The study found Australia to be the region’s most digitally confident market, followed by Singapore and Hong Kong. Around half the respondents said they felt “OK” when it came to digital, but needed guidance. More than a third cited a lack of understanding among marketers as the biggest barrier to achieving digital excellence—higher than their counterparts in other regions. Asian respondents expressed higher levels of confidence in mobile and display. Conversely, APAC marketers were least confident in search, data and e-CRM tasks.
The study took a detailed look at confidence levels across the digital spectrum, including responses from more than 1,000 agency, media and client-side executives in Asia.
Companies in Asia-Pacific are beginning to invest in development programmes to address these issues, but there is still a lot of work to do, said Niall McKinney, founder and chief executive of The Knowledge Engineers. The levels vary considerably between different companies, and some are very behind the market. According to McKinney, retailers and multinational consumer packaged goods companies are starting to invest in the space. Finance, construction and professional services need to do a lot more. “They have this big opportunity but are not taking them,” he said.
Josie Brown, director of digital with JWT APAC admits the barrier to starting digital marketing projects can be high, with no proven results in business or guidelines to demonstrate the success of digital marketing techniques. “Many marketers have not had experience working directly on projects, which focus deeply on these areas, so may often feel in the dark about how exactly to go about planning and implementing work in these channels,” she said.
Indeed, 37 per cent of APAC respondents said the greatest barrier to digital excellence was a lack of client understanding, versus 32 per cent who felt this way globally. Respondents also cited lack of access to specialists and not thinking in an integrated way as big barriers.
The war for talent attraction and retention in digital is crucial, observed Keith Timimi, chairman of VML Qais. “It is no surprise that employers like Google and Facebook have led the way with staff perks such as free food from Michelin-starred chefs, concierge services and 20 per cent time for personal projects.”
This is further complicated in Asia-Pacific, the most complex set of markets in the world. Marketers here contend with a very fragmented scenario. It includes, for example, the most advanced mobile markets in the world, but also those with the worst connectivity infrastructure. And despite the fact that Asia-Pacific already accounts for the majority of the world's internet users, digital budgets lag in many of the least confident markets, still hovering in the range of 1 to 2 per cent of media spend.
“With budgets not equating to time spent on digital media, there has been a lack of investment in training, and a lack of time for strategic planning,” Timimi added.
There is good news in all of this, though. Some agencies are prepping a learning plan and data strategy to measure the business effectiveness of all marketing activity. With the wealth of experience that agencies bring from their diversity of client experience, they can demonstrate and provide effective digital marketing techniques and capabilities that client marketing teams do not have, Brown said.
Governments and enterprises have recognised this problem as well, and over the last few years there has been positive growth in degree courses, in-house training structures, and professional training and conferences for the industry.
Industry bodies play a crucial role in expanding the breadth and depth of the talent pool. For example, VML Qais has been working with the IAB on industry-wide initiatives, and Timmy said this is now as important to the company as internal VML Qais University programmes.
“Good agency partners will bring rigour in setting comprehensive marketing strategies that build brands and deliver on business building measures,” Brown stressed.