing meaningful insights
Whilst Asia is changing rapidly, many cultural norms are still deeply engrained. Standard approaches to insight generation, such as focus groups may not be as appropriate. Relatively more intimate approaches, such as one-on-ones and dyads (interviews in pairs) may respect these engrained norms. Successful brands (and their brand managers) don’t rely on transcripts of research but get up close and personal to understand what’s being communicated via body language.
Crispin Reed is Managing Director of Brandhouse