But another major factor in our success in emerging markets has been our dedication to dig beneath the data and really understand the consumer behind the numbers. Things are not always what they seem, as I vividly remember discovering when I worked in China. A client and I were visiting a Beijing housing estate to learn about media habits. On the way to the houses, we walked across wasteland littered with dead animals, rubble and rats. However, when we got inside the rundown homes we saw the families all had broadband connections and three TVs.
That experience taught me early on that it's imperative to make the consumer three-dimensional.
Consumers are much smarter than media companies often give them credit for. They may not have all the accoutrements of a middle class lifestyle, but they undoubtedly know their way around a mobile phone, car and the Premier Division. They are as passionate about their children getting a good education as we are in developed countries. Just because they are not yet living the dream, doesn't mean they do not aspire to.
Consider this: if you're living in an apartment block, similar to everyone else, in the same job and without a car, then the only way to differentiate yourself is through the consumer world. Clothes. Shoes. Phones. Cars. Such a high level of importance is attached to material goods that people in Taiwan are often buried with effigies made out of these prized possessions.
Nevertheless, you still get advertising and marketing professionals entering the fray trying to mould the market to how things are done in London. Naturally, this aggravates the locals and it makes for diabolical media strategies.
Impatient Western marketers are often irked by the slow pace at which deals move. But patience is paramount to building relationships in the N11 and Asia. I learnt this lesson early on in my career working in China. I remember having lunch with a Chinese businessman who worked at a TV station. It was an extremely dull affair, not helped by the fact we communicated via a translator. The lunch seemed to drag on and it seemed like a complete waste of time. Finally, as it came to a close I realised he had been sussing me out, seeing if I could be bothered to invest the time - not just the money - in our relationship. This moment of clarity came to me when he leaned towards me and said: "Do you like Benny Hill?"
This article was originally published in the 17 June 2010 issue of Media.