Found in Translation. The best communication practices for dealing with Asian partners.

During the past 10 years, Asia has become a mighty power on the global digital market. Everyone has their ambitions to grab a piece of cake, but only those who get past the language and cultural barriers succeed.

Of course, whether your client is an advertiser of a publisher, you might think that if both sides find the deal beneficial, getting the contract is inevitable regardless of minor differences between ways of thinking. Be it good or bad, it is quite far from the truth, in our experience. That is why we are here to tell you about the most important concepts, dissimilarities, and nuances to help build long-lasting and fruitful business relationships.

  1. Language. You might have noticed that different nations’ attitude towards English as a lingua franca varies even throughout Europe. You might have been advised to learn a couple of phrases in your partner’s language but never followed this advice. We tell you it’s high time you did this (and see what happens).
  2. Reputation. The concept of face is present in Chinese, Korean and Japanese cultures. The loss of face is considered to be a “social death” and is, more or less, the worst thing that can happen to a person from those countries. What does this mean for business communication? a) Do not say your partner is wrong/mistaken/does something in an inappropriate way. Do not let them look lacking expertise or information. b) Keep in mind that you won’t hear a direct “no”, rather a statement like “We’ll consider this option”, “I’ll think about it”, “I’ll try”. Do not insist on a less vague answer, because by this you’re forcing your counterpart to be rude. Of course, they expect you to avoid straightforward refusals in return, it’s a taboo for both sides:) c) Steer clear of joking. Chances that you fail to adapt your sense of humor or touch some delicate matters are to high.
  3. Politics. Just avoid anything related to the matter (might be a piece of good advice for any business conversations as well).
  4. Confucian values — hierarchy, responsibility, respect for the elders. And don’t let the appearances delude you. The advertising industry is, truely, younger and less conservative in general, but a cute 24 y/o BDM is a Mickey Mouse hoodie was still born and bred onto those ancient values. We have noticed that many of our partners love their bosses and really need their approval for every matter. “I once managed to receive a long-expected payment by telling the Chinese manager my boss would be very angry at me” — anonymous BDM, Adsbalance;)
  5. And yes, this is also part of another huge difference — bureaucracy. Where we have 2 steps for making a payment, they might have 9, so just be patient and resist the temptation of seeing this as disrespect or their finance managers as the Zootopia sloths.
  6. Personal contacts are as important as ever. You might need a trusted intermediary, maybe even a native language speaker. Some performance marketing agencies already have special Asian departments with a degree in the needed region studies. After having established a contact, be ready to be in touch 24/7. Getting back to reputation and personal recommendations: did you know that TaoBao’s references system played a key role in its success?

Apart from these recommendations, here are some short tips from Adsbalance team based on their personal experience:

Do not ask two questions at once. — Anna, SR BDM

(note from the author: I try to avoid this regardless of the partner’s ethnicity. I even avoid this with my colleagues. For the better)

Be patient. Hurrying seems to be a sign of disrespect. — Maria, Publishers relationships manager

You need to build a relationship first. Then you can do business. — Oxana, BDM

I once had to re-establish the trust with the existing partner for 1.5 months because they had changes in the team. — Maxim, SR BDM.

They love their children. Once I mentioned my partner’s son in the conversation. Since then, I was the only one from our team he wanted to talk to — Max, Head of Sales

We hope that these simple steps are handy on your way to mastering the cross-cultural communication!

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