Chee Weng
Aug 18, 2014

Succeeding in Malaysia's social-media arena

Bringing a knife to a social media gunfight in a media landscape as volatile as Malaysia’s can be a wrong and costly strategy if you don’t do your homework, writes Dentsu's Chee Weng.

Chee Weng
Chee Weng

Every once in a while I get a call from a client who asks us to help them to ‘do social media’. Clients like these wake up on Monday realizing they’ve missed the boat, and they would like a strategy in place by Tuesday afternoon. After one has been in Malaysian media for 24 years like I have, you learn to manage clients like these and their expectations. However, it never ceases to amaze me how some are so eager to jump on the bandwagon just because they see other companies around them doing the same thing.

Let’s take my staff as an example. In my office, I have 20 young and dynamic strategists - all under 35. All have Facebook accounts, which are on almost all the time even when they are at work, 78% have Instagram, 56% nurture a Twitter account and 94% have bought things online. Nevertheless, their individual lifestyle and media consumption can be very different

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 63% of the country’s population is in this same age group, and the Nielsen Media Index says 92% have a mobile phone (50% of which are smartphones). They come from different economic backgrounds, speak different languages, and certainly have different priorities and approaches to life. The bigger market for brands in Malaysia is moving towards the young and the connected. But the main thing marketers need to understand is that this group is anything but homogenous.

The basics of marketing remain true - business is still about understanding your audience. The mode - whether via face-to-face, print or digital - might have varied but the knowledge and insights into consumer psychographics still hold key.

In Malaysia, the advent of social media is at breakneck speed. It started with blogging, which is now an acceptable channel. Then came Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The uptake is even faster than all its neighbors. (Penetration of social media in APAC from Malaysia 53%, ranked 7th across Asia Pacific. Thailand: 35%, Philippines: 32%, Indonesia: 25%, Vietnam: 22%)

This explosion of social media in Malaysia is the result of a unique combination of device affordability, a government infrastructure and connectivity push, and a young population that is keen to try new things.

The vigilantly-monitored media in Malaysia contributed to the acceleration in uptake of this alternative platform. Social media in Malaysia has evolved to become an avenue where users voice their positive and negative observations and opinions on everything - from politics to behavior. Comments on actions by, and experience with brands are also actively highlighted and shared - a very direct and immediate response to brands by the masses that was previously not possible.

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The high mobile connectivity rate can add either woes or joy to a marketer - as comments can go viral within minutes.

Due to this kind of scenario, marketers can sometimes lose sight of their consumers. And a disconnect emerges. The question that marketers must have firmly in mind is who are they selling to - themselves, their management or their consumers?

On many occasions, as we drill down during our meetings with clients, we realized that they have scant info and shallow understanding of their actual consumers. Going to market like that is tantamount to taking random shots while blindfolded.

This is a critical key to a successful campaign in a country such as Malaysia where the population is very diverse. For example, Nielsen Media Index highlights that almost 63% of the population are Malay. Within this 15-34 age group, we have the Malay-speaking Malays and English-speaking Malays, whose media consumption patterns are totally different and they are motivated by different messages. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in knowing the consumers.

The acceptance of e-commerce is widespread especially among the 35-year old and below category. This will potentially become a main commerce channel for many brands: 91% of Malaysian online users shop online (regardless of age).

Top 3 online sites:

  • Groupon 69%
  • Facebook 40%
  • Living Social 38%

Does this mean that print and TV will become obsolete soon? My belief is that print, which has built a reputation for credible news will continue to be relevant, while TV will continue to be a source of entertainment regardless of whether it is broadcasted or online. Both print and TV will be tools to create mass awareness.  But the most significant of all is that social media will be powerful influencers for brands.

If marketers can unravel this conundrum, then even those Malaysian clients who wake up on Monday realizing that they need a social media strategy by Tuesday will stand a chance of succeeding in this dog-eat-dog media landscape

Chee Weng is CEO of Dentsu Media Malaysia

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