Uncovering hidden dragons: The emerging markets of South East Asia

When news first broke of our move into Cambodia, people I spoke to were curious as to why we entered a market that was often overlooked by international ad tech vendors and agencies.

We started the company wanting to enable marketers, advertisers and publishers in Asia to leverage on modern tools and increase their returns. Our move into Cambodia and similarly Hanoi, is part of that push.

May 2017 will be the 20th anniversary of internet connectivity in Cambodia. However, widespread connectivity and usage started to grow only as recent as 2013, coinciding with the rise in popularity of smart mobile devices.

This is a population that jumped from dial-up internet to smartphones on broadband, due to lower setup costs and Khmer script capabilities on smart devices. In fact, the recent We Are Social report showed that the number of active social media users in Cambodia stands at almost one-third the total population, an increase of 44% from the previous year. That same report placed internet users at half the population and a similar rate of increment at 43% from the previous year.

The country’s ecosystem represents a major opportunity for marketers to engage with their audiences on mobile and social media, including influencer marketing. At the other end of the spectrum, most digital media owners are still finding the best means to monetize their assets, whilst retaining user experience.

Ultimately, it is up to foreign companies to take the learnings from Asia in the past to enhance the digital sphere in these emerging markets. This includes solutions already developed to address transparency and viewability issues, along with having the expertise to aid adoption on both sides of the equation.

Tale of two cities

Cambodia is one such fast-emerging market in this diverse region, with many similar pockets across Asia.

Even cities have differing levels of digital maturity.

Take Hanoi as an example. The city predominantly houses local businesses and government organizations. In contrast, Ho Chih Minh City is where the big marketing budgets are, as international businesses dominate the landscape.

Likewise, international tech vendors and agencies are concentrated in Ho Chih Minh City, and there is a noticeable level of difference in the standard of digital marketing and online assets compared to Hanoi.

Oftentimes, marketers in Hanoi run campaigns with a short-term view, focusing on clicks and impressions. The true value in a company’s digital efforts though, is to have a long-term digital strategy for customer acquisition.

Unlocking the region

Southeast Asia should not be approached on a macro-level, and it is important to understand the media ecosystem of each country and even city. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this region.

For example, countries like Indonesia and Myanmar use social media as their search tool of choice, rather than the more prominent search engines. At the same time, mobile is hands-down their preferred device, opening up endless possibilities for mobile advertising.

Compare this to Singapore and Vietnam, where users are almost equally on desktop and mobile devices.

Essentially, it’s important to know how each market functions by having feet on the ground. That will pave the way for solutions and strategies needed to unearth the region’s potential.

Kosuke Sogo is CEO and co-founder of AdAsia Holdings.

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