Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.55.01I was talking with a very successful director of a bicycle company the other day, with operations in Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. I was trying to find out what it was that had made his company so successful in Asia, in addition to his excellent brand and product.

And as he showed me pictures of the promotional events for his bicycles in various Asia countries, with the shiny new bikes surrounded by enthusiastic teams of local bicycle enthusiasts, I realized what it was. He was a natural empathizer.


Or to put it another way, he communicated his brand and message to the bicycle fans of Thailand, China, Japan, with real passion not only for the product, but also for the local people.

He had a strong sense of social and emotional intelligence. Armed with this heightened EQ, he dived into the cultures of each market he targeted in Asia, and joined the enthusiasts in their own particular journey.

Before he launched a bicycle, he went to local bicycle shops and found out what was in their store, what was promoted on their walls, what kind of journeys the local Chinese or Japanese in Shanghai or Osaka took each day.

He researched what they wanted from their bicycles, what their average height and weight was, what the terrain was like, what kind of weekend outings they took – perhaps to a temple or a beauty spot or a riverside restaurant.

Some of this was simply intelligent marketing, making his global product much more local and attractive – and therefore successful. He launched new prototypes of bicycles according the specific requirements of his Chinese or Korean or Thai customers. Some of these models looked almost like something out of science fiction, they were so advanced and lightweight.

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But in addition to marketing, he seemed to have a natural affinity for his Asian customers. And as he talked, he confided that he had lived and worked as a mural painter in Japan as a younger man. He had also lived in Spain, married a Spanish woman and spoke fluent Spanish. He said he loved other cultures and wondered why some people seemed to be afraid of them.

In other words, he was predisposed to successfully marketing his products through empathy or emotional intelligence. For some people, this emotional intelligence comes naturally, along with an ability to put yourself in the minds and hearts of others – to understand what they think, how they feel, what they believe in and desire.

For others, it has to be drawn out of them by a process of education and practice. He told me about some other Western competitors he knew had failed in Asia because they refused to adapt, or listen, or learn.


‘You have to be a bit like a spy,’ he said. ‘Don’t stay in the expat or corporate enclave, or in your hotel. Hang out with the locals, lurk around in back streets, go to local festivals, join in with banquets and entertainments. And if you don’t know the language, learn enough words to be respected and to please your hosts.’

I thought about what he said, and about his journey afterwards. And it reminded me of a very simple lesson for everyone wanting to succeed in business in Asia:

Say yes to other worlds or ways of doing things, empathize, and above all use your emotional intelligence as a form of competitive advantage. It really does pay off!


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