Introducing your brand to a new market, a new audience, is always daunting. How will they receive it? While geographic boundaries seem diminished with internet, cultural nuances are still significant. This is especially true for Asia, viewed as the next frontier with limitless potential, made up of different cultures, history and people. The success of Taobao in some South East Asia (SEA) markets is a good testament of how understanding locals make a difference. Besides attractive pricing, Taobao rose up the ranks to compete with the likes of eBay and Amazon in SEA with some interesting features. Since customers generally view online shopping as an extension of brick and mortar experience, Taobao incorporated functions such as instant feedback, connections via instant messaging, and even allowing customers to haggle for prices for bulk purchase from the get go. This gave customers a familiar shopping experience. So yes, some of us really love a bargain!

Here are some tips on launching your brand in a new market:


1. Understand the market before entering. Do your research

Given that this is a huge business decision, brands need the ‘local context’, to be relevant to their customers locally. We have seen numerous exits in Singapore – Fancl, Wendys, Carrefour, Toshiba etc. By taking a closer look at their case studies, we notice:

  • Insufficient market size to sustain their operating model
  • Insufficient differentiation or appeal from various strong competition
  • Operating costs unsustainable; rental and manpower

With early research and detailed planning, these issues should surface before market entry. How can brands thrive in new markets? Some brands adjust operating model, some tweak their offering and others reach out to a different customer base. From any perspective, good local insights and conscientious planning won’t hurt.


2. Consider local brand agency or form a local team

Introducing a brand is not so much about sharing information about you but the ability to connect with your potential customers. Before the brand launch, consider the different behaviour, language, and customs. Often times, hiring a local agency or forming a local team help greatly. They can address questions such as;

  • Are my marketing materials suitable for the new market?
  • How would the potential customers relate to my brand?
  • How should I adapt my brand for local audiences?

Top faux pas:

  • Using auto-translate
  • Using slangs or puns in the local language unwittingly

My favourite example is the classic Electrolux’s slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” – Well, if you say so!


3. Taking advantage of local customs

I visited Hong Kong pre-Mid-Autumn Festival and noticed there are bakeries at every corner of the street, and of course, everyone was selling mooncakes. A chatty staff admitted that Mid-Autumn Festival sales fetch up to 3 times their normal takings.

While most shops differentiate with flavours and use of exotic ingredients like flowers or chocolate, some use the opportunity to market their signature offerings e.g. Haagen Daz’s ice cream mooncakes and Starbuck’s coffee mooncakes.

“Heritage” bakeries like Kee Wah and Maxim use this festival to reinforce brand messages of family bonds, togetherness and how traditions connect people.

This brand message can extend to Mother’s Day, and other festivities and build an emotive connection with customers.

Closer to home, Grab Car used launched GrabAutumn, a campaign delivering your mooncakes to your loved ones for you (so you don’t have to), which truly highlight their core proposition of timeliness and convenience.

If you are planning to bring your brand to a new market, we are happy to share areas of consideration. Just contact any of our friendly antics@play Player or download our free eBook.

Some time ago I met a client requesting our help to brand his decade old business, let’s call him Spock. After understanding Spock’s objectives and expectations, we recommended a desk research and customer survey as part of the branding exercise. As with many clients, “But I already know my industry well” are among the common responses.

And I can hardly blame him. Market research has been around for a long time but not widely adopted by SMEs because of various reasons. A Google search for “market research” leads you to a set of different methodologies like ethnography, panel research, bulletin board, omnibus, focus groups, in-depth interviews etc. that will make us feel like we’re reading a handbook on FBI interrogation techniques. What can we get out of this mumbo jumbo?

The trick is to not worry about terminologies, as you are likely already conducting some research on your own. What market research does is to formalise processes to obtain insights in a more structured and actionable way (along with a fancier name).

One of the keys to successful branding is by first understanding your customers. You should already roughly know who they are based on your daily interactions, but demographics data only scratches the surface. To really understand customers we need to tap into their psychography, understanding their behaviour, their motivations, their patterns, and their desires. Take TWG for example – You know them as the first upscale tea brand in Singapore. But have you ever stopped to wonder – Why did 2 foreigners decide to set up their tea business in Singapore of all places? Isn’t selling tea to Asians akin to selling ice to eskimoes? Wasn’t it why Starbucks steered clear of Italy in the first place?

Well, it turns out that Singapore was strategic because:

  1. The tea culture and tradition isn’t ingrained in Singaporeans as they do in other parts in Asia
  2. A Singapore brand brings prestige for overseas expansion
  3. Singaporeans have the buying power, prefer novelty and desire the upscale lifestyle image

All these findings coupled with the founders’ vision, helped shape the TWG brand we see today.

Market research also allows us uncover gaps in the industry and have a distinctive brand positioning. Remember the bubble tea craze that saw outlets mushrooming from every corner? What was once a novelty soon descended to a price war. Bubble tea became this commodity that you can find in most hawker centres, and many outlets closed down soon after.

Those who survived the trend did so because they were distinguished by a combination of distinctive brand history, brewing methods, flavours, and staff attitude. I personally prefer KOI, but my friends are Gong Cha legions.

But how has this got to do with market research you ask? You have to remember that you only have an advantage if

  1. The experience can’t be copied easily
  2. The market cares about that unique attribute you’re touting.

Market research helps to verify if what you’re proposing holds water.

Back to Spock’s scenario, through market research we later found out that competition is stiff in the industry and there is little differentiation. Customers were looking for services that weren’t commonly available yet. We verified the finding with industrial trends and advised him towards that direction.

That said, market research is a common approach to provide intel for a branding strategy. It allows you to check your hypothesis against quantifiable data from a neutral perspective and helps you reorganise priorities. a small price to pay as compared to embarking on the wrong direction.

If you’re excited to know more about the other ways market research can help feel free to download our free eBook “How to build a brand in the digital age” or call us!