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Insights

Cultural advice on doing business in Asia

01 May, 2014 - Source: Bray Leino

As more of the Clients we work with gain a foothold in Asia it makes perfect sense for us to have a tangible operation on the ground here. For them, it’s not only about having someone locally in the right time-zone, but with the local knowledge, cultural understanding and industry contacts to get things done.

Getting Bray Leino Asia up and rolling has been a rich and exciting experience, writes Poppy Robinson, Regional Director for Bray Leino Asia; I’ve learned a few valuable lessons, confirmed some assumptions and had many others dismantled before my eyes.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can bring your business to Asia without adapting how you operate. There are loads of cultural differences and without a bit of careful preparation you may find yourself offending people without knowing why or how.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up that should help you avoid some of the major pitfalls:

Get the basics right. Be on time; sounds obvious, I know, but it’s seen as a mark of disrespect to keep someone waiting. Use people’s proper titles and ensure that you address those you’re meeting correctly; in most countries in this region it’s not appropriate to use first names in a business setting.

 

A lot’s been written about people’s sensitivity around their business cards in Asia, and it’s true. You learn quickly that they carry significance here, so you have to present and receive them in a respectful manner. This means giving and receiving cards with both hands, reading theirs carefully before placing it on the table in front of you for the duration of the meeting. Don’t stuff it into your pocket, and never write on it!

 

Understanding the concept of ‘face’ is important when doing business in Asia. Basically, this means that you should never do anything that would cause another person to feel ashamed or embarrassed, thus causing them to lose face. For example, someone you’re doing business with has made a mistake that you need to correct them on. Rather than bluntly telling them where they’ve gone wrong, it’s better to take some of the blame for their error upon yourself. For example, saying ‘I must not have explained things properly, allow me to be clearer’, allows the situation to be clarified without any loss of face for the person involved.

 

The structure of many businesses in this region means the person you’re dealing with will very likely have to check any big decision with at least one superior. Understand this, and don’t try to force your contact into a situation where they have to give a yes or no there and then. Better to give them a number of options to think over and come back to you with, allowing them to seek a decision from their superior and save face. Push too hard and you may end up getting a ‘yes’ when in fact the true answer probably should be ‘no’.

 

Smooth business dealings in Asia are all about courtesy and respect. The tough, direct approach often adopted in the West comes across as too aggressive over here. Never lose your temper or attempt bullying tactics or you will lose respect and cause offence.

 

When it comes to marketing in this region, simplicity generally works well. However, be aware that many a big brand has fallen foul of Asian consumers by seeming to belittle their audience. Similarly, while most nations in this region will respond to well-known characters and personalities, be careful not to take it too far when calling on regional stereotypes. To ride these nuances, it’s important to work with someone who has on-the-ground knowledge and experience of local cultures and values, fail to get the tone right and you will alienate your audience quickly.

 

Western brands that position themselves as the ‘luxury’ option can have big success very quickly with Asian audiences. But if any part of the consumer experience fails to exude luxury though, your brand will not last in this region.

 

Be online or miss out! Technology is king here. Asian consumers haveconsistently shown their willingness to interact with the brands they purchase, so consistency across these channels is very important. There are few quicker ways to kill off your credibility with an Asian audience than through poor digital campaign integration.

 

Many think of ‘Asia’ as one big business market, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Each nation has its own cultural nuances and subtle differences that affect how the business market operates. Assuming you can roll out the same approach in every nation is going to get you into trouble. So do your research carefully and work with the right people, or you could risk greatly offending those you wish to impress the most.

 

Most of all don’t be put off by the challenges around understanding all the different customs and cultures in this region. They never stop surprising you, but generally, if you are polite, respectful and follow the basic rules, then you will find this region an exciting and dynamic place to do business.

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