OPINION: What you need to know about Asian expansion

Scot Ennis
By Scot Ennis | 19 March 2013
Switched On Media joint chief executive Scot Ennis.

If your company is based in one country or region, breaking into the market in an entirely different region can be a challenge, especially when it comes to figuring out the specific characteristics and needs of clients in that area.

When Switched on Media completed a large-scale engagement with one of our key clients in Asia, it gave us a chance to reflect on some of the key learnings from the projects, which essentially saw us breaking into the Asian market for the first time. Here are a few learnings:

Each market is different. It’s hard to view Asia as a collective:
One of our foundation clients in Asia was a leading hearing aid company. We were tasked with driving their online marketing campaigns in the entire Asia Pacific region. Some markets were harder than others, and Korea especially proved difficult for a few reasons. Google is not as dominant in Korea, whereas blogging is paramount, so it wasn’t until we partnered with local bloggers and SEO resources on the ground that we got good results.

Your client's products are perceived differently in each market:
While the client’s product might be the same in each country, the consumers’ understanding of that product in each locality can also be different. Perceptions of hearing implants and technology in India are completely different to those in Japan, for example, so the content or ad copy used in each country must be relevant and specific to that region. It’s often necessary to take different tailored approaches to each market and while basic translation services might help, it’s local insight that is the key to delivering a great result.

Technology in each market is different, so the business opportunities are also different:
Each different service your company offers may not always be useful or relevant in every country your client operates in. SEO, for example, is nascent in Singapore whereas paid search is more widely understood. Social media channels work differently everywhere, especially in China. Think you know a bit about Facebook? How about QQ? Never heard of it? Well, it has more than 900 million active users in China to date, and that number is growing constantly. Be sure you’re up to date with the latest tech and online trends in teach country.

Local networks are important
It’s hard to just send one person to a regional hub like Singapore and expect success, so moves into Asia require significant planning and investment.
Hong Kong resources might be low cost and efficient, though strategy is key. If you don’t have strategic resources on the ground, then your online results in each market will suffer.

Final thoughts:
- Look at the gaps in each market – don’t assume that every niche has been filled in a certain country just because it’s already been filled in Australia. Likewise, just because a service is relevant in Australia doesn’t mean it is in Japan.
- In Singapore, process and KPI seem to be the frame of reference - deal making focuses more on price then strategy.
- Hong Kong used to be a leg into China, but it’s since been bypassed – Shanghai especially is now the focus for many entrants.
- Timeframes for decisions are slower in some markets. Be prepared for this and take this into account when modeling your P&L in each market.
- Don’t just “give it a nudge” from afar – flying in and out doesn’t always work so well either. You’ll get momentum once you commit to having a presence in a region.

Scot Ennis
Joint chief executive
Switched on Media

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