A Letter to Digital Marketers in Asia in 2012

Back in 2007, I gave the “Search in Asia” presentation in the U.S. in front of a room full of people who had either no interest or no clue about the Asian online market. I mentioned how big the Internet market was in Asia using stats showing more than 40 percent of Internet users in the world reside in Asia. I explained how different we were from the different target engines to the languages and specifically the cultures. I pointed out how us Asians had significant experience with some of the “new” technologies in U.S. such as mobile web, mobile commerce, QR code, and social media for several years, if not 10+ years. I knew that my presentation goal was met when I could see in many of their faces that they were shocked in a good way, and very much interested in finding out more about doing business in Asia.

At the same time, many search marketing professionals in Asia had their own concerns that we would have problems or disadvantages in the global market by not aligned with U.S. and European technologies and trends. The word “Galapagos” was often used to describe the online market in Japan.

Five years later, it seems that the rest of the world has been catching up with us, especially in the mobile and social media field. QR codes can be seen on many ads in U.S. and Europe, too. It is a good thing that the world has become even closer in the digital world. It’s easier to develop strategies that work not just for Asia, but also for the other markets. You may still need to change the target engines or target social media networks, but being able to speak in the same “language” of digital marketing with our counterparts out of Asia is definitely a plus. When we talk about mobile search, everyone now knows that it’s not just about the local search.

Unfortunately, there are still some misunderstandings about the Asian market, and even with its size and rapid growth, it’s still considered a second tier market. If you are looking for ways to either expand your business in Asia by simply growing revenue or maybe you are still trying to get buy-in and support from counterparts and headquarters outside Asia, try some of the following suggestions.

Educate Your Counterparts

The misunderstanding doesn’t mean that they don’t care about your market. It comes from the lack of information, and it’s your job to educate them. Even a short presentation about the Internet market and trends in your region to the right global-thinking manager could make a significant impact to their view on your market.

If the budget allocation given by your U.S. headquarter across search engines or social media sites seems to be “off the mark,” provide a counter-proposal with the data to back up your numbers.  A simple missed opportunity matrix showing the gaps in budget opportunity is a great way to get their attention.

If the viewership of your B2B company’s video is much lower than the markets in Europe, explain how most companies have open-office layouts in Asia, where people sit right next to each other, making it unlikely that they will watch videos during office hours.

Because Internet trends and user behaviors are different, a different set of strategies may be necessary in order to achieve the same goal. Provide counter proposals or as much information as you have for them to create the strategies that work for your market. Many of the same techniques work very well with slight adjustments for local nuances.

Figure Out the Ways to Connect the Dots

While many digital marketing efforts have significant impact on offline conversions, many businesses think of online conversions and off line conversions separately. Compared to U.S. Internet users, Asian tends to convert more frequently offline, and this is one of the primary reasons why many markets in Asia are considered second tier. Figure out the ways to connect the online traffic and efforts to the offline conversions. Sending an SMS code via the product page on the web or a QR code that can be read in the store are options. In my previous article on “5 Tips to Using Analytics Tools for Offline Measurement,” I talked about ways to use your analytics tools for offline measurement. Try some of those suggested tips, and develop a solid business case. Keep in mind that businesses in the U.S. and Europe are very much data driven, and nothing speaks stronger than the numbers to them.

Embrace the Differences

As we have seen how the rest of the world caught up with us in key technologies, we may be different, but we now know that it’s not a bad thing. We could just be a few years ahead of them. Don’t be afraid to use different strategies as long as you find the way to achieve your set of goals. You may need to come up with different KPIs that represent the performance of the site, ads, etc. better. Just remember, you have to be flexible and adjust your current tactics, when entering a different market.

2012 is a year of the Dragon. Dragons are driven, unafraid of challenges, passionate, and willing to take risks. The same sets of adjectives are often used to describe successful digital marketers, and it’s a good sign for us.

Happy Holidays, everyone!