When everyone else zigs, sometimes it’s right to zag. More than ten years ago, we made a commitment to pursue clients from Asia (primarily China and Japan) to help them with their United States market development. At the time, there was a gold rush of international agencies that were trying to gain a foothold in China in particular.
We undertook the effort to attract clients from Asia and worked with Alibaba.com to build their U.S. business profile almost nine years ago. At the time, Alibaba was trying to broaden the usage of their sourcing platform. This was before Taobao and TMall had really taken off. We also worked with a Chinese-based printing manufacturer that was interested in selling its wares to the United States market. While Japanese companies have long been in the United States market, China was and is a different story.
Working with Chinese clients and Japanese clients is often very different from working with clients from your own country. US-based agencies should take note of that fact. Yet although working with Chinese and Japanese companies is different, there are also some common themes that are useful in making the relationship and efforts work more smoothly. We've spelled these out below:
Excellent communication is vital
Communication is critical due to language and time differences. US-based agencies should consider having someone on staff who speaks and writes Chinese and/or Japanese. It isn’t always easy or practical, however missing or misinterpreting information can be costly and a big time and effort waster. We write longer and more detailed emails and briefs than normal, which offer the client time to translate and discuss internally before responding. As in woodworking, ‘measure twice, cut once’ is a good thought process when it comes to clear and concise communication with Asian clients.
Meet the client in person as often as is practical
Try to meet in person with the client as often as possible. And don’t be afraid to go to China or Japan to visit the client rather than expect them to always come to you. Being there does make a big difference.
Use regular video meetings to connect more deeply with the client
Ongoing video meetings are better than phone calls or emails. There are services like Skype and Zoom, for example, that allow everyone to see each other when discussing what’s at hand. Seeing one another is the next best thing to being there. Keep in mind that you will always be dealing with a significant time change when doing business in Asia whether it's on the East or West Coast, so be prepared for late night and early morning video or phone conference calls.
Give more detailed explanations than usual
Always explain the contrast between the way things work in the US and the client’s home county. We do that by continually gaining understanding of the way marketing and media is viewed by the client and what’s going on locally. While there will always be some similarities in the way different country’s markets behave, there are many nuanced differences that the client may not understand are endemic to marketing products and services in the US. Clients understand context and rationale. Don’t be afraid to lay out the how’s and why’s.
Bring the right partners to the table
Bring in appropriate US-based partners when appropriate and explain both your relationship with the partner as well as their relevance to the project, including why they will be an asset. Leveraging the expertise from a valuable partner shows your client that you are focused on making the best effort to make them more successful.
The above guidelines work for all Asian countries. But understanding what's going on in the country and how the client behaviours in general will differ will vary from country to country. In no way can you deal with Chinese and Japanese clients in the same manner. By working to better understand the cultural similarities and differences between their country and the US, you will forge stronger and more lasting relationships with Asian clients.
Mark Kolier, co-founder at Moddern Marketing Services.