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“Product quality and customer service have to be right”

“Product quality and customer service have to be right”

Establishing a relationship between one’s own brand and customers in Asia is, according to Stefanie Chalk, the most important success factor in promoting European goods in the East. As a marketing and corporate communications expert who has lived in Hong Kong for 16 years, she explains in an interview beyond her presentation at the World Communication Forum what should definitely be taken into account when building a brand in Asia.

Ms. Chalk, in your experience, consumers and corporate buyers in Asia are pretty shrewd when it comes to brands. What should companies know before launching a product there?

STEFANIE CHALK: A detailed market study with distribution, price and competitor analysis is of course a must. Highly developed cities such as Seoul, Kuala Lumpur or Shanghai and city-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore usually represent the main marketing potential, and the market there is often very transparent thanks to the internet and the manageability of the retail sector. It is almost a sport to buy a branded product at the best price, possibly through a parallel importer and not through official dealers. Only those who can offer distribution with excellent customer service and a reasonable, but not overpriced price, will be able to bind customers to their brand over the long term.

Large and expensive cars are already in abundance on the streets of eastern metropolises. Is it still worthwhile for vehicle manufacturers to invest in this sector?

CHALK: The constantly growing middle and upper classes in Asia are increasingly interested in high-quality and hedonistic durables and consumer goods that also project their own social status outward. Luxurious or sporty cars are still very much in demand, but so are high-quality electronic products such as designer cell phones, Apple products, and AV systems from brands such as Bang & Olufsen or Loewe. In addition, designer kitchens and furniture as well as designer fashion and accessories, watches and jewelry still retain their appeal. In addition, there is also a growing trend in Asia towards responsible, sustainable, ie “greener” consumption, due to the often noticeable environmental problems in large cities such as air and water pollution. Environmentally friendly products and technologies are increasingly in demand.

What do these two target groups attach particular importance to?

CHALK: On product quality including outstanding design as well as increased environmental friendliness and excellent customer service. The service is usually much more extensive than in Europe – whether at a 5-star hotel, at a bank, in retail or in the B-to-B area.

How should marketing managers address Asian customers, and which channel should they use first?

CHALK: Target groups in large cities are best addressed using a combination of direct and indirect means. Classic advertising – in a combination of print, online and out-of-home – paired with a lot of below-the-line, that means visual presence in retail, social media and mobile internet, events and sponsoring, innovative PR and increasingly also corporate – Social responsibility activities. In the larger markets such as China and India, TV is still very important as a broad medium. In general, discerning Asian customers expect a multidimensional brand experience that fits their lifestyle exactly.

During your time in Hong Kong, you must have seen a number of brands trying to gain a foothold in Asia. What is the most extraordinary start by a German brand that you will remember to this day, and why?

CHALK: Smart had one of the most innovative starts in Hong Kong (the brand was introduced there much later than in Europe), because instead of traditionally introducing itself like other car brands with an advertising campaign and a car exhibition at an exhibition center, Smart went directly to places and events, that were frequented by a design-oriented young target group in order to present the vehicle as an integral part of their lifestyle. Smart appeared at fashion shows and sporting events, was to be found in the “Lan Kwai Fong” party district and in designer shopping malls, and was also represented online. Smart was not touted by traditional car salesmen, but by young enthusiastic people who had been specially hired and trained. Since “big is beautiful” generally applies when buying a car in Hong Kong, Smart already faced a major challenge, which the brand faced well, at least at the beginning.

Martina Monsees asked the questions.

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