Understanding cultural differences when extending your brand to new market

Lim Khai Hong
Lim Khai Hong

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.

Put your data to work
Learn how to turn subscriber and customer information into business growth.

Snag your free eBook

Like what you’re reading?

Check out these articles