Despite COVID-19 having disrupted multiple economic sectors, marketing budgets remain largely intact, with the need for brand awareness and messaging as vital as ever to keep business running as usual. Khmer Times reporter Jason Boken spoke with Hubert Marchand country director of ADA, a data and artificial intelligence company that designs and executes integrated digital, analytics, and marketing solutions about how ADA has weathered the pandemic storm and helped their clients do the same.
KT: The shifting of marketing budgets towards digital channels, both above and below the line, is not that new. How do you see the marketing landscape in Cambodia as opposed to other countries in the region?
HM:We recently did a marketing spend analysis of ADA customers across the nine markets we operate in and it revealed that a typical marketing budget is split into three areas. Those are consumer insight generation (10-20 percent), creative (25-30 percent) and working media (60-70 percent).
But this is different from what we see here in Cambodia.
General insight generation is an area that is still very light in the Kingdom, with just a few businesses doing this well. Getting the most out of your data, acquiring strong 3rd party data, leveraging social listening or search trends can unlock a treasure trove for brands.
The second area where we see Cambodia being an outlier is in media expenditure and particularly the breakdown between online and offline channels. Neighbouring countries like Vietnam or Thailand see 20-25 percent of media budgets allocated to digital channels. In Cambodia digital accounts for an estimated 10 percent of total media budgets.
That said, they don’t call Cambodia the leapfrog Kingdom for no reason. We do see the growth in these areas and in the coming years we expect data and digital maturity among Cambodian businesses to increase, as well as the growth of digital media expenditures and diversification of those same media channels beyond the usual suspects like Facebook or Google.
KT: Are there unique characteristics to the Cambodian marketplace that require a bespoke approach in strategy?
HM: One characteristic we’ve noticed is that if you compare the way most brands position themselves here in the market, you see a lot of similarities in the way they communicate and in their offers.
For example, take an average brand television commercial (TVC), swap out the logo with a competing brand’s and I bet you won’t see the difference.
That comes from the fact that traditionally there is not a lot of consumer data available and brands tend to copy what they see in the market.
That poses a big opportunity for Cambodian brands. If you can nail your market orientation and get to the bottom of your consumer’s mindset and then translate that into strategy and communication? You’ll be top 1 percent. The resulting distinctiveness and differentiation will grow your brand and business.
ADA recently won Campaign’s Agency of the Year award for Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos as well as top honours in the Digital and Independent Agency categories. One major asset we have towards that success is our Consumer Insights Explorer (CIE) tool. It gets us to the bottom of the Cambodian mindset. It encompasses 5M local profiles from which we can understand behaviours, preferences and lifestyles. Building marketing strategies and tactics on top of insights like that makes for work that really moves the needle.
KT: How did the realities of the pandemic shift ADA’s future plans in terms of protecting revenue streams?
HM: As a servicing business, our prime concern when COVID-19 hit was our clients. Our main focus was on using our expertise and tools to steer them through uncharted waters.
Depending on our client’s ability to serve the pandemic driven changes in consumer demand, that meant either mitigating downsides or leveraging on new opportunities. Digitalization has fast-tracked because of COVID and thanks to our digital-first set up, we managed to realise growth this year and we’ll be doubling down on the opportunities we see.
For many brands marketing budgets will be under stress next year and because of that, the digitalization of consumer journeys will be a high priority. That’s because the right combination of consumer insights and marketing technology can provide 20 percent cost savings. Another area of promise for us is our analytics products. With the backing of our partner telco, we are building a Customer 360 solution to help brands understand their target audience’s online and offline behaviour.
KT: There are skill gaps across various employment sectors in Cambodia. Do you see any when it comes to finding the right talent to work with data, AI and marketing?
HM: That talent gap exists in every market in south-east Asia, but even more so in Cambodia as it’s a digitally emerging market. As a Data and AI company here, we have the responsibility to hire and nurture local talent with an objective to get them ready to excel at ADA, but also to contribute to the digital economy at large. For our Data Science and Engineering practice we currently operate a hybrid model, where we use many of our regional ADA talent, algorithms and frameworks to deliver on our customers’ expectations while upskilling the local pool to that level.
It’s important for talent to understand the implications of AI and automation on the discipline of marketing. As a rule of thumb, any task that is repetitive and within a relatively narrow context will be automated at some point. If for example, you’re a media planner today, chances are aspects of your job won’t be around forever. Learning how AI and automation work will change the way you create, produce and activate marketing.
KT: When companies enter Asian markets they often struggle with understanding its unique culture and policies. How do you help them adapt?
HM: That’s a very interesting point, the marketing world is riddled with examples of international brands that don’t get traction in a local market because of cultural nuances. Take Starbucks in Australia for example, where local consumer needs and loyalty were not aligned with the entry strategy Starbucks had.
New market entrants we partner up with usually come well prepared in terms of policy and general market understanding. Where we step in though is in providing the right data and tools to uncover consumers’ mindsets and consult on strong market positioning. Furthermore, we equip them with communications strategies that consider cultural nuances and provide the right balance between their global product messaging strategies and clever localisation.
The uniqueness of each market usually reflects on user journeys and we help our clients design efficient customer funnels that are market and objective specific and ultimately reach their business objectives.
It’s the adaptation and localisation of the above that will most impact the success of the newcomers.