With the growth of Asia’s emerging markets, brands around the world are flocking to take a slice of the pie. And who can blame them? Asia’s spending priorities are shifting. Consumers are redefining their lifestyles. And young, educated Asian buyers are blending Eastern and Western brands into their daily lives. However, history reminds us that even the biggest brands (think L’Oréal, Tesco, Walmart and eBay) can fail in foreign markets.
There’s a common problem: Western brands typically adopt an ‘Asia strategy’ mentality without giving any consideration to the diverse regions that exist within it. Marketers must understand that every region is fundamentally different, from the people to the values to the culture.
For those interested in entering – and winning over – Asia’s emerging markets, here’s how marketers can make smart moves to capture and connect on a local level, while keeping your brand’s heritage intact.
There’s more to Asia than ‘Asia’
If someone on your team talks about an ‘Asian audience’ as a single entity, keep them well away from your project. There are 48 countries in Asia, with countless languages and religions. Some nations are partially Westernised, while others remain underdeveloped. And within each of them are citizens with differing interests, challenges and needs – all evolving at rapid pace.
Marketers must treat every region as a new challenge, and never assume that just because something worked in one country, it will also work in another. Teams should adopt a local mentality, with separate groups managing separate regions, covering products and prices to channels and marketing mix.
Align the region’s values to your own for the perfect brand story
Spend some time watching TV commercials for local brands and you’ll notice similar themes popping up. While regions do differ in culture and values, you may notice constant themes of filial piety (deep respect for one’s parents, elders and ancestors), community, kinship and family mentalities, and a deep concern for socioeconomic wellbeing. Smart marketers will create a brand story that matches the emotional aspects of these values with the brand’s values and objectives.
Take Coca-Cola Vietnam as an example. The most important factor in the Vietnamese value system is family. Unsurprisingly, the soft drink giant made this the centre of everything it stands for. Coke created a short film that not only connects strongly with Vietnamese family values, but also stays true to the company’s themes of happiness, life and feeling. Watch the #newbeginnings story – it’s a real tear-jerker.
Partner with local ‘hero’ brands and personalities
Word of mouth has been – and always will be – an important marketing tool in Asia. With emerging markets becoming some of the heaviest social media users in the world, influencers are tapping into consumers’ ‘circles of trust’. To quickly improve your reach, partner with passionate local faces and let them do the talking for you. Keep in mind, however, that some regions have introduced strict influencer marketing laws, so do your due diligence before moving forward.
For inspiration, look at Unilever Philippines. It created a central hub on YouTube called All Things Hair. The platform answers the most common search queries in the Philippines through video content created by Filipino bloggers, stylists and influencers – all in partnership with Google and YouTube.
Don’t compete with the locals – learn from them
If you monitor the top 10 brands across Asian regions, you’ll see most of the lists are dominated by local heritage brands (especially in FMCG). Rooted in local knowhow and with an understanding of their customers’ needs and tastes, these local brands are a force to be reckoned with. While you may not be able to compete on price and longevity, what you can do is gain inspiration and watch how they interact and engage with their target audience. They are obviously doing something right, so why not learn a thing or two?
Take Southeast Asia. Local brands in Thailand and Vietnam produce super-sad short films designed to tug at viewers’ heartstrings. Thai Life Insurance launched a blog called Thai Good Stories, which goes straight for the feels with a collection of stories about acceptance, loss and life connections. If you watch Thai Life’s Unsung heroes story, make sure the tissues are handy.
Don’t dismiss traditional media
Many marketers are astounded by the incredible resilience and strong influence that television, newspapers and magazines still have in Asia, despite it’s internet usage. Local brands typically allocate more than 80% of advertising budget on traditional media formats. This is because 85-90% of the adult population across Asia (even more sophisticated economies including Malaysia and Singapore) watch television every day. For your marketing strategies to achieve the widest reach across emerging markets, traditional media MUST be part of your multichannel marketing approach.
These insights are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to entering Asia’s emerging markets. But if there’s one takeaway you should remember, it’s that no two regions are the same. Too many companies market to Asian countries in exactly the same way they do back home. But like the big Western brands before them, they are bound to fail with such limited thinking.
With strong, open-minded teams eager to understand regional differences and adapt accordingly, your brand can conquer a continent with billions of potential customers.