News & Views

London’s calling… but Asia’s not always listening

I recently returned from a trip to London where I caught up with clients old and new, and importantly satisfied my craving for fish and chips. It was also great to get some perspective on Brexit from people at the frontline of dealing with the impact of the UK leaving the European Union.

That said, what marketers really wanted to talk about was Asia, or more specifically how to create an effective campaign in a market that can seem impenetrable when you’re sitting in London. While everybody recognises the importance of Asia, from conversations it is clear marketers are getting tripped up by the same issues. So to help, I’m sharing some of the most common challenges marketers are likely to encounter in the region and how you can avoid getting caught out.

Asia looks different when you’re 6,000 miles away

Your marketing team and subject matter experts understand the importance of Asia and are producing plenty of content on the region. Problem solved, right? Not when the people producing and editing that content are based outside of Asia or don’t have in-depth experience of the region.

The perspectives and concerns of audiences within Asia are very different from those living outside the region and that has to be reflected in any thought leadership you produce. This was something I learnt (with a shock) when I moved from London to Hong Kong as a journalist almost a decade ago. And it’s something marketers need to be aware of, especially as there is a tendency to repurpose content written with European audiences in mind for Asian ones.

Tip: If you’re writing about Asia for Asian customers, then the content needs to reflect that this is an informed audience well versed about the issues affecting the region. While it may not be possible for you to have a team of writers on the ground, if you’re writing about Asia, it is likely you have offices in the region and even some marketing resource. Try to identify and win over some local ‘champions’ who at the least can provide a common-sense check of the content you produce, and highlight topics and issues to focus on. While there is pressure to publish frequently, it is better to publish fewer pieces of content that are useful to your target market than push out information that does not add value.

Localisation goes beyond language

Plenty of reports show that localisation of content has long been one of the priorities for marketers. But localisation has often come to mean translation into the relevant language with maybe some local references dropped in. That, however, does not take into account the different cultural perspectives and influences of the audience. To illustrate, let me share an anecdote from one of the companies I met.

The London marketing team of this financial services company decided to use the analogy of a triathlon to explain the key benefits of their product to customers in a way that they though would resonate strongly. While that was the case in Europe, the campaign was met by bemusement by their colleagues in Southeast Asia where the decathlon is not a well-known sporting event.

Tip: When planning a global campaign, ideally you should conduct research on your audience so you not only understand the cultural differences but also what is likely to motivate them to buy your product or service and, crucially, what topics to avoid. If that is not possible, remember to include local teams in the process, or at least seek their feedback on shortlisted ideas so they can highlight any potential problems early on. If all else fails, an intelligent internet search should provide some sense of whether the idea will work well in Asia. Importantly, don’t assume that cultural references that work in your home market will have the same impact elsewhere.

China and the great wall of censorship

By far and away the challenge that came up time and time again was China, and particularly how to avoid producing content that might cause offense that has commercial repercussions. While this is also an issue that marketers in Asia face, from London it is harder to get a sense of where the potential pitfalls lie.

During meetings, I heard lots of stories of how what seemed in London like a balanced and neutral line about the Hong Kong protests or the Coronavirus was viewed as controversial when shared with colleagues in the Greater China region.

Tip: My colleague Joseph Chaney has previously written about what we see as the dangers of excessive caution and self-censorship for companies that want to be viewed as thought leaders. And I think it pays to repeat some of that advice here:

  • Accept that some external audiences will almost certainly disagree with your views: Take that as a compliment and chalk it up to the price of being a genuine thought leader. Strong opinions should elicit strong responses.
  • If you are too constrained to say anything compelling and insightful, don’t say anything at all:It’s simply a waste of money to fake thought leadership.

A big thank you to everybody who took the time to meet with me and good luck with your content campaigns.

Image by bzager0 from Pixabay

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