Asian consumersâ€™ future focus....
posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 12:19 AM
Posted by Sanjay Kumar, Brighton
Regionality has become the hot topic for marketers as the potential of China and India to become the world’s two largest consumer markets is fuelling intense business interest in Asia.
Companies are looking to these vast emerging markets and asking if a broad-brush approach can work. This article is about some groundbreaking research by AGSM’s Dr Giana Eckhardt and Dr Julien Cayla exploring the values of today’s Asian consumers has pinpointed some clear directions, at the same time identifying a risk in trying to appeal to a regional common heritage as the nations are too culturally diverse. Quite simply, there’s a danger of finding your costly corporate PR campaign in No Man’s Land.
Promising opportunities to market on a regional basis to the widespread and disparate nations of Asia do exist but, according to Eckhardt and Cayla, the message for marketers is: Don’t look back. Keep your sights set on the growing sense of Asian modernity.
The key is in focussing on the future – a vision of a slick, fast-moving and technologically advanced region – and the developing Asian pride and confidence.
Can one size fit all?
With the pressure to streamline marketing activities to ensure the best return on investment, some companies have already organised pan-Asian activities, sometimes in the process missing specific regional nuances.
Much of consumer psychology to date has stemmed from a Western tradition, encompassing North America, Europe and Australia. “Within Europe it’s quite common to take a regional marketing focus, but this approach presents greater challenges within Asia where so many differences in thought processes and cultures exist within the one region.
Marketers need to work towards a deeper understanding of Asian psychology and consumer behavior to develop effective regional strategies,” suggests Eckhardt whose academic focus is consumerism in China. Cayla has extensive expertise in marketing in India.
The pair undertook their study following requests for more relevant information from marketers, brand consultants and advertisers. Their research paper, Asian Brands in Asia: Between Pride and Prejudice, is the result of a series of depth interviews with experts who have worked on regional branding campaigns.
Previously research has examined how Western brands can localise for Asia, or alternatively, Asian brands abilities to capitalise on their exoticness for Western markets. There is a fresh emphasis on brand building among Asian companies, which have formerly focussed on more tangible ways of growing a company, according to Eckhardt.
While Eckhardt and Cayla focussed on how Asian-originated brands could approach the regional issue on their home ground, many of their findings hold a resonance for outsiders considering entering these markets.
Their research presents evidence that is often counter-intuitive: in the past researchers have looked for ties emanating from history to link Asian consumers, either due to heritage or belief systems, the focus on family, a sense of collectivism and filial piety. “Appealing to one set values is not the solution,” says Eckhardt. “How people apply these values in their lives differs from country to country.”
Ties that bind
Regional positionings offer an opportunity for brands to occupy a unique space, but they are inherently fragile, cautions Eckhardt. Local marketing can be very effective, being more attuned to the specific tastes of consumers and showing pride in the local area. Global approaches may be equally potent. “If there’s a brand that’s used all over the world it often brings prestige to the consumer who’s using it or, in the case of utilitarian products, it delivers a promise of being very high quality.” The status of regional brands, however, is less clear.
One widespread trend identified in the research paper is a growing pride in the Asian identity. It’s cool to be Asian, although focussing on a sense of ‘Asian-ness’ only works for symbolic products. If the purchase is purely practical, a global product will take precedence.
A complex mix of influences plays on Asian consumers
Negative perceptions of a country of origin will impact on their decisions to buy. “With the exception of Japan and to a certain extent South Korea, the reputation of products that have come from within Asia has not been very high,” observes Eckhardt. Historical conflicts between nations also play a part in prejudicing Asian consumers’ purchasing decisions.
Consequently, the researchers noticed a tendency by many Asian brands to use strategies to disguise their national origins. For example, Singapore-brewed Tiger Beer leaves its place of origin ambiguous, while the Chinese whitegoods manufacturer Haier has a name suggesting a German association.
With the understanding the success of any marketing strategy in Asia relies on evaluating product categories and researching competitor activities, Eckhardt and Cayla have outlined four broad marketing opportunities for companies aiming to go regional.
The allure of modernity
The Asian region is unified by its striving to be as contemporary as the images it sees in the global media. However, the aspiration is to be modern in an Asian way, not by replicating the West. “The common bonds are in the future, in a view of how Asia is going to look and focussing on this modernity is a far easier way to bring a sense of regionality to people from a wide variety of countries,” says Eckhardt.
Reflecting this trend, Malaysia Airlines in its recent advertising has honed in on the services it can deliver to the high-powered, fast-moving business executive instead of traditional cultural touchstones.
Newfound Asian pride and confidence
Looking to the West for new trends, products and fashions is giving way to the realisation that big centres, such as Tokyo, Mumbai, Seoul and Shanghai are style leaders. “Today consumers in Bangkok are looking as much to what is happening in Seoul, as they are to New York or Sydney.” Major sporting events, such as the upcoming Beijing Olympics and the hosting of the World Cup soccer, have put Asia in the centre of the world stage. There is a developing awareness that Asia is setting trends rather than following, reports Eckhardt.
The world leading design and efficiency of an airport such as Singapore’s Changi compared with many Western facilities is a clear example.
The Western credibility factor
Despite the growing awareness of Asia’s place in the world, the West has clout. A product seen to have a Western stamp of approval is still more readily accepted into Asian markets. Malaysian shoe designer Jimmy Choo is a typical case, achieving success in the United Kingdom before being recognised at home.
Any strategies that associate a brand with the West, whether it is choosing a Western-sounding name or making forays into Western markets, will be perceived favourably.
The heroic ending to a recent commercial for Tiger Beer set in New York was strategically planned to depict Asians comfortably fitting into the global big picture.
Trends from Japan
Pop culture – music, television and entertainment – is the trailblazer in developing a sense of regionality. Economically strong and developed, Japan has become the trend leader with an aesthetic that is widely embraced, particularly by the youth market.
Eckhardt and Cayla’s research uses the example of Coca Cola’s success throughout Asia with its Asian-branded Qoo soft drink using a Japanese animated character.
Creating an emotional connection between a brand and pop culture images, they say, is the fast-track to a regional identity.