Key Messenger

A critical eye on communication, by Tom Poldre

ASEAN Economic Integration: Corporate Brand Implications

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The final installment in a series of excerpts from an article I co-authored with Patrick Rekart at Black Inc Group, for the January 2015 edition of the Thai-American Business magazine.

Famed marketing guru Peter Drucker once stated that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” in the context of organizational culture, but clearly the observation has relevance in the regional context as companies continue to broaden and deepen participation across the ASEAN cultural mosaic.

In terms of corporate communication and brand marketing, we all know that new levels of regional integration will introduce “Thai-family” and Thai-based corporations – many of them multinationals – to a range of new audiences.

Insightful marketers know better than to see these audiences as one homogenous group of consumers, B-to-B customers, or business partners, and will quickly adopt new, highly targeted ways of identifying discrete market segments and deploying communication strategies specific to each.

Yes there will obviously be country-specific strategies, but new models of “cultural segmentation”, transcending national boundaries, will reflect a keen awareness and understanding of indigenous ethnic and national identities.

A potential partner or prospect might self-identify as Malaysian, for example, but are they the twenty-six percent of that population who consider themselves Chinese, the fifty-three percent who are Malay, or the eight percent who are Indian? Consider the fact that the Vietnamese government recognizes fifty-four distinct ethnic groups. The AEC presents a rich ethno-cultural prism (actually, a kaleidoscope) through which to view the regional marketplace, and corporations must insist that their agencies and planners reflect these cultural segments in their outreach strategies.

With new opportunities come new complexities and an enhanced need to understand the nuances of the ASEAN cultural mosaic. Core values serve to unite the members of the AEC, while even the subtle differences between national personas have now been charted and analyzed for greater understanding.

Take this new level of acumen and sensitivity among executives who are “hard wired” with the requisite “soft skills”, equip them with a compelling corporate narrative that conveys differentiation yet familiarity, and the key elements will be in place for cross-cultural comfort in the new pan-ASEAN reality.


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