I love bingo. I love sitting for formal dinners. I love unpacking my suitcase in one place and, visiting six.  I love breakfast buffets.  I love being isolated in an ocean with no land in sight.

I am a cruiser.

I am also a marketer.

Thus I accepted the invitation to speak at the first annual Cruise Shipping Asia Conference with great alacrity! It presented a unique opportunity for me to speak at the cross section of two of my passions.  The overarching topic was “Marketing in the New Age” and I was asked to home in on social media.

Using the lens of Asia, the topic becomes much more interesting given the current business activity.  On balance, businesses across Asia are approaching social media as an experimental foray.  One indication is the nature of the conversations, which tend not to be conversations at all; rather, one-way messages from corporate communications.  Another indication is that many social media accounts are setup for specific promotions, then abandoned. To that point, a recent study by Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific found that over half of Asian companies studied had inactive accounts across four social media categories – micro-blogs, social networks, corporate blogs, and video sharing.

What’s lacking is the strategic consideration and business context for meaningful and sustainable conversations between brands and their audiences on social platforms. So I thought it would be most appropriate to speak about a few concepts – localisation, visual media, gamification – that marketers operating in Asia could consider to excite customer relationships and realise the benefits of thoughtful social engagement.


We are all on the same Internet, and the penetration of social networking sites in Asia is high, but it behooves marketers to look deeper. There is no one size fits all social strategy or engagement plan, and the need for what I call local relevance is just as important as any argument for global consistency.

Whilst Facebook does enjoy high penetration in many Asian markets, and Southeast Asian countries make up 60% of Facebook users, the behaviour of consumers in each country can not be so easily generalised. For example, Singaporeans lead the world in time spent on Facebook per session. An Experian study found that, on average, a Facebook user in Singapore spends over 38 minutes per session, while a Facebook user in Hong Kong spends less than 6 minutes.

As my colleague outlines here, there is social networking beyond Facebook! In Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, for instance, local platforms boast the highest penetration among their respective netizens. In part, this is because of their cultural preferences and divergent drivers for going online in the first place. The GlobalWebIndex found that the primary motivation for Australian and Chinese people going online is to “stay in touch with friends”. That motivation was not even in the top three for the Japanese. Instead their primary motivation for going online, and South Korean’s secondary motivation, is to “research and find products to buy”.

Given the fragmentation of the Asian region in the social space, those marketers that understand the nuances of their consumer behaviour and preferences in each country, and in some cases individual cities, will enjoy success in the longer-term.

Starbucks and Coca-Cola, two of the top 5 social organisations according to the Social Business Index, are providing leadership for global brands seeking to be locally relevant.  They are not only on Facebook hosting conversations with their audiences on a country-specific level, but also are engaged in rich and interactive conversations on various other platforms. For example, Starbucks China is on Jiepang, the Chinese location-based service (LBS) social network, and Coca-Cola Japan has launched its own content-rich portal site ‘Coca-Cola Park’.


There is an opportunity for marketers operating in Asia to further explore how photography and video can enrich their consumer engagement online.

Photo sharing is trending upwards in Asia, particularly on mobile phones. A recent comScore study found that the Philippines, India and China topped the charts in terms of the percentage of people who share photos directly from their mobile phone to social networking sites; with nearly 70% of Filipino people doing so. The rising popularity of mobile photo sharing applications like Instagram and Camera 360 is a symptom of this. In its first 12 months, Camera 360 (exclusive to Android) gained 6 million users, half of which were from China.

It is not just about photos either. In Asia, comScore Video Metrix cites that online video reaches at least 80% of the web population in Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. In Hong Kong and Singapore the online population is watching over 10 hours of online video per month, and that figure soars to approximately 17 hours in Japan. It is expected with the broadband penetration increasing in most markets that this figure will continue to increase.

It’s clear that photo and video sharing is increasingly popular with Asian consumers, and it presents a compelling opportunity for marketers to capitalize on the activity already taking place. In doing so, they will likely generate more interaction between the brand and its consumers, as well as amongst consumers themselves. Tourism Australia, Huggies, and PayPal have each enjoyed success from their programs in which visual media played a leading role.

  • Tourism Australia designed an initiative titled, “There’s nothing like Australia”, which encouraged Australians to share their personal ideas about what special places and experiences await visitors in Australia. Over the course of 28 days, Aussies uploaded nearly 30,000 unique photos, appended with their personal stories, to excite the world about their country.  Even after the close of the campaign, the visual recommendations make up a searchable digital map of Aussie’s favourite holiday experiences. Complementary to this campaign, is the organisation’s usage of Instagram. Visit their Instagram Facebook tab to see the many beautiful photos aggregated in Australia to promote the unique perspectives and experiences the country has to offer.
  • Huggies Hong Kong created an integrated campaign that was centred around parents sharing photos of their babies on its localised Facebook page. Although there was an incentive to participate (the chance for their baby’s photo to be 1 of 60 wrapped around city buses), Huggies HK benefited from engaging their audience in an activity that was already instinctive in this market. Within three weeks over 6,000 baby photos were uploaded and the activity propelled Huggies HK to become the second largest brand page in the market.
  • PayPal used online video and a blogger outreach program in Singapore and Malaysia to “rally online shoppers towards safer, brighter shopping online.” PayPal created a boy band, “I Promise You”, specifically for the campaign and they personalised music videos based on timely content published by each pre-identified, influential blogger. Although the parallel can be made to the personalised video responses created by Old Spice, PayPal’s videos proactively communicated their message in an engaging way to a very targeted audience. Taken together, the videos instigated over 3,600 views and ancillary press coverage.


Online gaming is increasingly popular worldwide, and not just for stereotypical gamers, but for a more mainstream online audience. In fact, Popcap Games commissioned a survey that revealed the average social gamer to be a 43-year-old woman. The advent of social gaming – games with a very gentle learning curve that live on social networks and can be accessed at a negligible cost – are playing an important role in the increasing ubiquity. Most telling is that 35% of social gamers have no previous gaming experience and many social games boast a larger audience than prime time TV shows.

Asia is said to be the largest market for online games. According to a recent study published by Ovum, the Asia-Pacific digital games market will more than double over the next five years to be worth over $30 billion in 2016, with the revenues from mobile gaming alone tripling in five years to reach $8.2 billion in 2016. While China boasts the world’s largest end-user market, Japan is one of the most profitable. Japanese “mobile games town”, or DENA, has a market capitalisation of 5.2 billion and is said to have a 30 times higher output than Zynga and a 15 times higher output than Facebook.

The increasing popularity and penetration of online gaming, specifically social gaming, is that it offers marketers a productive framework for engaging with customers. My colleague goes in to more detail here.

As might be expected, there are varying degrees in which a business can embed its brand in the games themselves. Exploring beyond them,  the principles of gamification are worth considering. If businesses feel they are not, perhaps in three years Gartner will count them among the 30% of top global companies that will not have at least one gamified application.

The eConsultancy defines gamification as “understanding how users behave, how they can be motivated, and the types of rewards which will make them behave in a way that will help a company achieve its business goals.”  The first part of this definition reiterates the importance of understanding customers, but the latter is what ties their behaviour to business outcomes. I strongly believe the principles of gamification can inform the ways businesses in Asia encourage consumers to not only interact with brands, but also on behalf of them with their own networks. Not to mention, in a way that is more fun and communal.

Consumers in Asia are ready to play, so what will businesses do to give them a go?

There are many examples of brands creating unique tie ins with social games themselves, like LUX’s “Fantastical Manor” on Farmville Chinese, and others building their own games. For example, 7-11 Malaysia’s “Price for Prize” live gameshow held on Facebook, and Toyotas “Social Network Racer” on Facebook. Still it’s those brands that are leveraging game mechanics to excite customers towards business outcomes that are most compelling.

  • Expedia in Singapore launched the “Pack Your Friends” application on Facebook, which encourages people to get their friends involved in their effort to win a free trip. The more suitcases of 3 friends a person packs on Facebook, the better their chances are of winning the trip of the month. Statistics on the number of suitcases packed, as well as the number of friends engaged has excited people to continue participating in the challenge and spreading the message about Expedia’s great package deals. In addition, it gets people talking and thinking about new destinations to go with their friends, and amplifying the activity to their networks.
  • Just this week, Coca-Cola has set out to “gamify” the vending machine experience in Japan. By the end of the first quarter of 2012, Coca-Cola expects many Japanese consumers to be attached to at least one of its 820,000 vending machines across the country.  As part of the ‘Happiness Quest’, Penn Olson shares, “users are motivated to scan the QR code on their favorite vending machine and create its virtual identity. This entails naming the machine and choosing its avatar from a library of 20 designs. Each check-in awards the user points that can be spent to customize their machine….These virtual items include shoes, character skins, and backgrounds…[Also,] checking-in under certain conditions will also earn the user badges.”


With Asian consumers across markets being much more “open to brands” on social media than their Western counterparts, marketers operating in Asia have an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage for their businesses if they approach social media marketing in a more thoughtful and engaging way.

I have shared a few ways marketers can start; considering the divergent social media behaviour and preferences of their Asian consumers; leveraging the ever-increasing popularity of photo and video sharing online; and incorporating game mechanics in their marketing programs. It is because these social activities already exist to the nth degree in many Asian countries, the resonance and effectiveness of programs is much higher.

Cruise Shipping Asia Presentation


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