Local technology and expertise is the key to biddable media success in the APAC region.
I recently spoke to Hannes Ben, Chief International Officer at independent agency Forward3D, about the skills needed in APAC and the idiosyncracies of branded paid search.
Strategy cannot be transferred from west to east
According to Ben, “brands fall down because you can’t automatically transfer your strategy in the west to these complex markets.”
“By complex markets,” he continues, “I mean China, Korea and Japan. In China and Korea, nothing in those two markets is Google-centric. Nothing in those two markets is Facebook centric (there’s a little bit in Korea now, but not very much).”
And even in Japan, where Google has approximately 50% search share with Yahoo, Ben points out that the “Yahoo Japan landscape has nothing to do with Yahoo formats or technology in Hong Kong and Taiwan. They have an entirely different structure – it’s a Japanese specific search engine.”
Whereas Singapore uses pretty much the same ad technology as the western world and, to a certain extent, so does Hong Kong and Taiwan, Ben argues that being local is vital in China, Korea and Japan.
Forward3D maintains London teams for these markets, too, chiefly to allow western clients to manage activity in their own timezone, but local relationships and tech integration are paramount. ”Very few or none of the well known management tools integrate well or at all with local platforms,” says Ben, “so you very much have to create your own solution.”
One of the big differences observed in China, Korea and Japan is branded paid search.
Branded paid search strategy
Korea’s Naver has Brand Search, China’s Baidu has Brand Zone, and Yahoo Japan has Sponsored Search Display. Each are specific search ads triggered only by brand keywords, but they bear similarities with display advertising products.
Hannes Ben, Forward3D’s Chief International Officer, explains:
“In search you can obviously split your keywords into brand or generic terms. On Google it’s the same ad structure whatever the keyword. But on Baidu, Naver and Yahoo Japan, you have fixed products for only your brand keywords, and these products are very different from the normal paid search.”
“Brand Zone has much bigger real estate [than standard PPC] on Baidu and it covers almost the whole first page and combines lots of images, even videos and text and site links. It can look almost like a small microsite in the search results.”
“And Brand Zone is not bought on a cost-per-click basis. It is bought on the volume of impressions and you negotiate a price based on a monthly fixed fee.”
“That’s where the confusion happens. Quite often, you have clients who think it’s a display product (because it’s a fixed price and timescale) but it’s actually keyword triggered, within the same ad space as all the other ad copy, so it’s very important from a technical perspective to run this together with your normal paid search.”
Baidu’s Brand Zone (game format)
Naver’s Brand Search
Fairly obviously, if brands regard this branded search product as akin to display advertising, and give it to the display team to manage, it’s hard to optimise for search.
Ben cites this as a common problem for brands new to the APAC market. He says “It has to run alongside PPC. New clients still get this wrong and we have to do an education piece to say ‘if you run this with the display team, separately from your paid search team, then you can’t optimise your keywords sufficiently’.”
Branded search strategy is particularly important because these products are vital for brand protection in these markets. As Ben puts it, in China “it’s one of the only ways to secure your position.”
Competitors may be able to compete with you on generic keywords, but Brand Zone ad products are only available to the brand in question, which makes it so valuable. Because of that, Baidu’s Brand Zone is expensive, so, as Ben highlights, “some new brands with low search volume can’t afford it and it doesn’t make sense from an ROI perspective.”
However, he continues, “if you have a few thousand brand searches per month, it’s important to purchase Brand Zone, because in China, trademark doesn’t always work out that well, so the only way to secure your brand is to buy it.”
Negotiation power with Baidu is important, and that’s where the local relationships that Ben mentioned come in use. As he puts it, “it’s great if you have fantastic tech, but you need negotiation power.”
Differences between markets
Even with the three branded search products on Naver, Baidu and Yahoo Japan, there are differences that need to be taken into account.
On Naver, for example, Ben points out that Brand Search occupies a smaller section of the search results, but the product is much cheaper than on Baidu. What’s more, generic PPC ads can rotate to the bottom of the page on Naver, which causes a sudden drop in clickthrough rate. That makes Brand Search even more important, fixed as it is to the top of the page.
A premium on data science skills
One of the difficulties of complex APAC markets is a lack of skills which can hinder agencies in their efforts to adapt to local platforms.
Hannes Ben, Forward3D’s Chief International Officer, comments that “in the data science field, there’s much stronger expertise in the western world and the UK. Finding Japanese, Chinese and Korean expertise which also knows paid search or social and has a data science approach is almost impossible.”
When I pressed Ben on what particular skills he is looking for, he stressed that attribution “is not a buzzword any more, it’s important for everyone. Performance for many channels is often judged purely on a last click basis. More advanced models such as causal-impact analysis are required to understand the true value and interactions of each channel.”
That means agencies want people who will ultimately be able to “create their own statistical attribution models to look at different channels simultaneously, and use advanced profitability analysis to look at what point a certain product drives diminishing returns.”
This sort of work requires programming skills as well as statistical acumen and can get “pretty complex on big accounts where you can’t look at keywords in isolation – you have to group them together by similarities and behaviours, then optimise those clusters.”
Ben echoes many employers and their approach in east and west when recruiting in the current market – he says, “We take very smart young individuals and we train them ourselves because it’s hard to find people with that performance driven mindset.”