Marketing in Asia: Advice for crossing the pacific

The Asia-Pacific region is vast, diverse, and can at first glance seem impenetrable for western brands. But understanding the opportunity on offer is the first step to establishing presence in the region. The region is large and diverse, presenting a number of challenges for marketers in terms of communication, infrastructure and cultural cohesion.

Aside from deciding which of the 42 APAC markets to target your efforts on or whether to locate your office in Hong Kong or Singapore, marketers also face challenges in the shape of culture, and a one-size-fits-all monolithic approach is usually likely to fail – just as applying a standardized approach across the whole of Europe would be unlikely to be effective. Localizing marketing messages for a global audience requires cultural sensitivity and awareness of local holidays, language and shifting cultural trends.

Pursuing opportunities in Asia takes careful and precise planning, established partnerships on the ground, and a clear understanding of cultural nuances. Here’s our advice for any company that’s considering crossing the pacific.

1: Are you really ready?

The question of “when” is always one of the most often-asked, but most difficult to answer because the answer varies greatly from one company to another. It’s safe to say that no company should ever extend into any Asian market unless they’re ready to deal with the entirety of the commitment. Working in overseas markets takes a lot of time and nurturing, and if you lack the bandwidth and resources, it might be better to wait.

Just like building a campfire, it’s best to start with something you can more easily influence, like thin twigs, before you throw in a giant log. Once the kindling is ignited, you’ll be in a safer position to move forward.

2: Find the right market

Asia certainly isn’t a single nation like the U.S. or Canada, and it’s even much more fragmented than Europe. Among the 45+ unique countries, each is home to different languages, distinct cultures and a multitude of ethnicities, as well as hundreds more dialects, norms, etc. found in specific regions.

Since the Japanese market is nearly six-times the size of Korea, it’s easy to see why most companies would make Japan their first priority. However, penetrating the market in Japan can be time-consuming. The Japanese take a slow and steady approach that can involve a long process of testing and trials. On the other hand, Korea is a much smaller market, but Korean enterprises and carriers work much faster. In many cases, it’s easier to establish a presence there before trying to conquer the larger market.

Regardless of the technology or product, there is no room for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in Asia and any kind of generalization is a slippery slope. Choose carefully which market is best suited for your product and company, and focus your limited resources on that specific market.

3: Manage your expectations

Adding to the complexity of differing cultures, languages and business practices, working in Asia requires you to manage time and geographical differences. In the U.S., that means you’ll be working after normal business hours to meet deadlines and maintain communication.

Also, because face time is much more important and more common in Asian business than it is in the U.S., it’s unrealistic to expect a partnership if you’re not willing to travel. Building that relationship is critical. Once you’ve established that connection, perspectives become longer term. It’s less of a company-to-company partnership, and more of one between individuals.

Forging these relationships does take time, but the effort is substantially worth the investment.

4: Relationships matter

In most Asian countries, executives operate on a social system that is highly focused on relationships. Societies tend to be tight-knit, operating in a ‘micro economy’ where perceptions are formed very quickly. Ruining a relationship with one partner for short-term gain will certainly make it difficult to form other partnerships down the line.

It’s also important, especially for small companies or startups, to know the reputation of the potential partner. Corporations have their own personalities and legacies. Do your homework and be sensitive to who you partner with.

5: Be respectful when looking for a partner

Getting a foot in the door can be the most difficult challenge in making the Asian connection. Speaking the language is a minor hurdle; success requires securing an experienced, entrenched and committed partner to help you navigate the cultural and business nuances of this exciting new opportunity.

Finding the right partner you can trust to open doors, build relationships and act on your behalf on-the-ground, preferably with an extensive pre-existing network of companies, investors and business associates, is critical to closing deals.