Avoid Making These 3 Mistakes When Marketing to an Asian Culture

Avoid Making These 3 Mistakes When Marketing to an Asian Culture

Language is not the only difference!

Chia-Li Chien | Aug. 05, 2011

What’s this on the left here?

Is it a red envelope? Well, it’s not just any red envelope! It’s a way to gain access to a Chinese or Asian market!

In our limited writing space here, I will use the Chinese market to represent Asian markets in general, and take you through three major mistakes to avoid when entering a Chinese market.

(Submit comments below if you have any questions after reading this.)

To give you a little information about my Asian cultural background, I should tell you that I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan and came to the U.S. when I was twenty-one years old to attend school. That’s when I started learning and using English to communicate. In my native language, there is no past tense and we only communicate in singular terms. In addition, the word for he and she have the same pronunciation, so we always say “he. “ I’m sure you will still hear all these differences in my speech patterns if we ever have the opportunity to talk.

I was a Junior Ambassador to Taiwan during college and represented Taiwan in the U.S. to increase Chinese cultural awareness in 1986. After college, I decided to further my education in the U.S. and obtain my master’s degree here. I started my first business in 1993; a software consulting firm that specialized in financial modeling and financing applications for nuclear power plant bidding. At age thirty-six, I reached financial independence and decided to retire early. However, I quickly became bored and started my second business in 2005, helping small businesses to build value and reposition for a profitable sale of the business in the future.

Avoid making these three mistakes when marketing to an Asian culture:

Mistake #1 – You believe they understood your sales presentation completely.

When I was in my first business, I often heard from my clients who were involved in bidding on a nuclear power plant in Taiwan that, “They understood us completely! Why they don’t move forward with us yet??” But you see, all Chinese have been taught two things in school and the business world:

  1. Do not talk unless you’ve been asked to. This means at ALL times, whether in school, in a business meeting or even in family conversation. This is to show respect to the seniority or hierarchy of any setting. So most Chinese will remain quiet in the room. Have you noticed that?
  2. Smile and nod your head frequently when attending any business meeting. Yes, you must show great respect for the presenters. But don’t assume this pleasant non-verbal agreement means they understand what you’re talking about. They are just showing their respect because they are in the room with you.

I love to travel and have been vacationing with my parents for a long time. Several years ago we went to Boston National Historical Park and visited the U.S.S. Constitution. We were on one of those guided tours with about thirty other people surrounding one tour guide the entire time. My mom somehow was separated from us, but I could still see her from the other end of the group. I watched the tour guide John slowly gravitate toward speaking to my mom exclusively. You see, she smiled and nodded her head as she heard specific points from John. As John turned and started moving to the next stop, I came up right behind my mom and immediately began to translate what John had just said. She had not understood one word, but John never knew.

My mom did exactly what we were taught as a culture—be polite, respectful and show interest by smiling and nodding your head when someone is speaking. So don’t assume your Chinese prospects understand what you’re saying, even if they continuously nod their head yes, because the fact is, they don’t.

Mistake #2 – You did no research on cultural differences.

I recently engaged a commercial realtor, Leigh, to help find commercial property here in Charlotte for us. She obviously did not do much research about what a Chinese client would be looking for. I couldn’t help but to write her an email about three things she must pay attention to for Feng Shui—which is very prominent in the Chinese culture:
• The direction of the front door—the specific direction of the front door reveals how well you will prosper. So I only want to see property with the front door in a specific direction.
• Avoid the number 4, because the word “four” sounds like “death” in Chinese. This would include avoiding locations such as the 4th floor.
• Avoid locations adjacent to cemeteries, funeral homes, churches or temples.

Do your research about Chinese culture before you working with them to develop a relationship and get results. If Leigh had simply asked if there was anything specific I wanted to see or not see in a property, she would have scored big points.

Mistake #3 – You assume the Asian market will buy from you without knowing you.

That brings us to our next point—relationship— 關係; is everything in Chinese culture. We even have a saying that if you meet someone face to face the first time, you build 30% of the relationship immediately. My client Mary visits her suppliers in Taiwan, China and Vietnam on a monthly basis, not only to understand their new product lines but also to continue to build relationships, ensuring top quality for her clients. Her company exceeded $30MM in annual revenue during the recent recession, easily covering the cost of her travel and time in ROI.

No matter which market you’re expanding to, avoiding all the above three mistakes will greatly help increase your chance for a long-term partnership. Body language, culture and Feng Shui are just a few examples we’ve mentioned here. Do your homework by reaching out to experts who not only know and understand these concepts, but who can also save you time, energy and money in reaching your target successfully.

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