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What the Digital World Can Learn From China and APAC

(Posted on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:58AM )
As I prepare for our Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, and Sydney workshop tour in March, I can't help but think about how few of my U.S. and Western digital marketing peers know about China and APAC in general. And I think about how much I've learned beyond the anecdotal cultural experiences, like the everyday Chinese "looggeey" spit fest or 100-year-old egg cuisine, the two-handed business card introductory bow, and my subtle but important favorite, the homogeneity of an Eastern society (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) in understanding the world is not about self but the communal good (ahem, Gen Y'ers).

No, let's talk about digital and how far ahead Asia is in so many respects and how we can all better apply it, especially all those Westerners setting into their 300-meter flats in Hong Kong or Shanghai looking to build the APAC presence for their companies.

First, let's get history straight. The Western world, for nearly all of civilized man, save the opium-induced decades of darkness, has been woefully behind Eastern society. This is happening in digital, mobile, and social, too.

  • Take the Terracotta Warriors, where we learned that China had steel melding and modern metal-tipped arrows nearly 1,000 years before us.
  • Or China's first emperor commanding an army 10 times the size of the largest army Rome ever assembled.
  • And of course the bit more trite observation of who created the pasta noodle first.
China, Asia, and now what we call APAC have been ahead of the game throughout history and still are in so many big ways in digital. So, let us learn a bit and apply the adoption trends and lessons of, say, China to improve our future efforts here in the U.S.

Before I jump in, allow me to give a quick "Asia for Dummies" version of the players for our Western counterparts. In short, China mainland (Hong Kong is a bit different) is always the main focus, so will use that as the example going forward. But in looking at greater APAC, remember, Australia is very much aligned with U.S./English trends, but is just a bit behind on adoption. India is part of Asia, but most, like myself, treat it as its own market, as it is so unique and so large. Indonesia is handled in the same manner. Japan, Taiwan, and Korea need to be on your radar for APAC despite the largess of China and have very similar adoption curves, yet extremely different cultural nuances that simply can't be ignored. And Singapore is a great business- and tax-friendly place to set up an APAC office, but is just a city so not a "market" unto itself worth addressing in comparison.

With all that out the way, using China as the example, here is your quick first lesson to talk the talk when thinking about Asia and its comparatives here in the U.S./Western world.

Weibo = Twitter

Alibaba = Amazon (x 10)

Baidu = Google (for China); Google is still big elsewhere and Yahoo! for Japan

WeChat = WhatsApp

Renren = Facebook

Tencent QQ = Mobile app meets IM, with social gaming plus online shopping

Let's start with simple dollars (or RMB) and cents. Alibaba on its biggest shopping day saw $5.75 billion of transactions. The entire U.S., on its biggest day, saw $2.29 billion on all trackable e-commerce sites. Now, many of us are trying to determine the mobile implications and best practices. If you look at the fact that 41 percent of all shoppers buy their mobile device in Hong Kong, you'll quickly get a peek at what's coming our way in the U.S. and Western world.

It reminds me of a trip to Tokyo nearly seven years ago, where I was awestruck by nearly everyone looking down at their phones and texting while walking on and off a very busy subway stop in Roppongi. Literally, I thought... are these people addicted to their phones or just plain crazy?! And here we are today in the U.S., and anyone who has taken the 3 train across town in New York, nearly ran over a pedestrian in a crosswalk in San Francisco, or just looked around any given street, would see nearly the same. Point of the matter, Asia was and still is a great sneak peek at what's to come in adoption of digital, social, and mobile. And when you look at research showing us a 31 percent increase in digital/search advertising spend, and massive retargeting adoption, one must pay attention to how that ripples back to the U.S. market, which is heading in the same direction.

Quick note: If you are not retargeting today, stop reading this article and go set that up on Facebook and Google Display Network.

Now take a look at adoption; Twitter being in the limelight today seems like a good example. Last year only 15.1 percent of consumers said they use Twitter to share information, whereas in China more than 91 percent use Sina Weibo to share. Incredible, right? Maybe time to reconsider buying some Twitter stock, let alone looking seriously at how to leverage Twitter to get the following and awareness before it gets super competitive.

See these concepts in action at ClickZ Live New York 2014:
See the full agenda.And on it goes. More shoppers online, more usage on mobile, more sharing on social apps, and simply great adoption curves that we can extrapolate into our own future Western nascent stages.

So, if you are looking at Asia, China, and APAC, there is no option but to get engrained in social and mobile. If you are in the U.S., it's just one more wake-up call to remind us, Rome was not the first great civilization from which the world could learn its lessons - China and greater Asia was. Let's use its lessons to our advantage in our efforts to grow market share online.

By Aaron Kahlow