Have consumers in Asia Pacific changed their digital consumption habits during coronavirus?

Consumption of media especially when we are all working from home has changed drastically.

The digital consumption habits of consumers, whether globally or in Asia Pacific, has seen tremendous changes in response to the pandemic.

It is clear that after stay-at-home measures were imposed, new media behaviors have emerged fueled by disrupted daily routines and crisis-induced anxiety, notes Kasper Aakerlund, president of APAC at Universal McCann.

According to Verizon Media, the owner of Yahoo, in the early days of the pandemic, it noticed a huge surge in the appetite for information and news updates relating to the virus’ global reach and impact, how countries are responding, and health and scientific knowledge about the virus. Not only were more people shifting online, but more people were also consuming news online as they sought trusted sources for consumption.

Rico Chan, co-head for APAC at Verizon Media says on Yahoo, the media company saw a massive uptick in content viewers, with a 5000% increase in views for articles on diseases and medical conditions in Singapore and a 5200% increase in views for articles on nutrition in the Philippines.

Yahoo also saw an increase in Covid-19 related searches on Yahoo, with 130% in Singapore and 427% in India. In response, its global editorial network in the US, UK, and Singapore, also came together to provide 24h up-to-date coverage on the coronavirus.

“As things progressed and lockdowns or circuit breakers kept people at home, they turned to try new experiences and value-added content that helped them cope in the crisis, primarily online,” Chan explains to The Drum.

“These included online education, food and grocery deliveries, online shopping, video and music streaming, gaming and esports, indoor fitness, and upgrading their personal IT system.”

He continues: “Even as news consumption continued to surge, we also saw a shift towards content that helped people manage and cope in the crisis, such as working from home, finances, entertainment, self-care, and guides on how to cook. Interestingly, in Singapore, ‘how to make’ searches rose by 64% as users sought to whip up their favourite dishes at home.”

Responding to this shift, Yahoo released a series of #staywelltogether content on Yahoo Singapore and Yahoo TV that focuses on and content dedicated to well-being, ranging from mental health to fitness and parenting, as well as tips from experts on how to stay healthy mentally, physically and emotionally.

On Yahoo TV, for example, Yahoo released new content catering to the changing appetites. It's new gaming web series called ‘PWN THEM ALL’, which helps new and returning gamers get acquainted with games within the esports sphere by offering both basic and advanced gameplay tips, has seen an average of 350k streams per episode.

For the stay-home audience, its How to Store web series featuring storage tips for common household products has received 1.8m streams in total. Yahoo is also live streaming online, in place of physical events, on Yahoo TV, including global and regional concerts, and esports tournaments such as the ongoing Female Esports League (FSL).

“As we look towards the future, we expect that many of these behaviours and habits formed are going to endure post the pandemic. In some countries in SEA and APAC that have seen early successes in flattening the curve, we are noticing a shift towards positive content,” says Chan.

“People are going to continue to stay online, looking for new experiences that fulfill their needs and passions. For brands, this a new opportunity. For example, in China and Taiwan, where they are ahead in recovery, we’ve seen consumers purchasing more fashion apparel, sports gear, while previously it was home appliances and cleaning products.”

Aakerlund points out just like how SARS previously compelled JD.com and Alibaba to pivot their business models, making it the turning point for the Chinese e-commerce market, these behaviors and consumption patterns formed during Covid-19 will also now fundamentally change the landscape for brands.

For example, the Indonesian e-commerce marketplace Bukalapak has seen a spike in transactions, with growth in new users due to shifts in the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise business model and consumption behavior.

It was also recently reported that e-retailers in China’s rural areas registered a 5% increase in year-on-year sales in the first quarter of this year and sales of agricultural products from these poorer counties through e-commerce platforms also surged by almost 50%.

“Recent reports also highlighted that French luxury brand Hermès pulled in $2.7 million, reportedly the highest figure for a single boutique in China, on the day its flagship store reopened in China's southern city of Guangzhou, as wealthy shoppers went “revenge shopping” after the coronavirus lockdown,” explains Aakerlund.

“Whilst this has raised hopes for a strong recovery, there will be no return to business as usual, even in China’s luxury sector and the key to success for brands will remain to be the willingness and ability to develop digital offerings to complement offline distribution and provide an omnichannel experience.”

He adds:” The increased usage of super apps during the pandemic reinforces this. Apps like WeChat, Grab and Paytm, have seen significant increases in usage of their services and functions, as these platforms themselves have evolved to capitalize on changed behaviors and cater to new needs. Chinese citizens for instance have turned to trackers on the WeChat app to avoid infected neighborhoods whilst Paytm in India has streamlined payments such as mobile and DTH recharge, electricity, water, gas, credit card, insurance premium, so that consumers can pay while at home.”

Should marketers prioritise trusted publishers?

The demand for news is on the rise as the pandemic drags on. According to Comscore, in the US, the number of minutes spent by readers at news sites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal increased 46% and overall visits rose 57%.

In Singapore, digital news consumption reached an all-time high in March, double-digit growth was seen month-on-month across local, technology and business news. Similar growth was seen in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia.

While the surge in traffic to trusted publishers can be pointed to consumers seeking out news and the latest updates on the pandemic, Aakerlund says there is also an uptick in consumption of non-coronavirus types of content like entertainment, gaming, cooking, exercise, etc., across platforms like social media, video channels and content verticals.

Esports agency Ampverse says it is continuing to see a steady increase in gaming content consumption. “We’re witnessing increases in video game streaming viewership by around 40%. The trend is even higher for professional esports teams, with viewership growth by over 100% across the region,” explains Charlie Baillie, co-founder and chief commercial officer at Ampverse.

“In particular, we’ve noticed that markets with active esports pro leagues including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have seen that growth trajectory has further accelerated.”

This shows that there is a myriad of relevant and cost-efficient options that marketers can tap into to target traffic effectively.

“For many of these platforms, however, there has been rising fears over their lack of control over objectionable content or the spread of propaganda and false information,” explains Aakerlund.

“While tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok have been working to promote factual content and deprioritize misinformation on their platforms, marketers need to make brand safety a priority and constantly evaluate if the inventory available is brand-safe and brand-suitable.”

He adds: “However, brand safety is more than just utilizing technologies that guard our brands against platforms that contain misinformation or putting in place filters to ensure our ads do not appear next to risky content surrounding the ongoing pandemic. And brand suitability is more than just determining if the timing is right to advertise or if it would be appropriate for our brand to appear near Covid-19 content.”

Marketers can also develop the ability to adapt and run responsible ads, explains Aakerlund, taking into consideration attitudinal differences across culturally diverse audiences and adapting messaging to ensure that it is empathetic to both the time and environment. This is to ensure they think about the information that is being shared in their ad.

“Does it display messaging that is inconsistent with social distancing measures or lacks empathy? That poses a brand safety and brand suitability risk. It is important for brands to ensure that all communication aligns with WHO regulations and the latest local government behavioral advice whilst adhering to the highest standards of digital quality and fraud avoidance,” advises Aakerlund.

Agreeing, Ian Chapman-Banks, chief executive and co-founder of Sqreem Technologies add with Covid-19 having impacted so many aspects of doing business and just daily life overall, it is no longer enough to rely on human acumen to discern the right strategy for reaching audiences.

As things are simply changing too rapidly, he says no matter how experienced marketing teams may be, they must acknowledge that experience can only get them so far in these “unprecedented” times.

“What we are doing for our clients like F45 for example, is when people are looking for healthy recipes, we know that they are actively looking for ways to stay healthy so we tell them about F45’s new home gym services. Tailoring content to appeal to the current mindset is also important,” explains Chapman-Banks.

“In a campaign for the South African government to encourage hygiene and hand-washing, we placed the intended messages just after a 30-second clip on contextual interests such as on home baking and we saw the engagement go up by 10 times.”

New rules for the marketing playbook

As we are living in unprecedented times, the generally accepted rules of engagement and best practices may need to be disregarded. We are operating in almost an entirely new world and one that is continuing to change rapidly which means that many of our old assumptions and learnings will need to be tested and revalidated.

This is reflected in the Comscore study, which found that instead of the usual media spikes during commuting or meal hours pre-pandemic, there is more of a flat rate of consumption throughout the course of the day.

“We need to remember that this is a continually evolving situation as governments impose new restrictions and recommendations or lift existing restrictions, consumer behaviour will change with it. So, instead of second-guessing what may happen, we let data and technology work its magic, reacting to behavioural changes and optimising campaigns in real-time,” explains Chapman-Banks.

“If we use AI, we able to test multiple options quickly and effectively in a business environment that remains very fluid – analysing hundreds, if not thousands of possible combinations and data points to determine the optimal mix quickly and effectively, a feat that may be out of reach for humans, but can be made possible through the use of artificial intelligence. It also allows us to know when and how we need to change our strategy during these volatile times.”

Consumption of media especially when we are all working from home has changed drastically and Aakerlund says it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when consumers would engage with media as there really is no distinction between work and play.

"In the last two months, consumers have adapted by developing new habits to fit into their new daily routines. E-Commerce and contactless delivery have become the new norm, people are now trying telemedicine, online education is booming, and telecommuting is a perk," he explains.

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