A Campaign Asia-Pacific webinar Tuesday, presented in association with Ogilvy Public Relations, focused on how major brands should navigate a challenging and changing landscape while staying true to brand values. (The webinar is available on demand here.)
Andrew Thomas, Ogilvy PR Southeast Asia president, acknowledged market uncertainty, but said he remains bullish of the outlook in Asia.
“You can either be a disrupter or be disrupted,” he said. “Disrupter brands have flat organisation structures and are close to the market and clients and are able to make decisions quickly without anybody being too protective of those decisions.”
Andrew Pickup, senior director of communications at Microsoft Asia, highlighted four key challenges the firm faced. The first is around economic and geopolitical uncertainty across Europe, US and China. Digital disruption was another factor. The third challenge involves security in an increasingly connected world. Lastly, Pickup pointed to the skills in Asia and how robots will increasingly perform repetitive physical tasks.
When asked if brands are facing the toughest times right now, Pickup said things are certainly challenging, but even slowing growth in China is better than what other developed economies are seeing. “Most countries would give their right arm for 7 percent GDP,” he said.
He said Asia is diverse region and as such Microsoft adopts a two-speed approach.
Emerging markets like India and Indonesia have a high volume of young people who are experiencing technology for the first time and continue to show healthy growth rates. “Our role in emerging markets is to introduce web browsing, mobile phones, ecommerce transactions,” said Pickup.
Microsoft sees that developed markets like Singapore, Japan and Australia are more in line with Western economies where the firm invests in pushing more advanced technology.
Thomas felt it’s also important to look beyond China. He referenced Ogilvy’s Velocity 12 study, which highlights new sources of consumer growth.
Over the next decade, 12 markets, including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Philippines, will be the source of the next billion middle-class consumers, creating a tipping point as the middle-class moves from a minority to the majority of the local population in these markets, according to a report just published by Ogilvy & Mather.
Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and Egypt are the other countries on the list.
This new generation of consumers will not only play an important economic role, according to the report, but will also shape social change, become influencers on their governments and empower consumers.
“One of the things we’re seeing is pride in local culture, while being outward looking and bringing these billion consumers together in South Asia," Thomas said. "The other big finding was around Muslim consumers and the massive opportunity there.”
He added: “Local brands are far more valued, and that’s a big opportunity for them. It’s not like these new consumers are automatically turning to international brands.”
In Pickup’s view, large, legacy firms need to become more open and responsive to feedback. “We have certainly become more agile under our new leadership,” he said. He shared an example of Microsoft’s Xbox launch last year and how the company quickly reversed product decisions after receiving feedback on social media. “Digitisation isn’t about the customer being connected to the brand. It is about brands leaning in, and that’s a huge opportunity," he said.