Change is the only constant in life — and keeping up with technological changes is part and parcel of being a digital marketer. In a world propelled by technological advances, new mediums, channels, and consumer behaviours, the modern digital advertising ecosystem is one of complexity and nuance. But how can marketers adapt media quality — and strategy — to evolving mediums? This question formed the crux of a thought-provoking discussion at a roundtable that Integral Ad Sciences and Campaign Asia-Pacific jointly hosted for APAC marketing leaders in Singapore.
We appreciate (purchasing) power
One thing everyone could agree on was that the media landscape had changed immensely, in a way that gives more power to the consumer. Saiba Singh, manager of digital commerce at Accenture, specifically highlighted how “purchasing power parity across the world” has rewritten the way people think about media, with the global middle class tripling from 500 million in 2000 to 1.7 billion in 2020, as per Credit Suisse.
“That’s due to access to the internet, access to actual infrastructure and devices becoming more affordable,” she said. With information becoming more accessible than ever before, “we’re no longer relying on the traditional four pillars of society. We’re relying on each other.
“Increasingly, more and more ‘new’ mediums are important because every country has different pockets and new sub-cultures emerging as they get this access and their voice,” she observed. “But it’s changing so fast that we really have to be on the pulse to hear the expression of this digitally-centric new generation.”
José Cerdán, team head of wholesale marketing, South Asia HSBC Asset Management, pointed out another driver of change. Intermediation — or rather, the lack thereof. “There is no more intermediation anymore,” Cerdán said. “It’s all direct to consumer — [the brand] goes direct to consumer and consumers go directly to other consumers. It’s peer-to-peer without any intermediation.”
Bridging online and offline worlds
Within the context of evolving mediums, attendees agreed that Covid accelerated the hybridisation of online and offline worlds — with some surprising results.
Accessibility to technology has not only evened the playing field in purchasing power, but also democratised the media landscape. Consumers are no longer passive observers, but active participants. Manjusha Subramanian, safety and partner marketing lead for APAC business marketing at TikTok, said 80% of TikTok users have created content on the platform. “How users interact with the platform has also evolved, they really want to be part of it. And that’s what we call at TikTok the ‘age of participation.’”
Twitch’s Tara Crosby, head of sales for SEA and HK, touched on the way Covid affected the interplay of physical and virtual communities in people’s daily lives. While the reliance on virtual connection started out of necessity — a useful alternative when real-life connections weren’t possible — “it sort of broadened beyond that, where we’ve come to rely on both,” she said. Though people are still excited to see each other face-to-face once again, consumers “still want to tap into [their virtual communities]” and find ways to balance both worlds.
From an e-commerce perspective, Hashmi Rafsanjani, regional head of key accounts & agencies at GrabAds, explained that the overall surge in online shopping led the company to expand beyond categories like fast-moving consumer goods and partner with tech brands, OEMs, and even telcos to offer high-value items via Grab’s quick commerce channels.
David Hu, e-commerce marketplace lead, APAC MEA, Electrolux, remarked that while the pandemic caused a “disastrous” loss of in-store opportunities, it also boosted their online sales, as consumers adapted to the idea of buying appliances — both large and small — sight unseen. With Electrolux investing more in online marketplaces and D2C, the challenges now are to measure and attribute which medium worked best, and expand its collection of first-party consumer shopper data.
According to Rohan Kamra, senior digital marketing and commerce manager for APAC and Japan at Intel, retail media somewhat simplified the advertising process for brands. “Due to Covid, people are spending way more time [online], they’re buying Nintendos on Grab, they’re buying PCs on platforms we never thought they would [buy PCs from],” he said.
“And these [retail media] platforms, which are e-commerce platforms, are now behaving like full-funnel media. I don’t need to go to five platforms to get consumers into the funnel, I can just go to one [platform] to do it and have clear sales and marketing KPIs being measured. That’s evolution for me.”
Innovation, but make it incremental
While marketers by nature gravitate towards statements of grandeur — innovative this, ground-breaking that — sometimes, the best developments are not the flashiest ones. Guests commented that the notable changes they have seen, or most want to see, were simple but effective ones.
Karen Kwan, head of Singapore at Matterkind, said that innovation could sometimes take the form of people doing things just 10% differently. “[Clients] want something flashy or shiny, but [innovation] is not necessarily always a new platform,” she said, citing the examples of targeting audiences in a different way, or advertising in interesting ways within existing mediums, such as gaming.
That incremental approach is something that Lydia Lee, director of revenue strategy for programmatic digital out of home (pDOOH) & campaign management at JCDecaux, is familiar with. As an outdoor advertising company, JCDecaux’s modernisation efforts (beyond digital screens) have involved many behind-the-scenes innovations like investing in ad tech, which provides benefits like “speed, agility, and flexibility.” These may be invisible to the consumer, but enable “age-old media” such as display advertising to go a bit further by allowing for changes on the fly — perhaps if an advertised product sells out — or employing A/B testing and search engine optimisation.
Acknowledging the complexity of modern life, Lee noted that JCDecaux has seen success when employing a multi-pronged, tech-enabled approach where display advertising was used in tandem with mobile targeting to reach consumers through multiple touchpoints.
That holistic view is something that attendees want to see reflected in measurement, too. Mindshare’s chief performance officer Nathalie Pellegrini spoke of a need for measurement to be more sophisticated and unified, especially when in relation to emerging mediums. “When we do all these beautiful mediums, we want to follow the consumer journey, we put it into a report — but it’s still last-click. And then to make matters worse, we’ve got five different siloed data streams, and we’re trying to consolidate it all.”
Global social media and consumer engagement director at The Coca-Cola Company, Kean Yew Lim, offered insight into another factor preventing marketers from innovating: benchmarks. Specifically, outdated ones. Instead of relying on benchmarks “from a different time and medium” to gauge performance on evolving mediums, Lim urged brands to break out of their comfort zone and let the individual qualities of each medium dictate the relevant metrics and objectives. While the lagging indicators — purchase intent, preference — may ultimately be the same, Lim observed that leading indicators have evolved. Once marketers get over that, he continued, “then you can start pushing the envelope on innovation, because you’re no longer bound by stone to get X amount of reach in whatever base metric.”
Bespoke is better
Furthermore, by acknowledging each medium’s unique selling points, marketers can move away from seeing them in a “traditional or new” binary and better understand how they can all complement each other. Instead of “segregating the mediums,” Lim advocates “looking at them from your consumer’s journey standpoint” to understand which mediums make the most sense in various contexts and utilising them for those purposes.
Subramanian agreed that understanding a medium’s USP is crucial. Diverging from the metrics-driven discussion about campaign performance, Subramanian identified one key factor for success on TikTok: creativity. Citing popular hashtags such as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt — which has become a unique shopping phenomenon — she said that creativity is essential for advertisers looking to engage the community and deliver truly impactful campaigns on the platform.
Cerdán sees that evolved relationship between advertisers and platforms as being more equal and collaborative. In that context, he “wouldn’t be that concerned about quantitative metrics only,” and would pitch the partnership to the CEO as an opportunity to co-create partner content that works for a specific platform, “rather than me trying to teach you how to sell funds.”
Pellegrini concurred, adding that applying mediums to play a particular role requires brands to work strategically to deliver bespoke creatives that capture their intent.
When it comes to DEI, clarity is key
On the topic of intent itself, there is perhaps no more ubiquitous subject in marketing discussions right now than DEI. As a defining characteristic of modern consumer behaviours, a demand for authenticity has led many brands to align themselves with certain causes. However, it hasn’t been an easy road, especially with larger multinational corporations where brand messaging may not correspond with actual business practices.
Jeff Cheng, cluster general manager for Southeast Asia and Asia exports, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, spoke about a need for “absolute clarity and consistency” about what the brand stands for. That deep understanding of the brand is a “critical ingredient,” Cheng says. “I think where brands struggle is when it’s a top-down [message] or a mandate.” Consumers will be able to sniff out inauthentic brand purpose if it isn’t “part of the DNA of the brand.”
For Nikos Patiniotakis, head of global brand development at Zespri, clear guidelines about sustainability and its importance to every aspect of the brand have guided its marketing efforts. If that core brand purpose isn’t “integrated into how you design,” Patiniotakis warns, “then you easily fall into the discussion where someone is going to ask ‘Why should we do that? Is this going to move the needle in any of our KPIs?’”
In closing, Laura Quigley, SVP APAC for Integral Ad Science, spoke of the “opportunities and challenges” that the shift in media has presented — from measurement (and cross-measurement) to ROI, creatives, and DEI planning. Throughout the diverse topics and perspectives, Quigley said, “one word that rang true to me was authenticity, and knowing what you stand for as a brand.”