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How to be a successful Marketer in APAC - Interview with Pete

April 15, 2024
Growth Marketing
14 mins

The 20+ countries that makeup Asia Pacific market (APAC) give a big opportunity for global expansion. By 2050 60% of the world's middle class will be in Asia - disposable and discretionary incomes continue to rise through them.

However marketing in APAC is notoriously tricky - it is not one place as some businesses and marketing efforts like to label it as. Their are so many cultural, language, platform and compliance differences to consider as a marketer.

Today we are sharing our interview with Pete who is a top APAC marketing expert.

1. What would you say are the biggest considerations for marketers when running campaigns in APAC?

Pete: "The first thing to state is that APAC is a huge and widely diverse region. It is not one place as some western businesses, and their marketing efforts often like to label it. China is not Japan, and in Southeast Asia Thailand for example is culturally, economically, and linguistically a million miles from The Philippines, Indonesia, or Singapore. There are ten areas we can look at that illustrate this diversity and they all need to be considered my marketers in this region:

Cultural Diversity – can’t be understated. The region has a vase array of religions, divergent cultural values, and expectations from its populous. What works in one market may not in another, which can sometimes be located just a few hundred miles away. On top of that there is a deep multiculturalism within markets, Indonesia is stated as a Muslim country but large parts of it are Christian or Buddhist and there is a significant Indian population that is mainly Hindu. Similarly for Malaysia the majority population is Muslim, but 23% of Malaysians are of Chinese ethnicity and have no attachment to an Islamist faith. You need to understand these differences, not least because different groups of people within countries are motivated by different values, plus they often fall into different economic groups within these same countries.

Language – sounds obvious but there is more to it than that. Language diversity is significant in APAC. English might be widely understood in many countries, but local languages such as Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and many more dominate in others. Marketers need to ensure that their content is not only translated accurately but also localised to reflect regional preferences and idioms. Beyond that, the way something is said has huge significance, because tone and meaning differ by country through their use of language. You need to understand that to be successful in your communication.

Regional Compliance – some markets have a lot, some little and it changes by category. Areas such as data privacy, and consumer protection dominate. Marketers must navigate these legal frameworks to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations. Failure to do so can lead to hefty fines and damage to the brand’s reputation. For example, in Thailand alcohol brands are very heavily regulated, for most you can’t even show the can/bottle or even mention the brand name, they are grey verging on dark markets. Naviagting opportunities within this is very challenging and requires full legal and compliance application.

Digital Landscape - APAC has a rapidly growing digital population, with high internet and smartphone penetration rates. However, the digital landscape varies widely across the region, with differences in social media platforms used, or e-commerce platform preferences, as well as digital behaviours. Marketers need to understand the digital habits of their target audience in each market to effectively reach them.

Mobile first approach – There are 1.73 billion smartphones in Asia (I’ll just leave you to think about that for a while). There are only 97 million PCs… all countries in Asia are mobile-first or even mobile-only markets. Optimising campaigns for mobile devices is crucial for reaching consumers in these regions. Mobile-friendly websites, apps, and advertising formats are essential for engaging with the APAC audience effectively.

Payment Preferences – Payment methods vary widely from market to market ranging from Credit Cards to digital wallets and the rapid rise of cashless payments enabled through apps like WeChat, LINE and Grab. Marketers need to accommodate these preferences in their e-commerce strategies to facilitate seamless transactions and improve conversion rates.

Connectivity – While some APAC countries boast advanced digital infrastructure, others may still face challenges with internet connectivity and technology adoption.

Social and Environmental Responsibility – Increasingly consumers in APAC are paying attention to brands' social and environmental impact. Marketers need to incorporate elements of corporate social responsibility and sustainability into their campaigns to resonate with socially conscious consumers. This is no small thing, even in developing markets, consumers are asking these questions."

Pete's insight – the one thing I can tell you is that in order to be successful in APAC you have to have regional marketing governance. Those brands that believe they can work a Global to Local model without any layer of control and understanding that is much closer geographically to the markets fail time and again. The divergent nature of the region means that you need experienced, informed, and empathetic people who are close to the sensibilities of these markets, and even then, it is still a challenge.

2. What are the key platforms marketers need to consider in APAC and why?

Pete: "There are many.

Facebook remains a dominant social media platform across many APAC countries, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

WeChat is an essential platform in China, where it boasts over a billion monthly active users. Marketers targeting Chinese consumers need to leverage WeChat for its messaging, social networking, and e-commerce capabilities. WeChat's mini-programmes also provide opportunities for brands to create interactive and engaging experiences for users.

Instagram – It’s visual-centric nature makes it popular among younger demographics in APAC, particularly in countries like South Korea, Japan, and Australia. Marketers can utilise Instagram for influencer partnerships, visually appealing ads, and engaging content to connect with this audience.

LINE – is still a popular messaging app in countries like Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan. Marketers can use LINE for advertising, customer engagement, and even e-commerce through features like LINE Official Accounts and LINE Pay.

YouTube – Is the go-to platform for video content consumption in many APAC countries, especially in The Philippines, but also in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Marketers regularly use YouTube for video ads, branded content, and influencer partnerships to engage with audiences and drive brand awareness.

TikTok – Has had a meteoric rise over the last five years or so. It has seen explosive growth in APAC markets, especially among younger demographics in countries like India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In China, the origin of the holding company ByteDance who own TikTok (where there it is locally known as Doyen) platform usage is higher than any other for that market. It is a priority solution for short-form content and allows markers to reach highly engaged audiences at scale.

Naver – is the dominant search engine in South Korea. Marketers targeting the South Korean market really have to advertise on Naver through its search ads, display ads, and content marketing solutions to reach a significant portion of the population.

Alibaba Group – it goes without saying Alibaba must be considered for eCommerce operations in China. Tmall and Taobao, are essential for reaching consumers in that market. Marketers can tap into Alibaba's extensive reach and robust e-commerce ecosystem to drive sales and brand visibility in the world's largest e-commerce market.

Google Ads – While Google is not as dominant in some APAC markets compared to Western countries, it remains a crucial platform for reaching consumers in countries like Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Local Social Media Platforms – Many APAC countries have their own popular social media platforms that cater to local preferences and cultural nuances. For example, KakaoTalk in South Korea, LINE in Japan, and Zalo in Vietnam. Marketers should consider leveraging these platforms to connect with audiences on a more localised level."

Pete's Insight – you cannot be too local. Whilst many of these local opportunities get overlooked by marketers new to the region, that is a mistake. One ‘western’ size does not fit all and whilst some companies like Meta and Alphabet have great scale here, they are not present in China and other countries have their own search or video sharing solutions that must be looked at.

3. What are the key cultural considerations brands need to take into account when marketing in APAC?

Pete: "

Cultural Differences – We have covered some of this above, but different cultures within APAC uphold unique values and norms. For example, collectivist cultures such as those in China and Japan prioritise group harmony and cooperation, while individualistic cultures like Australia and New Zealand emphasise personal achievement and independence. Brands should align their messaging with prevailing cultural values to establish meaningful connections with consumers.

Symbolism and Imagery – Symbols, colors, and imagery carry significant cultural meanings in APAC. For instance, the colour red symbolises luck and prosperity in China but may signify danger in other cultures. Brands need to carefully select visual elements that resonate positively with local cultural beliefs and avoid unintentional misinterpretations.

Festivals and Respect – APAC countries celebrate a myriad of festivals and holidays, each with its own cultural significance and traditions. Brands can leverage these occasions for marketing campaigns but must do so with sensitivity and authenticity, respecting the cultural context of each event.

Family and Community – Family and community ties hold great importance in many APAC cultures. Marketing messages that emphasise family values, filial piety, and social harmony are likely to resonate well with audiences in this region.

Face and Reputation – The concept of "face" (maintaining dignity and social standing) is significant in almost all APAC cultures. Brands should be careful not to publicly embarrass or criticise individuals, as it can cause loss of face and damage relationships with their consumers.

Technology Adoption – Brands must tailor their marketing strategies to accommodate differences in digital literacy, access to technology, and preferred communication channels.

Adaption and Flexibility – Very importantly brands must demonstrate adaptability and flexibility in their approach to marketing in APAC. Cultural dynamics are constantly evolving, and brands that can quickly adapt to changing cultural trends and consumer preferences will be better positioned for success in the region."

Pete's insight – Brands must get their cultural considerations right. They need to know what hits home in any given market for a variety of local cultural reasons. What people believe in, trust, apricate or even have a local saying for all matter. This way brands will connect at a much deeper level; you will show that you understand them better. Then for new cultural changes, especially with younger age groups you must be able to flex and work at pace to tap into emerging phenomena as they happen. You need resources that are close to these changes. South Korea (here it is just Korea) and Japan are particularly prevalent to this.

4. Creatively what works in the region, and what doesn’t?

Pete: "Creativity that works best in the APAC region embraces cultural sensitivity, resonates with local values, and leverages popular trends and platforms. On the other hand, creatives that may not perform well often overlook cultural nuances, employ stereotypes, or fail to adapt to regional preferences. Let’s look at what I mean:

Localise your Content - Adapting content to resonate with local cultures, languages, and traditions can be highly effective. This includes using language-appropriate messaging, incorporating culturally relevant visuals, and aligning with local customs and celebrations.

Prioritise Influencer Partnerships – Influencer marketing is VERY BIG in APAC. Collaborating with local influencers who have a strong following within specific APAC markets can significantly amplify brand visibility and engagement. Influencers can help bridge cultural gaps and lend authenticity to marketing campaigns.

Use Interactive and Engaging Formats - Creatives that encourage audience participation and engagement tend to perform well in APAC. This includes interactive quizzes, polls, user-generated content campaigns, and gamification elements that appeal to the region's tech-savvy and socially active audiences.

Great Storytelling – Compelling storytelling that resonates with emotions, aspirations, and values common across APAC cultures can captivate audiences and foster strong connections with brands. Stories that evoke nostalgia, inspire optimism, or highlight local heroes can be particularly impactful. For example, Thailand and The Philippines have highly emotive audiences and pulling at heart stings or highlighting the importance of deep family values can be particularly successful in these markets.

Incorporate high Visual Appeal – APAC audiences are drawn to visually appealing content, including high-quality images and videos that showcase products or experiences in an attractive and aspirational light. Incorporating vibrant colors, culturally relevant imagery, and diverse representations can enhance visual appeal. This is not a mono-chromatic region.

Conversely the opposite is true for creatives that may under-perform in the APAC region.

Be mindful of Cultural Insensitivity – Creatives that perpetuate stereotypes, cultural appropriation, or insensitivity toward local customs and beliefs are likely to backfire. Brands must avoid inadvertently offending audiences by thoroughly researching and respecting cultural sensitivities.

Be local – Failing to properly localise content, including language translation errors, can result in disconnects with the audience and undermine brand credibility. Marketers should invest in professional translation and localisation services to ensure accuracy and cultural relevance.

No ‘Overly Westernised’ Messaging – Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach with messaging that is overly Westernised or doesn't resonate with APAC audiences' unique preferences and values can lead to disengagement. Brands should strive for authenticity and cultural authenticity in their communication.

Address Diversity and Representation – Creatives that lack diversity and inclusivity may fail to connect with APAC audiences, which are often composed of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and identities. Brands should ensure their marketing materials reflect the diversity of the region and avoid tokenism or stereotyping.

Ignore Local Platforms and Trends at your peril – Neglecting popular local platforms, trends, and cultural phenomena in favor of global strategies may result in missed opportunities to engage with APAC audiences effectively. Brands should stay informed about regional trends and preferences to remain relevant in the market."

Pete's insight – As with many of the answers above to other sections getting your creative right in APAC is about understanding what motivates and resonates with specific audiences in specific markets. Local nuances matter: being humorous in Thailand or India will usually work well but less so in China or Japan.

Telling a great story is universally effective, work that evokes emotions like warmth will work well in India but perhaps less so in Australia, which is much more aspirational. Fit the creative message to the market and do your homework, build out an idea that will have cultural relevance and make sure it is inclusive and representative of the people of that market.

5. What are some of the most innovative things marketers are doing in APAC? Are there any good examples you can share?

Pete: "Technological innovation and digital firsts abound here in APAC, especially in the areas of virtual avatars, social shopping, and green initiatives, below are some examples of the areas that are seeing growth:

Virtual Influencers – Computer generated characters with large social media followings, are gaining traction. Japanese virtual influencer Kizuna AI has amassed millions of followers on various social media platforms and has collaborated with brands to promote products and services to a tech-savvy audience.

Livestream shopping – is massive in China and developing quickly into more populous markets like Indonesia. Platforms like Alibaba's Taobao Live and Tencent's WeChat Live enable brands and influencers to host interactive livestreams where viewers can purchase products in real-time. This immersive shopping experience has proven to be highly effective in driving sales and engaging with consumers.

Social Commerce – which is the integration of e-commerce functionalities into social media platforms, is thriving in APAC. Platforms like China's WeChat, Japan's LINE, and Indonesia's Tokopedia allow users to discover, purchase, and share products seamlessly within their social networks, driving conversion and engagement.

Blockchain for supply chain verification – Some brands in APAC are leveraging blockchain technology to enhance transparency and traceability in their supply chains. For example, Australian winemaker Penfolds partnered with VeChain to implement blockchain-enabled NFC tags on its wine bottles, allowing consumers to verify product authenticity and their origin.

Green Initiatives – With growing environmental awareness in APAC, brands are launching green marketing initiatives to appeal to eco-conscious consumers. For example, Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo promotes its sustainability efforts through campaigns highlighting eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes.

Voice Commerce – New in the region, voice commerce is emerging as a new frontier in APAC, with brands exploring voice-activated shopping experiences through smart speakers and virtual assistants. Alibaba's Tmall Genie allows users to make purchases using voice commands, offering convenience and efficiency in the shopping process.

And here is what come brands have been up to in the region to stand out from their competitors:

Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow programme in India – Samsung India launched this programme, encouraging students to use technology to solve real-world problems in their communities. The initiative not only showcased Samsung's commitment to education and innovation but also strengthened its brand reputation and goodwill among consumers.

Airbnb “At Night” campaign – was launched in several markets here where consumers can book unique overnight experiences in extraordinary locations, such as the chance to stay overnight at the Great Wall of China, providing an unforgettable travel experience and generating significant media coverage.

Shiseido’s Virtual Makeup try on in Japan – Shiseido Japan introduced a virtual makeup try-on tool that uses augmented reality (AR) technology to allow users to virtually try on makeup products through their smartphones. This innovative approach to beauty retailing enhanced the online shopping experience and drove engagement with the brand.

KFC’s limited-edition merchandise in China – KFC China launched a limited edition "finger-lickin' good" smartphone in partnership with Huawei. The phone featured KFC branding, a red casing, and pre-installed KFC-themed apps. This unique collaboration captured the attention of consumers and created a lot of buzz around the brand.

And there are many more such examples…"

Pete's insight – APAC has always pushed boundaries and will continue to do so. This region is open-minded about the adoption of new technology and being first globally with innovation and even media firsts. Shopping is different here, much is now virtual and socially focused, and brands are keen to try new projects that work for social good. If you want to push new boundaries in media, trade, or interactivity you would be hard pushed to find a better place to do it.

Some miscellaneous thoughts Pete had on marketing in APAC:

·      There are a few new streaming platforms like Vieu, who specialise in Asian content. They are streaming with Asian productions and the whole K-craze, which is huge here now. Anime is another one. Piracy is a consideration as well here, it is still rife especially in developing SEA markets.

 ·      The speed of marketplace is another consideration - the marketing cycles are getting shorter and shorter every year here. AI is big in helping manage quick turnarounds from brief to execution. We have a new job role here in agencies which is prompt manager for GenAI LLMs, and it is becoming a unique and refined skill, do you see this in Europe and the US as well?

 ·      Another thought was the steady rise of much DIY creativity happening across Asia, and especially SEA. There are so many opportunities to organically play in these spaces - and therefore traditional well thought through, ironed out, seamless marketing, where everything joins up perfectly, isn’t required as much anymore. There is an opportunity to be part of culture and be a bit more DIY and organic with content, it’s a really interesting development.

 ·      More generally there is positivity toward technology here and the belief that it is improving lives - technophiles. Whereas in the west technophobes are more scared that technology and the cloud is coming for them in some way. Part of that is to do with older population in Western markets – that dynamic does not exhibit itself in the same way here where populations are a lot younger overall.

 ·      And the last interesting point is that by 2050 60% of the world's middle class will be in Asia - disposable and discretionary incomes continue to rise through them.

And finally:

"APAC is not a country, it’s not even a region, it’s at least four; and within that the rich diversity of people, even within markets, has to be addressed or else you will be at a disadvantage as a Marketer.
There are huge possibilities and huge rewards, but remember localisation matters, cultural sensitivity and values matter and a deep understanding of market sensibilities at a subtle level is the best way to approach this highly diverse part of the world; it’s not wise to begin here without a partner who has the necessary experience, understanding, knowledge and ability to manage this diversity from the get-go."

A big thank you to Pete for his insights, and of course if you'd like to chat with Pete or another of our specialist experts, just submit a brief here.

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