Fusion confusion? Learnings from Asia
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Fusion confusion? Learnings from Asia

What can Asian and western brands learn from each other’s success?

The rising wealth of Asian consumers has been endlessly documented and is visible in category after category. Brand owners have raced to serve these ever-more discerning consumers in a fight for their growing disposable income.

What’s especially interesting is the different approaches that have been taken by global players and local Asian brands. What are the typical strategies for each, and what can their marketers learn from each other?

Strategies

When west moves east

Strategy 1: Roll out east

The traditional approach can be termed ‘the no change model’. This relies on the brand’s established power in the west to create awareness, interest, desire and sales in Asia. Relying on the brand’s heavy ad spend and dominant market presence in the West, consumer demand is so strong that it is wanted unchanged in Asia. This requires less creativity and results in building a truly global brand. The marketing skill comes in media selection and in making magical retail and user experiences in Asian markets. Classic examples would be Range Rover, Apple and Louis Vuitton – brands that all offer a consistent global experience.

Strategy 2: Asian adaptation

Another popular approach is to understand the value of winning in Asia while realising that arrival without adaptation simply won’t fly. This is the so-called ‘think global, act local’ approach. McDonald’s is globally famous for its Big Mac, but in conquering India, where the cow is sacred, the ubiquitous fast food leader created a local signature dish – the Chicken Maharajah Mac – and tailored other parts of the menu to appeal in a market with largely vegetarian values. Fisherman’s Friend is another classic brand which has adapted. The traditional and much-loved paper packs were deemed archaic by the brand’s youthful pan-Asian fan base, and was a poor match for Southeast Asia’s humidity, so a modern, shiny plastic zip seal pack drove astonishing growth and popularity among the region’s millennials.

When Asia sells at home

Strategy 1: National pride brands

The dominant local approach is to be fiercely proud of your roots. This directly addresses the entry of global players and leverages superior local consumer knowledge and heritage to win with the home market. Brands like Amul dominate dairy in India and Sosro’s Teh botol outsells Coca-Cola in its home market of Indonesia. In the world of motorcycles and mopeds, Honda dominates in Asia.

Strategy 2: Counterfeit, copy and cut prices

Plenty of Asian brands have been built – and Asian fortunes made – by imitating successful global brands. Professor Michael Porter, leading authority on competitive strategy, and the competitiveness and economic development of nations, teaches the importance of either differentiating or taking the lowest price strategy – and never to get stuck in the middle. Astonishingly fast to market, quality copies at discount prices have eroded brand equity and market value, but built huge demand for ‘famous brand looks for less’. The Japanese automobile leaders, including Lexus, were born from the work of W. Edwards Deming, who showed post-war Japan how a quality/price revolution could enable them to lead the world. Similarly, Chinese computer giant Lenovo, founded in Beijing in 1984, acquired IBM’s personal computer business in 2005 and became the world’s largest vendor by unit sales by 2014.

What can marketers learn from these examples?

1)    The weird and new can become good – if you let people know it’s ok

The first lesson is that a foreign design can be very successful – if it is introduced correctly. Globalisation is upon us, but tastes and brand preferences often remain local, at least at first. Lenovo may have taken on the ThinkPad brand and identity following its IBM acquisition, but its marketers were acting with global savvy when they introduced their 2015 ‘Goodweird’ ad campaign. This aims to drive home the idea in the west that designs that seem strange initially often become familiar and widely accepted. Arguably, the reverse has already been achieved by IKEA, which has successfully introduced minimalist Scandinavian design to Asia.

Your takeaway lesson: you can successfully introduce ‘new’ if you explain why it’s good and why your consumers should take notice. Don’t expect the mass market to embrace novel and distant trends fast. Target the early adopters by appealing to their emotions and desire to be first.

2)    International essence can appeal as new cool

The second lesson is that selecting the simplest elements can confer huge attention and interest. The Superdry story is a classic case of east meets west. Americana and traditional British design accented with the bright colours and bold text inspired by Japanese packaging. The brand began in the spa town of Cheltenham, UK – not in Osaka, Japan, as many imagine.

Your takeaway lesson: you can succeed by borrowing specific elements of international culture and using them consistently. The key is to watch the early trends and give early adopters more of what they are already beginning to look for.

3)    Brand success takes time and consistency

The third lesson is to stick to doing and communicating your brand’s one thing, but make it distinct and wonderful. It’s too easy to look at successful brands and picture their rapid ascent to fame and fortune. But more often than not there’s a long history of painstaking adherence to brand principles and a founder’s values. Brand teams, whether they’re pursuing their art in the east or the west, should remember it’s often perseverance and consistency in purpose, message and identity that has led to the rise of today’s global brand winners.

Your takeaway lesson: don’t try to short-cut success. Brands win by being famous and the first choice for one thing. Realise that brand teams tire of messages long before most consumers even notice them. Don’t be tempted to change your message before your success can take root. And when you do update your campaign, ensure the core brand promise remains unchanged.

Sam Waterfall Founder and Expert Consultant Obvious Marketing
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