Go west
Editorial

Go west

What marketers from an Asian background should expect when moving to work in the US or Europe...

One thing is for sure these days – globalisation is in full swing and many of the shops and restaurants we find throughout city centres in Asia are the same as the major brands we find downtown in the USA or Europe. But what about the world of marketing? Can marketers travel and work freely? And if they do what should they expect?

Well, sure enough, US and European expat marketers are a common feature throughout Asia; often found in leadership positions, they are guiding the work of local teams and directing the progress of western-owned businesses to take advantage of the rapid growth in developing markets.

But what about the reverse? What happens now, as more and more eastern-trained marketing professionals begin to ‘go west’ in search of their own career progression, new horizons and expanded experience? What can they expect to be different from the business methods they know?

Three of the biggest differences in working practice any eastern-trained marketer will notice are the fundamentally different approaches to hierarchy, work ethic and business relationships:

  • In Asia, hierarchy and power structures still dominate decision making in the workplace. In stark contrast, they will observe strikingly flat and open cultures in the west. While family-owned businesses in Asia will tend to follow the direction of the owner, western businesses devolve power deep into the organisation and expect even junior marketers to know the consumer and advise, while the senior teams listen and learn.
  • Work ethic is important in virtually all organisations, but east and west tend to view long hours in different ways. Whereas burning the midnight oil is largely applauded, even required and admired in the east, regularly working late in the west may be interpreted more as poor time management by leaders, who are more impressed to see work done and lifestyles in balance.
  • Business relationships will be the third change an Eastern marketer will quickly observe, applying both to relationships within an organisation and to those with external parties, such as customers and suppliers. In Asia, relationships are slower moving and characterised by a sense of formality and respect. Relationships in the west are noticeably less formal. They are relaxed, free-flowing and fast-moving.

And what of the brands and marketing methods? The most apparent difference an eastern marketing professional will observe in the west is the openness of consumers for new brands and innovation.

Many markets and categories in Asia have suffered from huge crises of credibility and destroyed trust. This tends to put a huge premium and reliance on the established leading brands. By contrast, in the west, consumers are more trusting of new, emerging ideas, brands and products. This is because quality is more guaranteed, media is more transparent and established regulatory bodies have created frameworks of trust and certainty.

Entrepreneurial and lifestyle brands in the west therefore have more opportunity to bring fresh and exciting new ideas to the market, and marketing messages tend to emphasise novelty more often – whether in terms of benefits, packaging or usability. In the east marketing messages have been more focused on brand trust, enduring history or tradition – although this is transitioning now to more benefit-led communication from established brands.

Perhaps the area where globalisation has created the most apparent convergence of marketing in east and west is in social media. While it is still fair to say that Western markets lead the trends – for example with paid advertising and paid targeted distribution – the gap is narrowing. Many Asian markets have embraced their own social apps in addition to the west’s global powerhouse social brands.

Four tips for success in the west 

  1. Take advantage of the open culture for ideas. Be sure to speak up and contribute. Western teams will want to hear your ideas, so be proactive and don’t wait to be asked.
  2. Work hard and play hard. Join in with the social scene and the informal networks beyond the work environment. Deliver your results but do so in office hours. Don’t always work late or it may be interpreted that you are struggling rather than diligent.
  3. Embrace the freedom to create. Share ideas openly. Creativity and new expansive thinking will be appreciated and rewarded. Work with your team to ensure joint team results.
  4. Put the consumer at the heart of all you do. The boss won’t be telling you what to do so much as listening to what you advise. They will want you to be the consumer expert; to take every opportunity to understand and get closer to your consumer. Use this knowledge as the root and primer for your product innovation and effective brand communication.
Sam Waterfall Founder and Expert Consultant Obvious Marketing
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