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As we move into the 2lst century, a fundamental shift is underway in the shape of the world economy. Asia is already emerging as the world's largest economic region, outstripping both Europe and North America.

The shift generated by this change in global demand creates opportunities for corporate growth and fresh sources of competitive advantage. While many marketers pay lip service to this concept, few are coming to grips with the market and competitive realities already upon us.

In many instances, Asia's emerging markets already account for the majority of global demand: more than 50% of steel; basic foodstuffs such as grain, poultry and pork; TVs; radios; public switching equipment.....

Translating these opportunities into a profitable reality is the most significant challenge for a marketer. Our experience suggests several critical success factors:

Become a growth "driver." Many marketers view Asia as an outlet for existing products and skills, condemning themselves to a reactive approach. Instead, they need to ask, "Where can we add value to the chain of market needs now emerging?" Volkswagen took this approach for cars, Philips for consumer electronics, Motorola for telecommunications.

Leapfrog the current barriers. Low-cost and low-quality competition from Asian marketers is one such barrier. Creative companies have used superior products, production technologies, marketing skills and distribution know-how to reshape the nature of competition: Procter & Gamble for shampoo and feminine hygiene, Nestle in ice cream.

Develop management infrastructure to become an "insider." Success requires comfort with the Asian operating environment. Thailand's CP, the Asian market leader for animal feed, has a Sino-Thai CEO who sees Asia as low-risk, because CP has a cadre of managers capable of building successful businesses there.

Rethink internal processes. Only by breaking through organization structure and decision-making processes can the most attractive opportunities be exploited.

Most of all, marketers need a commitment to Asia that comes from the top of the corporation.

The alternative-treating Asia as "just another market"-condemns marketers to a reactive stance and ad-hoc responses to a fragmented series of diverse market needs.

George Baeder is managing director of Pacific Rim Consulting Group, Danville, Calif.

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