Going local in Asia


Hong Kong PR guru Davena Mok shares the secrets of success to the Asian marketplace.

This  time our Expert review checks out “localizasian,” the growing demand among Asian consumers for products and services tailored to their needs. Though the term is often associated with regional brands – made in Asia, for Asia, by Asia – ample opportunities exist for savvy international brands with the right cultural intelligence.

“Asians, particularly the Japanese, Korean and Chinese, are very patriotic people,” says Davena Mok, the director of A-VIBE, a Hong Kong-based boutique agency specialising in youth PR, marketing and events.

“Domestic brands find great success above international brands, due to the local favour and flavour. Classic examples include Li Ning, a sportswear brand started by a former Chinese Olympic gymnast, the Samsung behemoth of South Korea, and Japan’s top brands such as Toyota, Honda, Canon and Sony,” says Mok, who was born in Australia to Chinese parents and worked as a journalist for TIME Magazine and South China Morning Post before founding A-VIBE in 2002.

Her prestigious clientele list ranges from Nike to Diesel and Swatch, to luxury department store Lane Crawford, Universal Music Group, premium audio specialist Beat By Dr. Dre, French fashion house Rue du Mail, as well as Swedish fast-fashion brand Monki.

There are many opportunities for non-natives in the vast Asian marketplace comprised of many very different countries. The population of Mainland China is 1.3 billion people, while Hong Kong’s population is 7.1 million people, more than the population of all of Finland.

Inside line

“We’ve launched many, many international brands in Hong Kong in the past 11 years, as well as many Japanese brands in more recent years,” says Mok. “And the strategic approach has been different each time – specifically tailored for each brand and its target audience.”

According to Mok, all international brands that launch in Hong Kong need to be localised for obvious reasons such as introducing their brand and history, connecting to the local audience culturally, speaking the local Chinese language, making themselves relevant in a local context, and fitting into the local retail environment.

“Achieving this ranges from working with local PR agencies to booking popular local celebrities to attend an opening event, launching a VIP customer campaign, providing someone from the brand’s headquarters to do press interviews, knowing popular local media titles and editors, and having a good localised social media campaign,” says Mok. “Not all brands do this when they launch in Hong Kong. In fact, many American fast-fashion brands have done huge launch campaigns when they first came to town. Then – along with all the people from the US office who returned home after the launch phase – the buzz just died down and the momentum was lost a month later.”

Seeking star quality

An assumption that shouldn’t be made is that a well-known brand or personality in other parts of the world will be recognised in Asia.

“For my client Beats By Dr. Dre, who is huge in the US and Europe, few realise that hip-hop enigma Dr. Dre is not well known around Asia,” says Mok. “This is the same for American actresses and fashion designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who walked around the Lane Crawford department store in Beijing and no one knew who they were.”

Another oversight is a lack of cultural intelligence. “Sometimes folks from international companies don’t even look at a map before coming to Asia, so they think they can come to Hong Kong and go to see the Great Wall of China (in Beijing),” says Mok, who stresses the importance of being aware of geographical differences in cultures and languages. “Between the key countries in the Asia region alone, local markets and media environments are vastly different. So you really need on-the-ground teams in each city to get the most effective results and successes,” she says.

But cracking the Hong Kong market isn’t as difficult as it may sound, says Mok. “It’s an international city, a thriving hub of trendsetters and fashion/lifestyle brand lovers. Wealth abounds and geographically, it’s very small and easy to get around.

“What is difficult, however, is cracking China. Now that is an entirely different ball game that brands definitely need to dedicate more time,  resources and, most of all, patience for. What works in Hong Kong does not necessarily work in China.”

Text by Katja Pantzar

Published June 3, 2013

Category: Local features