With search engines putting an emphasis on local content, it's important to engage with your potential customers on their own territory.
We all dream of overnight success, but customer loyalty only comes with time and effort. This is even more the case when building a business reputation in Asian countries.
Localization has an important role to play in this. The 2012 Edelman Insights Trust Barometer shows that globally people are more inclined to trust other people who are like them. To establish rapport and build trust in a new country, we need to prove we are in touch with its culture and ways of doing business.
If you are looking to localize your business for Asian markets, consider these tips to make your efforts as effective as possible.
1. Build a local web presence
With search engines putting an emphasis on local content, it's important to engage with your potential customers on their own territory. Fortunately, it's fairly simple to do this online by creating a separate website for each Asian country that matters to you.
While the .asia domain is worth reserving for your business URL, wherever possible also get a hold of the relevant country code top-level domain (TLD) for each country that interests you.
Unfortunately, in some places this could prove impossible. China, for example, requires companies to be local, and in Japan you will at least need a local correspondence address. Your next best option is to secure a generic TLD, then geo-target this by using Google's Webmaster Tools. This will help you to rank in your target country's localized Google results.
2. Localize your language
Although it seems obvious to create content in Japanese for customers in Japan, or in Korean for Korea, other Asian countries require more care. Take into account regional language variations. These will have even more of an impact if you take advantage of multimedia by including spoken-language content.
Sooner or later you will also branch out into other social media - here being at ease with colloquial language is especially important. A native speaker can steer you clear of being too informal and losing respect or, at the other extreme, coming across as stuffy and behind the times in relaxed online settings.
Native speakers can also pick up on tricky nuances and "false friends" - words that look and sound similar to English words when Romanized but have different meanings, e.g., jūsu (Japan) sounds like juice but has a wider meaning that includes soft drinks and tea.
English can seem like a useful solution for countries where it is widely spoken such as Singapore, India, and the Philippines. Be careful not to make too many assumptions though about the standard of English-language proficiency in your target market. It can vary widely with level of education and geographic location.
3. Pay attention to differences
If you are working on building relationships in your new Asian market, watch out for the details. Anything that doesn't fit with local customs and terminology will divert attention from your message. Often these are the easily missed things such as units of measurement, professional titles, and number and date formats.
If you don't have a local phone number in the country you're dealing with, at least supply your number with the relevant dial code and in a format that fits with local usage. If you need to mention times, do so using the local time zone.
Using your customers' currency to quote prices is especially important when it comes to localization for e-commerce. Even if your online payment process involves an exchange of currency, let customers know what they are paying in their own money.
4. Respect cultural matters
Even with the enthusiasm for new technologies and the emergence of vibrant new cultural trends, respect for the old way of doing things underlies many aspects of society in Asia.
On the whole, seniority and authority still command respect. However, assumptions about gender and status could lead you astray. Grant Thornton's International Business Report 2012 reveals that while Japan and India still have relatively patriarchal business cultures, there are higher numbers of women in leadership positions in Thailand and the Philippines.
Cultural pitfalls aren't restricted to business etiquette. They can lurk in everything from your choice of photos for your website to hand gestures made in a promotional video. Symbolism such as a strong handshake might not give the right message for a country in which it's more usual to bow or place the palms together. Even numbers can pose a risk in a country such as China where they hold strong significance, according to Entrepreneur.com.
As a business looking to build customer loyalty you can't afford to offend your Asian customers. Insider information will be your best friend here. Hire someone with local knowledge to check your content for any unintentional slips and to help you make an impression - for all the right reasons.
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