Advertising, Commercials and Marketing
Always be aware of culture specific meaning when you are creating commercials, advertising or marketing instruments for Asia. Colours represent different associations in different cultures. Think of the consequences of different mindsets when looking at advertising messages. For example, in Europe you would celebrate the individual – whereas Asians conceive themselves as a member of a group (a family, a company, a nation). In Germany you can read: “Smoking harms your health.” In Singapore they say: “Smoking harms your family”.
Can we really talk about “Asia” as being a uniform cultural area? It depends on perspective and issue. If you make a comparison between the various Asian countries, you’ll find a lot of differences. However, if you compare Asia with the West, for example, then you’ll find a lot of cultural values that are common in all Asian countries. It makes sense to distinguish between countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Korea, which are strongly influenced by Confucian philosophy, and India. India has completely different cultural roots, namely Hinduism. This, of course, influences management style and other business matters.
Business cards are part of your survival kit in Asia! Their most important meaning is to give information on the hierarchical position of your partner within a company. Western companies often concentrate on what their employees do – not where they are in the company’s hierarchy. Keep this difference in mind when designing business cards for Asia. Prepare them bilingually (English and the local language). Present them with both hands and a slight bow to your Asian partner. And always mind the correct order in hierarchy when greeting your business partners.
Business communities control the market in India. Have you ever heard of the Jains, Parsis or Vaishyas (Hinduistic cast of merchants)? Over 80% of the Indian population are Hindus and often they are not so much interested in the duties of this present material life but want to overcome their material being in order to reach salvation (Nirvana). Please inform yourself what this means for your business in India!
China is a country in transition where everything is possible and nothing is guaranteed. It is expected to be the new number one in world economy. The mixture of Communism in politics and private business is historically unique. It is a country with no legal security, big differences between the income of its population and huge variations between the economic developments of regions. The people are full of ambition, but also deeply rooted in Confucian tradition and adherent to Sun Tzu stratagems. Businesses with an interest in China are well-advised to prepare very carefully for this market!
Everywhere in Asia the colour white stands for mourning. Red is thought to bring good luck and happiness. In addition to that inform yourself about the country-specific meanings of other colours. This is especially important when it comes to the design of a product or in marketing.
Or guanxi as the Chinese call it. In most Asian countries it is essential to have the right connections. Often the only way to establish business contacts is with the help of middlemen or personal recommendations. Especially in China we find that those who have no guanxi to politics or administration have to overcome many difficult obstacles.
You will find bribery and corruption everywhere in Asia. Please, keep in mind that in Asia, traditionally, business contacts have always been developed by the mediation of middlemen. Paying some money for that is regarded to be normal, because there’s always a risk for the agent. However, you will find a clear abuse of that principle nowadays. Particularly in China, but also in India, Korea or Indonesia “under-the-table-money” is an integral part of business.
A correct dress code is very important in Asian business. Choose a more conservative style instead of the latest fashion. For ladies a trouser suit is best. Though you may be inclined to pack thin clothing, because of the climate in some Asian countries, remember the air conditioning systems which sometimes turn negotiation rooms into refrigerators. In Singapore, Indonesia or India dress code is more relaxed because of high temperatures. When in doubt, simply watch and imitate your partners’ style of clothing.
“Face” is a very important social phenomenon in Asian countries and it means “respect” or “honour”. There are three aspects: do not lose face, do not take the face of another and always give face. Especially the importance of giving face is not very well-known in the West. You may say something wrong, but you will not realise it because your Asian partners will do everything to “give you face“. This means that your behaviour seems appropriate and correct in your eyes. As a result you are convinced that your Asian partners think and feel like you do, which is a wrong conclusion. So please inform yourself on sensitive and important topics in order to avoid irreparable mistakes when dealing with business partners or employees.
Food & Drink
All over Asia you’ll find delicious food. For Chinese people, eating is a very important issue, for example. Don’t believe all the horror stories some people tell you about the food! Dog, snake or monkey brain are very expensive dishes and will not be served at a normal business lunch. Compliment your Chinese host on the dishes you like during dinner – and leave those dishes which you don’t like untouched. Your hosts will be glad about your enthusiasm and interest for the local cuisine and in future will only offer you the things you liked. Depending on religion and cast there are a number of food taboos in India which you should know about, especially when you are looking after Indian guests in Germany.
Human Resources Management
Where leadership or motivation of employees is concerned, use culturally appropriate methods and don’t simply copy your Western style to Asia. The key to success in these issues is to adapt to Asian perception. Due to family or school education many Asian employees have often never been trained to act independently or practise their own thinking, nor do they like it. Prepare carefully for these situations in order to avoid disappointment and costs. In countries like India or China you will face a “war for talents”. Well-qualified Asian specialists are very much sought-after and not only in Western companies. The result is a high fluctuation rate especially in the East Coast cities of China. Hone your retention skills and form culturally appropriate Human Resources Management guidelines.
India is considered to be the next rising star within Asian economies. Since most of your business partners will speak English and have often studied in Western countries, they are familiar with Western manners and ways of behaviour, hence why Westerners often assume that it is much easier to do business in India than in the Far East. Please, be aware of this misjudgement! You may not realise it at first sight but Indian society and business life are very much influenced by strict rules stemming from Hinduism and cast structure. In addition, Indian bureaucracy is famous for “inventing” elaborate regulations. All this will influence your business activities in every respect.
Japan still is the biggest economy in Asia. The country generates the major part of the Asian GDP. Although Japan’s economy faces big problems, there are a lot of chances for Western companies. Japanese partners are considered to be demanding and hard to please. However, there are a lot of industrial sectors where you can make a good profit with German products.
Nearly everywhere in the Far East people enjoy Karaoke. So, there’s a good chance your Asian business partner will take you to a Karaoke bar after dinner. In Japan it is even possible to sing Karaoke when sitting in a taxi, in order to shorten the time while stuck in a traffic jam. Remember: even if it seems strange and unfamiliar to you, join in! This is a sign for your Asian partner that you want to build up a relationship with him and that you are not afraid to show him your heart. It’s as the saying goes: “Business without heart is a half-hearted business“!
Networking is the basic structure of Asian business life. Your Asian partners make use of this principle in order to win advantages against Western companies. Why don’t you learn from them? If you want to share your experiences with other German or European companies, if you want to bring your own knowledge into a network, then contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Be careful with the use of the number “4“ in a product name or perhaps as a management style (The Four Steps to Success)! In China, Japan and Korea “four” sounds like “dead”. “8”, on the other hand, stands for wealth and “9” promises long life in China.
Overseas Chinese Business People
Chinese business people living abroad form a mighty and influential business community. Mainly because of economic hardship these Chinese migrants left their country in the past two hundred years. Although they are a minority in terms of population in South East Asian countries, they often control the economy and dominate business affairs. There are big chances that your business partners in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or even the Philippines are Chinese by origin. Also in other parts of the world, like the US, Canada or Australia you’ll find active and economically successful Chinese business people who foster a strong business network.
Perhaps you have heard of the 36 stratagems of warlord Sun Tzu of ancient China? Knowledge of this way of action is still used today and is often a natural part of negotiation strategies in China, Japan or Korea. In order to stay ahead of the game you should read up on these strategies. Perhaps you’ll find out that those principles may also be helpful for you.