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David Ketchum has lived and worked in Asia since 1992, when he founded Upstream Asia, which joined Bite Communications in 2009. He also served as senior vice president of marketing and communications for Asia-Pacific at Calvin Klein. Last year, Ketchum founded consultancy CurrentAsia, which operates across Asia-Pacific with a presence in Singapore and Hong Kong. He has been chairman of the industry group Digital + Direct Marketing Association Asia since 2003. He spoke with eMarketer’s Lisa Barron about the changing role of the consumer in Asia-Pacific and the swift rise of marketing technology.
eMarketer: You recently launched CurrentAsia and called it a new breed of business solutions provider. What makes it so different?
David Ketchum: It’s really two things. One, even as agencies become more digital, [they are still focused on] buying media at one price and selling it for a higher price. And if you look at customer behavior, [people are not responding to] paid media but to social media—the ability to send people captivating emails with calls to action and that kind of thing. It’s no longer about buying media at one price and selling it for another. But most agencies still have that as a business model—they are addicted to that model.
Two, agencies think in terms of campaigns: an amazing piece of creative, the launch of a new product. But actually, customers don’t [function] that way. Agencies believe that each customer has their own journey from becoming aware of something to considering it to looking at different options to making a decision, and then, eventually to [becoming part of a CRM program].
Actually, you’ve got hundreds of millions of consumers who are each on a different kind of customer journey. Each customer is different. And the cool thing about marketing technology, and also ad tech to a certain extent, is it allows you to personalize and automate all of those customer journeys at scale. Previously, you had either the choice of doing a big brand broadcast, a relatively uninteractive activity or something highly personalized—now you can have mass customized marketing at scale.
This is something that’s not exactly news in Silicon Valley, and it’s certainly become more mainstream in New York or London and, increasingly, Australia.
But in this part of the world, marketing automation adoption is growing at 51% a year. And programmatic ad buying is growing at around 74% a year. Of course, it’s from a low base, but I do see this wave is coming here as well. So CurrentAsia was set up to be there when the wave breaks.
eMarketer: As marketing technology becomes more important, are relationships still important?
Ketchum: There is a lot of discussion about the Asian people and how they like to do business with people that they have deep relationships with, and that’s more important than the technical side. But there’s plenty of data that shows that although those cultural forces are still important, as much as two-thirds of the buying cycle is complete before anyone ever contacts a company, because they’re looking at their options in search, and they’re reading online reviews and that kind of thing.
We’re focusing, at least initially, on those industries that require some point of high touch in the sales process, so B2B, insurance, some financial services—because that’s where we think the change is going to happen, and that’s where marketers need help.
eMarketer: What are the unique challenges of marketing in Asia?
Ketchum: One of the challenges is, with rare exceptions, most multinational corporations are just looking for incremental sales overseas, so most of them are not custom-tailoring product offerings for international markets. They’re looking more at what’s coming out of the factory and how they can sell more of that to people. I spent much of the last 20 years working on how you keep brand consistent globally but make it relevant for Asia.
Another challenge is finding talent. There are a lot of really smart, really talented people in this region, but the best and the brightest tend to go into banking or work in the family business. So there’s a lot of competition for the best people in marketing and communications.
Another challenge is scale. In the US, you’ve got Federal Express linking all 50 states, and people speak English or Spanish primarily, and they’re all within five time zones. And although there’s diversity, there’s a shared American culture. In this part of the world [as you travel across the region] every 35 minutes you encounter a new language and a new culture. What you learned for marketing in one country isn’t necessarily transferable. What you learned in Malaysia, for example, isn’t particularly transferable to Japan.
eMarketer: How do multinational corporations get around that?
Ketchum: I think the secret is to have templates of regional marketing plans that are focused on the KPIs [key performance indicators], on clearly defining the key objectives of the campaign. You don’t want to be going into China, for example, and telling your folks on the ground what the playbook is. You want to tell them to use a combination of social media, email and display advertising to create the following results, and then let them create it. The key thing is to assign those KPIs into the market. Run the campaign based on the template in a very local way, and then roll the results back up to the regional level and show how you’ve been able to deliver consistency of message.
eMarketer: What are the unique opportunities in Asia that marketers should know about?
Ketchum: What fun it is to operate in a market that’s growing so fast that when growth slows to 7%, people complain. Another thing is the growth of mobility. It’s not just the mobile phone. In Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, each consumer has more than two mobile connections.
The rise of the middle class presents another great opportunity. There’s a rising disposable income that makes it really interesting to be here. And in Southeast Asia, you have a market that in many ways is as big as China but without that whole overlay of the government and a controlled economy.
eMarketer: Your book, “Big M, Little m Marketing: New Strategies for a New Asia,” was published in 2002. How much have things changed since then and what advice remains relevant?
Ketchum: What’s still true is this idea that the existing model of vertically controlled manufacture, distribution and sale of goods is still in the process of being broken and replaced by a customer model. The point in my book—which is still true—is that Asia is on a voyage where the consumers are becoming much more powerful.
We used to have a model where people would set up a factory, make a whole bunch of things and then try to figure out who to sell them to and at what price. Now there is this ongoing change that I talked about in the book where everything is much more customer-centric and customer-driven, and companies need to start behaving like marketers.
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