New Zealand's Asian population is growing in both the main centres and the regions, but are retailers and marketers missing their opportunity to turn them into customers due to a lack of understanding, stereotyping and homogenisation?
According to Stats NZ the Asian population, which was 0.54 million in 2013, will increase to between 0.81 and 0.92 million in 2025 and between 1.06 and 1.26 million by 2038, numbers New Zealand marketers may wish to ponder as a 2013 Nielsen survey found Asia Pacific consumers to be the most influenced by advertising (67 percent of Asia Pacific consumers say advertising influences their preference for a brand, the highest in the world compared to the global average of 55 percent. While 64 percent say image created by advertising influenced their decision to buy a product, higher than the global average of 54 percent).
Not only this but Nick Siu, Director at The Agency 88, a consultancy agency focused on the relationship between Asia and the West, says “the Asian population is not poor, there is money to be spent right now and there is an opportunity right now to capture this.”
With this in mind, how can New Zealand brands tap into the growing Asian consumer markets in New Zealand?
Abraham Lincoln once said “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. This is the process Siu prescribes for Kiwi businesses wanting to appeal to the Asian consumer market.
This means going beyond the simple translation of English ads and gaining an understanding of the different cultures beyond their languages.
“[Brands] should be brave enough to really truly understand who their audience is in terms of that Asia consumer segment and then how their brand can make a genuine connection with those people and their communities.”
An important step in this process according to Siu is asking “what is Asian?” He says different ethnic and religious groups respond differently to advertising according to their values so it is important to differentiate who is being targeted.
“It’s very dangerous in terms of what we’ve seen, a lot of agencies just homogenise all the Asians together, so that means the assumption they are making is that a Chinese is going to think the exact same way as and have the same behavioural triggers than an Indian’s going to have.”
Siu, who is Chinese, uses his own behavioural triggers as an example saying he is more likely to have an affinity to a particular brand over another when he has certainty about a brand’s tenure and safety.
“I know there is three and a half thousand years of written history within the Chinese culture, I don’t know how I know that, I just know that, and because of knowing that, expression of brand and its history when making a consumer purchase is really important to me. It may not be so important for other cultures but it’s really important for me.”
It is only when time is taken to understand the behavioral triggers of the different cultures that advertisers can attempt to influence how they think, says Siu. Although, as Contagion's Dean Taylor pointed out, there is some debate about whether brands should be focused on harmonies rather than differences.
As he wrote: "In the article 5 secrets to more effective multicultural marketing, the author questions whether it is worth putting in precious time and resources to reach niche markets. General marketing campaigns should appeal to everyone if the human insight is right and you’ve understood your audience. This all means changing the lens through which we judge the consumer and being much more ambitious with our analysis."
Trying to appeal to everyone sometimes means you appeal to no-one, which big international brands that rehash material for different markets are often guilty of. So another way Siu says brands can make themselves relevant to Asian communities is to avoid using stereotypes. The way Asian people perceive themselves is very different to what is currently being marketed and he says this is a missed opportunity for brands to have their share of the Asian spend.
“I don't have the desire to be treated as a VIP necessarily but I think there’s an opportunity for brands to at least view us equally.”
Siu criticises the 30-second 'Spray and Walk Away' ads for disregarding Asians (AA Smartfuel's campaign featuring an Asian taxi driver was also fairly polarising).
“I get that from a certain perspective that ad is very funny because the guy is very fresh, I get it, I totally do, but as an Asian person I’m actually quite offended because it’s two dimensional, and while it is funny, I don’t really laugh about it, more than anything I actually just cringe,” says Siu.
But tapping into the wallet is not just about understanding the messages different cultures respond to. General manager of Niche Media Paul Doyle says an understanding of their media consumption habits is just as vital.
“The difference is these markets are consuming very little mainstream media, so any branding or product promotions may not have reached them at all.”
Doyle says there are approximately 80 different ethnic media companies from the Asian, Maori and Pacific communities and across multiple platforms, of TV, radio, print, digital and social media options.
The Chinese community alone have almost a dozen print publications, ranging from six days a week, (ie Mandarin Pages) through to fortnightly. This also includes city publications for Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, Dunedin, etc.
There are also three main radio stations, three Freeview TV channels and multiple paid subscription channels. There are also several websites and community-specific social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.
Doyle says there is such a large availability of this media, first generation Chinese have no need to venture into the mainstream media at all. Mainstream media is more likely to be consumed by those who arrive in the country at a younger age than those who arrive here as an adult.
Nick Siu's advice on what to consider before creating an ad aimed at the Asian market:
a) Is there a section of the consumer market that is interesting?
b) What is Asian?
c) Which Asians do we want to focus on and what are their needs and behavioral triggers?
d) Where are the opportunities for change and to influence how they think?
e) What media are they consuming?