China, India and South-East Asia markets are the keystones of the world economic growth. Every company willing to develop new business should consider approaching Asian markets. But what are the differences between Western and Asian markets and marketing?
We had a chat with Colin Anderson, Managing Director of Brandcourage, who has developed communication projects in the Asian area since the early ’90.
Mr. Anderson, you have managed communication projects in China, South East Asia and Australia for over 20 years. Could you tell us what are the main differences in approaching these cultures when talking about mass advertising?
Assuming that you are a new comer to the Asian markets, there are several important factors in play here that you will need to bear in mind. Firstly, that there are no two markets alike. They differ in their levels of sophistication as wells as their interpretations of both visual and verbal language.
Secondly, there are many things that can trip you up as a communicator in terms of trade, cultural and religious issues. For example: across Asia the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to marketing no longer works, and most times is insufficient to address the changing needs of Asia’s highly fragmented marketplace and seems to be morphing into more of a micro-segmentation approach.
The exception is the tribal nature of Asian youth markets, however this only applies in certain product categories and adds another layer of complexity.
Have you noticed any change in Asian marketing, over the years?
The most obvious shift has been in the global economic changes, that have repositioned the relative importance of the Asian markets, and hence the rush from west to east over the past fifteen years that has gathered greater momentum since 2008.
The less obvious change here is the emergence of intra-Asian trade that has resulted in huge communication requirements between Asian companies across the various Asian markets in which they have a presence.
Also, the rapid rise of smart-phone and mobile phone use is already having an impact on communications strategies across Asia.
What are the Asian countries that you believe more promising and/or advanced in terms of marketing strategy?
The obvious answer is to look towards the developing countries. They are however, harder to penetrate, but ultimately, higher in terms of return.
Another way to think, is to try not to think about ‘countries’, but think cities… think of China as being twenty individual markets – Shanghai being quite distinct from Beijing and so on.
For example: thinking about selling Japanese car brand in the Southern provinces, is easier than in the Northern provinces, due to the North’s dislike for Japan.
Promise will depend upon the industry cluster, and is changing and reshaping all the time. For example: for the automotive industry, China and India are two of the largest markets, however, the rate of growth in China is much greater than India.
Singapore is both a country and a city and it is where I am based, and like a lot of the more sophisticated ‘English language’ capitals, like Hong Kong in the north, have become saturated. All the global branding companies and advertising agencies operate here, and use it as a base to service the region. I believe that growth will come from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila.
Is working with the State Government Agencies very different from dealing with private businesses?
Working for government in Singapore was very rewarding in the past. In fact, my first clients included the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Singapore Tourism Board (TDB), National Science and Technology Board (NSTB, now known as A*STAR), Temasek Holdings and many of the TLC (Temasek-led companies).
I worked with EDB for over ten years during the time that Philip Yeo and Dr. Tan Chin Nam were at the helm. It was a fantastic opportunity, working on Singapore as a ‘brand’, marketing a country as an investment opportunity, as well as getting involved in national projects, like the Singapore-Suzhou Industrial township (which was the largest industrial township in the world, at the time).
The government was prepared to invest in quality marketing and communications and took its national brand very seriously. It was on the back of these projects that I built my personal knowledge-base about Singapore and the wider region, as we worked on many aspects and facets from industrial and commercial to high-end services and lifestyle.
The government here is very supportive of private enterprise, and offers over 160 incentive schemes to induce business growth. However, it is still frustrating working with ‘local’ businesses, as they tend to be very reluctant to invest in communications compared to the large national businesses and multinationals.
What’s the best way to develop a brand in Asia right now? Is there any specific trend?
There is no ‘best’ way in a general sense. The markets are crowded and the competition is keen. A key element of success would be to have a clearly differentiated offer – if you are a me-too brand, chances are you will not survive. Business owners need to consider the value of the in intangible asset and not undervalue its importance in gaining market share.
When I first arrived in Asia, over 25 years ago, the Asian markets looked to the West for brand leadership. And though today, Western brands are still very dominant; we see the rise of many strong Asian brands that have gained significant traction across these markets.
Is the web important in Asian marketing? Are there many differences between countries?
We always seek brave clients – ones who value brand as a foundation of business and not an afterthought. It is also very true of online. It is front and centre and so intrinsic these days that digital is a key component of the overall brand strategy.
The online and offline worlds for brands need alignment, and this goes across all Asian markets. China is a whole new ballgame and needs to be approached as such.
How would you suggest to approach marketing in China and South East Asia for a European brand?
This flow across into the Asian markets (from the US and Europe) has well and truly started. All the big players are here already across most business categories. If you missed the boat, then you will find it much harder to play catch up; but making your move into Asia is a MUST DO strategy, as the majority of future growth will come directly or indirectly from the region.
For example: I worked closely with the six Baltic States, that comprises of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, on developing a marketing campaign, to Indian investors. We concentrated on selling the benefits of their proximity to the European heartland to Indian companies that had been previously been seen as less desirable, by ‘Euro-Branding’ them through their strategic Nordic connections.
Tell us something more about Brandcourage and its expertise.
Brandcourage is not for everyone. We are a communications company based in Singapore with a network across 31 countries. We look for courageous brands that seek to make their mark in Asia and beyond.
Communications, by nature, is a very broad scope, as we find our client requirements need lateral and sometimes disruptive forms of communications to cut-through the clutter.
The team is made up of strategists, communicators and designers… collaborating consensually with our clients, shaping the narrative of their brand, to create differentiated experiences for their employees, partners, investors, customers and end-users. Projects are developed as integrated campaigns spanning naming, identity, digital, packaging, interiors, collateral, advertising.
About Colin Anderson
After setting up and running Enterprise IG (Now Brand Union) and selling to Martin Sorel (WPP) Colin co-founded Brandcourage, where is now Managing Director. Colin’s journey has been extraordinary. After working with the world’s largest brands on nearly every continent, he passionately invests his insight experience and courage into every client he works with today.