Man About Asia Ep7 : Lost in Translation

The final episode, ‘Lost in Translation’, offers up some tips and hints for those adjusting to Asian styles of business.

Over the years, one of the biggest complaints I have heard from anyone working in the region has been poor business etiquette. A complaint often levelled at people working with teams in the region, who are based outside the region themselves.

Some examples being: -

  • Late night conference calls on Fridays
  • Lack of understand of local needs and cultures, Yes, Chinese New Year is as important for quality family time as Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • A sometimes-total misunderstanding of the difference between Western English and International English.

All seem very obvious but sadly often ignored. The final episode can be viewed here: -

In conjunction with this episode The Drum published the following article

Man About Asia Recap : The best advice from marketers and agencies about doing business in Asia

Over the last seven weeks Man About Asia, our film series in partnership with MullenLowe Profero, has been providing an insider’s guide to some of the biggest opportunities and challenges surrounding marketing in the region.

Alongside each episode, we’ve been asking marketers across Asia to share their local knowledge on a range of crucial topics, such as deciding where to base yourself, finding top talent and making sense of a daunting media landscape.

As we reach the final installment in the series, we recap some of the best advice we learned along the way.

There is no one Asia

“The biggest business mistake most people make is to presume there’s one Asia, the reality is very different,” says Wayne Arnold, MullenLowe Profero CEO and chair of the Marketing Society southeast Asia, in the opening episode of the series.

In fact, this is a region of 42 markets and 4.5 billion people spread across 17m square miles — its countries separated not only by distance, cultures and languages, but in some instances drastic disparity in technological and economic development.

However as Annabel Venner, global marketing director at Hiscox told us, Asia doesn’t necessarily have to be overwhelming to western marketers.

She says: “I spent time in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia last year: every market certainly has its unique identity and culture, and it is clear that certain regional hubs are dominant.

“I would however add that these are not necessarily scary, alien cultures to our own — local agency partners can help you to understand cultural nuance, and a strong, well-articulated insight can transcend regional difference and work across multiple markets.”

Picking the right location is not just a business decision — but a personal one

Perhaps the most important decision marketers moving to Asia face is finding the right base. While this might be out of your hands if you are being seconded within an agency network or brand with an existing pan-Asia strategy, for those thinking of moving as a career change or opening an Asian outpost it can be an extremely challenging conundrum.

Rob Hall, general manager of Open Thailand, recommends thinking about what you want to get out of the experience — and being realistic about your skills.

He says: “The starting point is your skill set and seniority. If you are junior or mid-level management and want to work in a specific market, you will probably need the right language skills or a very specific skill set to get a position. Long gone are the days that an expat can walk into a job in Asia — and for good reason.”

“The last, and certainly not the least, point to consider is deciding on the lifestyle that you want. I’ve said before that while work may be the reason you choose to move somewhere, the quality of life is often the reason you stay.”

The media landscape can seem frustrating and unfair — patience is required

If China is the market you choose to target, you can expect a significantly more testing media landscape than what you’re used to back home, according to Normandy Madden, senior VP of content development, at Thoughtful Group.

As Madden points out, all traditional media companies from national TV broadcaster CCTV to regional satellite players and even magazines and newspapers are state-owned, “so don’t expect them to play fair or act like western commercial media”.

Digital media fares little better. “There is a lack of transparency, and little third-party data, which makes it hard to trust information like views of online videos on Youku and Tudou, and rates for digital media advertising have risen dramatically in recent years,” explains Madden.

But she says there could be better news on the horizon: “The situation is likely to get easier in the future as real-time bidding and other automated services start to inject some transparency into the system. For now, aim for patience and rely on experts to guide you through the system.”

Don’t expect your western social media strategy to translate

The west may be dominated by the Silicon Valley kings, but Asia has its own Silicon Dragons. And as we said at the start, there is no such thing as one Asia, and that means there is “no such thing as an ‘Asia social strategy’ per se,” according to Jeremy Webb, national director of Social@Ogilvy, China.

As Webb says: “User behaviours and attitudes in Japan differ wildly to those in Myanmar, for example; China has none of the platforms you’d consider for most of the other markets.”

The answer, according to Oban Digital social media strategist Chloe McKenna, is to do your homework. “In-depth research and planning will not only mean the difference between success and failure in terms of your social KPIs, but will also mitigate the risk of offending and ultimately alienating your intended audience,” she tells us.

The competition for talent is intense — so your employer brand is crucial

Sarah Pruscino, the Asia Pacific HR director at MullenLowe & Partners Worldwide, says there’s a particular shortage of “mid-tier talent with local experience combined with an international mindset; middle managers willing to get their hands dirty as well as leading the business agenda”.

With talent at a premium, your own company’s brand may be its most important differentiator and biggest pull. “With many companies fishing in the same talent pool, a clear proposition is vital,” Pruscino says. “In practical terms this means any business planning a long-term talent strategy in the region needs to be focused on a clear vision and considered approach.”

And she adds: “Remember, candidates are becoming increasingly interested in incorporating their life goals into the work they do, so consider the long-term proposition of talent development.”

Asia won’t wait for you to understand it

If it sounds like Asia can be a challenging place for marketers, that’s because it is. But ultimately the region also offers enormous opportunities and if you believe Nils Andersson, the president and chief creative officer at Y&R China, his adopted country will be at the heart of some of the industry’s most important creative breakthroughs in the years ahead.

“So will the 21st century belong to Asia? Most definitely. Are we there yet? Most certainly not. We are but 15 years into this century, with Asia having taken mere baby steps on its journey towards creative global dominance” Andersson writes.

“The Chinese wait for nothing; China does everything at speed. Sometimes you could argue, too quickly, but the rest of the world needs to wise up to the fact that, comparatively, they are moving in slow motion.”


HOST : Wayne Arnold Global CEO MullenLowe Profero, Chairman of Marketing Society Southeast Asia.
In partnership with MullenLowe Profero
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