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Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in All Matters SEO, Industry Interviews

All Things APAC: An Interview with Digital Expert, Trevor Higgins

Hi Trevor, thanks for accepting our invite to chat! Can you tell us about your background and how you arrived in Ho Chi Minh?

After a few years writing for newspapers in my home state of Tennessee, I moved to Chicago and jumped into digital marketing full time in the start-up scene. Five years ago I joined Performics, a digital marketing agency, and it was a great fit. I’ve worked for some great brands, like Patagonia and Bose, doing content strategy, SEO and conversion/experience testing.

Then, right as we had our first child and bought a house, my wife was offered her dream job with the US State Department. Her first assignment was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Fortunately, Performics is a true global company with an office within walking distance from my new home. Now, I lead digital marketing campaigns for clients working in multiple markets across Asia.

Trevor Higgins

Trevor Higgins

What a great career so far! Now, let us grill you on Asia Pacific’s market particularities! With many countries in APAC having multiple official languages (even up to 750 dialects in India) what is your recommendation for a Western company trying to enter the market? Translate from English in all languages or select a few and create natively?

First, I would ask: What language does your target audience speak? Are you targeting expatriates? Locals? Visitors? Understanding your audience segments should make the decision of which languages to include easier. Also, I think you should always have an English version of your content available, as that is the default means of communication when people from different backgrounds come together.

For localization, I prefer an approach we call “trans-creation:” it’s a step beyond rote translation that takes into account colloquialisms and the real ways people talk. Then, work with someone you trust who knows the language and the culture. I see so much bad translation work, even for large brands! It’s everywhere, it’s embarrassing and it’s easy to fix.

How do you recommend companies go about selecting the right languages for their product?

As I mentioned, know your customer and know what is at risk if you don’t communicate with someone in their native language. Tap into your CRM data. Understand the market for your products and services, which might vary widely depending on the country.

Also, be aware of the risks of partial translation. If you translate your homepage but not your shopping cart or check-out forms, are you really servicing your customer? I’ve encountered dead-ends where a company only partially translated their web site and left critical gaps.

Are there any APAC mobile trends that you were surprised by that aren’t as prevalent in the West?

Marketers in the US might be sick of hearing “mobile” tossed around as a trend, but I cannot overstate its importance here in APAC.

First, you have to understand the explosive growth in Internet access in APAC. In the last five years, Internet access is up 250% in India, 101% in Indonesia, 72% in Vietnam, 76% in Thailand, 47% in China. This is all driven by growing access to mobile devices.

So mobile isn’t just another digital gateway, it’s sometimes the only gateway. Your customers may never see your desktop site.

Also, mobile networks in some countries may not be as fast as in the West. I currently only get 3G access here in Vietnam. This means your mobile site speed, load times and experience have to be outstanding. You can’t afford slow load times or unnecessary clicks.

One other related note: I was surprised to learn that in many APAC countries consumers use, on average, nearly 10 social media accounts each, which is well above the rates in USA and UK. Of course, all that usage is happening on mobile.

What amenities or hotel features are APAC guests traveling West expecting to find in the hotel or on the website?

At many hotels in APAC the free breakfasts are really incredible. There’s a mix of dim sum, traditional English breakfast, fresh fruit, local favorites, made-to-order eggs, etc. So if there’s a good breakfast, show it off!

I’ve also been impressed by the service throughout Asia at properties in all ranges. If you have travelers from Asia staying at your property in the West, they will be accustomed to top-notch service and will expect the same from your staff.

When creating campaigns, collateral, etc. were there any striking differences between the East and West? (For example – while green may be the color synonymous with “good” in the west, red is considered to be the color of good fortune in Chinese culture)

China is a great example. Design and experience expectations are very different for Chinese customers compared to what traditionally works in the West. This Smashing Magazine article explains it much more eloquently than I can:

Bottom line: I don’t think you just assume that your great English ad copy and user-experience design will automatically perform at the same level in APAC.

I do think you need a strong cultural understanding of your marketplace and audience when building campaigns. Seasonality and holidays are different here, as well as accepted social norms. This is especially true when using imagery. Be mindful of your audience, what they aspire to and what they might feel is off-putting. Many cultures, even in the rapidly-growing urban centers here, can still be very traditional and conservative socially.

In a few words, can you describe the WeChat Platform and how it differs from the prevalent platforms in the West such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter?

WeChat is a massively popular platform in China. It has somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 million active monthly users!

In simple terms, it’s a messaging service, not dissimilar from WhatsApp, with lots and lots of features and abilities added on top. Users can do traditional chat functions like sharing videos and photos. Then, WeChat has apps within the app, and this is where it gets important for businesses. Apps allow users to play games, but they can also do business: send money, shop, use and pay for services, order food.

It’s a massive platform owned by TenCent, one of China’s biggest companies, who also owns a large stake in up-and-coming search engine Sogou, microblogging platform Weibo and instant message service QQ. If you’re marketing to consumers in China, you should plan for engaging on WeChat, building a brand presence.

With different cultures, can you provide your top 3 things to do and 3 things to avoid when starting a relationship with partners or clients in the region?


  1. Make an effort to learn the culture. Read books. Watch movies. Eat the food. Spend time with locals. Learn to say a few things in a new and difficult language.
  2. Test and learn. There are many country-specific platforms here in APAC. Try them out, find what works for you.
  3. Be humble. I thought I had a good resume of digital marketing success, but working here has been a humbling experience. There is a lot to learn about how the digital ecosystem works in APAC. Be prepared to do the homework and learn.

Do Not:

  1. Assume the same approach you use in the West will be equally effective. This extends beyond just how you manage your marketing campaigns, but includes how you build relationships with people
  2. Be rigid. China in particular is a unique market, and you’ll need to be adaptable to be successful.
  3. Lose patience. Hold your teams to a high standard of performance, but don’t lose patience when a campaign misses the mark. Learn from it, and keep moving forward.  

Which APAC-based non-travel companies standout in your mind as doing an outstanding job at digital marketing right now?

I think this spot from Nike targeted at young women in India is one of the best campaigns worldwide. Nike did some similar spots in Korea that reflected the place of sports in that culture. While you may not have big-budget creative, the approach – emotional, local – it reflects can be implemented by any team.

Also, while it pains me to write this as a Liverpool supporter, Chevrolet’s global partnership with Manchester United, tied to this site has all of their digital cookies on me. I regularly see their regionally-targeted paid social, display and out-of-home ads. Their content looks to engage first and sell second, and I know I’m in their target audience.

If our readers come visit Ho Chi Minh, can you share with us your favorite food and/or thing to do so far?

Food is a top attraction here in Saigon, and for good reason. You’ll see fresh ingredients used in one-of-a-kind ways all over town, typically served up in no-frills food stalls with plastic chairs. Personally, I love bun thit nuong and was just introduced to my new love: Chanh muoi, a drink made with pickled limes.

Ho Chi Minh Food

But if you really want to experience and understand Saigon you have to get on a motorbike. Once you’re on two wheels everything else in this big, crazy city makes more sense.

And, if you have time, take a quick trip to the island of Phu Quoc for spectacular beaches. JW Marriott has a new property opening up there in December, which is a great excuse to visit. 


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