ASIA has always been a challenging marketplace to conduct business due to its diversity and complexity.

The region is attractive because of its sheer size and the great opportunities it offers. It is, after all, the most populous continent, and home to approximately 60 per cent of the world’s population.

The problem for business owners and marketers is that Asian markets are very diverse — in physical features as well as economic, political and cultural. The ways of the people in Asia differ even within the same country and/or within the same race.

It is not just businesses from outside of Asia that find it tough to penetrate Asian markets. Asian companies may also find it hard to do business with people across their borders. Therefore, native knowledge and understanding of local markets is invaluable.

Target audience

To sell well, businesses need to communicate accurately to their target audience. They need to convey how their products or services best meet audiences’ functional needs.

This can be achieved quite easily with good, accurate translation.

For instance, a car manufacturer in Korea can translate all its cars’ specifications into Thai when marketing the products in Thailand. This way, Thai consumers can understand the specifications and determine whether the cars fit their functional needs.

It is not so straightforward when companies try to communicate the emotional value of their brands to their target audience in Asia. This calls for getting across the brand’s personality and positioning with precision.

As consumers often make purchase decisions based on a product or service’s emotional rather than functional values, conveying a product’s or service’s emotional values is arguably even more important than conveying its functional values.

Precise communication

The cultural diversity and hundreds of different languages used (not to mention dialects) in Asian cities can make marketing communication a nightmare. The “one size fits all messaging” that marketers adopt in, say, North America will not work here. The challenge for marketers in Asia, therefore, is to ensure that their messaging does not get distorted and/or diluted when communicating to target audiences in different markets.

Businesses that have been successful in Asia often start with a brand communication strategy when tackling Asian markets. Communication practices are changing rapidly. Markets are becoming more fragmented, audiences are getting more sophisticated, and technology development has resulted in an increasing number of new and unexplored opportunities to communicate with consumers.

Every communication attempt needs to be true to the values of the brand and its personality. Tremendous damage can be done to the brand and its image if any part of the communication process is either inconsistent with or inappropriate for the character of the brand.

There are hundreds of anecdotes of how seemingly great-sounding brand names are applied with disastrous results when used in markets that speak a foreign language. One famous story is that of Rolls Royce wanting to name one of its new models Silver Mist. That was before they found out that “mist” means “manure” or “dung” in German. Rolls Royce changed the name to Silver Ghost.

Consistent message

The key to good brand communication is to be able to speak with “one voice” across markets and platforms, according to branding experts such as Dr Paul Temporal, author of Branding In Asia and Asia’s leading expert on brand creation, development and management.

Speaking with “one voice” when communicating about a brand across markets and cultures requires more than accurate translation. It means reflecting the essence of a brand rather than the meaning of words behind it when communicating in another language.

Equally important is consistency in messaging, especially when applied across different platforms. It used to be that marketing communication platforms were limited to advertising and public relations. Nowadays, communication platforms can span the following and more:

* Advertising;

* Public relations;

* Direct marketing;

* Corporate websites and new

media outlets such as blogs and social networking sites;

* Sales and marketing collaterals;

* Promotions;

* Sponsorships and events;

* Speaking opportunities;

* Word-of-mouth; and

* Employee morale.

Brand management is of utmost importance to any business. Branding decisions should not be treated as trivial tasks assigned to junior staff. The management of a brand requires daily decision-making.

A business that is serious about effective brand communication should first address branding in the boardroom. Top-level executives need to decide on the brand positioning and values of the business, and ensure that these are effectively communicated downwards to all levels of staff. This same messaging should then be communicated externally.

Business owners and marketers should also be alert and responsive to feedback from the markets. This is especially crucial in Asia, as it is the people in the markets who are in touch with local customers and partners on a daily basis who feel the pulse of the target audience.