Asia offers enormous potential to both established and start-up brands. To succeed, however, marketers must carefully navigate the broad array of Asia’s nations and regions, which encompass radically different levels of sophistication and are studded with cultural nuances that can easily trip unwary marketers.
The secret to a successful pan-Asian marketing journey? Start with a clear understanding of the basic need a product or service can fulfill.
Professor Jenni Romaniuk, international director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, said the institute’s research has identified important similarities in consumer needs across the region. Successful regional marketers communicate simply and clearly how their products or services meet those needs, she said.
Marketing must also be synchronized tightly with distribution to ensure “physical and mental availability,” Romaniuk said. “There’s no point being physically available if no one asks for it, and vice versa.”
Romaniuk said this is particularly the case when selling to regional China and India, as well as countries such as Indonesia or Vietnam, where stores may keep products behind the counter rather than on display. These products can only be sold if a customer asks.
In developing pan-Asian branding, Romaniuk stressed the importance of referring constantly to how the product meets a human need.
Jodie Fox, founder and director of fashion at Shoes of Prey, agreed. She also said that sticking with a single brand is a good starting point if the business is fundamentally providing a need each market can relate to. That’s why her company, which allows Internet users to design and buy shoes online, accurately describes the service it offers in every market.
Fox noted, however, that marketing content must be localized, with the message painstakingly translated for the market.
“The best way to do this is to have a local person in that market who understands your brand well,” Fox said. “In terms of geography, it’s about giving the most consistent brand experience–I’m thinking about logistics, such as delivery time–and tweaking the experience to match with expectations ingrained in that particular culture.”
Localized marketing is critical, Fox added, “but you do have to have limits so as not to lose who you are as a brand. For example, it’s important to localize language and currency. Depending on the product or service, localizing imagery may also make sense. However, I don’t think it’s ever OK to change your logo.”
HotelsCombined has taken an entirely different approach. The travel aggregator offers its online service in 120 markets and in 40 different languages, but it replaces the HotelsCombined brand with DetectaHotel.com in South America, RoomGuru.ru in Russia, and Biyi in China.
Chief operating officer Hichame Assi said research shows brand names need to be memorable in local markets–so, for example, the two Chinese characters that spell Biyi translate as “compare accommodation.” That ties back to Romaniuk’s recommendation to link the brand to the human need.
When communicating brand promise, it’s also important to be mindful of national nuances, Romaniuk said. For example, Western humor may not translate across Asia. For humor to work, it needs local roots.
Similarly, wordy or complex taglines and messages about a product or service could spell regional doom. “If you get too clever, you will lose people, particularly in emerging markets,” Romaniuk said.
Nimble Storage, which has marketed its computer technology across Asia for the past two years, has faced many of these challenges. Amy Webb, marketing manager for Asia-Pacific and Japan, agreed that getting the wording right for a particular market is essential. For example, while marketing collateral for Australia can focus on the value proposition, “Asian cultures want much more in-depth product specifications and case studies, particularly technical ones,” she said. “You have to have that information up-front.”
Peter O’Connor, Nimble’s regional vice president, also noted that marketing in Asia hinges more on price than value. Asian prospects don’t generally respond well to telemarketing campaigns, he said, and the fractured collection of Asian social networks is a hard nut to crack.
While Facebook is popular throughout the region, homegrown Asian social networks remain dominant. China’s QZone social network has more than 644 million users, Japan’s Line messaging app has more than 300 million users, and South Korea’s KakaoTalk reports 110 million. The numbers are enticing, but a deep level of cultural insight is required in order to effectively integrate any of these networks into a marketing strategy.
Marketing events are also a different ball game: Whereas an Australian or New Zealand audience of just 25 or so people works well by allowing for interaction, Asian marketing events can attract several hundred people, so a presentation with “almost zero engagement from the audience” seems to resonate better.
Then, of course, marketers have to contend with myriad individual category and national preferences to understand and navigate. “In Asia, there are different fashion tastes in regard to shoes, but also different customs,” Fox said. “For example, in Japan it is common for a gift certificate to be regifted many times before being redeemed. Therefore, the packaging must be beautiful and durable, and the gift certificate should have a code but no names on it.”
However, Romaniuk re-emphasized, the most effective way to steer through such a diverse region is to make sure marketing messages are built around a particular human need. Marketers must focus on what a product is and what it achieves, so that it translates well across Asia’s diverse cultures.
“Organizations should consider the human need their service is fulfilling and communicate that clearly before attempting to navigate any cultural nuance unique to a particular country,” she said. “When you look at the data, there are a lot of similarities in the region.”