For marketing professionals from Asia, an all too familiar experience through the 90s and much of the 2000s was being reminded at conferences and industry events about how behind the times the industry was in their home countries. At Pioneers | The Future is already here, a thought leadership series hosted by Meta in partnership with Campaign, a panel of experts highlighted how the tide has now turned. APAC is now the region that the rest of the world can learn from. When it comes to many of the emerging trends, APAC will be the bedrock of the future of marketing, globally.
The panel discussion included Tawana Murphy Burnett, director of global clients and categories, APAC, Meta; Rohit Gulati, managing director and partner, BCG; Shelly Chiang, chief digital and marketing officer – SAPMENA, L’Oréal; and Justin Peyton, chief transformation officer, Wunderman Thompson.
Four trends that are at the heart of APAC blazing the trail
The session began with Meta’s Murphy Burnett elaborating on four key trends that indicated that the title of the discussion — the future is already here in APAC — was more than just a bold claim. The discussion that followed seemed to echo some of these points, with the panelists illuminating these four paths further.
1. The mobile majority: Increased mobile connectivity and low prices for data and phones across the region has meant a significant uptick in the number of digitally connected customers. The region is also home to a large youthful population. According to a UN Women report, at 750 million, the youth in Asia-Pacific make up 60% of the world’s population between the ages of 15 to 24.
The insight: New technology-driven business models in the region have grown, backed by a large youthful digitally native population
L’Oréal’s Shelly Chiang said, “What's unique about this region is the presence of very young consumers. For them digital, social, mobile are part of their daily lives. When we introduce new experiences, it's very easy.”
Burnett said, “In APAC, we see some of the highest global e-commerce adoption, with Southeast Asia in particular at the forefront.”
2. Experiential e-commerce: Particularly after the pandemic, Asian consumers have started engaging with products even before they shop. Murphy Burnett said, “The technology that allows us to do that to an even larger extent is here. In APAC, the adoption of AR is high — 86%1 people who have bought into this experience are looking to continue to do more.” Social commerce in Southeast Asia alone grew by triple digits through the first half of 2020 on the number of orders as well as value of items sold.2
The adoption of technology-backed commerce provides ample evidence of the enthusiasm with which consumers adapt to and welcome new ways of marketing and selling. With newer technologies such as the metaverse looming large, marketers are grappling with difficult questions about the optimal time and best opportunity to invest, or whether they are better off holding back for the moment.
The insight: The adoption of AR offers a glimpse into the future of the metaverse
To answer the questions on if, when and how to invest, it helps to first have a broader view of what constitutes the metaverse — everything from immersive 3D worlds that are completely virtual and hardware-dependent; to AR accessed on smartphones according to Wunderman Thompson’s Justin Peyton.
Marketers have discovered that technologies that tap into the interplay between digital, social, and mobile are likely to be embraced particularly in APAC, and that it helps to have a head start. For instance, L’Oréal grew on the back of experiential e-commerce using AR through the pandemic. However, this was by no means an overnight success. L’Oréal’s Chiang revealed that the company first began testing AR in its beauty experience almost a decade ago — in 2014, making acquisitions along the way to help accelerate its journey.
The investment paid off during Covid-19, when young consumers in the region effortlessly made the switch to shopping via AR, at a time when the stores were closed and there were no other options to test a product before purchase.
Investing early in emerging technologies will help brands in the long term. Chiang said, “When pioneering something, there is a lot of prep work, but accelerating and amplifying it at the right moment is very important.”
Speaking specifically about the rules of engagement within a metaverse, Peyton suggested that brands take a page from the world of gaming. He said, “Gaming has set expectations for Gen Z of the digital space being one in which they are in control. Brands should create a space where the consumer as protagonist makes the decisions, and not just a virtual world to walk around in.”
3. Transformed transactions: While the number of people messaging businesses globally is pegged at a billion per week,3 the trend is particularly evident in APAC. Almost 40% of consumers prefer to chat with businesses.4 How people prefer to interact with businesses is transforming, and nowhere is this more evident than this region. Murphy Burnett illustrated an intriguing aspect of business messaging in APAC. Consumers in the region were comfortable having discussions over messaging with everyone from grocers to doctors over messaging services, which are used primarily for private interpersonal conversations elsewhere.
The opportunity: leverage messaging to take control of the conversation
BCG’s Rohit Gulati elaborated on the potential for business messaging. “No other region comes close and other places are trying to take a leaf out of what’s happened in this part of the world.” The growth of business messaging can be traced back to high amounts of friction for consumers who wish to engage with brands. What people desire is the ability to reach brands in a manner that replicates their everyday behaviour.
Speaking about why brands in turn had backed messaging, Gulati said, “They want to be in control of the conversation. It’s been harder getting a share of time from consumers and to have a direct conversation. Business messaging allows them to do that.”
Gulati observed that the spectrum of brands that rely on messaging spanned across small businesses, banks, telcos, auto insurance, and consumer product retailers. He said, “The scale is now creating a virtuous cycle. The network effect from a business standpoint is that if you are not on the bandwagon, you get left behind. Every sector needs to start thinking about how they can make it much more relevant because the consumer is already there.”
4. The age of influence: Influencers are a significant presence across the region. The industry is estimated to reach $2.59 billion in Southeast Asia alone by 20245. In addition, in the beauty category, 67% of shoppers rely on social media influencers6.
Peyton pointed to research that estimated 50% of Gen Z and younger millennials want to be influencers. This marks a radical shift in the roles played by marketers and brands. He said, “As marketers, we wanted to build a bridge between culture and our customers. But they don’t want the bridge any more; they would rather create and influence culture themselves.”
The key learning: the lines between consumers and creators of content are blurring
The technology framework that facilitates this shift is already here. Instagram had opened up to NFTs and Nike had come up with a platform to co-create shoes.
Chiang said, “In this part of the world, the audience is not only digitally savvy, but also very aspirational. We are conscious of their diversity and creativity, and it is something that we want to encourage. I feel we are hitting a sweet spot where the consumers, the technologies, and the brands are all ready. When the stars align, a lot of fun creative things happen. Within our ecosystem, not only consumers but beauty advisors, makeup experts, and hair salon professionals are all part of this creative energy that we're tapping into.”
Navigating the landscape in a challenging year ahead
Finally, the panelists spoke about the elephant in the room — the current macroeconomic headwinds. A looming recession does not present the best conditions for companies looking to invest in the future of marketing. The inevitable leaning tends to be towards scaling back future-facing investments and sticking with the familiar. However, the panelists offered a different view.
Asked how L’Oréal is thinking about marketing budgets for 2023 even as it worked towards future-proofing its business, Chiang said, “You need to consider the growth today and the growth of tomorrow and take a calculated risk. We never compromise the growth of tomorrow just for today, or vice versa.”
There were many practical reasons driving such an approach. Peyton said, “The real cost is not in putting new technology in place, but of getting your business up and running — embedding technology in a way where it feels seamless and natural.” He suggested that businesses start investing early in emerging immersive technologies apportioning “a couple of percent of the total budget”.
As the evening concluded, everyone in the audience saw illustrations and evidence on why APAC had made a 180-degree turn — from being one of the laggards of leveraging technology in marketing, to being the market lighting the pathways for others to follow. The world is now on the cusp of yet another technological revolution, with the next wave of the internet shaping itself up in what we call the ‘metaverse.’ How the people and marketers in the region take to that shift is still up for grabs.
 Facebook IQ - Emerging trends research. 2021. https://www.facebook.com/business/news/insights/emerging-trends#The-digital-gathering
 iKala - The rise of social commerce in Southeast Asia. 2020. https://ikala.tv/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/NEW-RETAIL-2020-The-Rise-of-Social-Commerce-in-Southeast-Asia.pdf
 Meta "Conversations" event internal data. 2022.
 BCG and Meta survey: ‘Consumers & Business Behaviour on Business Messaging’. 2022. https://www.facebook.com/business/news/business-messaging-report-APAC-BCG-Meta
 R3 Worldwide - Influencer marketing in Southeast Asia 2020. https://rthree.com/insights/influencer-marketing-in-southeast-asia/
 Harvard Business School case study. 2019. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/lipstick-tips-how-influencers-are-making-over-beauty-marketing Source: Campaign Asia-Pacific