Should we draw the line between global and local clients?
Words by Nguyen Hoang Anh, s3343741
Taking the first step into the office, I was impressed by the colour covering the whole room, which presents exactly the company’s name – ‘red brand builders’. After a long way heading there under the dazzling sunlight, this fire resemblance did overwhelm me a little bit. When my eyes were trying to be familiar with this image, Mrs. Uyen Nguyen – Client Representative Director with more than six-year-experience, appeared, adding extra hotness with her red dress. Honestly, just the fact that I was wearing a blue sweater at that time made me think that it was the sign of us as yin and yang, which is pretty much similar to my intended topic: the juxtaposition of putting global and local clients next to each other. However, when she smiled and started to talk, her gentle voice and intriguing stories are like a sip of water I just drank, cooling down the heat of my anxious flame as well as making me question my own belief toward this topic.
What we usually see in books
Most of global corporations come to Vietnam with an intention of expanding their brands’ popularity and profits into a new market. Due to many years of experiences, they have a solid knowledge of how important brand building is (Malota 2012). They understand the basic process to create a strong image fitting with international standard and be firm with their decisions. That is the reason why they are seen as the professional and the leader in Vietnamese market. On the other hand, local clients are the one that are established later. They are lack of understanding about branding and marketing, advertising or PR. Their first priority is sales and benefits. Therefore, the companies’ personalities are often weak and unstable (Restubog, Bordia & Tang 2007). Because of that, the local ones are often the underdogs.
Additionally, international companies have a more open working environment due to their cultures. They are transparent in their processes and straightforward in communication. Because of individualism, employees do not rely much on their supervisors, leading to equal and free discussions in the workplace (Shadur, Rodwell, & Bamber 1995). In contrast, Vietnamese clients are more conservative, emotional and sensitive. The most important factor that needs to be remembered is that being affected strongly by Confucianism, boss – the senior – is always right (Cui & Hu 2012). Every idea has to create based on the employer’s instruction and be approved before the actual conduction. The production process is also not clear, and sometimes even affected by under-table money.
But “there is no such thing as global or local clients…”
“I treat each client equally and fairly, or at least with the best of me no matter if they are international or Vietnamese clients,” Uyen said firmly. Her statement surprised me since it is absolutely opposite with my perception. It took me about five seconds to realize that Uyen was looking at my wide-open eyes and holding her laugh. “To define global and local is confusing enough,” she explained, “People often assume global with Western nations and accidently forget other Eastern ones.” She then raised a question whether countries sharing the similar cultures with Vietnam like Japan, Taiwan or Malaysia should be listed as global or local based on above common sense. While I was still attempting to figure it out, she added another point if Hanoi and HCMC are both considered as the local although their cultures are not exactly the same.
According to Uyen, dividing the clients into just two types – global and local – is too vague and cliché. Although most of people often have a certain stereotypes for other countries’ citizens, communicators, especially account people should not use those perceptions in building client relationship. “Even if seven tenths of the global clients share the same characters as the majority believes, we must not leave out the other three,” Uyen explained, “we – as the bridge between clients and our agency – should always identify and satisfy their needs.” In order to do that, understanding deeply each client’s organization cultures are necessary. Hence, distinguishing global and local clients is only optional while treating each one of them in the way that fits them the most is much more important.
“The local companies are not just standing still…”
As long as I was questioning about this brand new mind-set, Uyen immediately reasoned her believes without any hesitate as if she had been thinking about this issues for years. “Just about 5 or 6 years ago, brand building was extremely new in Vietnam; and yes, at that moment, those concepts regarding local company’s experiences and knowledge seemed legit,” she said, “However, I have noticed magnificent changes in their viewpoint about branding to catch up with other organizations in developed countries.”
Right after that, Uyen strengthened her idea with an example of a popular Vietnamese corporation – QP Group (*). This Group has a long history of foundation and a strong brand’s image. Even the ‘old’ generation has realized the high-speed development of the market and showed their interest of rebranding the corporation’s identity. However, the challenge here is that the leaders still have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: change without any certain of public’s acceptance or keep and be one step back behind the competitors. Meanwhile, its sub brand – F4 Store (*) – is full of youthful and energetic human resources. The planning, therefore, was approved quickly; and the initial branding period seems to be really effective and successful. This has proven that local clients are not much inferior to the global ones like many people think. In fact, the gaps are narrowing down significantly. Moreover, despite of being under the same company, the different working styles of two teams can be a worthy reminder for you to pay more profound attention into particular organization cultures than just ‘global’ and ‘local’ themselves.
So “Should we draw the line between global and local clients?”
Back to the question raised earlier in the title, I believe most of you can realize that the answer is not just limited to “yes” or “no”. Sure, you might differentiate them if you want. Since culture differences are obvious across nations, there is no right or wrong statement regarding the way you behave with global and local clients. However, instead of grouping the clients into two main types, digging deeply into the working culture of a specific company separately, adapting it and following it are also not a bad idea. Nevertheless, whatever your decision is, to make sure that the clients can understand you are “speaking their languages” is what matters (Solomon 2008).
Word count: 1100
(*) ‘QP Group’ and ‘F4 Store’ – real names withheld
Cui, X. & Hu, J. 2012, ‘A Literature Review on Organization Culture and Corporate Performance’, International Journal Of Business Administration, 3, 2, pp. 28-37.
Malota, E. 2012, ‘Global Cultures? Consequences of Globalization on Cultural Differences, a Commentary Approach’, International Journal Of Business Insights & Transformation, 5, 3, pp. 94-100.
Restubog, S., Bordia, P. & Tang, R. 2007, ‘Behavioural Outcomes of Psychological Contract Breach in a Non-Western Culture: The Moderating Role of Equity Sensitivity’, British Journal Of Management, 18, 4, pp. 376-386.
Shadur, M., Rodwell, J. & Bamber, G. 1995, ‘The adoption of international best practices in a western culture: East meets West’, International Journal Of Human Resource Management, 6, 3, pp. 735-757.
Solomon, R. 2008, The Art of Client Service – 58 Things Every Advertising and Marketing Professional Should Know, Solomon, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.
Uyen, N. 2013, Working between Global versus Local Clients Interview, Interviewed by Anh, N., 25 April 2013.