Asia is not the World’s Biggest Market, but Many Markets of the World

July 18, 2018 Caitlin Riordan

As many businesses begin to size up the 4.46 billion consumers with $6.6 trillion dollars of consumption power in Asia, tap into the new “She-Economy” sweeping the east, and put a team on the ground to launch their brand, planning a marketing communications strategy has never looked so different.

Avoid a one-size fits all approach to Asia

Each market in Asia consumes marketing messaging differently, not only in differing languages, but technology consumption habits, media viewing habits, and connects with brands in very different ways. Each of the cities in China alone have different socio-demographic profiles, much like the varying differences in the 50 American states and 28 (ok, soon to be 27) countries in the European union. Targeting the 1.4 billion people in China becomes an even harder dart to throw.

China will quite arguably become our first entirely cashless economy, driven by QR codes with connections to online mobile app payment platforms. Conglomerates of p2p lending linked to mobile devices makes trading incredibly easy for even the smallest entrepreneur. I’ve even seen beggars on the street use QR codes to enable a charitable donation directly to their WeChat account.

What works in mainland China, won’t work in neighboring Hong Kong SAR – with after effects of 100 years of British colonial rule influencing infrastructure, education, travel, and brand access. How Japanese consumers respond won’t be the same as those in South Korea. Even the use of LINE, the social media and messaging payment app, in Japan is different from the use of LINE in Thailand.

Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam all have such varying cultures, influences, internet penetration statistics, data laws, logistics, and supply chains.

What is perfectly acceptable to know and communicate with consumers is perceived very differently in these markets. Poorly executed remarketing campaigns can cause a negative brand impact and a mass of database churn. Customer journeys need to account for localized consumer behavior and brand interactions to make the brand relevant to each market. Don’t assume one content and messaging design will suit all of Asia.

Think through channels which will move the trading needle

Many brands are making big inroads in the biggest markets (China, Japan, India) through affiliate and trading platforms rather than building brick and mortar retailers and ecommerce sites. Leveraging the consumer power, consumption habits, and brand choice available to consumers who can click and deliver off their mobile device on their daily commute. Some of these include TaoBao, TMall,, and Rakuten.

Influencer marketing

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) in China are a Western brand's sweet spot to soft sailing into China, Asia’s biggest market. These KOLs share the hottest new gadget or brand choice to millions of followers on their social media platform and it’s a marketer's dream. One notable 2017 example is BMW. Chinese KOL Becky Li sold 100 limited edition Mini Coopers, priced at 285,000 yuan ($43,000 USD) in just five minutes through her WeChat account.

OK I’ve tempted you, now let’s talk channels.

Email marketing – is it dead in Asia?

Short answer? No.

Long answer: There’s a lot of noise, so the targeted content that consumers actually want to receive is imperative. Engagement rates are generally lower than in Western markets. It is not only because of relaxed data collection laws, but also opportunistic entrepreneurial e-tailers – backed by investors pumping money into heavy data acquisition strategies so that they can build a me-too business and then sell to one of China’s e-commerce unicorns – still abide by a batch and blast model that fills up subscribers’ inboxes.

Subscribers tend to ignore or delete messages rather than unsubscribe based on the volume of inbox traffic they receive. The market is slowly waking up to the notion of building loyalty and consumer retention strategies. The opportunity here for new brands is to launch with more sophisticated campaigns than the local competitors. Quality not quantity. Know your customer. Be relevant and timely to see results.

Get social

WeChat is owned by Tencent, who also own payment portal, WePay, and China’s largest ISP, It’s a social and economic connectivity app so entrenched in the Chinese economy that consumers use it to update family members, make voice calls, leave voice messages, play games, give gift coupons, pay for everything from a cup of hot herbal tea from a street vendor to PizzaHut. Perhaps the most important thing to know about working across Greater China is the reliance on WeChat to exchange your WeChat ID – read “business card” – to send documents, communicate with your business network, and strike a deal.

Get mobile

Plan for marketing consumption on mobile devices. Asia was the birthplace of the selfie stick to hold a phone at arms length to take the perfect photo. Mobile gamification is huge. Search videos of people walking into things while holding phones. It’s an epidemic, and never more so in Asia where people are glued to their handheld devices like smartphone zombies. I’ve seen couples at dinner, sitting in silence, playing games on their devices sitting opposite their spouse. Good, quality gamification time. Embarrassingly, it seems to be contagious because living in Hong Kong, I’ve caught myself being a smartphone zombie and missing a step on more than one occasion.

Timing is key

Be aware of key dates in the target country. Black Friday of the West is the 11/11 of the East. Singles Day 2017 smashed all previous records with just one e-tailer giant, AliBaba, processing 1.48 billion transactions during the 24-hour period, worth $25 billion dollars. It was 39% growth over the previous year. That’s not a typo. It dwarfs Black Friday retailer hauls and shows the buying power of the East is unlike anything retailers have seen before.

If it’s gifting season you are after, Chinese New Year and the gift of lai see, or red packets, occurs with the world’s biggest human migration. About 385 million Chinese nationals make their way back to their hometown over a 10-day period, bringing gifts, new spouses – some are rented, as there are business opportunities everywhere – and good luck with them.

Personalised customer journeys

Personalised customer journeys are possible and more important than ever. With so many brands – copycats included – vying for the Asian consumer, Western brands need to consider their approach.

A Western retailer in China was considering their customer journeys and buying behavior just like a Western consumer. For example, they predicted one customer would purchase one pair of denim jeans once per year and they were trying to increase their order amount by offering other merchandise like t-shirts. Other brands that target consumers with similar discretionary dollars were starting to realise that for some consumers buying only one pair of jeans per season just isn’t a concern.

There is a new-money, she-economy generation coming out of mainland China. This is the first generation who aren’t working to support a family out of farming poverty. This new consumer is happy to buy a flare fit, a boot cut, a bedazzled, an embroidered, a dark pair, a light pair, a skinny leg, and an acid wash so they can rotate their wardrobe and have fashion options. This is a generation focused on establishing their identity through wearing Western brands with logos splashed across the front to prove their abundance of wealth and success. The same generation who asks for a private viewing at a lux European watch retailer when traveling to Macau SAR to see their summer collection, and purchasing not one flashy watch, but one of every design to showcase their wealth and status.

The wealth is real. The consumption power is real. The opportunity to harness it requires informed marketing communications strategy planning, precise data collection, and insight powered consumer segmentation to target your brand. This approach – matched with localized content, media vehicle execution, and your pickaxe – just may tap into that river of gold amongst all the quartz.

About the Author

Caitlin Riordan

Caitlin Riordan is VP, APAC Services at Cheetah Digital.

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