In his book Cities of Evolution published in 1915, Scottish town planner Patrick Geddes said the key to success in town planning is the ‘Local character’. These words hold relevance in the Digitized eco-system as contemporary businesses must adapt to a world arising to the east of Europe- the Asian continent.

The vast expanse of South-East Asian (ASEAN) nations consisting of some of the fastest growing economies including Vietnam and Indonesia offer unbound opportunities for British businesses. The question one must ask is, are we ready to launch our products and services in a country where less than 2% of the population speaks and understands English?

English is undisputedly the global language of business as specific gentry of people negotiate and sign deals, but is it the only solution to reach the target market? The answer to this is No. Though most often the negotiators are conversant in English, they would still have an interpreter. The reason being, it creates a buffer. It not only offers a Chinese negotiator time to think and formulate an answer but most importantly it also gives an opportunity of plausible deniability.

This is where Ralph Nader’s principle of “Think Global, Act Local” comes to life.

Challenges in customer acquisition for foreign businesses

While working in the region it is a tough challenge for business consultants to explain to western clients the need to market and communicate in the local language.

Some of the key challenges for Werstern businesses operating in Asia include:

1) Very low website traffice and conversion rates 

2) Lack of involvement in the corporate social media channels (e.g. China has its own version of Facebook, called Weibo) 

3) Cultural sensitivities 

How can Businesses acquire customers in new and foreign markets?

1) Content and SEO strategy is the key to success. Country specific domain names are the way forward (.VN, .CN, .TH etc.) but they are only part of the solution.

Keywords, phrases, sentences which are logical and make sense in the local context. Character based languages such as Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese are very complex and demand the attention of professionals to avoid serious mistakes and mis-interpretation. This is the process of trans-creation to adapt the message from one language to another while maintaining the intent, style, tone and context.

2) Social Media offers unlimited opportunities provided the communication is received and decoded by the recipient. The business will gain greater authority if it speaks the same language as the prospect.

Exploiting opportunities demands adaptability. In the digital world, that adaptability is reflected by a business’s ability to not only communicate with its customers but also to engage customers in a productive conversation. Engaging customers with informative, meaningful and most importantly customised content, provides better opportunities in obtaining not just business but repeat business from loyal customers.


By Alex Fairie, Director of UK and European Operations and Megh Shetty, Manager - Corporate Marketing & Communications for ONCALL Language Services, UK and Europe.

Do you have any tips for business looking to expand overseas? Let us know below! 

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