Basic Do’s and Don’ts When Marketing to the Middle East and South Asia
by Abbas Hashmi
The majority of us in the Investment Immigration field have our client base within the top 2 percent in terms of wealth. As we all know, even with the up and down global economy, the rich are getting richer. This is not a bad thing at all for our field, but marketing to the High-Net Worth Individual (“HNWI”) segment is a different beast. Knowing how to approach this market is key. The more money one has, the smaller the world gets. Keep in mind, the uber wealthy family from Qatar has eaten in the same Paris and Beverly Hills haunts as the uber wealthy family from Malaga.
According to Capgemini’s latest report, India led the world in growth for both HNWI population (26%) and wealth (28 %) due to strong equity market performance and the reduced cost of its substantial oil imports. A common misconception is that you must connect with Indians and Pakistanis in their respective countries. With 198,000 HNWI’s living in India, most of them have their second homes in Dubai, Bahrain or Mauritius. It is much easier to meet them offshore than in India.
The Middle Eastern and South Asian HNWI has seen the world, and should not be dealt with in any other way. They probably speak several languages and have children pursuing higher education in the United States or Europe. There are, however, some cultural formalities to be aware of when marketing to the Middle East and South Asia. The following list is not comprehensive, but is intended as a primer for considering cultural and business norms in the region.
- Read a little. It wouldn’t hurt at all to do a little reading about the history of the country to which you are marketing. Indians and Pakistanis are not the same. Kuwaitis and Lebanese are not the same. Do your homework – it will go a long way.
Along those lines, do not patronize your potential clients’ home country. Just because they are looking to immigrate does not mean that they are not extremely patriotic. There are hundreds of political parties, dialects and religious beliefs across the Middle East and South Asia. Any commentary on domestic politics or religion may not only turn off your potential investor, but very well may land you in local prison.
- Do not assume anything. If you are dealing with a Jain Indian client, do not go ahead and make a lunch reservation at Peter Lugers. Most Hindus do not eat beef; however, some do. Respect your clients enough to learn their family’s customs. That is, not necessarily their general religious customs, but how they practice within their family. We have dealt with clients who will not touch or prepare meat in their home, but absolutely partake outside of their home.
- Gender differences. These cultures definitely prefer doing business with men. That does not mean, however, that as a woman you have no chance. You will however have to prove yourself at every step, while men may get that respect from the beginning. On another note, when meeting your client’s family – do be respectful of their wives. Do not go in for the hug or, god forbid, a kiss on the cheek. Some women of these sub-cultures will not even offer a hand to shake. Take your cues from them.
- Heightened level of service. My team has come to notice that our clients from these particular regions require an exceptionally high level of pampering. Even to the extent of having their forms filled out for them. Your relationship with these clients does not at all end when their forms are filed. They then depend on you to be their immigration liaison for everything from opening bank accounts to buying real estate. To properly service these clients you must have either access to or actually have an internal concierge service. Make no mistake, this service is not for free, but they would rather do these things with you as opposed to a third party.
- Prepare for a long close. Financial decisions are consultative in nature for these investors. Before making the final call your potential client will most likely speak to friends and family members and may even go silent on you for months. Be patient. Culturally, hasty decisions are looked down upon. Also, these cultures consider saying it indecent to outright decline an offer. Instead they will avoid the topic. If you feel that you are experiencing undue delay, you need to start asking smarter questions to see the big picture.
- Pick up the phone and call, but not excessively. You cannot solely rely on email interaction with these clients. Even with the most astute and sophisticated businessmen, very rarely will you get a reply to your emails. In proportion to how close you are to sealing your deal, check in with your client with a friendly call.
- Expositions and large conference type settings will not attract real investors. It is considered très gauche to discuss wealth in public. The circles at the higher levels of wealth in these countries are very small, and people like to keep their wallets under their vests. Smaller, more intimate events are a much better route to begin dialogue.
- Significant others and family elders play a huge role as influencers in the investment process. If and when you get to meet these family members, do make sure to be generous with your time as well as extremely respectful and kind.
At the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing. To live a safe, fulfilling life in a land where their children and children’s children are free, with boundless opportunity. And that should be our main focus and understanding when dealing with all of our clients, regardless of where they hail from.
 Capgemini, 2015 World Wealth Report, last accessed December 7, 2015, https://www.worldwealthreport.com/u/ew4fmszi8s.