Antoine Gross
Feb 5, 2020

Why Southeast Asia could lead influencer marketing’s evolution

Demographics, popular food and travel obsessions and plethora of platforms give SEA a chance to elevate KOL partnerships.

Malaysian food art influencer Samantha Lee has worked with brands like Mastercard and Turkish Airlines.
Malaysian food art influencer Samantha Lee has worked with brands like Mastercard and Turkish Airlines.

Somewhere in the first half of the last decade, social media influencer marketing was sitting pretty, somewhere between ‘innovation trigger’ and the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ on Gartner’s hype cycle. Instagram had just launched, ‘influencers’ were gaining well, influence, and marketers were figuring out how to turn it all in their favour.

More recently, however, influencer marketing has been stuck in the trough of disillusionment. On a global level, social-media platforms have faced increasing scrutiny and skepticism as a result of government enquiries, data breaches, and the ensuing decline in consumer trust. In April 2019, Oxford Economics and Dentsu Aegis Network published their second annual Digital Society Index, which found that nearly half of APAC consumers (44%) took steps last year to reduce the amount of data they share online.

When combined with measurement issues like engagement fraud (influencer marketing measurement firm Instascreener found that from September to December 2019, fake engagement rates began to increase again to 1.2%, after an initial fall to 1% earlier in the year), it’s not hard to understand this dive into disillusionment.

However, as we move into the new decade, it looks as though the tide could be turning for the global influencer-marketing industry. The latest Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, 2019 shows influencer and advocacy marketing beginning to climb into the slope of enlightenment.


This presents a great opportunity for brands in Southeast Asia to not only fully embrace influencer marketing, but also to lead its next evolution.

And this is why.

The demographics: First of all, Southeast Asia is fertile ground for this particular form of marketing. According to Google’s e-Conomy SEA 2019 report, there are 360 million internet users in the Southeast Asian region, and 90% of them connect to the internet primarily through their mobile phones. As a mobile-first region, and one with a youthful demographic and spread of social platforms, it has all the raw ingredients to make influencer marketing fly.

Further, our region’s internet economy hit $100 billion for the first time in 2019, after more than tripling over the last four years. By 2025, the internet economy is expected to grow to $300 billion.

Global appeal + local trust: Southeast Asia has massive global appeal for people looking to get their social-media fix. If anywhere can make influencer partnerships work, it’s the region fueling the world’s obsession with travel, food and photography.

Take Malaysian food artist Samantha Lee, for example. Her quirky brand of food photography has won her a true connection with her audience, and savvy brands including Turkish Airlines, Mastercard, ESPN, Sustagen, Samsung and Barbie have been keen to work with her.

Then there’s Vietnamese beauty influencer Trinh Pham, whose infectious personality has won her a legion of fans. Trinh has already partnered with a whole host of notable brands including L'Oreal, NYX, and Laneige. The key to their success has been finding ways to align themselves with Trinh’s content across YouTube and Instagram in an authentic, non-invasive way.



In tandem, there are significant opportunities for local brands to leverage influencer marketing. McCann WorldGroup’s Truth About Global Brands study revealed that APAC consumers trust local brands more than global brands, with the number of APAC consumers saying that it would be better if global brands disappeared nearly doubling from 2015 to 2019 (44%).

Diversity of platforms: Whilst Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are the most popular social-media sites in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam; it’s worth remembering that Southeast Asia is also home to nearly 40% of TikTok’s global users. With an estimated 190 million users in the region alone, that’s a lot of new eyeballs available to marketers and its 15-second video format is revolutionising the way stories can be told.

When you combine these with native platforms like LINE, Zalo and WeChat there is a wealth of opportunity to increase brand awareness, drive engagement, and reach new audiences – providing brands understand the best way to leverage not only influencers themselves, but also the nuances of each social media partnership.

In order for brands in Southeast Asia to leverage this influencer partnership opportunity, it’s going to be imperative for marketers to ensure they do these three things:

1.  Ensure authenticity

Marketers must hunt down those influencers who have an authentic connection with their followers, who aren’t afraid to open up and share how they really feel. In short, perfect pictures alone aren’t going to cut it anymore. And whilst it might sound scary, this also means letting go of creative control. A heavy-handed corporate execution can damage both influencer and brand.

2.  Measure the right thing

For a long time, vanity metrics such as likes and comments were considered the gold standard in measuring influencer impact. But these days, such engagement metrics should only be considered one of many metrics. Instead of tracking likes, marketers should be focusing their energy on tracking more outcome-focused metrics such as conversion rates. They shouldn’t be afraid of back to basic marketing techniques like coupon codes and unique URLs, which can work like a dream on many influencer platforms—especially in verticals such as health and beauty.

3.  Manage and optimise

Ensuring that brands can effectively manage and optimise influencers is even more important in Southeast Asia as brands must find a way to manage campaigns in multiple markets, across multiple languages and via multiple platforms; all of which are likely to involve different measures of success.

For Southeast Asian brands willing to invest in authenticity, a deep understanding of market and social media platform trends and an obsession with ROI, the opportunity to lead the next wave of influencer marketing is significant.


Antoine Gross is country manager, Southeast Asia at Impact, which makes automation technology for marketing partnerships.

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