Josie Brown
May 16, 2014

Understanding Thailand's mobile natives

A postcard from the country's recent Ad:Tech event.

Josie Brown
Josie Brown

Thailand telco Telenor Asia reports that its overall network traffic was 30 per cent mobile in 2012, hit 60 per cent mobile in 2013 and is expected to reach 90 per cent mobile next year. As Tim Verouden, head of eBusiness for Telenor and its mobile operator dtac, put it at the recent first-ever Ad:Tech event in Bangkok, Thailand is not a 'mobile first' country—it is a 'mobile only' country.

In this country of 67 million people, fixed-line broadband penetration sits around 27 per cent overall. The biggest technology story by far is the impact of the mobile phone. Urban Thais are part of a radical increase in the number of people with access to the internet—through mobile devices. The Ad:Tech audience heard how two key factors are driving this explosive change:
  • Large-scale smartphone adoption, because the price for new handsets dropped below the significant US$100 price point.
  • Improving mobile-internet speed providing better access to content such as video. In fact Telenor's dtac, the second largest mobile operator in Thailand, launched its 4G service on the day of Ad:Tech.

What online content are Thai people connecting to? Social networks, photo sharing and video, of course. Interestingly, Instagram is more popular than Twitter or WeChat. More than 90 per cent of the online population uses Facebook, and Korean social content platform Line is not far behind.

Siwat Chawareewong, the President of Thailand’s Digital Advertising Association, told a story of his 60-year-old aunt sending him messages on Line. He asked her for her email address, but she messaged straight back that she didn’t have one. The newly connected population in Bangkok is tapping directly to social networks as their way of sharing photos and stories with their friends. Some don’t even speak of the Internet, they simply know Line and Facebook as tools for staying in touch.

So the focus of the Ad:Tech sessions was—'Marketing in a Digital World'—was a pertinent topic amidst such change. In a country with such a passionate population of social-media devotees, it was no surprise that the session that had everybody hooked was, “The Importance of the right online influencers”. The panel included transgender online influencer Poyd Treechada, who has more than 1 million Instagram followers, and PaPim, a YouTuber-turned-blogger known for her makeup tips.

Hearing firsthand about how these online celebrities engage personally with all their followers and regularly share their passions for fashion and beauty was a window into the lives of these modern icons, who made it sound easy. Their influence has genuine impact—driving traffic, app downloads or purchase results, so diving into how they evaluate which brands they will associate themselves with was illuminating. The answer was simple: They seek a genuine fit with their own values and personality. Authenticity is everything in the online world.

Other panel discussions gave valuable insight for brands and agencies who are tackling business decisions such as how to service customers in social channels, how to open up to e-commerce and how to identify the most important trends likely to change consumer behaviour. We heard from Google, which recently launched a local Thai YouTube portal—certain to increase the visibility of local Thai video content and increase opportunities for brands to engage with their Thai consumers. We heard five forces defining how to use mobile to connect with consumers: voice, video, touch, targeting and transaction—practical advice delivered with local case studies.

I attended the day with the JWT Thailand leadership team and we all came away with renewed focus and fresh ideas to discuss with our clients in coming weeks. Three key takeaways:

  • Ensure you focus on local consumer insight to make the most of social platforms such as Line, Facebook or Instagram
  • Review opportunities to engage consumers with relevance on mobile and with video content
  • Consider the learning plan for your business incorporating digital metrics – whilst conversion tracking is easier than ever to measure, ensure brand-building metrics are part of the plan.
  • Well done ad:tech for bringing a great international event to Bangkok.

Josie Brown is Director of Digital, Asia Pacific, at JWT

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