Zoë Lawrence maps the avenues open to marketers to promote their products in today’s digital world
Digital marketing strategies have historically had the Web browser and search engine at their core. Marketers have relied on these channels, to lead audiences to brand experiences on owned websites; online video platforms, where they can consume brand content; and e-commerce platforms, on which they can purchase goods and services.
They have also relied on the data-driven opportunities for targeted advertising that these systems create. But as the battle heats up for the next billion Internet users, the run-of-the-mill experience of the Web, with which marketers are so comfortingly familiar, is likely to be turned on its head.
WEB EXPERIENCE In many mobile-first markets, the Web experience built around desktop PCs, browsers and search engines is not the norm. Today, in most parts of Asia and Africa, social platforms are how people access the Web, experience it, and consider and purchase through it.
Marketers in these regions must operate in a world where social and mobile are not merely extensions of the Web experience, but the totality of it. They must learn to think very differently: conceiving, planning and executing strategies for a social-mobile world.
GATE TO THE NET A close scrutiny of Asia reveals that social media is the most rapidly growing digital activity in the region – activity on social networks is up 10 percent year-on-year, and instant messaging (IM) activity is rising even faster (13%). This increase is, in part, driven by new Internet users.
Social-mobile is the forward momentum for Internet penetration, and those accessing the Internet for the first time through smartphones tend to do so through the dominant IM and social media platforms with apps like WeChat, KakaoTalk, LINE, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
In Marketing Monitor – our study on the priorities and challenges of marketers in the Asia-Pacific – we see how social media now dominates every aspect of brands’ management of customer journeys, as marketers respond to the fact that the majority of their audiences’ digital lives are lived out on social platforms.
Social media is the most frequent choice for building brand awareness, with marketers more likely to use paid-for social media ads (38%) than TV advertising (35%). It is also the most frequently used touchpoint in e-commerce strategies (used by 47% of marketers), and the single-most important channel for customer service (46% of marketers provide customer service through social media, and a third specifically use IM platforms).
Similar developments are permeating more mature Western markets – the last strongholds of the desktop PC and Web browser. Facebook has long been mobile-first; and with such a massive user base, more people are able to access a more complete Web experience without leaving the confines of the social network.
The introduction of AI-driven chat bots to Facebook Messenger makes it well-placed to play a role as an e-commerce and customer service platform, while Facebook Instant Articles are making sought-after content readily available in mobile-friendly social streams.
SOCIAL LANDSCAPE The greatest of these challenges involves the need for deeper insights, to help brands negotiate an increasingly complex and fragmented social landscape. That complexity stems from the range of different platforms that people use, and the different functions they fulfil through them.
Today, smartphone screens in Asia are likely to have at least five different social and IM apps on them, as regional social networks expand to new markets and compete with global alternatives – from Viber, to Facebook Messenger and BlackBerry Messenger (which is still dominant in Indonesia).
That’s only the beginning of the complexity, however. As social and IM platforms have competed, they’ve added new offers, services and functionality, enabling their users – and the marketers seeking to reach them – to achieve much more. The major IM platforms in Asia are already content-distribution networks, gaming platforms, mobile payment tools and sales channels.
To succeed, marketers must understand the different and nuanced roles that these platforms play in the lives of their audiences: What intimate environments are reserved for interactions with friends and family? And what are the broader marketplaces, where people might be actively seeking content, experiences and buying opportunities?
It’s not sufficient to know how many followers, shares and interactions they generate on Facebook Messenger, versus LINE, versus WeChat. They must know what these numbers mean, in the context of their ultimate brand objectives – i.e. engaging the right people through the appropriate touchpoints, to drive incremental sales and growth.
INSIGHT AND DATA One of the most interesting findings to emerge from this year’s Marketing Monitor survey is the tension and frustration that adapting to a social-mobile world creates for marketers. Social media monitoring is now the most commonly used measure of brand performance – ahead of sales, market share, and brand and ad tracking. But is it delivering the full picture that marketers need?
Social media fulfils its potential to provide insights to marketers when it is placed in context – for example, a brand that is measuring the unfolding social conversation related to a marketing campaign empowers them to correct their course while the campaign is live.
To extract the insights that matter, brands need to go beyond a basic social analysis, and marry the data with other metrics such as drivers of a positive or negative customer experience, or brand equity attributes. By doing this, we can build a much richer picture of why our brands are performing the way they are.
Social media, in isolation, provides an early warning system for issues that may have a longer-term impact on brand performance. But without accessing other sources, this data is limited.
Generating a fuller understanding isn’t easy, however; the problem is often structural, with teams operating in isolation. For example, despite the fact that customer relationship management is a marketer’s top priority in Asia, fewer than half say that they’re collaborating with their customer service teams. Only 39 percent work with the business development unit, while a third is collaborating with sales and even fewer are working with the specialist digital team.
The inevitable result of these internal silos is that marketers rarely see social media activity in its full and relevant context. When you don’t know what social metrics mean – in terms of customer experience and loyalty, or brand equity and sales – you cannot validate your decisions on the basis of this data alone.
A third of marketers in Asia describe social media analytics as a priority area for development, going forward – and they are right. Marketers in all regions will need real-time data that keeps them in touch with the voice of the customer. But they also need a real understanding of what that data means, in terms of brand and business objectives.
This demands research-led models that can explore the relationship of social media sentiment, engagement and behaviour, to brand equity, sales and revenue. Placing social media listening data in a fuller context will go a long way towards helping marketers build more meaningful strategies for the social-mobile world.