There are a number of Asia market entry mistakes that I see being repeated time and again by companies. These are not the kind of frequent mistakes in international expansion that include not having a plan or so, but are more specific to the region.
This is my second post on the topic, and you can find part 1 here.
Error #8: Confusing Language Ability with Intelligence
Have you ever mistaken language ability for intelligence?
This is a bit of an odd one I find, because those senior managers who just declare that they don’t speak the language (usually English) and work through an interpreter don’t have the issue. This is often done to avoid losing face in a meeting by making mistakes. It also creates time to think about which answer is best to give even if the manager actually speaks fluent English.
However, I often observed that when someone does their best & battles through to express themselves in English then their intelligence is often underestimated if their English is difficult to understand. Do not equate linguistic ability with intelligence!
It’s also often people who have English as a second language themselves who are so judgemental 🤷♀️
No idea why it’s the case…but just don’t do it, ok?
Most native speakers of English, are extremely appreciative of all efforts to learn the language, especially as unlike speakers of other languages it’s not typical to speak a second language fluently.
What I would recommend though, is that if you struggle with English, then it’s worthwhile engaging the services of a professional interpreter for important meetings and making sure that they are well briefed on your business in advance. It helps to avoid any potential misunderstandings and shows respect for the time of all parties.
You can always practice your language skills over dinner or during a short sightseeing trip around the city with your guests.
Asia Market Entry Mistakes #9: Not adapting marketing channels for consumer preferences
It should be bog obvious but knowledge isn’t always applied 😂
Remember that the relevant channels for marketing your product in Asia may be different to what you would use at home.
I’m not just referring to China here (I think the message has got through now that China has their own social media ecosystem) but also for other Asian markets.
Yes, China may seem the more extreme example as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook & co are not available except via VPN, but also markets such as Korea, Vietnam or the Philippines have definitely local preferences.
For example, the Philippines ranks first in South East Asia for social media usage, with Facebook being the number one choice of platform in 2022. Philippinos like to follow celebrities and influencers so if the market is your target then you need to consider that in your strategy.
In South Korea on the other hand, the most popular platform is KakaoTalk which has 4 times the regular users of Facebook. So whilst Facebook and Instagram are available and shouldn’t be ignored, they’re also not the top ways to market to consumers in Korea.
Do you know where YOUR potential consumers are searching for products and chatting to their friends? Even if the same channels exist in your target market as at home, both the intensity of usage and the way of using them might be different.
Which channels are most important for your clients?
Frequent Mistakes in International Expansion to Asia #10: Not Tailoring Marketing Content to the Consumer Preferences
Obviously this applies to all markets to some extent, but for European or North American companies in Asia there may be more which needs to be changed.
For example, an Asian market may want to see photos of your production process or have some kind of “cute” brand mascot. Or might request that brand photos include Asians rather than white Europeans.
That doesn’t mean that you need to give away any production secrets but you can perhaps incorporate a couple of shots in the factory that show some shiny stainless steel machinery and a couple of staff members.
How do you transport the concept of your quality as well as the emotion of your brand spirit to an Asian consumer?
For sure the core values of your brand should remain the same, but the imagery and wording probably has to change whether you are selling B2C or B2B.
Making these kinds of adaptations will probably require the support of a local specialist who can really judge if your message is “on point” or not – there are numerous examples (even amongst luxury brands) of companies who got this really wrong. So don’t assume that your centralised marketing strategy is going to work exactly 1:1 in Asia.
Don’t be one of those who lose face in the media due to a massive faux pas – learn which of your centralised content is suitable & how to localise your other content for the market in question.
Which companies have you seen doing this especially well (or particularly badly?)
When you start to work in Asian markets, it’s worth setting aside an amount of budget each year to do brand audits and see how your advertising content is landing with your ideal clients and other consumers of your target group. How is your marketing content being perceived? What kind of brand do consumers think that you are based on your content?
If this isn’t congruent with your core values, then you need to consider with your creative team how you can amend that for the future.
Asia Market Entry Mistakes #11: Assuming that Marketing Costs will be Cheap
Anyone who’s backpacked around Asia knows that EVERYTHING is really cheap right?
Marketing costs in Asia are likely to be similar to your costs at home, or even higher. You have to take into consideration:
🌏 marketing content needs to be localised, not only translated
🌏 marketing channels may be more complex than you are used to from your home market with a mix of the international familiar big players and local platforms (or if you’re working in China then the platforms could be totally different)
More channels = more complexity = higher costs, and in Asia the marketing landscape is often extremely fragmented so it’s expensive to achieve the reach you’re looking for
🌏 Even if the channel used is familiar, the way that local consumers use it may vary
🌏 there may be caps on what local entities can claim back as marketing expenses tax wise (eg in Vietnam or China this is limited to 15% of wholesale turnover)
🌏 you probably need to invest more in marketing research as your market knowledge is not so in-depth
🌏 you also probably need to invest in support from external specialists as you need their in-depth market knowledge and connections
The core message here is don’t assume anything. When you start researching any new market, go in with an open mind and research all the parameters that are relevant for your business.
Frequent Mistakes in International Expansion #12: Don’t Confuse Humble with Weak
Be aware of the cultural differences between Asia and Europe, Australia or the US and don’t confuse humble with weak. Especially US American culture can come across to Asians as extremely pushy and brash, but be careful about making reverse assumptions about your discussion partners.
Humility is a virtue in Confucian cultures, but is not to be confused with weakness of leadership. Don’t underestimate the person sitting opposite you in a meeting simply because they may display different values to those of your home market.
I’ve often been in meetings where the person who picked you up from the airport in a faded polo and washed out jeans was actually the multi-millionaire owner of the business, or where the owner made no mention of their own accomplishments or prowess.
Again, it comes down to…”don’t assume”. Treat everyone with an open mind and be open for the way that other cultures talk about accomplishments or the things that they own.
Asia Market Entry Mistakes #13: Not learning to cope with silence
Have you ever tried leaving a couple of seconds of silence in a discussion or negotiation?
Firstly, it can feel like the silence is lasting forever! However secondly, culturally in Europe or the US, we tend to interpret silence as a sign that we’ve done something to upset the other person.
Culturally in Europe, the US or Australia/New Zealand, silence in conversations feels uncomfortable – it is often used to signal disapproval. However in Asia it is simply a space in the conversation. As such, you need to learn to get comfortable with such gaps. Take the opportunity to think carefully before you speak and ensure that you are calm and in control of your emotions. A rushed answer can come across as childish and result in you losing face with the other party.
For example, if the person you are discussing with makes a counter offer to your proposal and then just shuts up, don’t fall into the “trap” of immediately answering. During negotiations “westerners” are often tempted to jump in and improve their offer or make unnecessary concessions simply because they couldn’t sit with the silence. Take your time, the silence has nothing to do with disapproval by the Asian partner and don’t make any impetuous counter offers that you may come to regret later.
Frequent Mistakes in International Expansion to Asia #14: Underestimating the Competition
For me, this is a point that I often hear from European companies: “oh, the competition is so stiff at home, that it won’t be so difficult in market x”…. If X is a country in Asia then you are probably wrong with that assumption for most kinds of products.
Well, historically, many Asian markets didn’t have such a high opinion of their own production quality so tended to import goods from the US, the UK, mainland Europe, Australia, Russia…. depending on their historical affiliations. Therefore chances are that you will find competition there from literally every corner of the globe, including increasingly local competition either domestically produced or from the region (eg made in China or Indonesia).
I’ve looked at shelves from Lebanon to Korea that have more competitors available than is the case in pretty much any single European market for all of our free movement of goods…
And of course, it’s not just sheer numbers of competitors, but many of them can produce the same (or even better quality) at lower prices so you really need to think carefully about what are your sales arguments for that new market you want to enter?!
Asia Market Entry Mistakes #15: Assuming that Asia is “one market”
Rather ironic seeing as I’ve been talking about a whole range of mistakes about market entry to Asia, however you have to remember that whilst some markets share similarities, each is unique in terms of specific culture and of course economic environment.
That means that whilst I may have grouped some typical market entry errors together for the sake of this video series and these two blog posts, then the specific solutions for each market have to be individually tailored to the country in question.
Asia as a region is a vibrant mosaic with a number of cultural and economic influences – that being precisely what makes it so fascinating as well as challenging to do business in.
Remember that the Asian continent comprises around 47 countries as well as some other territories, stretching from Cyprus in the west through to Mongolia, Korea and Japan in the east. The exact number by definition varies according to the political affiliation of who you ask – for example the UN includes Cyprus, which I’d count as part of Europe…& then there are territories such as Taiwan and Palestine.
However you look at it though, Asia is an enormous continent with a huge variety of cultures, economic systems and approaches to life. You can’t compare Israel directly with Japan, yet both are Asian markets, so if you are looking to expand into the region, make sure you pick specific markets and don’t just plan to grow “in Asia”. Each market will require a tailored plan for how you will grow there.
Not an exhaustive list
Of course this list of potential market entry errors is incomplete, but I hope it gives you some insights into some of the most frequently made at least to help you avoid making those again yourself.
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If you enjoyed this post, you might find these posts about intercultural topics and business culture interesting:
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- Business Etiquette in Vietnam
- A review of The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
- China Challenges: Understanding Chinese Business culture
- Israeli Business Culture
- How to Succeed as an Expat
- Building Company Culture in Global Teams
- Time is Time, Right? Here’s why that isn’t true
- Build Strong Business Relationships to Drive Growth
- Frequent Mistakes in International Expansion: Asia Market Entry Mistakes Pt.1
- Vivian Manasse: Can Intercultural Intelligence Skills be learnt?
- Year of the Rabbit: characteristics and what is your benmingnian year?