West to East: how AnalogFolk found a new rhythm for Asia Pacific

AnalogFolk co-founder Bill Brock on how the agency has expanded internationally

If you read almost any research on global marketing trends, particularly around advertising spend, Asia is the region of growth. Agencies, such as AnalogFolk, are slowly building up an Asian presence, driven by client demand as this growth transpires.

Taking a UK business and transporting it into Asia isn’t easy as there are lots of nuances and differences have to be considered. Having launched into Asia Pacific seven years ago, first into Australia, followed by Hong Kong and Shanghai, co-founder Bill Brock reflects on lessons learnt, as the business enters further growth in the region.

“AnalogFolk first landed in APAC almost seven years ago when we opened our Sydney office. Since then we have added offices in both Hong Kong and Shanghai. The decision to expand into the market was inspired by a combination of a growing demand from our global client base, who have significant business interest in the region, along with our continued ambition to provide our clients with a global perspective on building a more connected brand experience.

"Each office in APAC has taken a different journey, but overall the market has been receptive to AnalogFolk. We do find that different parts of the region show interest in different elements of our proposition, with China being more focused on digital marketing, Hong Kong is more interested in product and service design and Australia is a balance of the two,” he explains.

The agency has also built a presence in the US, which makes it one of few self-funded independent agencies with this mix of reach across the world. Being self-funded and organically grown has led the agency to learn lessons from a different vantage point.

“We have been passionate about our expansion efforts being both organic and self-funded. Admittedly, this has slowed down the pace, but we feel that building an AnalogFolk network that is built on a common mission, ambition and values, is more important than taking short-cuts,” says Brock.

A key lesson between the US, Europe and Asia is around what marketers place as a priority within the process, he adds, even though the output may be the same (apps, websites, advertising or content).

“In the US, there is a huge appetite for innovation, consistently pushing the boundaries in terms of technology and creativity. I believe this to be driven by the intense level of competition, combined with healthy-sized budgets and the close proximity to the Silicon Valley culture.

"In the UK, while there is an ambition for technology innovation, there is a greater emphasis on strategic planning. I believe this can be tracked back to the rich heritage in advertising and the UK as the birthplace of planning. As UK marketeers have evolved to become more digital, they have brought with them this passion for strategic planning.

"Whilst it’s hard to paint all of Asia with the same brush, my experience is that while clients value strategy and thrive for innovation, it is the pace and cost of production that is paramount in their briefs. I believe the driver of this to be the extremely challenging pace of the market in countries like China and India. There just simply is less time to think, research and test,” adds Brock.

The outputs may end up being the same, despite this, but it means that agencies need to be able to flex locally, while still ending up with the same quality within the outputs.

Brock’s advice to agencies on this is to build a strong enough culture within local teams. “Above all else, it means you need to build local teams who understand and can work effectively within each region, whilst cultivating a network culture that enables you, as the agency, to be the connector for global brands who engage you across multiple regions.”

The need for this global and local focus will only grow more, adds Brock, as Western brands look East but also as large Chinese brands seek business in the West.

“The greatest driver of change will be the continued global expansion of big brands, in particular, the increasing volume of Chinese brands expanding into Europe and North America. Over time, their leadership teams will experience these different ways of working and a healthy balancing will happen. But this will be a very slow process.

"As an agency that started in the London, we still have our largest presence in the UK, but the US and Asia are our fastest growing regions. We have always been passionate about being a well-balanced network where there is no geographic centre of gravity and clients can draw on talent wherever it makes the most sense,” he adds.

Specifically, AnalogFolk will be focusing on its Hong Kong and Shanghai offices, growing its capabilities in strategy, technology, data and creative, as it slowly balances its global reach and local teams in an ever-more important Asia Pacific.

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