Talk to any marketer and they will tell you what makes Asia exciting is its diversity and that’s precisely, the biggest challenge too.
Here are some as highlighted by Sandeep Khanna, founder and CEO of Karma Asia Consulting. Khanna, in the past has held top regional roles in companies such as LG and Nokia.
– Influence without authority– In most companies it is an advisory role with real authority vested with the country management. In this scenario, how does one deliver value?
– The policeman no one likes– In many companies, it is essentially a policing role where templates and processes are the key tasks assigned to the regional person. Not a very enviable job.
– The first cost to be cut– It is an inherently unstable position. Whenever there is a need to cut costs, the regional folks are the first on the chopping block. Only in very rare companies do they centralise marketing and only have sales people in the countries.
– A relentless treadmill– If the job has to be done right, the regional person has to not only know the countries better than the local people, he must be able to generate synergies by running regional programs which deliver better efficiencies as compared to the countries doing things solo. For that to happen, he needs to run faster than everyone else in the marketing function which sometimes becomes operationally infeasible
Day-to-day challenges of regional marketers
Khanna highlights other operational challenges as well. The most important task, perhaps, is to create a sharply defined vision for the regional marketing team and get a buy in on this from the country MD’s, regional CEO and global leaders. Often this does not happen. And that leads to all sorts of confusion and chaos on a day-to-day basis.
“If this is sorted at the start, then the rest follows easily and the regional teams and local teams can actually build a complementary set of programs to win in the markets. The successful companies do this well and that is what separates the leaders from the also-rans,” he says. Here are some of these challenges.
– Local offices might not want to engage the regional marketers because they do not know enough about local markets. There is low potential to add value to local businesses.
It is a staff function most of the time. Country business heads could undermine the importance of the regional marketing people. As a rule, line managers get more respect than staff.
– It is very hard to please everyone. From a local country perspective, the starting position for a regional role is that of a “policeman” out to find faults.
– High degree of politics is another concern. A regional job is seen as a reward for doing well in a country most of the time. This can easily become a cause of envy or jealousy among those who did not make it.
– It is difficult to win country support as regional objectives sometimes are long term while countries are looking at the next quarter.
– It is hard to be objective. Generally speaking, regional people focus on key markets, only sidelining the smaller and less important ones. It’s these markets that could then go viral with criticism thereby undermining the good work potentially done in the more important markets.
But despite all that there are huge pluses to this role. Every market with its own culture and dynamics, makes the job of a regional marketer exciting and rewarding.
This role lets you drive the marketing vision for the business. There is a higher sense of fulfillment as it sharpens the strategic thinking of the person.
“It lets you create value by building and aggregating local efforts and synergising them. Add to it the fact that it’s a great learning opportunity- to cross pollinate and fertilise ideas across the borders,” says Khanna.
Access to the top management, accords regional leads with a much better networking potential with global leaders and even the functional leaders of other functions in the region.
An of course, there is higher exposure to strategic initiatives of the company and an opportunity to be a part of bigger initiatives.
Go global or local?
Whether to go global or local is a huge concern for decision-makers at the business level. We ask what works best for some marketers in a regional role.
Adidas told Marketing that despite the diversity present in the market it still employs a global campaign strategy.
Sarah Fisher, senior marketer for Adidas said that while this choice has its fair share of challenges, it is important for the brand to be consistent. Of course, the brand makes small tweaks for campaign to simply make sense in that market, but on whole the brand implores a global strategy “with a local twist”.
“We are believers for the most part in one consistent brand voice, we have the same filters that apply across all our communications as a brand around the world and we genuinely believe that this is what makes us so strong,” Fisher said.
She explained that this is to ensure that consumers in all parts of the world are looking at the same visual identity from the brand and therefore as a result know exactly what the brand stands for.
Fisher added today’s world is increasingly becoming connected and hence the fragments are becoming lesser.
“Despite each market having its own distinct culture there is absolutely overlap regarding trends and activities,” she added.
However not all marketers agree. On the basis of anonymity, one senior marketer from a large FMCG brand told Marketing sometimes the local teams can have a “not-created-here attitude” when it comes to a global campaign.
While in reality, FMCG brands will have to go with regional strategies to assure high quality of production and a very well aligned brand image across, it is always important to have a local on ground team which can put the campaign in the right cultural perspective.
“We spend a lot of time discussing cultural differences which the end consumer may not pick up due to the fact that the final campaign only reflects an aspiration and certain parts of the setting. While we aim to take into account the different regional differences, we always have to balance production budget versus local relevance,” she added.
Tips for a regional remit
Many regional marketers have learnt about cultural sensitivities the hard way. It’s better to be prepared than be sorry later, so here are some basic tips they shared. They are easy to remember but easier to forget, so watch out:
Distribution Channel: While markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore have 100% mobile penetration rates, other markets such as India have not yet reached the same mobile maturity levels. For many emerging markets in Asia TV remains king, so know your market before you decide the media mix.
Translation: A perfect campaign tagline could turn out to be imperfect when translated. So be very careful when “adapting” campaigns.
Cultural nuances: Now this might sound commonsensical but it’s an elusive concept. For instance, what may seem perfect in Singapore might be considered offensive in Indonesia.
Attire: Do remember that while a few parts of Asia are cosmopolitan, many Asian markets are still conservative. There are also several Muslim nations with guidelines for attire and outlook.
Talent: Is the talent featured in campaigns truly Pan Asian or does she/he look too much from some other culture? There are deep-rooted cultural issues such as skin colour and social standing that can come up when marketing in a diverse market such as Asia.
“There are all hues of regional marketers. But to be a really good one, there is a need for an amazing combination of ability and attitude,” says Khanna.
Ability, meaning thought leadership in the business, demonstrably superior ability to plan and execute, strong conceptual and thinking skills. And attitude, a very high level of charisma, energy and collaboration rolled into one.