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.