For many global brands, trying to drive business through digital marketing in an unfamiliar country is a hefty challenge.
There are local languages, media platforms, and cultures to consider and so often it’s best to use a local or global agency, or not bother at all.
But in our digital age, it is possible to at least test a new market and decide on its potential with hard statistics.
Through investigating a number of South-East Asia countries, we are revealing which might be of interest to marketers globally. Here, we cover Malaysia.
But, first off, why would a global brand want to be in Malaysia?
Malaysia is a big, English-speaking market
Malaysia’s population is around 30m, according to most recent estimates.
And though the country’s official lnguage is Malay, Malaysia’s English proficiency is on par with Singapore, according to the EF English Proficiency Index.
In practice, English is spoken by most people in the country every day so for Western brands with English-speaking marketers, language should not be a problem.
Malaysians are well-educated
According to the Malaysian government’s Labour Force Survey Report, out of 13.5m working Malaysians about one quarter (3.5m) has tertiary education and another 55% has secondary education.
This distribution is roughly in-line with European nations according to OECD statistics, so marketers will not be in completely unfamiliar territory.
The country is relatively affluent
Malaysia’s GDP per capita on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, a rough measure of the spending power of a country’s citizens, was US$26,600 in 2014.
This is about half of the figure for the US ($56,300) and two-thirds for the UK ($41,200), all according to the CIA World Factbook.
Though this means they have less disposable income than Westerners, on the whole Malaysians have much more spending power than other countries in the region such as Indonesia ($11,300) and Vietnam ($6,300).
And Malaysians are very digital
Twenty million Malaysians are on the internet, about two-thirds of the population, according to Internet World Stats.
But according to a 2013 report, commissioned by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Malaysia ranked fourth-highest globally for the size of its ‘digital native’ population, which is defined as the percentage of youths aged 15 to 24 with at least five years of active internet use.
This means that Malaysia’s internet users are more likely to be young than those in the UK (25th), neighboring Singapore (12th), or even the USA (6th).
And how would one reach a Malaysian consumer?
Fortunately for most marketers globally, Malaysian consumers use the same search engine as most do elsewhere, Google.
Google’s market share in Malaysia is, by most estimates, over 90%. And according to Wordstream, the cost-per-click is 75% less than it is in the USA.
Or Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
Facebook is, by far, the most popular social media network in Malaysia and the third most popular site, below Google and YouTube.
According to estimates from Facebook’s own Audience Tool, there are around 17.5m Malaysians on the platform, which us 85% of the Malaysian Internet population.
There are 3m Malaysian LinkedIn users as well, over 20% of its working population.
And, according to the Twitter Ad Tool, there are between 1.3m and 1.9m Malaysian Twitter users in the country.
And little need to change branding
One interesting thing that many notice when they go to Malaysia is that Malaysian advertising freely uses both Malay and English.
Many of the brands are the same, and some have added Malay to their messaging…
…others have just use English…
…and some become even more adventurous than they might be in 100% English speaking countries!
So, is there anything else to know?
Malaysia is ethnically diverse
Malaysia is an ethnically diverse country. According to Malaysian government figures, around two-thirds of the population is Malay, one-quarter Chinese, and 7% of Indian heritage.
Because of this, Malaysia is also religiously diverse as well. The country is officially Islamic, but there are also a significant number of Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians as well.
With so many strong religious groups, it can be quite easy for brands to miss the mark or downright fail due to a lack of understanding of the local culture.
For example, many Western hair products advertise by showing, well, hair. But, showing hair in an advert goes against the Malay cultural sensitivities. Many Malaysian women who cover their hair with a headdress (Hijab).
Being aware of these issues, however, can benefit brands.
Sunsilk, a Unilever shampoo brand, was able to advertise its products while respecting that sensitivity.
Models who represented the spirit of the brand were shown in their Hijab, without any hair showing at all. The campaign is credited with helping Sunsilk grow its market share by 9% in 2013, after a decline in 5% in 2012, as a result.
Ecommerce is still a small part of the economy, though
Payvision, a global payments solution, reported in 2014 that less than 1% of purchases in Malaysia were conducted online. They also projected that this number will only reach 1.4% in 2016.
In the same report, however, Payvision also pointed out that 40% of all ecommerce sales in Malaysia are cross-border, more than almost any other country.
It goes on to say that Malaysians typically buy from American sites such as Amazon, Apple, and eBay, but they do also buy from European and Chinese sites as well.
And there is already competition
Despite the relatively small digital market, there are already some significant digital players in the region.
Lazada, the ‘Amazon of South-East Asia’ is popular in the country as is Zalora, an online fashion retailer.
And, according to research carried out by EcommerceMILO, 16 out of 36 of the largest brick-and-morter retail stores in the country have an online presence.
So before launching, be sure to check out the competition through EcommerceMilo’s useful guides to the country’s ecommerce landscape.
Malaysia offers a big, well-educated, relatively affluent, and educated market for Western brands wanting to sell more in Asia.
Fortunately they also speak English and use a lot of the same online services that people do in the West, so existing digital marketing programs for Western markets should translate quite naturally.
But it’s important to note that ecommerce is still a very small part of the economy and there are some significant players who are already quite active.
Then again, digital allows companies to try a few small experiments before entering a new market and, overall, Malaysia seems to be a relative sensible territory for that.