As brands look to diversify, South-East Asia offers compelling markets for companies to build demand and increase sales.
But as the markets in the region are relatively small and quite diverse, it can be hard for marketers to know where they should put their efforts. Search engines, social networks, and ecommerce players are all different in each country.
To help you get started, we have put together a short guide for the countries in the region, starting this week with Singapore.
Bucking global trends, the South-East Asian economy has been growing steadily over the past few years.
Singapore has a total population of 5.26m people, which include approximately 2m people born elsewhere (called expatriates or expats).
Unemployment in the country is very low, around 2%, and the top 25% of earners make more than $100,000 US dollar equivalent per year.
English is the most-widely spoken language in the country and people here are very familiar with Western brands and media. The national sport, some might argue, is English football.
So if you’re looking for a demographic with buying power and a knowledge of Western culture, Singapore is the place to start.
But where can you find them online?
The percentage of people in Singapore who are online is among the highest in the world. Over eight in 10 (81%) are on the internet and this number grew by 10% between 2013 and 2014.
Also, Singapore enjoys one of the fastest broadband speeds in the world. A government-assisted rollout of fibre island-wide is responsible for this rise to the top of the speed charts.
According to Akamai Technologies, the content delivery network, Singapore has the fastest peak speeds in the world at 94.8 megabits per second (Mb/s). For average speed, it ranks 10th at 12.5 Mb/s and very few netizens (13%) in Singapore surf at speeds below 4MB/s
4G mobile internet coverage is also among the best in the world. Over 99% of the island has LTE coverage at the street level and mobile users experience average speeds of 38Mb/s (also, apparently, the world’s fastest)
Indoor coverage is still in progress, though many foreigners find it surprising that 4G works in tunnels and underground trains.
Because of this ubiquitous high-quality internet connectivity, scenes of people starting at their phones is as common, if not more, than elsewhere.
So, for those interested in reaching consumers here, a mobile strategy is key.
Google is used by at least 90% of people in Singapore, with Yahoo being used by most of the remainder.
And according to WordStream, pay-per-click costs are 58% lower than those in the US on average.
Facebook is the go-to social network in Singapore, as with most countries,.
According to Facebook’s Audience Insight Tool, there are 3.5m monthly active users (MAUs) on Facebook in Singapore. In a separate blog post, Facebook reiterates this number and adds that there are 2.4m people in the country on Facebook every day.
I have previously analyzed their MAU figure and find it a bit high but there is no denying that Facebook dominates the social media landscape.
Elsewhere, Twitter for Business indicates that there are between 350k – 550k English-speaking tweeters and hardly any Chinese-speaking.
LinkedIn claims that there are 1.8m LinkedIn members in Singapore, which is also probably a bit high as it would be over 50% of the total workforce (3 million) and more than the total of all professionals, managers, executives, and technicians. Still, it is quite common for people to use LinkedIn regularly to network and search for jobs.
Other social networks are clearly popular as well, especially Instagram, but as figures are based on surveys and estimations, they have to be taken with a grain of salt.
As for messaging apps, WhatsApp is certainly more popular than Facebook Messenger or WeChat in Singapore so being on WhatsApp is pretty much required.
Like most countries nowadays, Singapore has its share of local influencers who can help launch a brand, or at the very least give it a boost.
Hiring influencers has become quite an industry here already, though, and so any brands looking to enter the market would be wise to use one of the agencies, such as Gushcloud or Nuffnag.
Ecommerce had a slow start in Singapore, possibly because it is so well-served by existing shopping centres and the fact that offline shopping is a national past-time.
Still, in 2015 Singaporeans spent $3.5bn online, according to Singapore Post, a rise of over 25% year-over-year.
And, according to Euromonitor, Singapore and Malaysia are responsible for almost half of the total online retail sales in South-East Asia.
Ecommerce sites in Singapore, though, are quite different. Amazon does not have a local site for the country, although they do offer some free shipping deals to Singapore.
Instead, companies like Redmart (groceries), Reebonz (luxury), Lazada (electronics), and Zalora (fashion) fill the gap as well as the slightly chaotic local merchant site, Qoo10.
Western companies also set up their own sites in Singapore as well. SingPost’s new ecommerce company, SP Commerce, manages such solutions for Adidas, Muji, and Calvin Klein.
So where to start?
Marketers who speak English and are familiar with using Facebook and Google for promotion will find it quite easy to get started in Singapore. Locals will largely understand Western cultural references as most people here are familiar with Western media.
What might be harder is turning attention into sales. Singaporeans have a strong local culture and many other digital players are already very well-established here.
Speaking to a local agency would certainly help, as they can help align your brand with things which resonate with locals. Food, for example, is different in Singapore and very important culturally, so it can be worthwhile to focus research in this area (see image below).
You will also see brands establish themselves in Singapore based on their existing marketing messaging, though, and at this crossroads of Asia and the West, that can certainly work as well.