How Coway is building its base across Southeast Asia (beyond banking on BTS)

Southeast Asia is a fragmented region for many brands, requiring various localisation strategies to capture consumers' hearts. A factor that has had much success uniting consumers in this region nowadays is K-pop group BTS. The group caused a stir recently in Malaysia when consumers flocked to McDonald's outlets to get their hands on the BTS meal. At the same time, the group was also named brand ambassadors for Louis Vuitton and inked a partnership with Coca-Cola this year.

Another brand that saw the value of BTS in engaging its Southeast Asian consumers was South Korean air purifier firm Coway, which named BTS its global ambassador in March this year. Chris Noh, Coway Malaysia's head of marketing division, told A+M that this collaboration is one of the many ways to enhance the company's presence in the digital space as well as its online strategy. It was previously announced that BTS will represent both the corporate image and the products such as water purifiers, air purifiers, and mattresses. Promotional videos for Coway's products starring BTS have also rolled out on digital platforms. Noh explained to A+M that BTS has been able to create a strong connection with fans and build up its influence via digital platforms, and this also aligns with Coway's plans to boost its digital efforts.

"We plan to launch exclusive YouTube content to encourage consumers to follow us on the platform. Different approaches will also be taken to produce diverse types of content which BTS will be a part of," Noh explained but declined to reveal more details about specific digital marketing initiatives as well as the monetary value of the partnership.

Coway has four offices in Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam - and the region contributed about RM2.73 billion in annual revenue last year, accounting for 22.9% of Coway's total annual revenue of RM11.93 billion in revenue during 2020. A bulk of its revenue in Southeast Asia last year came from Malaysia, which posted an annual revenue of about RM2.61 billion. Since the establishment of its Malaysia operations in 2006, the company said it is now present in more than 1.7 million homes locally. Citing a GfK 2020 survey, Coway also claims to have the largest market share in water purifiers (44%) and air purifiers (40%) in Malaysia. The secret to its success, according to Noh (pictured below), is the localisation of its marketing efforts.

coway chris noh

According to Noh, the company has made efforts to collaborate with local artists, celebrities and influencers with who Malaysians are familiar.

Last year, it reenacted the diving capabilities of Donalson Wong, a champion Malaysian freediver, and linked his rise with his family's longstanding use of Coway products. In 2019, it also tied up with Malaysian entertainer Adibah Noor for the K-pop inspired music video "CODYNATION". Our promotions, such as TVC, social media postings, celebrate Raya, Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Malaysia Day, and more together with the Malaysian public," Noh added. Coway currently works with Grey Malaysia, Ampersand Advisory and GO Communications in Malaysia.

Also, the company noticed that there are many sports enthusiasts in Malaysia who love outdoor activities. Hence, it launched the Coway Run in Malaysia four years ago, making it the only country to have the run among all Coway subsidiaries.

"Malaysia is a huge melting pot of vibrant cultures with diverse potential toward a clean, better, and premium lifestyle. To understand the Asian market better and bring a good fit product with customised service for this multi-cultural region, Malaysia can be a good place to get consumer insights," Noh said.

He explained that Malaysia has a family-centric culture that involves frequent gathering and sharing, giving consumers a good opportunity to talk about indoor air quality with family and friends. "As such cultural differences do not only belong to Malaysia but are also adaptable for other countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, the Malaysia market is significantly important [to us] and [the main playing field] we need to always focus on for now and upcoming future," Noh explained. The 20-man marketing team under Noh in Malaysia is currently expanding its PR, digital, ATL, BTL and communication design teams. According to Coway, this is the largest team among all of Coway's overseas subsidiaries. 

Nonetheless, the company is not stopping there and is eyeing Indonesian and Thai customers too. In Indonesia, the brand launched a self-protection #HigienismeChallenge that encouraged Indonesians to remain at home and stay healthy with fresh water and clean air via Coway's products. Coway worked with local key opinion leaders for the ad which showcased how Indonesians can stay hydrated with clean purified water without heading out to purchase bottled water.

In Thailand, it also launched a Cody Box campaign nationwide as an OOH activation, featuring a Coway water purifier and a real service expert named Cody. The campaign wanted to instill the idea to Thai consumers that they will receive professional regular Cody service when they subscribe to Coway water purifiers.

Separately, one marketing trend Coway has noticed recently are the challenges that brands are creating to engage consumers online. "We feel that these challenges are one of the fun ways to directly engage with consumers on social media," he said. As such, it created the #BiddyDanceChallenge alongside the launch of Bateri Bidet in January, where consumers were invited to share their own Biddy dance moves with a Biddy song. It also created quizzes on social media to raise awareness about the product. 

Pandemic's impact on marketing

Like many brands, Coway has also experienced a challenging period amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Noh said it "has turned this crisis into an opportunity" by shifting its focus to digital communication channels. While he declined to reveal the amount of its marketing budget that has been set aside for digital initiatives, Noh said the previous amount for digital marketing "was not a significant number". However, increased focus on social media, live streaming commerce and working with key opinion leaders has led the brand to increase its digital spend for its annual marketing activities. 

The brand is currently present on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and Noh said all its marketing platforms have different roles and interactions with consumers. "Among all our consumers, Coway Malaysia's social media garners have the most followers and engagement within the industry category. The social media gamers act as a transparent window where our consumers can get the latest promotional details, product information, general health knowledge, inquiries, and offer feedback to our brand on a daily basis," Noh explained.

When asked if Coway plans to expand into newer platforms such as TikTok, Noh said: "Since all new social media platforms have a different life span, target audiences, and content genre, we monitor the new platforms and benchmark new content formats that gain popularity among our target audiences." ECommerce has also become more popular among consumers as a result of the pandemic. According to Noh, it also plans to set up an eCommerce channel for Southeast Asian consumers but he did not elaborate more on the plans. 

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