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Last week  saw the inaugural event of Econsultancy’s expansion into Asia, with nearly 100 senior client-side marketers attending Digital Cream Singapore.

The event was held in the stunning venue of Singapore National Library’s Pod and the consensus amongst attendees, sponsor vendors and (however biased), the Econsultancy contingency, was that it was a success. 

The Digital Cream format was the same as usual, so I managed to sit in on three separate sessions, but in between these, I also managed to have long talks with marketers, industry and trade bodies, vendors and moderators.

As a result, I’ve summarised the five key trends that emerged from the event. 

1. Asia is at a digital tipping point

There seemed to be an enormous disparity between different levels of understanding amongst attendees, potentially reflecting much of Asia by extension.

This is not to be condescending in any way, for what is apparent across the board is a huge hunger for knowledge and to constantly improve, but the breadth and depth of different skill levels is extensively varied. 

As a generalisation, the state of digital in Asia is echoing the historical patterns of development seen previously in regions such as North America, the UK and large parts of Europe, which is something I’ve talked about before

Talking to delegates at the event reinforces my belief that a shift is happening, driven by a combination of increased permeation of technology and internet access, rising user adoption and economic patterns. 

2. Traditional marketing is being used as a template for digital 

A lot of people appear to be falling into the trap of applying traditional marketing models to the digital space. This is not to say that there aren’t fundamental principles which lie across marketing and advertising per se, but the interactions and participation of consumers have changed dramatically in the last five years or so. 

With a seemingly limitless range of touchpoints to reach out to consumers, marketers will, more often than not, experience problems when trying to use traditional methods against digital objectives.

This seems to be a major issue within the Asian market, as there is an obvious struggle to deal with rapidly shifting consumer behaviours and the emerging technology being used at an everyday value. This ties back into my original view that Asia’s digital economy is at a tipping point. 

3. Foundational digital channels are being overlooked 

Looping back to the issue of dealing with consumer adoption, there seems to be an element of magpie-marketing mentality. That is, a focus on channels which are shiny and new, rather than looking at the basics. 

This seemed remarkably apparent during the roundtables, with the likes of search and email being overlooked in favour of social media and mobile, but in my opinion, these essential channels need to be understood and working effectively before newer, additional layers can be added to the mix. 

This is a generalisation, but it did seem to be a big issue at Digital Cream Singapore. The implications for marketers in the region is extensive, if this reflects the wider state at practitioner level.  

Without a core understanding of basic disciplines and channels, the more complex ones cannot be fully understood and used to maximum effect. 

4. Cross-border marketing is hampered by language 

The problem of marketing in different languages seems to be a big issue in Asia, echoing various issues that can be observed within Europe.

There are so many languages in the region, ranging from Mandarin and Cantonese, through to Malay and Hindi, and this can cause headaches within the industry. 

A workaround this is the fact that English is a relatively universal second language across the region, but the degree to which this is effective can be called into question, especially when specific disciplines such as search or e-commerce are considered. 

Additionally, this extends beyond a localised level, international companies seeking to enter the Asian market experiencing the same problem. 

Overall, this is something that is not going to go away overnight and that needs to be factored carefully into any planning at both long-term and short-term levels. 

5. The opportunities and appetite for marketing is huge 

What was clearly apparent during the event is that despite various weaknesses, the Asian market is developing rapidly and getting stronger all the time. 

There is a clear demand by digitally-savvy consumers for services and touchpoints that marketers can provide and by extension, improve their own propositions and operations. 

As before, this is a broader view of the issues in the region, as there are organisations which completely contrast with my observations. But equally, these are the points that were raised time and time again during many different conversations – likely reflecting the majority of the marketing industry in Asia. 

However, there is a serious appetite to learn and develop, with optimism for the development of the market running high. Consequently, the opportunities for both local and, by extension, international marketers, are massive. 

Jake Hird

Published 15 November, 2011 by Jake Hird

Jake Hird is Econsultancy Australia's Director of Research and Education. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn or see what he's keeping an eye on via diigo

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Jeff McCarthy

Fascinating insight Jake. Reading into some of your observations (particularly 2, 3, 4) to me suggests there may be the basis of a seminar/workshop or two for UK organisations looking to penetrate Singapore and other Asian markets. Just a thought...

almost 5 years ago

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Natalie White

Hi Jake

Hope all's well. I'd be interested in sharing insights and discussing more on the opps for digital marketing in Asia markets. We (CIPD) have recently opened an office/hub in Singapore. We're learning a lot about digital comms at a local level. Maybe a working group for interested folk amongst the Econsultancy membership?

Cheers
Natalie

almost 5 years ago

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Andy Leong

On point number 2: Did no one mention the resistance by their bosses or clients? Based on my experience of working and living in Singapore most of my life (I'm based in London now), the resistance usually comes from traditional bosses who won't embark on new technologies / marketing practices unless everyone else is doing it. (This is of course based on my personal observation of friends and family in SG and around the region)

Singapore will definitely be much easier to penetrate in terms of digital space. Other regions might be a little bit tougher and definitely even more traditional in their thinking but nevertheless a good challenge! :)

almost 5 years ago

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Keith Timimi

Some good comments here Jake, but you really miss the point as to why this is happening.

There are some excellent agencies and client digital execs in Singapore. If you look at the output of work over the last 14 years that I have been here, you will see a lot of world class work that has been done. Since Singapore is increasingly the center of the regional marketing & advertising scene in Asia, this is logical.

We are also just starting to see the fruit of concerted efforts to develop the VC industry here. Some really innovative services are being developed as we speak, and in coming years we will increasingly get used to innovation coming out of Singapore and other hubs in Asia.

With that being the case, how can it be that you see points 2 and 3 in action?

The problem is bench strength. The talent pool in the industry is just not deep enough yet, so you people taking digital leadership roles who have moved sideways out of traditional marketing, or who are too junior - or both.

Add that to what @AndyLeong said, which is that a lot of big bosses have even less experience, and so they say 'I want a viral campaign!' or 'my competitors are on Facebook - I want a Facebook page now!' - and you can see why this is happening.

Your comment on 'cross-border marketing is hampered by language' is wide of the mark. The bigger issue is culture. It is not as simple as translation.

Do you really think that a Chinese consumer buys in the same way as an Indian, a Thai, a Singaporean, a Japanese, a Korean or an Australian?

Of course not. While the core insight and mechanics might be defined regionally, the campaigns have to be truly localised, at a deeper level than what you see in Europe - and with limited budgets.

Which brings us to what you really need to understand about the digital scene in Singapore; we are used to doing more with less.

A skill that the western world needs to learn more of in these financially afflicted times!

almost 5 years ago

Jake Hird

Jake Hird, Director of Research and Education at Econsultancy

@Jeff - Thanks! And yes, lots of opportunities for organisations, Econsultancy included... ;-)

@Nathalie - Very interested in hearing more. Can you drop me a line at jake[dot]hird[at]econsultancy.com - Cheers!

@Andy - Yes, a great point. This did come up in discussion a number of times: one (of many) barriers appears to lie with senior management's lack of understanding / acceptance. There's lots of challenges ahead for everyone, but something that's just as equally exciting, as it is difficult! :-)

almost 5 years ago

Jake Hird

Jake Hird, Director of Research and Education at Econsultancy

@Keith - I refer to a word I used a lot in this post: "Generalisation"... ;-)

I'm not detracting from the fact that there are some great agencies and some fantastic work coming out of the region, I’m just merely reporting what I widely observed client-side people to be voicing during the course of the day. As expected, it seemed that the majority agencies and technology vendors who attended seem to be more ahead of the game.

I agree that there are a lot of deeper elements (as you say) - far more than can be covered off in a single article, especially around cultural issues. However, I stand by my assertion that language is a core element to online operations and therefore an issue marketers need to be conscious of: I don’t think I suggested anywhere that consumers are all the same?

Yes, consumer behaviour obviously needs to be taken into consideration, especially in regards to cross-border commerce, but at a marketing communications level, the one element I heard repeatedly was that organisations who are operating across different countries in the region are struggling with language barriers – for example, optimising multilingual SEO activity.

As to your points around innovation, that’s great to hear, but if the foundations aren’t in place... then I genuinely believe that things can fall over. See my view about magpie-marketing, which I think is accurate and can be observed globally.

You also mention that “people taking digital leadership roles who have moved sideways out of traditional marketing” – this directly correlates with what I said about “A lot of people appear to be falling into the trap of applying traditional marketing models to the digital space”, so I’m not certain if you’re in agreement or disagreement with me on this!

You raise some valid points at a greater depth - although this was only intended to be a topline overview of the main trends that I witnessed coming up in conversation during the event. Obviously, if there’s a particular area of focus around a specific area you’d like to see more discussion or insight around, drop me a line so we can try and cover it off in the future :-)

almost 5 years ago

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