As all of us involved with marketing in Asia-Pacific know, the “region” is no more than a word that tries to group more than four billion people from a multitude of races, religions, nationalities, income levels, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Consumers not only behave incredibly differently in each country, they also value brand actions to a very different extent. Our brandshare consumer survey across four countries in this region – China, India, Australia and Japan – shows exactly that.

In India and China, a little more than half of respondents acknowledge that brands are committed to mutually beneficial value exchange with consumers. Although a large majority still wish for more meaningful actions from brands, one of the greatest differences seems to appear when we compare them to their counterparts in Australia and Japan: 24 percent of respondents in China and 17 percent of respondents in India say brands are already meeting expectations – while only 12 percent of respondents in Australia and 11 percent of respondents in Japan say the same. Are brands just doing a better job in developing markets than in the developed world? Or are consumers in these markets just more gracious and open to the commercial world?

There are many unique ways in which brands can encourage people in Australia, Japan, India and China to purchase and recommend brands, defend brands in times of crisis, share their personal information and share branded content. There are a few behaviors, however, that stand out and might pave the way toward more effective engagement. Among the biggest of these levers is where we can expect even more gratitude and convince the other still-cynical half that there’s actually a value exchange between consumers and brands:

  • In China, the number one most important brandshare behavior is “inviting people to participate online.” China is the only country of the 12 we surveyed where this came out on top.
  • India believes more strongly than the global average that brands should take a stand on the issues people care most about and act with a clear mission and purpose at its core.
  • In Australia, consumers want radical transparency: openly communicating about how products are made and where they are sourced, and responding effectively to concerns and issues.
  • In Japan, the same applies, however, unlike in China, people are not very interested in supporting brand pages on Facebook or sharing online games and content. One of the low-lights from the study also comes from Japan: only 7 percent of people believe that brands perform well when it comes to taking a stand on issues that people care about most.

Whereas the level of satisfaction in brands among consumers marks a divide between China and India on the one side and Japan and Australia on the other, the general message is the same: “Be more meaningful in your interaction with us, let us participate, make us part of your product development process and give us a role in representing products to others. Meet our needs beyond the usual ‘emotional and rational need states’ – we want to see how brands go above and beyond and make the world a better place.”

The rewards for brands go beyond increased sales or recommendations – they include highly desired social actions: consumers standing up for brands in case of issues such as for Flipkart in India, who recently had to apologize after major performance glitches on its Big Billion Day Sale. Consumers jumped to their support in open letters stating that everybody has the right to make a mistake. Brands will slowly build trust if they are radically transparent – just like Anchor, the New Zealand dairy brand, did after its re-launch in China. And people will purchase those brands who care beyond their profits – as seen with the tremendous success of Toyota Aqua in Japan, which initiated a movement with consumers to collaboratively protect the environment in Japan.

The success of India’s Tata* Tea, with their Jaago Re and Power of 49 campaigns taking a stand for women empowerment and encouraging them to vote, demonstrates how brands are rewarded by addressing the emotional, rational and societal needs of people.

There is much more for brands to do. The performance gap can’t wait to be closed.

Cornelia Kunze is vice chairman, Asia-Pacific.

*Edelman client

Caleb Kung