Map of AsiaLast year, I was fortunate enough to spend four months living in Singapore while attending a local university. One of the classes I took discussed the huge variances among Asian countries and regions, areas often lumped together and deemed similar if not homogeneous. While I’m lucky to live in a very culturally diverse part of North America and like to think I have good cultural awareness (a quality strongly promoted by my home university), I was still surprised by the diversity both discussed in the classroom and experienced in daily life.

While the course I took covered a variety of regions including China, India, Vietnam, and obviously Singapore, among others, the professor made it very clear that this three-month course could really only offer a brief overview and basic understanding of each. Just within China alone there is huge cultural diversity from one region to the next, something that’s easy to forget or gloss over when talking about the country and its huge and continuously evolving consumer base. In Singapore itself, a very small country by most standards, you see huge cultural diversity even from one street to the next. While its population is ethnically diverse, Singapore also has its own unique flavor distinct from the backgrounds of its population.

The whole point of this course was to give students an awareness that not all Asian markets can be handled in the same, or even in a similar way. This goes beyond the rules and regulations for engaging in business ventures and differences in business etiquette. For a company or brand to be successful in a given Asian market, they have to do more than understand how this new customer base is different from that of their home market. They must also understand how each market within this new region is different from one another. While this is not exactly a fresh topic, it’s one that’s important but easily overlooked or ignored, especially in lecture halls on the other side of the world.

–Perri Read, Junior Consultant