Soon Min Yap
Jul 31, 2013

The view from Malaysia: Digital trends make for interesting times

As part of the Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, we asked experts from around the region to share in-country expertise on the factors driving branding in their markets. Soon Min Yap, planning director, Naga DDB, shares the view from Malaysia.

The view from Malaysia: Digital trends make for interesting times

The Malaysian marketing scene is in interesting times. National broadband penetration levels are projected to reach 100 per cent by 2015, smartphone penetration rates are close to reaching 50 per cent, and even the recent General Election saw serious digital marketing efforts by the running parties.

While fears of consumer inflation loom, government measures on income growth show Gross National Income rising 49 per cent since 2009. Compared to the gloomy economic news from Europe, and closer to home in Singapore, the environment seems to be wary but mostly upbeat about the near future. Malaysia’s increasingly affluent consumers are slightly more exposed thanks to digital/social media’s influence, which is also creating fertile ground for brands to grow in.

This leads to our trends being mostly digital in nature. The desire to get on social media has caught many like a fever, but not everyone has a clear plan. Most default to using it as a customer service tool cum digital promo board, while the more daring and well-funded make attempts in ‘branded content’, usually in video form. Experimentation of ‘user generated content’ seems to be on a break, possibly due to the challenge of getting the average Malaysian to put in creative effort. All in all, what’s certain is that most have begun to acknowledge the increasingly digital lives of Malaysians.

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In this environment, the challenges brands face are numerous: consumers are faced with more brands to choose from, competitors are occasionally striking gold in the digital sphere, which continues to evolve, plus inertia and infrastructural issues slow down growth aspirations. It doesn’t help that both clients and agencies are facing these challenges, which increases relationship friction.

Among brands navigating these issues well is Nandos, which harnesses the agility of social media to create contextually powerful communications. Business FM (BFM) uses podcasts and digital magazines for effective branded content. Hong Leong Bank took a calculated risk by launching a sub-brand called Mach, with all new products and services addressing the needs of a younger and digitally savvy consumer. DiGi Telecommunications continues to challenge the issue of commoditisation by forming stronger ties with Malaysian netizens through its initiatives, including the WWWOW Awards, which celebrates local internet heroes.

Having a strategy and being smart about allocating budgets to experiment and learn the digital realm provide baby-steps towards mastering this new environment. The ones adapting faster than others have addressed a critical aspect, which is their mindset. Many digital efforts require brands to depart from the ‘campaign thinking’ of old, which is somewhat fire-and-forget. When brands play in the digital realm, it’s necessary to be able to think like a town-planner; appreciating that some structures are temporary and others more permanent, with each requiring unique resources and management.  

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