Navigating social in Southeast Asia: What to look out for

Southeast Asia is one of the most promising emerging markets today including the internet economy. Over the last year, digital consumers in the region have reportedly surged to 200 million with the e-commerce industry potentially growing over $200 billion by 2025.

While business executives from the United States expect added profits this year, local players appear to be equally competitive with SMEs experiencing unprecedented growth in the region. SMEs in Indonesia and Malaysia are leading the pack with over 50% and 30% contribution to their GDPs, respectively.

Policies and technology are the two major factors attributed to SMEs’ success in the region. Notwithstanding the challenges faced by SMEs due to gaps in these factors, both governments and firms are nonetheless moving towards modernization and trade liberalization.

But even with the inaccessibility of technology to some SEA firms, this has not stopped them from embracing the digital revolution by maximizing the benefits of social media, business analytics, and enterprise mobility.

Indeed, social media engagement, coupled with high internet penetration in the region, has a lot to do with the success of not only SMEs but also large companies and luxury brands. For instance, Thailand’s Garnier Sakura White found its success through digital advertising knowing that Thai consumers spend around 23 hours a week online. It launched a campaign through YouTube, which garnered over 2.6 million views. The product proceeded to win as one of Nielsen’s breakthrough innovation winners in 2016.

Garnier also places emphasis on being relatable with influencer campaigns such as the #HappyHairChallenge where bloggers tested out Fructis Triple Nutrition for a period of 30 days


However, not all brands in the region employ a good marketing strategy on social media as they tend to overlook the fact that SEA is a highly-fragmented environment with various languages, religions, and cultures—and these factors should be at the forefront of their marketing strategy. Adopting a one-size-fits-all strategy in this region is simply tantamount to setting your brand up to fail.

The following are some features that SEA brands need to focus on more in order to succeed in the region:


In order to fully express ourselves, people enjoy conversing in a language that they are comfortable with. While people in the Southeast Asia understand English, the fact that the region has thousands of languages already poses a lot of weaknesses and threats. After all, when it comes to branding, a successful communication means people on the receiving end fully understand the message without need of further clarification.

So how does one solve a problem like SEA? Just ask Starbucks, which created an additional account (@MyStarbucksIdeas) designed to listen to its customers’ feedback and, in return, make the whole Starbucks experience better for them. What started as a mode of one-on-one engagement with its valued customers has now over 55,000 followers on Twitter.

Starbucks thrives on customer experience


In instances when you have to take a unified regional approach to branding in SEA, it is best to categorize it by interests, motivations, and attitudes rather than by country. In fact, Kantar Millward Brown conducted a study earlier this year on how Gen X, Y, and Z in SEA vary when it comes to their reception of advertisements. According to the study, Gen Z is the least receptive to invasive advertising and demands that brands respect their online space.

BMW had another solution in mind though when it comes to penetrating the younger generation. Instead of veering away from Gen Z, it instead embarked on a Snapchat-inspired campaign called Snowchat where users can draw, stamp, or type in holiday messages to their family and friends with a viewing time of just around five (5) seconds. It knew how Snapchat was a hit to the younger consumers and banked on that popularity.

Content Neutrality

While Facebook dominates the social media sphere in SEA, there are other platforms that are also widely used in the region. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and LINE are just some of the platforms with the most active Southeast Asian users. This is why brands need to come up with campaigns that can easily be transferred from one platform to another so that consumers are able to continue discussing it in a different platform with a different network at their own terms.

LINE is one of the platforms with the most active users in Southeast Asia


Yamaha is one of the many companies that cover as many platforms as they can when running campaigns. Using the hashtag #homeOfSound, it welcomed users from Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter to join its photo contest to promote its audio devices and be one of the 12 winners to win its LSX-70 Relit.

It is a must for marketers to evolve simultaneously with the ever changing times. Whether it plans to adopt traditional marketing or use celebrities and influencers to run their campaigns, it is important for them to understand the environment first to which they will be presenting its promotions to. Communications, communities, and content neutrality are just some of the factors that could affect how consumers receive these strategies.






Kantar Millward Brown