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Defining the Marketing Complexities of APAC

Fragmentation across the Asia Pacific region means good marketing here should not be defined by a one-size fits all strategy.

Note:  This post first appeared in ClickZ.com on June 14, 2015.

News flash! The Asia-Pacific region does not exist. OK, it does exist geographically, but not in marketing terms. Customer needs, habits, customs and languages are so fragmented across the region that effective strategies and campaigns require a market-by-market approach.

The concept of the Asia Pacific as a marketing and sales region was invented by the headquarters of various multinational companies to pull together emerging and mature markets into a basket for administrative and budgeting purpose.
Some organizations call this region APAC. Some call it Asia ex-Japan. Some lump it in with Africa and the Middle East. And the idea of the Asia Pacific business and financial region has been given further credibility by economists, analysts and politicians. They talk generically about the growth potential of the region, the youth of the population, the rising consumer spending, the technological leap-frogging (for example mobile penetration) that is going on, and they say things like “half the world’s population is within five hours’ flying time of Hong Kong.”
My experience with multinational companies and clients is that usually about 15 percent of their global businesses are in the Asia Pacific (including China, India, Australia, and Japan).
They are getting higher growth rates from these markets, but also have higher costs than they do in their European or U.S. home markets, because they need to have offices or partners across multiple countries, and for most companies, they have not yet hit scale.
So, these disparate markets with some shared characteristics are lumped together for financial and administrative convenience. For the marketer with his or her boots on the ground in the region, there is no Asia Pacific, except for the reports to be sent back to headquarters, or the speeches to be given at chambers of commerce.
So if your role requires you to manage a region that does not exist, what do you do?
Here are some suggestions, based on my 20 years’ Asia-Pacific experience in marketing and communications.
Set the Tone, the Themes and the Brand and Leave the Execution to the Local Markets 
In a regional role, your two biggest value-adds are to be the keeper of the brand spirit and make sure it is brought to life in consistent and relevant ways in each market.
Engaging customers market-by-market in compelling, relevant ways (beyond just communications in the right language) is more important than rolling out a regionwide strategy or campaigns.
When you achieve consistency, you lose flexibility, and that’s the key to cross-market success.
Manage by KPIs
First listen to your markets – conduct research, ask your own team, and get direct customer feedback – and then set objectives for each market.
You will not only empower your local teams to do what they need to do to be successful, but also you will avoid wasting time and resources trying to match local needs.
A campaign that is 5 percent off in terms of positioning or relevance ends up being 100 percent useless.
Don’t Provide Toolkits
Early in my time in Hong Kong I created a regional marketing campaign for the launch of a new sports shoe. We brainstormed a theme, created a logo and visual identity pack, and researched campaign elements. Then we put the elements into a presentation and a toolkit that we rolled out to the local markets via meetings, calls, and FedEx packs full of samples and guides.
Just before launch, my company transferred me from their Hong Kong regional headquarters to Seoul. My first assignment in Korea was to tailor and execute locally the very same marketing campaign I had just created.
My perspective changed instantly, and most of the concepts and resources I was so proud of a month earlier suddenly looked thin and inapplicable to my real market needs.
That was a wake up call, and a lesson I have not forgotten.
Use Platforms and Algorithms to Full Advantage
One area in which regional operations can add real value is through the use of the mobile, web and search platforms that stretch across markets.
Google is an obvious example, and although you will be deploying Baidu and Qihoo 360 in China, there is keyword knowledge and analytics learning that can be deployed and repurposed on a test-and-learn basis around the region.
Another example is the use of centralized content management systems and the regional “content factories” that pull much of the day-to-day marketing and communications functions into hubs that allow the local markets to focus on higher value added activities.
Marketing automation is another growing area for regional marketing, offering the ability to segment marketing databases and create lead-nurturing campaigns at scale.
So even if there is actually no Asia Pacific region, many of us still have to play the game and talk-the-talk.
Dive in and get the balance right between setting regional brand strategy and goals and provide valuable objectives and resources for local success.

*Image via Shutterstock

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