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Southeast Asia's (SEA) 155m internet users are the next goldmine for digital marketing. The region contains a young base of internet users whose time spent online is significantly above the global average, and where social networking dominates.

The online population grew at a healthy 9% last year, and is expected to continue at a similar rate in 2014. Added to this, it has one of the highest levels of mobile adoption in the world.

So, are you ready to take advantage of these opportunities presented by the SEA digital market?

The starting point is to recognize that the market is very diverse.  

SEA comprises ten countries with different states of internet development, from the emerging internet economy of Myanmar (formerly Burma) to the relatively developed and sophisticated internet landscape of Singapore.

Vietnam and Indonesia have the largest and youngest internet user population in the region, and Brunei and Singapore are on the other end of the scale with a more mature but richer internet population.

The good news for global digital marketers is that familiar names like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter dominate the digital platforms in SEA.  This is unlike the challenges global marketers face in regions like China, Russia or Japan.

English is widely spoken in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia but it's necessary to serve content in the local language to market in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

To do well in SEA digital marketing, just remember that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all digital strategy. For marketing tactics to be relevant, it has to be hyper-local fitting the relevant cultural context, language and state of digital development.

Here are five tips to help you ace digital and content marketing in SEA, and for more information on this topic download the Econsultancy Content Marketing in South-East Asia Best Practice Guide:

1. Consider 'Asian Values' when creating content

Values like filial piety, collectivism (versus individualism), concern for socio-economic well-being (instead of human rights and civil liberties) and respect and loyalty for parents and teachers still resonate strongly with SEA communities.

Yes, there has been an erosion of the Asian values over the years, but wise marketers can still create content that can evoke the emotional aspects of societal values that is in line with their company's values and objectives.

Consider the success of campaigns like Malaysia's national rice body BERNAS' 2014 Chinese New Year Family Reunion Dinner video and you can witness how this type of content resonates with society at large in SEA. 

2.  Tie-ups with local personalities 

Local personalities and key opinion leaders are highly influential in shaping the community's desires and wants. The problem is that no one local personality has influence that spans all ten countries in SEA.

The desire to follow is universal but it is highly reinforced in SEA society stemming from the values of respect and loyalty to forms of authority like charismatic personalities and celebrities.  

Many marketing campaigns in SEA are magnified with the use of local personalities and blogger networks that speak and resonate with the target communities. 

An example of a local personality that manages to span its influence across many parts of SEA is the cartoon personalities of Upin and Ipin. It is a Malaysian-made cartoon that has huge following in the region with 7.8m Facebook fans. 

Upin and Ipin Facebook 7.8m fans

3. Make visibility on Google a top priority

SEA consumers have the highest trust in search engines as a source of information as compared to social media, owned media or traditional media. The Edelman Trustbarometer 2014 Report also states that online search is the starting point and validation source for business information and news.

In all ten countries of SEA, Google dominates the search engine landscape with more than 84% market share at the minimum.

So, it goes without saying that to ace content marketing in SEA, SEO and paid search efforts revolving around Google are crucial. Content strategies should also start with researching trending and high volume keyword phrases.

However, this is often ignored in many SEA content marketing strategies. Clever competitors seize on this opportunity to dominate the relevant topic area.

4. Local language predominates

In order to resonate with SEA communities, local content in the local language is king. This is one of the most important tactical points for content marketing in SEA.

Many SEA marketers found it challenging to create a regional content strategy because the region is to diverse in language, culture and development.

Singapore hosts the SEA and also Asian headquarters of many global companies, and SEA is often seen as a homogeneous region. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a result, many companies under-invest in hyperlocal content marketing, local language content and even an in-country content team. Typically, a single English language campaign is executed across SEA, and results are below expectations.

You will need to understand the online landscape well before investing in local language content, but many a time there are more online conversations in local languages than in English. 

A good starting point is to investigate a particular topic by examining its local language trend versus its English equivalent using Google Trends. An example of the Indonesian keyword trend on 'jobs' is shown here: Google Trends Indonesian versus English language

5. Traditional media is still hugely influential in SEA

Many global digital marketers are surprised by the resilience and continued strong influence of traditional media in SEA given its growth in internet usage.

Companies in SEA typically still spend more than 80% of their advertising budget on traditional media. This is true even in more sophisticated internet economies in SEA like Singapore and Malaysia.

For content strategy to have the widest reach in SEA, traditional media must be a part of the multichannel marketing approach. 

In summary, SEA presents a goldmine for digital. Content marketers can do well by understanding the intricacies and nuances of the market. Besides sandy beaches, tropical weather, great people and some of the most exciting food in the world, digital opportunities beckon.

It is still early days for digital in SEA. Savvy marketers and business owners know that there is a window of opportunity to lead the market - now is the time.

Eu Gene Ang

Published 19 February, 2014 by Eu Gene Ang

Eu Gene Ang is Founder and Principal Trainer at ClickAcademy Asia Pte Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find him on Google Plus

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John Malcom

What a great summary of content marketing ways online in Asia. I have learnt a lot.

over 2 years ago

Eu Gene Ang

Eu Gene Ang, Founder and Principal Trainer at ClickAcademy Asia Pte LtdSmall Business

Thanks John, and I'm glad you find this useful. The digital landscape of Southeast Asia is starting to get really interesting.

over 2 years ago

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Erica

Great article! This was very helpful. Thank you! Do you recommend any other sites or guides for Marketing in Southeast Asia? Vietnam in particular.

about 2 years ago

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Tom Simpson

Hi Erica. Try www.digitalinasia.com - it provides some great coverage of South East Asia marketing, and has some specific articles covering Vietnam, including a pretty comprehensive digital landscape. Tom

about 2 years ago

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Serena

A great article indeed, have recommended it to a few clients. I find the point about the languages and hyperlocal content especially important.

about 2 years ago

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