Magazine article Communication World

Found in Translation: Learn the Seven Drivers of Corporate Reputation That Can Help Build Trust among Consumers in Asia's Emerging Markets

Magazine article Communication World

Found in Translation: Learn the Seven Drivers of Corporate Reputation That Can Help Build Trust among Consumers in Asia's Emerging Markets

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, at a meeting of financial services professionals to discuss ATM efficiency, two divergent views were heard that, oddly enough, reflect the challenge of building corporate reputation in Asia.

The U.S. representative at the table indicated that his company's automated teller system never went down--it was always on, and therefore people could trust it. The Chinese representative's view was different. He said that people in China are used to ATMs periodically going offline for 20 minutes or so, and saying that an ATM is "always on" elicits disbelief, because experience says otherwise.

Reputation in Asia is the same. While multinational corporations see Asia's growing consumer markets as the place to quickly boost their balance sheets, they often assume that local markets will trust them by virtue of performance or brand understanding elsewhere. They forget to translate their reputation and lay the groundwork for building trust in local markets.

Smart companies focus on seven key reputation drivers to create trust among Asia's emerging markets. All but one are global, and all must be translated locally. This does not mean changing one's reputation, but rather adapting it to build credibility among Asian consumers.

1. Leadership

Leadership is often the first and most traditional reputation builder in corporate communication. It is defined by titles, such as CEO, or by personalities, often also the CEO or chairman, such as Richard Branson of Virgin or Larry Ellison of Oracle. Speaking in broad terms--because with the incredible diversity of markets throughout Asia, generalities must be applied--leadership may need to be positioned as humble. The paradox, however, is that respect for hierarchy and being No. 1 is very much alive. This means C-suite executives must be used to help establish and reinforce reputation.

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In Europe and North America, communicators are often reticent to offer up their company's leaders for interviews: Financial performance may be criticized, or personal lifestyles may come under attack, particularly when pay packages are unveiled. It's not as complicated in Asia, where journalists typically focus on the business, not the individual, and often seek a positive angle. Many stories examine how to achieve success and manage a business for growth, in China and Vietnam, journalists commonly share their interview questions in advance and actually stick to them in the interview.

Intel is one company that has built its reputation in Asia by using its C-suite to advantage for more than a decade. Former President and CEO Craig Barrett visited Asia regularly, and current President and CEO Paul Otellini does as well. Intel's outreach program for Asia includes interviews for executives in each of the markets they visit. In fact, Intel is so embedded in the region that current promotions on CNBC Asia for its Managing Asia program show photos of three Asian business leaders and Barrett.

2. Products and services

Neither a dynamic leader nor leading European or U.S. market share can save a company's reputation in Asia when its products don't match the local market. It is always important to remember a fundamental truth: Products and services intersect with reputation. The electronics retailer Best Buy, for example, found itself in a mismatch situation in China. Best Buy exited the Chinese market in February because its business model didn't work. It couldn't compete with Gome and smaller merchants that offer the same or locally made products for less.

Companies entering Asian markets experience fierce local and regional product competition. Add to this the ongoing problem of counterfeit products (particularly troublesome for luxury goods makers), and reputation problems are only amplified. In July, Chinese officials discovered numerous fake Apple stores in Kunming, China--not just stores selling counterfeit Apple products, but entire stores built as fakes. …

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