Stop looking for Asian trends
As the world becomes more globalised, the notion of a purely local trend gets weaker every day. By our definition, a trend must affect a majority of consumers over a long term horizon and by this measure it’s hard to spot one that doesn’t exist to some degree in every region.
Trends evolve at different rates and in different ways in each country, often due to infrastructure and relative wealth. Cultural factors then come into play and create further differences, often manifesting in the more granular aspects of branding, like design and content. To be quick and adaptive you need to be able to identify fast moving local shifts that may be unique to a market. However, a longer term strategic view first requires a broader picture through which to assess these movements. This is where a global trend framework comes in.
So don’t ask me what the biggest Asian trends are, but let’s talk about which trends are currently biggest in Asia and why. Some of the highest profile global trends right now are on a unique trajectory in this region – here are three key points to start you thinking.
It’s the year of chatbots. It’s probably not the year they become the saviours of customer service, but likely the year in which we’ll get tired of talking about them. Brands are reigniting social interaction with consumers by moving into messenger platforms with AI assistants via Conversational Commerce. Facebook has also launched “Shop” in order to help SMEs sell directly through the platform. Social commerce however, is already far more advanced in Asia than elsewhere in the world, taking place through informal channels. Shoppers commonly browse through products via Facebook posts and Instagram that are often being sold nearby. This often involves commenting on photos of products, interacting with the seller directly through IM and paying in cash for the goods.
It’s no wonder that 70% of Asian consumers (excluding Japan) have used a chat service to speak to a customer service representative. But despite this already thriving social industry – chatbots are still coming to Asia like everywhere else, and Facebook Shop’s first global launch market was Thailand. For many consumers around the world, chatbots represent a warmer way to interact with a brand online. For those in Asia, it may feel like a step back from interacting with humans.
The global geopolitical climate is becoming more polarised and populist, many have been engaged politically for the first time and the popularity of protest is rising. Whether this bandwagon activism is to be sustained in the long term remains to be seen but it has certainly reignited the “Pop Radical brand” and consumer alike. We can see this with Superbowl advertisements preaching inclusion, a disastrous Pepsi campaign urging us to “join the conversation”, and netizens boldly deleting their Uber apps.
In Asia, this is a tricky trend – the liberal aspirations of global brands don’t always chime with the more conservative consumers in the region, and brands often select more liberal markets to promote specific values. Notably, there has also been a significant wave of (albeit gentle) branding messages around gender issues in India in the last year – none more famous than Aerial’s Share the Load. The key to navigating this nuanced problem is for these brands to align with an important issue that is unlikely to expose them to public backlash among their target audience. Things may be a little less radical in parts of Asia but brands have room to safely comment on social movements, where appropriate.
The heart of this trend is about finding ways for consumers to reach moments of calm and give them reasons to share this with their network. The widespread recognition of the importance of mental health has led to the global popularity of mindfulness. This has given way to social media fads celebrating downtime such as hygge (originally a Danish concept of coziness) and honbab in Korea (literally “alone-eating”). Though the manifestations of Performative Downtime can be vastly different market to market, the uniting force is the need to legitimise slowing down, even if only briefly. Asian consumers are among the most stressed globally, with long working hours and little time off. Things have gotten so bad that reports of office worker deaths– from Japan to the Philippines and Indonesia – are uncomfortably common. So find ways to help your customers buy into calm quickly and easily, and associate this with your brand, give those moments of downtime reasons to be shared.