Harnessing Cultural Insights for Effective Marketing in APAC

By: Cheryl Yong, Head of Marketing and Sustainability (APAC-S) SIG Group | Friday, 24 May 2024

Cheryl is an agile marketing professional with 20 years of experience in industries ranging from entertainment to FMCG (B2C) and packaging solutions (B2B). As a pragmatic and creative marketer who focus on driving sustainable business growth, her career began in Walt Disney, honing her creativity in marketing and driving publicity. She has led brand-building initiatives with a commercial view, launched insights-driven product innovations with route to market and driving media and communications.

Asia Pacificis one of the most diverse regions in the world and includes some of the world’s most populous and economically dynamic countries, each with its own unique cultural, historical and social characteristics with diverse languages and cultures.With a mix of religions and more than 50 languages (not including dialects) spoken across the region, there is certainly no single common approach to marketing to the consumers. The good news is; opportunities are aplenty as the world’s fastest growing markets are in the APAC region, vibrant and dynamic with rising per capita income coupled with increased consumerism. For effective marketing in this region, it requires a nuanced understanding of its diverse cultural landscape. Some key areas to consider when developing marketing strategies would be localization, digital transformation & engagement, changing consumer behaviour, regulatory changes, economic diversity and visual/sensory appeal.

When it comes to localization, do strongly consider cultural values and festivals. Language is the first consideration especially even within a single country, multiple languages are spoken. Cultural sensitivity is not to be ignored; this includes understanding local customs, traditions and taboos to avoid offending the audience that could lead to a backlash on marketing campaigns. For example, the significance of colors vary greatly (e.g., white symbolizes mourning in China, while it’s a symbol of purity in the West). Overall, cultural values in Asia focus on family and community; family-oriented messaging can be particularly effective in cultures that emphasize collectivism. A respect for tradition is best incorporated in branding and advertising too. Localizing marketing campaigns that align with the country’s festivals and holidays ought to be leveraged as typically these seasons see spike in consumer spends. Gift-giving in many APAC cultures is a significant part of holidays and special occasions, influencing product offerings and packaging.

As digital transformation takes over APAC in varying degrees due to economic development, internet penetration and diverse consumer base; we see the dramatic rise in e-commerce and social commerce. Countries like China, India, and Southeast Asia have become some of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets globally. This shift has been propelled by increased internet penetration, mobile device usage, and digital payment systems. Social commerce platforms like WeChat, Instagram, and TikTok have integrated shopping features, allowing users to purchase products directly from social media apps. In China, live-streaming e-commerce has become immensely popular, with influencers hosting live shopping events. With Mobile-First Approach or Mobile-Only (in some markets), businesses have optimized their websites and apps for mobile useespecially in markets like India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.The rise of mobile payment platforms like Alipay, WeChat Pay, Paytm, and GCash has transformed how consumers shop online and offline, making transactions seamless and secure. Combining these with personalized marketing, data analytics and AI are being leveraged as companies can now deliver customized marketing message based on consumer behaviour and preference which leads to more targeted and effective campaigns. Digital engagement with consumers vary by markets where there is a rise of regional platforms. While global platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube remain popular, regional platforms have gained significant traction. For instance, WeChat and Weibo in China, Line in Japan and Thailand, and KakaoTalk in South Korea.Short-video platforms like TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin have become essential for reaching younger audiences, offering innovative advertising formats such as hashtag challenges and branded filters.

Just like any other region, change in consumer behaviour is a constant. Overall in many APAC cultures, building trust is crucial and business relationships are often built on personal connections and trust. Consumers in APAC tend to exhibit high brand loyalty, often valuing quality and prestige. In recent years, there is a consumer shift towards two key areas: Health/wellness and Sustainability. The evolution of health and wellness was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and brands that communicated transparently and supported their communities built stronger relationships with consumers. Immunity became one of the most searched health topics in the region, influencing the marketing of food and beverages. Sustainability has gained significant traction as the region evolved with eco-friendly and sustainable products gaining popularity, with consumers increasingly favouring brands that demonstrate environmental responsibility.

Regulatory changes affect marketing strategies as well some including data privacy, e-commerce regulations, dietary regulations and environmental sustainability. Stricter data privacy regulations, such as China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) and various other regional data protection laws, have impacted how companies collect and use consumer data. Governments have also introduced regulations to ensure fair competition and consumer protection in the rapidly growing e-commerce sector.Complying to dietary regulations such as ensuring Halal certification and labeling on the products are a necessity when considering launches in selected markets and exports. More policies are also being implemented by governments to promote environmental sustainability which have an impact on marketing strategies. Some key highlights include waste management and recycling, carbon emissions reduction, eco-labelling, green certifications, circular economy initiatives, ban on single-use plastics, mandatory CSR, greenwashing regulations, incentives for sustainable practices and renewable energy targets. By aligning marketing strategies with regulatory requirements and sustainability trends, companies can enhance their brand reputation, build consumer trust and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Disparate levels of economic development in APAC means marketing and pricing strategies need to be tailored to a split of developed markets and emerging markets. Developed marketshave higher income levels and purchasing power where consumers seek high-quality, premium branding, innovative or advanced features and superior service. Sustainability of these products/practices are also expected. In emerging markets, there is a rapidly growing segment of middle classes but there are still significant portions of population with lower incomes. Price point and affordability are key to driving purchase. Brands have optimized this opportunity through a wide range of products at different price points and pack sizes, highlighting value-for-money and essential features. The divide between urban and rural consumers present opportunities for marketers to drive effective strategies through selected channels. For example, convenience-oriented products are more suited in urban areas while affordability and distribution are key to products marketed in rural areas.

Finally, visual and sensory appeal could be contrasting in APAC where local aesthetics are important and sensorial preferences vary. For example, Japanese consumers may prefer minimalist designs while South East Asians and South Asians lean towards vibrant and colorful presentations. Local tastes greatly influence marketing in food and beverage industry; this might require customizing of flavours, packaging or product use. For example, a spicy flavour seems generic enough for the region but it truly differs by markets depending on the levels of spiciness and the complex variety of spices used as ingredients. Localizing the taste is key to truly resonating with consumers in the F&B industry.

By understanding and integrating these cultural insights, marketers can createmore effective campaigns that appeal to the diverse audiences across APAC, a dynamic and unique region.