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AI, data, and social commerce: Reshaping SEA's marketing playbook for 2024

AI, data, and social commerce: Reshaping SEA's marketing playbook for 2024

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Southeast Asia's (SEA) digital economy is charging ahead and was projected to have reached a whopping US$100 billion by the end of 2023, according to research from Bain & Co, Temasek, and Google. But amidst this progress, brands are facing a crisis: customers are slipping away and marketing strategies that have worked well so far are starting to falter.

HubSpot data highlighted that nearly 9 in 10 Singaporean business leaders have found it harder to reach prospects in 2023 as compared to the previous year. More than 8 in 10 are also dealing with slowing growth, with previously effective strategies showing declining returns.

It’s increasingly evident that customer expectations are evolving beyond just price and product. Today, customers crave deeper and more genuine connections, personalised experiences, and brands that truly understand them. To thrive in this new era, marketers in SEA need to embrace key trends and rewrite the marketing playbook for 2024.

AI becoming mission-critical for marketers

Artificial Intelligence (AI), unsurprisingly, dominated conversations in 2023, with investments in the technology on the rise within Asia Pacific. Dataiku forecasts a staggering 67% increase in AI and machine learning (ML) investments across the region by 2024. We expect the adoption of AI to continue in 2024 within SEA. AI is no longer a novelty to marketers, but becoming the ultimate marketing assistant, streamlining workflows, enhancing efficiency, and fostering deeper customer connections.

This is especially true for generative AI applications, which help marketers develop higher-quality, personalised content and create unique experiences that resonate better with audiences, all at a quicker pace.

Content creation emerged as the top use case for generative AI among 89% of marketers in Singapore, with nearly seven in ten (68%) saying that content made using generative AI performed better than content developed without it.

Freeing up marketers’ valuable time for deeper customer connections by automating labour-intensive tasks is another leading use case of AI. Marketers spend an average of five hours a day - more than half their workday - on low-impact tasks such as keyword research, data clean-ups and formatting content. By automating these mundane tasks, AI gives marketers back precious hours to engage with customers, understand their needs, and collaborate on solutions.

Of course, concerns about AI-generated content quality, potential brand misalignment, and the need for effective implementation strategies are valid considerations. However, the industry is rapidly maturing and AI tools themselves are constantly evolving, bolstered by advanced fact-checking capabilities and enhanced compliance mechanisms.

Gaps in knowledge are also creating challenges to adoption, with 35% of Singapore respondents in a HubSpot study admitting not knowing where to begin with generative AI tools.

We can expect these concerns to be overcome as companies hire AI implementation experts, marketers become more comfortable using AI, and as AI tools strengthen fact-checking capabilities.

Part of these efforts are also expected to be led by the government; for instance, Singapore recently unveiled its updated National AI Strategy, a blueprint for the country that focuses on preparing the economy to embrace and utilise AI, with other major SEA economies also having similar initiatives in place. Besides public sector support, businesses should also consider implementing focused training initiatives to cultivate a future-ready workforce equipped with the necessary skill sets to keep pace with AI advancements.

Social commerce and short-form video content to deliver massive growth opportunities

SEA is home to some of the world’s most avid social media users. Data from GWI indicates that social media users in the region spend approximately three hours each day on these platforms, exceeding the global average by about 35 minutes. With social media emerging as the preferred channel for product discovery among Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X consumers, these platforms are on track to become an essential marketing channel due to their potential to deliver strong ROI.

This trend is expected to continue into 2024 in the form of social commerce, aligning with the continued growth of e-commerce in SEA. To optimise returns, we anticipate that marketers will ramp up investments in influencer partnerships, social selling tools, and even personalised in-app customer service - all aimed at creating seamless, frictionless shopping experiences via social platforms. However, not all platforms or formats are created equal.

While Facebook remains the most used social media platform globally, we anticipate that video-centric platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube will register the most growth in 2024. This aligns with user behaviour, as social media videos have become a key source of online discovery in SEA. HubSpot research has found short-form video to offer the highest ROI when it comes to social media marketing and is therefore likely to continue to be the preferred format for marketers looking to engage the region’s digital-first audience.

Additionally, influencers are a powerful tool in a marketer’s playbook; more than half of Southeast Asians follow influencers on social media, according to Milieu Insight, while a Cube Asia survey indicated that 82% of respondents from SEA felt that their purchasing decisions were being influenced by recommendations from influencers or celebrities.

While influencer content does not always directly translate to conversion, having a product or service promoted by influencers can aid significantly with brand awareness, keeping customers and prospects familiar with your brand. Marketers in SEA will continue to collaborate with influencers in 2024, with micro-influencers likely to be the most popular. Working with micro-influencers is not only less expensive in most cases, but can also facilitate access to tight-knit, engaged, and loyal communities - essential in the age of customer disconnection.

First-party data and social media targeting are key following Google’s third-party cookie phaseout

SEA’s marketers will turn to social media targeting and first-party data to reach their audience in response to Google’s third-party cookie phaseout. While the shift towards prioritising data privacy and the growing volume of related regulations across SEA prompted adjustments in marketing strategies, the impact of

Google's third-party cookie phaseout is anticipated to be particularly significant, with a considerable number of marketing activities traditionally relying on these cookies.

Despite these challenges, marketers in SEA are gearing up for 2024 armed with powerful alternatives: social media targeting and first-party data. Social media platforms provide an invaluable source of user data, enabling marketers to engage their target audience through finely tuned-ad campaigns. This level of hyper-personalisation, driven by these platforms’ inherent targeting capabilities, is set to deliver greater effectiveness compared to the broader approach taken with third-party cookies.

Complemented by AI content development capabilities, first-party data will also enable marketers to create personalised content tailored to their target audience, greatly improving the customer experience, relevance, and potential conversion rates. Marketers will need to ensure they have systems such as Customer Relationship Management tools in place to effectively collect and track first-party customer data in compliance with data privacy regulations and also analyse them for insights that power more personalised outreach and better user experiences.

Overcoming disconnection through a single source of truth

One critical challenge plaguing many marketing teams is disjointed data, hindering collaboration and causing disconnection between marketers and their audiences. Teams often leverage a variety of disparate platforms in their work that don’t integrate well with each other, leading to siloed data and workflows. Over 80% of marketers in Singapore struggle with disconnected data and systems, struggling to access essential data or draw meaningful conclusions. This challenge will inevitably become increasingly prevalent as SEA’s economies digitalise.

Conversely, the rapid adoption of digital products and services in SEA creates an opportunity for marketers to gain deeper insight into their customers with data obtained at each digital touchpoint across the end-to-end customer journey. By integrating data with tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, marketers can create a single source of truth. This not only fosters seamless collaboration and sales alignment but also unlocks powerful analytics capabilities. Marketers with connected tools and data, especially when augmented by AI capabilities, are more likely to be strongly aligned with their sales team and customers, thereby successfully achieving their marketing goals.

As 2024 progresses, the most successful marketers will be those who possess a deep understanding of customer needs through data-backed insights and strive to solve customer problems at the root, instead of putting a band-aid on it. Moving ahead, keeping pace, or even staying ahead, of industry trends will require incorporating the right technologies into outreach strategies, enabling marketers to effectively target and reach the customers and prospects through their preferred channels in today’s digital-first economy.

This article was written by Kat Warboys, Senior Marketing Director APAC, HubSpot

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