Digitalization of Asia’s commerce brings choice to consumers and opportunity to businesses. It also provides the region’s societies with a path to greater economic growth and prosperity. Better government and business support of the digital economy is needed though, to fully reap these benefits. Greater public and private sector collaborations are also key to unlocking digitalization’s full potential.
While it can appear that the surge of digitalization in Asia – driven by better digital infrastructure, deepening internet and mobile penetration, and rapidly increasing discretionary incomes – is already successfully driving market growth and development, there is tremendous untapped potential ahead. According to Bain & Company, the digital economy contributes just 7 per cent of GDP in ASEAN and 16 per cent in China (as compared to 35 per cent in the US) and stronger digital foundations could contribute an additional $1 trillion to the GDP of ASEAN alone.
To open new markets, the millions who are still excluded from digital marketplaces – particularly the elderly and the poor – must be addressed. Factors such as lack of access to the internet and training and education have left millions unable to participate in this digital market revolution.
Further, according to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by Mastercard, the digital age divide and the digital income divide have meant that the societal gains from today’s digitalization have already been unequal. In each of the region’s economies, a greater share of those under the age of 35 has used the internet to make an online purchase or bill payment than those over 55. There’s a similarly wide gulf between the rich and poor.
Differences in regulations and the level of digital infrastructure across the region compound the issue and hinder Asia’s ability to fully reap the benefits of the digital economy.
To successfully include all of Asia’s populations in the digital marketplace, it is imperative that people have the ability to acquire the necessary technological and financial skills, and governments ramp up investment and infrastructure.
However, this can’t be left to the region’s governments alone. For one, many governments don’t have the financial resources to allocate adequately to digitalization. Two, several simply don’t have the bandwidth to look beyond other more basic problems.
This provides an opportunity for the private sector to step up and fill the void. Whether through partnering with regulators and policymakers to shape the regulatory agenda around what is still a relatively nascent industry, investing in people and businesses so they can leverage digitalisation, or helping bring digital infrastructure and services to those left behind, the private sector must play a more active role.
At Mastercard, we are partnering with fintechs as they take digitalization to the remotest parts of Asia’s economy, resulting in both digital and financial inclusion. Through our global accelerator programme Start Path Global, we support start-ups by providing mentoring, giving them access to our global ecosystem and helping them break into new markets with the help of our relationships and customer base.
We’ve also recognized the need for greater public-private collaboration. For example, in September last year, Mastercard’s Track, a global trade platform, was integrated with Singapore’s Networked Trade Platform in an initiative led by Singapore Customs and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore. This digital trade platform facilitates secure and efficient electronic transactions and payment reconciliation between buyers and suppliers, greatly streamlining and simplifying B2B transactions to facilitate more inter-regional trade.
While there is no one template for these partnerships, a number of similar ways can be found for companies to work closely with policymakers in offering digital solutions and enhancing digital skills. Governments, for their part, can also further support Asia’s digitalization by harmonizing regional regulations with the aim of supporting the creation of seamless, interoperable platforms with uniform governance across countries.
Ultimately, only a rising tide of collective regional effort that includes a combination of greater cross-border collaboration and increased financial and digital inclusion will unlock the full potential of Asia’s digitalization. It will also help create a digital economy that benefits all.
In conjunction with its 7th birthday celebrations the company announced a series of products and services aimed at helping brands and sellers, both small and large, to win market share in the region by transforming them into ‘Super eBusinesses’.
The offerings are aimed at resolving three pain points that brands and sellers face – branding, marketing and sales.
“No seller is too small to aspire, and no brand is too big to be a ‘Super eBusiness’. That is why we are thrilled to roll out super-solutions to help our brands and sellers become more nimble in digitising their businesses, and better reach customers,” said Pierre Poignant, Lazada Group Chief Executive Officer at the inaugural LazMall Brands Future Forum (BFF).
The new solutions include:
A series of ‘Super’ campaigns in which LazMall brands and sellers can choose to take part to boost their brand image and better engage with customers
A new and improved Marketing Solutions Package and Business Advisor Dashboard that can deliver more traffic to their storefronts, and arm brands and sellers with near real-time information to help them make faster and better decisions to sell more effectively and efficiently
New tech tools like Store Builder for brands and sellers to customise their storefronts to differentiate themselves on Lazada, while in-app live streaming, news feed and in-app consumer games can help win the hearts of consumers with higher consumer engagement
At the same time, Lazada has also formalised online retail partnerships with 12 leading global lifestyle, technology and fashion companies, including electronics leaders Huawei, Realme and Coocaa. These collaborations will enable brands to tap on Lazada’s industry-leading tech and logistics infrastructure, innovation and eCommerce expertise. Other brands that are set to join will include several of the world’s biggest FMCG companies.
Backed by Alibaba’s technology and logistics infrastructure, Lazada has been able to launch over the past year a series of industry-leading tech innovations like search-image function, consumer engagement games and in-app live streaming to become the region’s only ‘shoppertainment’ platform on which people can watch, shop and play.
Accelerating the growth of Lazada brands and sellers
The new solutions will also make it easier for brands and sellers to open up stores on LazMall. Qualified merchants can now take advantage of the new self-sign up feature, a simplified sign-up process that can now be completed in mere minutes. This is in line with the Lazada’s goal of enabling SMEs to become globally competitive.
“Since the launch of LazMall in 2018, we have seen tremendous growth among our key pioneer brand partners. We want to extend the benefits of LazMall to even more brands and sellers to elevate their eCommerce operations,” said Lazada Group President Jing Yin. “We want to incubate them so they can grow alongside us and become sustainable and successful eBusinesses.”
Across the region, 60 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are keen to invest in technologies to achieve sustainable growth in today’s digital economy. Business-oriented tools including online commerce solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence, have been identified by Lazada as the top investment priorities.
Driving ‘Shoppertainment’ in Southeast Asia
Pushing boundaries in eCommerce in Southeast Asia, Lazada is driving ‘shoppertainment’ to provide shoppers with a fun, interactive and entertaining experience. As part of its 7th birthday celebrations, Lazada is hosting a first-of-its-kind concert, Super Party, in Jakarta on March 26.
The concert, which features a star-studded lineup including British pop star Dua Lipa, culminates with Lazada’s birthday shopping event on March 27. The one-day sale promises a new online shopping experience that includes a new selection of exciting games for redeeming vouchers and attractive deals for consumers in the region.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in digital technology across APAC over the past 10 years?
There is greater customer demand for first-rate user experiences compared to a decade ago. Brands have to evolve their strategies to keep up with the customer, providing seamless interactions and a consistent experience across a wide range of platforms. This is resulting in marketers shifting their focus from the transaction to the experience, where the customer and their lifetime engagement with the brand are at the centre of every marketing strategy.
From a technological viewpoint, this customer-centric focus requires marketers to bring together the vast number of digital solutions used to optimize the customer journey over the last few years into a more manageable stack. It is also leading to an increased focus on granular first-party data to help understand the customer and their needs through detailed profiles. Where brands may once have acted on instinct, or what they felt was right, they now use data to ensure they are making the best decisions.
How has regulation such as GDPR impacted businesses in APAC and their ability to manage and use consumer data?
GDPR covers any organization that handles the data of EU citizens — and in today’s global economy, this means it impacts most companies; including those in APAC. Yet attitudes towards the regulation remain mixed. On the one hand, there is an appreciation that complying with the new rules brings many advantages: by giving individuals power over data and more visibility into usage, the GDPR can reduce privacy concerns, increase trust, and build lasting customer relationships. But on the other, following legislation that goes beyond regional law is difficult. Ahead of enforcement, more than half of firms in Singapore weren’t ready and one month later, only a quarter of Japanese companies had met fundamental rules.
Businesses must keep working towards compliance and recognize that the GDPR doesn’t necessarily require a total internal overhaul – a common misconception. Companies will often find they can make existing systems adherent by connecting them, instead of replacing them.
What can businesses do to better leverage the explosion of customer data we’ve seen as a result of the digital age?
In short, it means putting the data created by greater connectivity into action. As adoption of smartphones, tablets and wearable technology has grown — with 8.6 billion devices set to be in use across Asia by 2020 — the quantity of data produced by consumers has exploded. So, brands now have a larger pool of transactional, demographic, and behavioural information to draw upon than ever. But before they can harness this data as a basis for tailoring customer experiences, companies need to translate it into cohesive and usable insight. And this is no simple task; in fact, 34% of marketers state that the difficulty of unifying data sources is the greatest barrier to better understanding customer journeys.
The evolution from brands talking about DMPs to CDPs as their primary consumer data tool has been very apparent over the past few years in marketing. What’s the difference between these platforms from your perspective?
The answer to this lies in the history of both tools. DMPs were originally designed to gather information about online activity, categorize it and build audience segments, which then fed into other systems such as DSPs. As the complexity of consumer journeys increased, DMPs tried to meet the need for a persistent view of individuals. But because they were only able to store third-party cookies, it was difficult to effectively resolve the many identifiers created by different channels and devices. And this is where CDPs come in. CDPs can collate, synchronize, and activate data from varied sources: generating one centralized store of insight marketers can use to understand and trace individuals across touchpoints. This results in the capability to take consistent and relevant action in real time across an organization’s entire tech stack from a universal data foundation.
This isn’t, however, to say CDPs supersede DMPs; the two can be effective when used in partnership. For example, a CDP can give marketers a ‘single source of truth’ and a complete picture of customer journeys. This insight can then be shared with DMPs to produce better audience segments that ultimately boost ad targeting precision and results.
What can brands do to get closer to the holy grail of a true 360-degree view of their customers in real time?
If brands want to obtain a real-time 360-degree customer view, they must ensure data is well orchestrated. And this means following several core stages that aim to continuously harmonize data. To start, customer interaction data must be collected from every possible source — such as apps, sites, and stores — combined into a single layer, standardized, and cleansed. Simultaneously, this information should also be stitched and enriched; with smart tools used to assess incoming data and transform it into individual profiles that are linked with data from particular devices, once owners are identified.
Because all of this is done in real time, the end product is a complete up-to-date customer profile. Exactly the insight marketers need to understand customers and deliver engaging experiences across channels. Though it’s worth noting that to accommodate ever-evolving individual preferences and habits, they must also check that their orchestration platform integrates with other systems and constantly ingests new data.
How are AI and machine learning changing the way brands engage with their customers?
AI and subsets such as machine learning are already beginning to broaden the horizons of customer interaction by adding new channels to the mix. The best-known examples of this are chatbots — used to provide instant 24/7 services by major brands from Starbucks to MasterCard — and the growing presence of digital tools in physical stores. As recently seenwith the Guess and AlibabaFashionAIstore, which trialled blending real shopping and a range of intelligent tech; facial recognition, smart touchscreen mirrors, RFID-tagged items.
But it’s also important to highlight the applications that are making a sizeable difference to customer experience behind the scenes. Machine learning, in particular, is fuelling advances in data processing; giving brands the means to collect and analyze customer information at scale, and extract valuable insight. This in turn, means data can be quickly harnessed toimprove interactions by enhancing contextual relevance and personal resonance. So long as marketers are taking adequate measures to keep quality and accuracy high, including avoiding bias among the human teams driving AI and data fragmentation.
What are the biggest challenges you see with brands getting to grips with big data in APAC?
One of the most significant challenges is providing communications that keep pace with omnichannel activity. According to a Google study, the majority of APAC consumers prefer to research online and buy in store; with 70% doing so while browsing real shelves. But activity varies by market; Australia and Japan, for example, have large numbers of digital shoppers – especially Japan, where e-commerce revenue is currently more than $80 million.
So, there is no room for archetypes; marketers need all-inclusive insight into the behaviour of specific target audiences. Only by identifying which devices, shopping environments, and ad types work best for individuals can they provide personalized experiences that flow as part of a seamless cross-channel conversation. And that necessitates agile integrated tech, which can be problematic in certain markets that have historically relied on legacy systems. Despite its forward-looking approach to mobile, Japan still tends to use CRM databases that don’t necessarily have the capacity to work with other systems and therefore can’t share data easily.
Finally, how can brands intelligently pull all their data together to build a better, more personalised and more holistic customer experience for 2019 and beyond?
The role intelligent data plays in customer experience will continue to grow as more brands recognize the value of building communications around individuals. Forrester research has shown brands focused on customer experience achieve an annual growth rate of 23% and twice as much return on ad spend — and data is an integral element of this.
But to get every interaction right, brands mustn’t overlook the basics. Constructing a strong foundation of compliant, accurate, objective and perfectly orchestrated data is critical for communications to make a positive impact.
56% of Singaporean businesses believe their IT environments are more or significantly more complex than two years ago.
95% of employees are using non-business approved applications to get work done.
42% of Singaporean businesses report using over 100 cloud and on-premise business applications.
93% of Singaporean businesses believe that their organization is missing out on the full benefits of analytics due to the complex and disperse nature of their data and applications.
86% of Singaporean businesses are already adopting cloud technology, higher than the regional average
85% of Singaporean businesses are concerned that they would not be able to respond to a data breach required by law (such as GDPR). Of those concerned, the top reasons include:
48% due to data located in different systems and applications
37% due to time concerns
34% due to a drain on resources
Overlapping systems, applications, and new and old infrastructure cost time, money, and affects innovation. The rise in complexity felt by Singapore’s organizations is holding back digital transformation efforts and restricting cloud adoption.
Full studies below.
The State of IT Complexity in Asia-Pacific and Japan [PDF]
The OnTheList flash sale platform fills a crucial gap in the Asian retail industry. By serving as a third-party vendor of members-only flash sales, it not only offers brands an environmentally friendly way to get rid of past-season stock, it also gives brands access to a growing consumer database with a more direct, D2C-style subscription consumer relationship. The two founders of OnTheList, Diego Dultzin Lacoste and Delphine Lefay, talked to Digital in Asia about their online and offline retail platform.
Digital in Asia: How did OnTheList find a niche in the Hong Kong premium retail industry?
Diego & Delphine: Prior to launching OnTheList, we worked in regional and international luxury/premium retail brands in Europe and in Hong Kong. With such a fast moving industry led by seasonal trends, there is often a lot of past-season stock occupying valuable warehouse space with few options to get rid of them. For many brands in Hong Kong, the only options available were either burning or burying the stock – both of which are not environmentally sustainable options.
That was when we saw an opportunity to launch an independent, third-party platform that would work directly with such brands to host flash sales and give life to old inventory that would have otherwise been destroyed. While this has been a concept well established and received in fashion capitals across Europe, we found that there was no such option in Hong Kong. OnTheList was the first of its kind in Asia. We have since held over 150 flash sales in partnership with over 250 premium brands in Hong Kong.
The “secret” here we believe, is our approach. Through the flash sales we host, we are able to offer consumers access to premium products at attractive prices, and brands the opportunity to clear past-season items and connect with new customers. While our sales are members-only, membership is free for sign up. Additionally, we cater to current consumer habits and preferences – opening sales from 8am to 8pm, making it convenient for shoppers popping in before work.
We also bucked the trend of going digital first – we started with an offline channel as we have always believed that physical presence creates a sense of desire for purchase – our physical flash sales are held over a short time frame of usually just four days, with stock replenished daily and sale mechanics changing. We have since extended our reach online for sales in Hong Kong, but our entrance into the Singapore market will similarly begin with sales happening in physical spaces as a priority.
DIA: Why is now the right time for expansion across Asia?
D&D: In the past two years since the inception of OnTheList, we have worked with a variety of brands, from fashion and cosmetics to wine and lifestyle, from mid-range to luxury. We have also kicked off our online platform. While our flash sales platform is well-grounded in Hong Kong, our regional brand partners are always asking for our services in neighbouring countries where there are few options to dispose of old inventory. With that, we decided it was definitely worthwhile exploring options in Asia.
Singapore was our first country in mind due to similar customer shopping behaviour and general lifestyle similarities. This coupled with Singapore’s strong economy and economic policies, makes it a great country for our first step overseas.
DIA: How are consumer retail habits across Asia changing? Any differences to the West?
D&D: There has definitely been a shift in consumer premium retail habits. Many studies state that millennials are proving to be the strongest demographic segment spending on luxury – brands must cater to this change and understand millennial shopping behaviour both in-store and online. While millennials enjoy finer products, they are also a price sensitive demographic and brand loyalty is not as easy to maintain as it was once before. In recent years, both retailers in Asia and Europe have enjoyed huge profits accelerated by Chinese shoppers, whilst Western counterparts who enjoy the luxury as well have a vastly different spending behaviour.
DIA: How do you help minimise the environmental impact of fashion retail?
D&D: On average, 217,000 kg of textiles would be sent to landfills daily in Hong Kong. Through flash sales, brands are able to dispose of old inventory in a more sustainable form as the old stock would not go to waste and brands would still receive some returns on the unwanted inventory. In the past two years, we assisted over 250 brands, across premium fashion, homeware, and cosmetics, in holding over a hundred flash sales and selling over a million items that would have otherwise gone to waste. For items that remain after our flash sales, we always encourage the brand to donate them to charity and continue to help people in need worldwide.
In a number of ways, blockchain technologies offer advantages over the current financial system. A case in point is foreign exchange, one of the key speculative use cases for the blockchain maximalist: in short, it’s difficult, expensive and slow to send $10,000 overseas using our current system of banking; but it’s easy, cheap and fast to send the equivalent amount in cryptocurrency, free from foreign exchange fees, in just seconds. But no one has actually proved out this use case. Yet.
Enter Singapore startup TenX. They’ve created a global credit card, using blockchain technology to take advantage of fast and cheap foreign exchange, but running on existing MasterCard and Visa infrastructure to ensure payment is easy and scalable.
On the front end users can make payments anywhere Visa or Mastercard are accepted. On the back end, the credit card is linked to a cryptocurrency wallet, meaning assets are held in Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin. TenX instantly converts the cryptocurrencies stored in the wallet into the native fiat currency when a transaction is made, whatever the location.
A few weeks back Digital in Asia met with Toby Hoenisch, one of the founders of TenX, to talk about their ambitious vision to become the only platform necessary to create a bridge between cryptocurrency and existing global payment systems.
Digital in Asia: Good to catch up Toby. Is it true that you launched your first start-up four years ago? That’s pretty early for blockchain.
Toby Hoenisch: Back then, we pitched another startup, not blockchain. It was the same co-founders or partially the same co-founders anyway. It never went anywhere but we learned a lot of lessons back then.
DIA: What were the biggest lessons?
TB: Get users. Don’t just build and hope for the best.
DIA: That’s solid advice for any startup! So, when did TenX kick off?
TB: Three years ago. And that was still quite early for blockchain, three years ago. I’ve been in the blockchain space for five, six years. Part of the funding we used for the previous startup was through early gains and Bitcoin. I’m not a trillionaire right now like how I might wish, because we spent all the Bitcoin we had back then on the previous startup. But we’re doing quite well for our company, so it’s all goo
DIA: What was the inspiration behind TenX?
TB: Connecting the blockchain and crypto world with the real world. Three years ago, it was still crypto-geeks and nerds like myself, and everyone else was like, “What the heck is this?” And it was really disconnected. We wanted to bring the benefits of cryptocurrency to real people. And the first thing to solve is making it spendable.
DIA: Can you just quickly detail what TenX does and the value proposition?
TB: TenX makes cryptocurrency expendable. We have a cryptocurrency wallet. You deposit Bitcoin, Ethereum, tokens – whatever it is – and we give you a debit card that you can attach to your wallet, and then spend it anywhere in the world where Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
DIA: In many ways, you’re moving into an area that is almost the inverse of cryptocurrency, certainly ideologically. And payments are also seeing more regulation recently.
TB: You’re right, it can be complex. But what we do is simple. We’re basically the bridge to the real world of payments. Right now, we have Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. But our goal is to get to 200 cryptocurrency and tokens ready for payments within another year.
DIA: And what do you think is the future of the payment space in the short and long-term? Who will be the big winners and losers?
TB: Very early to tell. Depends on the timeframe. We’re still so early in crypto that what we do actually makes sense. Because we connect this new industry to the existing payment rails that are out there. Visa, Mastercard, maybe UnionPay or Alipay in the future. You have to remember, merchants don’t care about crypto right now because there are not enough users out there. Merchants care about revenue first. So for the next five years, I think it will be players like us bridging crypto to existing payment rails. But once you have sufficient penetration on the general population, you actually can do peer to peer payments. And then you can actually directly own merchant payment relationships. Our business will have to change and adapt because there are major interests betting on those legacy players. Crypto will disrupt, but it will take a while, and it may shape up quite differently to how it looks now.
DIA: So what does the future look like for Visa and Mastercard?
TB: They will still be around for a long time. Simply because they’re already there. But they will have to lower their fees to compete with crypto, and the channels will change. The cards themselves have a ten-year shelf life. You might still be paying using Visa payment rails in the future, but you’ll use your phone or other technology. The terminal will still stick around for a while.
DIA: TenX is based in Singapore. How many people do you have? How have you found Singapore as a place to set up a blockchain business?
TB: We have 60 people in total at TenX, and 80% are based here in Singapore. We’re a global company. Crypto is always global. We do have a big user base in Europe. Mainly because three of the four co-founders are Austrian. We have a very strong German-speaking user base. Singapore is good because it’s a relatively friendly regulatory environment. It was a bit of a bet three years ago as a place to build a cryptocurrency finance app in Asia, but today, it turns out it’s one of the top countries to be as a cryptocurrency business.
DIA: How many users do you have and how fast is your growth?
TB: Maybe I should share that we had a bit of a setback earlier in the year. We launched our cards last year, and we scaled really quickly to 200,000 users towards the end of the year, and then our partner bank lost their license. Their Visa license. So our card stopped working. And now we’re working with five different insurers to deliver a live product. So the growth metrics don’t make sense at this point. We are on it. We have new insurers. We have multiple strategies, and we’re trying to get our own license so we don’t have to worry about that anyway.
DIA: Something similar happened to Coinhako, in that their fiat on and off ramps got locked down. Was your issue a Singapore problem, or a global problem?
TB: No. It was a European bank, actually. The good side to that is that this specific payment bank was also the issuer for many of our competitors. So now we know that 200,000 is not the market users. The market is way bigger than that, and all of those users are waiting for a card.
DIA: Who wants to spend their crypto? The market is so focused around HODL right now.
TB: That’s looking at it in reverse. Of course, a lot of people still look at crypto as an investment and hope it should go up. Our users have passed this step, and are like, “I don’t want the old world.” Because there is more friction in the old world than there is in the new world.
Even though the crypto world is still smaller, the financial services you can access here are still less in number than in the old world, this is changing rapidly. And advanced users want to stay in this world.
Some of them, yes, they want to get the maximum upside, but they stay in this world because it’s a more seamless experience everywhere on the planet. And we just add payments to that, so you don’t have to actually go back.
DIA: How do they get their crypto in the first place?
TB: They are already in this world.
DIA: Sure, but unless they’re mining, sitting on a massive pot of crypto which they’re spending bit by bit, or they get paid in crypto, they’re still going to be operating in the non-crypto world. They’re still going to have a bank account where real money can come in. How many people are 100% in the crypto world right now?
TB: We pay salaries in Bitcoin for a lot of people. It’s just so much more convenient. If you run an international company, a small one, you can’t figure out payroll in every country in the world. That’s hard. Bitcoin solves that problem, super easy.
DIA: Cool. Do you think that supports the Bitcoin store-of-value argument?
TB: I mean, Bitcoin has a volatility problem, which is one of the things that people don’t like, or don’t want to put all their money in it, which is a very valid point. In the crypto world, Bitcoin is still the strongest store of value. If it’s the one you should bet on depends on your personal situation. I would say everybody should have some money in the crypto space, some Bitcoin, and then allocate, whatever.
DIA: So, at the moment, you’re a bridge between cryptocurrency and the world of ‘real’ money. Do you have your own token to facilitate this?
TB: Yes. We have the PAY Token, and we launched token sale last year, June. And we continued to work on the exact model, mainly because the regulators keep changing the rules, but yeah. It’s been working very good. When you compare a token sale or a token, compared to venture capital, venture capital, you get around one, two, three investors. Hopefully, they’re all strategic, which they never are, maybe one.
Or you have like us, 50,000 token holders, probably most of them are users. They’re directly related to you. They will tell you what you do wrong. They will care. They will come to your user testing. It’s just so much better. That’s the huge upside that a token sale can do that venture capital just cannot do. Base it on your boredom, hopefully, you pick the right guy to tell you what to do, but maybe one or two. You have 50,000.
DIA: And that community markets for you as well, and they’re influencers.
TB: Yes. Of course. It just goes hand in hand. It’s like, token holders and users, it becomes like a community form of money, or token, or whatever you want to call it. And it incentivizes people to really stick with us.
DIA: That’s awesome Toby. Thanks very much. Very interesting discussion.
There’s been a lot of scepticism recently about where advertising is headed. Online advertising has seen massive growth over the past decade thanks to its flexibility, transparency and measurability—not to mention the ROI. But with this growth comes a new challenge: more than before, marketers must fight to break through the clutter and connect with their target audiences. The rise of obtrusive and irrelevant ads on the web has led to a concurrent surge in ad-blocking software as consumers become frustrated with or indifferent to the content bombarding them. In response, some of advertising’s biggest spenders have started to shift their focus back to real-world tactics such as experiential marketing. This leaves advertising at a tricky crossroads, and got me thinking: Will digital advertising always remain an important instrument in a company’s marketing toolbox? And as an advertising company, how can and should we push advertising to adapt if we believe it to be the way forward?
Xaxis wholeheartedly believes that digital advertising needs to deliver tangible results to continue to be relevant, and as such has repositioned to focus its entire offering on client outcomes. The best way to do this was to understand the client’s advertising goal that ties as closely as possible to the true business outcomes they are trying to drive. So what do marketers need to think about and do differently to truly engage consumers and drive measurable business results?
Artificial intelligence (AI) has completely changed what we can achieve in advertising, from media buying and planning, how to achieve set targets, and the metrics used to understand success. As my colleague Sara Robertson, VP of Product Engineering for Xaxis once said: “AI is like a spreadsheet on steroids”. The potential of AI lies in its ability to see the bigger picture. We’ve made AI and machine learning an integral part of our offerings, used to find and define audiences, refine our creative messaging, generate audience personas, and develop bidding strategies, all of which can transform a digital advertising strategy to drive remarkably improved results for clients.
And while it is true that consumers hate interruption, it’s never a bad thing when advertisers are forced to adapt by creating content that consumers enjoy. One example is a creative new type of ad that has emerged in China to play in breaks of TV dramas online. These ads utilize the TV shows’ original content and narrative arcs, and feature the same actors in their on-screen costumes, making the ad almost indistinguishable from the original content to hold the audience’s attention and pique their interest. This type of advertising is expected to surpass 2 billion yuan (US$311 million) in sales revenue this year, up from 800 million yuan in 2016.
Advertising with influencers also holds increasing importance in the marketing mix as a way for brands to create trust and credibility with consumers. Over the last few years, influencer marketing has skyrocketed to the point that it has become a category of its own. The premise for this is that consumers trust people they already follow rather than an obvious advertiser. Brands are therefore working to get attention from consumers by channelling their message through people with extensive and trusting networks, commissioning influencers to co-create ‘native’ content that advertisers can then amplify. All of this shows that content needs to mimic what consumers already enjoy in order to engage, but advertising itself won’t disappear.
At the end of the day, approaches such as experiential marketing can be a highly valuable way for many companies to increase brand exposure and customer loyalty. But they shouldn’t necessarily replace advertising altogether. Marketers need to look at the bigger picture and focus on reaching business objectives by quantifying success with real metrics and conversions—regardless of the marketing tactics they choose to convey their messages. That means connecting with your customers authentically and holistically, wherever they happen to be – though as we know, people are spending more time online now than ever.
For Xaxis, repositioning our offering to focus on client outcomes was the most logical move. To align with a client’s true marketing and business objectives—and deliver results to hit those objectives and maximize ROI—should be the goal of any marketing tactic. What really sets digital advertising apart is its ability to do exactly that, with more transparency, efficiency and measurability than any other approach. For this reason, we don’t see it dying out anytime soon.
Mobile growth continues to hit record highs in 2018, built on a foundation of programmatic delivery. And that makes it more important than ever to get mobile innovation right, says Itamar Benedy, CEO, Glispa. In this Q&A with Digital in Asia, he talks about GDPR, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), playables and performance marketing on mobile.
How important are Mobile Network Operators and their data in the mobile first era?
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are the sleeping giants of ad tech, but as proven by the recent AT&T AppNexus deal, these titans are waking from their slumber. MNOs will be incredibly powerful in the mobile advertising industry due largely to the vast scale of user data they hold which, if utilised correctly, places them in an extremely strong position to challenge the Facebook and Google duopoly.
What puts MNOs at an advantage is the opportunity for value-added services, delivering engaging content to users and creating additional revenue. They provide an exciting alternative to the limited in-app inventory currently available for mobile advertising. The most important part of mobile advertising is having a direct line of communication with the audience, and MNOs can provide the channels necessary to interact with users through multiple touch points, consequently maximising their potential.
To date, MNOs have done little to harness the power of the data they hold, but we expect to see others follow AT&T’s lead through commercial acquisitions. Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison is one company that has noticed the potential of MNOs and, despite the European competition commissioner blocking its acquisition of the UK’s O2 network, it recently bought a 50% stake in Italy’s Wind Tre in a $2.45bn deal.
How is GDPR impacting Glispa and the wider industry around data?
In spite of the confusion that still surrounds the GDPR, its introduction is largely positive. GDPR is forcing the industry to be transparent and deal with data responsibly, and will ultimately minimise the number of unethical vendors. This will enhance the user experience and pave the way for more open and honest relationships between brands and consumers.
GDPR has also compelled advertisers to think more creatively about campaigns to encourage users to opt-in. We’ve seen an increase in the creation of playable ads because they include an opt-in element that incentivises users to consent to data collection so they can play the game, without forcing them to do so.
As a German-founded company, Glispa has followed strict data usage regulations from the outset, so the introduction of GDPR is having minimal impact on our business operations. We view the GDPR regulations as an exciting means of expanding our creative potential by finding new, fun ways of encouraging user opt-in.
Tell us about playables – how do they work, what are advertisers doing with them?
Playables are entertaining and rewarding mini games that provide a more meaningful and interactive experience than traditional ads. They are most commonly used in the gaming sector where the concept is much the same as test driving a car; allowing the consumer to ‘try before they buy.’ Playables are highly successful in this sector as users who go on to install the full app already know what the game is like and are highly likely to play it regularly.
But playables aren’t just limited to the gaming sector, any brand can create a fun and interactive game ad that will entertain and engage its target audience. Giving users the ability to interact with content leads to better brand recall and enjoyment, thus reaping positive conversion rates and ROI. Interactive ad formats also have map tracking so even if a user does not take the required action, advertisers can see where interactions are happening and derive insights to improve future consumer communications.
Playables are the most effective way to increase creativity within mobile advertising and, as demonstrated in a study by AdColony, are consistently voted as a favourite ad unit, but so far adoption remains relatively slow.
Why are more advertisers not using the playables format?
There are a number of explanations for the slow adoption of playables, all of which will be made redundant in the future. Firstly, brands outside the gaming market don’t always understand the relevance of playables, after all, why make a mini-game when they don’t have a full game to sell? But it is becoming increasingly clear this is an outdated viewpoint and many non-gaming brands, such as Burger King, are making good use of playable ads to boost user engagement.
Complexity is another hindrance to playable adoption. As a new format, there are no proven templates advertisers can use to design and build ads, making playables time consuming and expensive to create. With limited playable case studies in most verticals, advertisers are understandably reluctant to take the risk of investing in the format but this will change as a defined playbook emerges and the complexity and cost of production decreases.
What are your thoughts on the Facebook and Google duopoly?
A noticeable theme of Cannes Lions this year was that companies are ready and willing to challenge the duopoly. The AT&T Appnexus deal and OATH’s acquisition of Yahoo demonstrate the huge leaps telcos are taking and how they are gearing up for battle. These telcos now have the data, user-base and scale, as well as the funds to really pose a threat. Moreover, with Facebook’s well-publicised lack of transparency, it may not take much for companies to start asserting their dominance over the giant.
How do you see the evolution of performance marketing and the role of mobile as a channel?
Performance marketing has evolved from its affiliate roots to play an ever-increasing role in marketing strategies. The main reason for the growth of performance marketing is its unique measurability, which is vital at a time when the pressure on marketers to justify digital spend is increasing and transparency is highly valued.
Mobile is a particular driver of performance marketing. Consumers spend huge amounts of time on mobile devices and we see exceptionally high levels of engagement but mobile advertising is difficult to measure so marketers are turning to performance marketing, which can achieve specific KPIs such as app downloads and re-engagement.
As it becomes a more trusted and widely used tactic, performance marketing is moving beyond traditional monetisation metrics such as clicks and downloads toward more meaningful goals such as user engagement and lifetime value. In fact, performance marketing is proving so effective at driving these outcomes, marketers are beginning to take best practices from this technique to use in brand campaigns.
As a rising star of Southeast Asia’s media tech scene, and the publisher behind theAsianparent.com, AsianMoneyGuide.com, and HerStyleAsia.com, Tickled Media reaches over 12 million women monthly across SEA via its content and community platforms.
We caught up with Adrian Watkins, newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer at Tickled Media, to discuss plans for the future and his enhanced role within the business. As part of his expanded brief, Adrian works alongside Tickled Media Founder and CEO Roshni Mahtani to help develop, communicate, execute, and sustain strategic initiatives ranging from commercial positioning through to wider business rationale.
Digital in Asia: What have been your team’s greatest achievements in the past 12 months?
Adrian Watkins: It was a year in the making, but we’ve redesigned and re-engineered the front-end of theAsianparent, which has resulted in faster loading speeds, higher page engagement, better email capture, and innovations in commercial solutions. We’ve also created an enhanced Brand Solutions programme that offers clients a flexible, data-driven playground where they can manage budgets, split-test new concepts and creatives, and find what resonates with their desired audience over a longer period of time. This process takes them from market research, through to content creation and distribution, social media / KOL amplification, and finally to campaign conversions.
DIA: Have you been focusing around programmatic?
Adrian: We’ve maximised our network yields by signing upwards of 15 new vendors in the automated revenue space, offering a mix of programmatic, outstream and native capabilities, and allowing for better commercial terms while lessening our reliance on Facebook and Google.
But my proudest achievement is building up the team. There is no greater display of growth than a team member picking up a pen to explain in detail what he or she is saying on a whiteboard!
DIA: What’s your next big project as CSO?
Adrian: This company is on the cusp of something truly exciting – becoming the largest women-focused media tech company in the region. Securing our Series B funding earlier in the year allowed us to launch new content verticals to better inform and empower Asian women: Asian Money Guide and HerStyleAsia. We’ve got a couple more in the pipeline so that’s what’s keeping the team on their toes.
Meanwhile, we just re-launched our app for theAsianparent and it’s pretty exciting to be able to work on the largest social network for parents. With easy-to-use Q&A, mums can harness the collective wisdom and experiences of our active community of parents, experts, and parents-to-be, as they share and grow their parenting knowledge.
Watkins was the Founder and Managing Director of data, tech, and marketing consultancy firm PerformanceAsia, and was previously a Board member of the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA). He also has a proven corporate track record within world-class organisations such as Virgin, News Corporation, and CBS, leading initiatives in business development, company acquisition, monetising existing and new territories, and building and managing commercial and content teams in multiple countries.
Both Tickled Media and the wider industry stand to benefit from this appointment, given Watkins’ client focus and data mastery. Sachin Pagey, Director of Strategy and Marketing Services at Mega Lifesciences, weighs in: “Adrian’s promotion to Chief Strategy Officer is a great move for Tickled Media and one that Mega We Care fully endorses. I’ve worked very closely with Adrian over the last year for the launch of Baby Natura, our plant-based whole food, in the region. The depth of insight, energy and enthusiasm he’s brought to our long-term partnership is much welcome. We look forward to enhancing this relationship with theAsianparent even further as we launch our new products and move into more markets in 2019. With Adrian’s promotion to CSO, the long-term outlook for Tickled Media is undoubtedly positive!”
Tickled Media Founder and CEO Roshni Mahtani added: “At a time when tech and media are evolving at breakneck speed, we need someone to help usher Tickled into a new era of insight-led innovation. We’re looking no further than Adrian, who has done remarkable things for our campaign delivery process, smoothed out so many operational hiccups, and brought in streams of new revenue.”