Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

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Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

By Smitha Virik, regional head of client services, Asia Pacific at TEAM LEWIS


All Eyes on APAC 

In an era characterised by rapid globalisation and digital transformation, the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) continues to emerge as one of immense economic growth that is capturing the attention of global businesses and investors.

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

Population: 4.7B (60% of world’s population)
21 out of 34 of the world’s megacities
67.4% Internet penetration
60% of social network users
Home to 50% of the world’s fastest growing companies
30% of the world’s top startup ecosystem
43% of the world’s largest 5,000 companies are in Asia

Despite the opportunities, many companies still fail to expand into APAC successfully. Why?

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

Because we’re not only a vast region, we’re an incredibly diverse one.

2,300+ languages spoken in the region
More than 17 religions practised
Home to many ethnic minority groups. In Southeast Asia alone, there are more than 350
Complex geo-political landscape

As such, it can be a headache for APAC marketers to roll out campaigns. But things get even more complex when there is a need to make a case for tailored local market approaches or investments.

To explore how marketers in Asia deal with these challenges, we worked with Toluna to survey 200 marketing professionals and key decision-makers across different industries in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong on the issues they face operating as part of a global team while advocating for a local approach.

Broken down by the common problems marketers are facing, we layer our expert perspectives on top of the results to navigate this tricky, but rewarding, region – asammunition for you to be able to fight back, whether it’s data, tactics or results.

Challenge #1: My Global Marketing team is suddenly looking into all things APAC, but I’m expected to drive results with the same global assets

Reality:  Global marketing campaigns rarely work well in APAC – consumers are fatigued by campaigns that don’t reflect life in the region. Things need to be localised to be successful.

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

48% of participants surveyed said that global campaigns need to be localised 80% of the time to fit their market needs

60% agree that localisation is highly important to create impact for their marketing and communication initiatives

1 in 4 Australian markters agree that global campaigns need 100% localisation to cater to market interest

How To Resolve?

Localise everything. This doesn’t always mean you need local data or key visuals – but at the very least ensure your content and/or copy reflects local priorities and issues. Work with local teams and agencies to sense-check assets and remove elements that may be insensitive, irrelevant or off-putting.

Here are some other important pointers to keep in mind and pay close attention to:

• Ignoring regional variations, leading to errors – Research and understand local cultures, dialects, and colloquialisms to ensure accuracy and cultural relevance. The same words can mean different things in different countries, even when they speak the same language
• Quality issues such as misunderstandings or offense – Work with experienced native speakers and engage external reviewers for quality assurance
• Limited time and budget – This often leads to incomplete or rushed localisation. Prioritise which content needs to be localised and establish a budget for the process to ensure efficiency at its best
• Inaccurate or outdated content damages trust with customers and your brand – Establish a process for coordinating between language teams and content creators, and leverage automated tools and services or a review process for approving localised content

Challenge #2: I do not have a local spokesperson to drive thought leadership and the only spokesperson available is based overseas

Reality: Majority of global brands have spokespeople based in their head office, with limited local market leadership – consumers in APAC want to hear from someone who understands their culture, needs and what makes them tick.

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

43% of organisations in APAC rely on global spokespeople to be the face of a company post-pandemic

How to Resolve?

Identify and train up a local spokesperson to front APAC discussions. Audiences have come to expect opinion leaders and spokespeople who are authentic and in-know of current public sentiments. Local executives and thought leaders possess the right understanding of the region’s cultural nuances and are well-versed with the socio-economic landscape to manage communications around regional issues with fluency. The use of local spokespeople also allows for diverse perspectives and voices from the APAC region to be represented adequately.

Identifying the right spokesperson:

You don’t have to pick just one spokesperson for the entire company – different people can represent your brand at different points. Inform them of your narrative and the key messages to highlight, prepare them for interviews with the media and ensure they have a good understanding of the media landscape
• Authenticity rules. Speed, context, relevance, and transparency will get your stories out there. Human beings like to buy from human beings, so an authentic story fronted by a local spokesperson is key
Build their personal brand. Your spokespeople are the face and voice of your brand seen across every channel. Customers, investors, the government, and local communities are listening to what they have to say on social media, at events, on blogs, etc, so each channel represents an opportunity to create a personal narrative for your spokespeople, which can give your brand’s messaging more power and authenticity.

Challenge #3: I have been significantly impacted by inflation, recession and higher operating costs, and now I am one person managing campaigns across APAC

Reality: As marketers move to tighten their spend, many need an operating model that can streamline processes across global and local needs and yet deliver impactful outcomes such as a hub-and-spoke model.

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

1 in 2 marketing executives observed a rise in adoption of hub-and-spoke models as a focal point for connecting and coordinating activities across the region.

1 in 5 local marketing teams have seen a significant increase in support from global marketing teams

How to Resolve:

If you are managing multiple countries across APAC, a hub-and-spoke model is your most efficient bet. It offers improved cost efficiencies as several pillars of market research, creative, media planning and so on can be parked into one central hub versus the need to work across multiple agencies and vendors. But more importantly, it offers global marketing teams a centralised point of coordination with local insights and adaptation that can bridge gaps between multiple teams while driving effective outcomes. Look for partners or agencies that are well set up across the APAC region and can form a hub and spoke model to address your needs quickly.

Why is it important:

• A hub-and-spoke model funnels global directives to local representatives while also offering local insights to global teams, creating a two-way dialogue
• An agile hub-and-spoke model offers effective utilisation of resources, budgets, people and tech by placing everything in a central hub. This allows for quick scalability of projects as resources, templates, and concepts can be quickly deployed across multiple markets
• A centralised hub also serves as a knowledge centre for all operating teams for best practices, market insights, resources, and guidelines that allows for collaboration and innovation within teams.

Challenge #4: Global campaigns are well-funded compared to APAC-campaigns, but I am still expected to generate results similar to a global level

Reality: Global understanding of local market needs and the local team’s ability to showcase their value are crucial factors in securing more funding in the future. Without solid metrics and evidence of the effectiveness of local campaigns, it can be difficult to secure the necessary funding to execute them successfully.

Smitha Virik: Marketing in Asia – it’s not as straightforward as you think

54% of marketing professionals say their local campaigns are underfunded, especially in Australia, where this statistic rises to 60%

Underfunded campaigns are more commonly observed in B2C industries (55% vs. 51% in B2B), where they are primarily funded by local teams versus global.

How to Resolve:

Budget reductions caused by the pandemic and economic downturns has consequently made companies prioritise risk mitigation and survival, resulting in the poor allocation of resources or adequately funding campaigns.

It is critical for brands to focus efforts in the right direction, with the biggest impact:

Work with the right partners who have an international network, but strong local expertise to help you acquire a deeper understanding of relevant markets and access distribution channels that extend beyond your own geographical boundaries.
Active monitoring of what’s happening in the global and local market and competitive landscape can help you spot emerging opportunities as they come, and pre-emptively address potential crisis situations.