According to Forrester, Asia Pacific includes the largest and the fastest-growing ecommerce markets in the world – which are China and India, respectively. And, as of June 2017, five of these markets – China, Japan, South Korea, India and Australia – spend more in online retail than the US and Western Europe combined. In fact, Forrester said online retail revenue in those markets is expected to grow from $862 billion in 2016 to $1.4 trillion in 2021.
So there’s certainly ample opportunity for brands.
However, search marketing in the region often suffers from lack of oversight and/or a lack of understanding about how to measure success – or an inability to develop KPIs. Unfamiliarity with legal requirements for search advertising in Asia Pacific is also to blame for brand struggles.
It’s also incredibly complicated to come up with a marketing strategy across multiple channels, languages, cities, user behaviors and currencies.
Here are eight considerations for brands looking to reach consumers in Asia Pacific:
1. Consumer Behavior
Asia Pacific includes very different countries with consumers who search for, discover and purchase products and services in different ways. This means marketing initiatives must cater to specific countries and take nuances in consumer behavior into account – like, say, consumers in China know they are more likely to get the best travel deals from online travel agency Ctrip, so they may browse hotel websites, but they tend to book more frequently with Ctrip. This, in turn, should influence the digital strategies of brands in the hospitality industry that are looking to engage Chinese consumers.
According to Gartner (https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3747817), 44% of consumers in Asia Pacific use shopping apps, which is the highest in the world. In other words, this region includes an incredibly mobile-savvy audience, which should also be reflected in campaigns.
Mobile in China in particular has evolved beyond sites and apps to include targeting the entire mobile ecosystem. When running native ads on a platform like Toutiao, for example, brands must ensure their WeChat presences are equally promoted and ready for transactions or conversions. Mobile in the rest of Asia, however, has had varying degrees of success, but presents a great opportunity for those with the infrastructure in place to support mobile transactions and interactions.
3. Cashless Society
Consumers in the region – and China in particular – expect mobile payment options like WeChat Pay. But brands more broadly are also expected to invest in payment gateways that allow for cashless payments via platforms like WeChat Pay and UnionPay. And brands with a physical presence in the region are expected to provide mobile payments, much like stores in the West are expected to accept credit cards like Visa and MasterCard.
4. Search Engine Fragmentation
What’s more, no single search engine controls the lion’s share of the market in Asia Pacific – and social channels like Weibo and WeChat are also in the mix. That means campaigns are sometimes spread out over great expanses. Case in point: Acronym Asia runs campaigns for one client on Google, Bing, Baidu, Sogou, 360 Search, Soso, Yahoo Japan, Naver and Kakao.
Baidu is perhaps the closest thing to a dominant player, but secondary engines like 360 Search, Sogou and Soso are also growing in what are known as Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in particular, or developing cities like Qingdau, Xi, Guilin and Huhhot. Tier 1 cities, on the other hand, tend to adopt Baidu. These are the most developed, populated and visited, and include cities like Beijing and Shanghai. So when planning a digital campaign, marketers must consider where the audience is located – and growing – within these Tiers and strike the right balance.
5. Languages and Localization
With different countries come different languages, which means campaigns in Asia Pacific must also support multiple languages. As a result, marketing in Southeast Asia doesn’t come cheap because in part the production cost of creating in-language websites is so much greater than creating a website in, say, English and adapting it for regional changes.
This also means optimizing for organic search in Southeast Asia must happen across the languages spoken in the region. And when running in-language SEO initiatives, brands must actually do in-language research as opposed to simply translating.
Brands must also ensure each touchpoint provides linguistic consistency. In other words, in addition to a campaign in the Chinese language, the conversion capture forms for that campaign must also be in Chinese. And if there is a phone number, whoever answers must be able to speak the campaign’s language, literally and figuratively.
In addition, each of the countries in Southeast Asia came online at different times, which means content development was at different stages – and the content consumers in those countries prefer therefore differs. For example, while consumers in Singapore and Hong Kong may be used to reading text, those in Indonesia and Vietnam came online when video was dominant and are most used to more engaging visual content. This means brands seeking to reach consumers in those countries should produce content accordingly.
7. Format Fragmentation
Ad format is also fragmented across countries in the region, so brands must ensure the formats they select from the aforementioned platforms align with brand goals. Baidu, for example, offers a variety of options, including Brand Zone, a cost-per-month rich media ad that runs on the homepage whenever a consumer searches for the advertising brand.
Fragmentation across countries, languages, search engines and content also complicates tracking, so global brands in particular must ensure the tools they incorporate enable tracking in Asia Pacific and the world. For example, Conductor partners with Dragon Metrics to offer customers a truly global tool that integrates China-specific search engine metrics with Conductor’s data from the rest of the globe.
Bonus: Amazon v. Alibaba
While Amazon seems to have won the West and Alibaba dominates China, Southeast Asia as a whole is still relatively neutral territory as these two ecommerce heavyweights continue to fight over it. But, again, this is when fragmentation proves challenging.
A story in the Straits Times (http://www.straitstimes.com/business/amazon-alibaba-tussle-in-south-east-asia) noted, “Some places are modern, like Singapore. Others lack the roads and other infrastructure to get people what they need. The challenges have forced Lazada, Alibaba’s biggest Southeast Asian operation, to be creative. In Vietnam, local post offices take customer returns and give cash refunds. In Malaysia, customers can collect merchandise from lockers at 7-Eleven stores. And in the Philippines, Lazada uses petrol stations as places where merchants can drop off their goods for delivery personnel to pick up.”
Same-day delivery services are developing, but still face logistical issues. It could be that markets are individually too small. Neither Alibaba or Amazon seems to be winning decisively and the outcome will be determined by who scales better, either through developing its own brand or through acquisitions.