Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s largest markets (pop. 69 million), yet its digital achievements are not well known outside of the region.
A recent government initiative, Thailand 4.0, is aiming to move Thailand toward a tech-centric ‘value-based economy’.
To find out more about the changes happening in Thailand, Econsultancy recently held an event in Bangkok on Agile Marketing, sponsored by Oracle.
During a fireside chat on ‘Changing mindset, changing execution’, Wendy Hogan, Oracle’s Customer Experience & Marketing Strategy Director, Asia, discussed the Thai digital landscape with Pacharee Pantoomano, Co-Founder and Director at BrandNow.Asia.
Pantoomano expanded on what Thailand 4.0 involves, how she navigates the shortage of digital talent in Southeast Asia as an agency owner, and the best projects she has worked on that involved doing things differently.
Wendy: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and about what you’re seeing here in Thailand?
Pacharee Pantoomano: I grew up in the US. I moved back to Thailand in 1996 with the US Department of Commerce, and then I joined the private sector. I worked in the corporate world both in Thailand and the US for 18 years.
For the past 10 years, I have owned my own agency with a business partner and we do a lot of earned media, social media, and some paid-for amplification for our clients.
We do tend to work with tech clients. Some of the clients we serve you may be familiar with – we helped Grab launch in Thailand we worked with them for two and a half years. Recently we have worked with Ray-Ban, Luxottica, Lalamove, HipFlat, and honestbee as well.
We are also partnered with LinkedIn, Echelon e27, the National Innovation Agency, and Startup Thailand (the Thai National Startup Committee).
Wendy: Since you’ve been back in Thailand, you’ve seen a change in how people think about reaching the Thai customer and made an investment in thinking differently. Has that forced the incumbent brands to think differently in how they go to market?
Pacharee Pantoomano: Yes, I think so. Thailand 4.0 involves a big push toward having disruptive brands enter the market. This involves traditional retail as well as ecommerce firms – and then you also have the smaller shops, the Instagram shops, the Facebook shops – and the ones which are in-between.
I used to work for Dexter furniture in the US and Ford Motors as Head of CRM. The marketing involved a lot of push messaging. There was a one-size-fits-all, “this is what we’ve got” approach with four or five different products. And the hopes were that the consumer would fall somewhere in-between those four or five products.
Now, with data coming into play, we can look more at the customer’s behavior. Why is he shopping for a credit card? Maybe his wife just became pregnant and he has to buy a whole bunch of things for the nursery.
Then you see his journey to go from looking for a credit card to looking at travel on YouTube. You can track the journey using cookies and third party data and you can really pinpoint the customer’s needs to start a conversation.
There is a gentleman in here I used to work with previously, and we used to do what we called ‘feeding the funnel’. Meaning that we’d think, “These are my suspects, these are my prospects – now how do I keep them warm?”
Keeping suspects and prospects warm, in the past, was relegated to waiting for certain actions so that a response was triggered. But now we can do more messaging customization based on certain behaviours.
Also, in the past, we just looked at demographics – now we can really look into psychographics. Our prospects can both be in our 30s or 40s, but if one who is married with kids will have a very different from a friend who is in the LGBT community or is a DINK (Dual Income No Kids). Each one will have different lifestyles and different spending behaviours.
So, we can navigate that landscape a little bit better so that we can convert and talk to them in a more effective way.
Wendy: Absolutely. What I hear about this part of the world is that marketing is hard because there is a lot of competition for talent, and because things change all of the time.
So how do you, as an agency owner, adapt and adopt different ways of doing things?
Pacharee Pantoomano: I love learning and am a constant learner. I think you have to be now especially if you’re in marketing as so much is always changing.
You’re right – we do have a shortage of digital talent in Southeast Asia. And this is the case even though Thais are among the biggest consumers of social media. Thailand are in the top 10 with 4.5 hours of internet time per day.
So, I’m always learning and I’m always training the team. We also work to get our partners trained up as well. This is so that they can tell us what is possible. We are also learning through our clients from other markets.
Clients from more advanced markets, like Singapore or Europe or America, give us different case studies which describe what they are able to do there and ask us, is this something you can help us with here.
Wendy: It’s great to hear that you invest in self-learning. People are always looking to hire without appreciating that you need to understand it yourself. You need to do, to learn.
Pacharee Pantoomano: My brother is a coder, and one of the things he used to tell me was that the computer is only as smart as its user.
Wendy: Yes – it’s similar when you’re doing your data foundation to utilize technology and do better data-driven marketing. A lot of people have their data in a lot of different places and their tools only work as well as what you feed into them.
So, it’s important to think strategically about ways to collect insights on your customers. Have you worked with your customers on driving engagement in order to build a profile?
Pacharee Pantoomano: When we do brand planning, we look at personas and we do ask our clients to collect data. Some collect data regionally and once it is processed in the regional office then the insights can come back to us.
But, say you’re a retailer and have multiple branches. They collect data when their client makes a purchase but often it is housed back in the region. The region then provides it later saying, “Here are the insights for this quarter or this first half of the year or annually”.
Wendy: So, what is your favorite project you’ve worked on that you have seen which meant being brave and doing things differently?
Pacharee Pantoomano: I think a lot the startups are quite brave because they are willing to experiment. Many brands in Thailand now have enough data and, once we sign NDAs, we look at that data and think of ways to use it to communicate and create campaigns.
We use agile marketing and part of the scrum process is to run micro-campaigns, look at the response and the feedback. Then we know how to iterate and improve.
As for my favorite campaign, I prefer the way brands aim to delight consumers with a great experience more than data-driven marketing. Data, when you really think about it, is not so sexy.
My favorite customer experience project was one we did with Adidas. I really enjoyed the way Adidas tied the brand with hip-hop. Adidas has many different pillars, but this campaign was for hip-hop streetwear.
They brought in DJs from the US – A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul – and then tied their performances back into the brand. It really brought the brand to life with the hip-hop subculture here in Thailand.
Wendy: Fantastic. Before we finish, I’d like to touch on your investment in networking. I run a women’s networking group in Singapore and I’d love to hear more of the way you run one here in Bangkok. What motivated you to start that and what do you get out it?
Pacharee Pantoomano: I think all of us have something that we want to leave behind and some of us do that with family and children. I always wanted to create something and so I started a networking community in Bangkok called bnow.org.
Originally it was just for women, but the men kept coming! When I became a business owner myself, I started to shift the focus toward networking for SMEs (small/medium enterprises) because at the time when we started the group there were only community-type groups. So, there was a big gap between Facebook and Meetup.com.
I started my own newsletter and we built up this group from around 30 people to 4,000. I think the database now is around 18,000.
We now work with Echelon (e27.co) from Singapore and partner with the NIA, with DEPA (Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency), and we partnered with CEBIT earlier this year.
We have also run the Entrepreneur Now awards and we help the startup community to move forward. I think that through that helping, I also learn. I learn from other people and the companies they are starting and how they are aiming to disrupt a sector.
Wendy: Fantastic. Paying it forward and investing in learning is important because change is constant. It’s exciting to see that is happening here in Thailand.
It’s also exciting to see that you’re learning from disrupters and bringing what you learn back to your existing clients. Thank you for your time and insights, Pacharee.
For more on the topic of Agile marketing, you can now register for an upcoming event in Singapore, Open World Asia, on the 26th and 27th of March, 2019. Click here for more details and to book your spot!