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Reza BehnamFounder and CEOCtrlShift
From Silicon Valley to Southeast Asia, Reza Behnam’s work has focused on the future of marketing. He served as the managing director of Yahoo Southeast Asia and was a founding member of the trade association IAB Singapore. At the beginning of this year, he founded CtrlShift, a programmatic company offering digital marketing strategy, execution and advertising technology to brands, agencies and publishers across five markets in Southeast Asia. He spoke with eMarketer’s Lisa Barron about the region’s rapidly evolving market.
eMarketer: You have called this “the era of delightful connections” in digital marketing. What do you mean by that?
Reza Behnam: The era of interrupting people with a 30-second commercial or interrupting people’s lifestyles with ads popping up left and right is over. Communication is no longer one way—it’s bidirectional. Your brand is potentially created because people talk about you in social circles, on social networks, etc. The technology that’s now available has the potential to change our lives by offering us the right message at the right time, in the right context on the right device at the right place. And it’s really about bringing all of that together.
Another term I like to use a lot is “advertising as a service.” So far, advertising has been interruption. But why can’t it be changed? Why can’t we change it to make sure it’s really fulfilling a need at the right time and the right place? You’re stuck in the rain, there are no taxis around, and all of the sudden your phone tells you that there is an Uber driver 5 minutes away. Would you like me to get it for you?
Advertising as a service is understanding your audience and being able to put the data pieces together in real time, creating an experience that you will not only like, but cherish. That’s the delightful communication part of advertising.
eMarketer: What are the biggest strengths of the current programmatic landscape in Southeast Asia?
Behnam: I would say its biggest strength is that it doesn’t have a whole lot of legacy in many ways. It’s not encumbered by the past as much as developed countries—as such, you can leapfrog. I’ll give you an example.
A lot of the medium-sized and smaller-size publishers in this region are still using ad serving technology that’s quite old and antiquated. So when you approach them and you tell them that all these advancements have been made in the last five or six years in programmatic, you can onboard them to the newer way of doing things immediately without having to go through two or three iterations of the last five, six years.
I think the adoption is very fast because we’re starting from a very low starting point in terms of the percentage of media that has been programmatic. There is a lot of education happening. And you can learn from the experience of developed markets that have been through this over the last three, four or five years and really pick out best practices. And therefore, the risk is reduced.
eMarketer: And what are the biggest challenges?
Behnam: If I positioned some of the points I just mentioned differently, they could be challenges. The fact that this market is still developing means that subject matter experts in this part of the world are fewer and much more far between than they are in the US, so it takes a lot more education. People are a bit more risk-averse. They’re looking at the bigger markets to see what happens there first. Those things would be challenges to some industry players, but we see it as an opportunity for our company to focus on this region, to be good at the areas that this region needs.
eMarketer: What would your advice be to multinational brands trying to penetrate the Southeast Asia market?
Behnam: I would say Southeast Asia is obviously not a monolithic region, and you have to infuse whatever you are doing at a global level with smart, on-the-ground executions and local knowledge. The ability to understand that and the ability to make that happen and execute is not trivial and definitely not quick. But my advice would be to understand the local market as quickly as possible.
In my view, sometimes the ratio of noise to signal could be quite high in less-developed markets because there’s a lot of people trying to sell a lot of things to others in an environment that isn’t perhaps as transparent. So the quicker you can learn, the quicker you can infuse local knowledge and local ecosystem context and find people to help you execute on the ground in each of the local markets, the better you are.
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