3asiaSignificant differences are starting to appear between Asia Pacific countries in the second annual Adobe APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard, a research which the CMO Council, in partnership with Adobe, just released. The study paints a picture of a two-stroke regional approach to digital marketing, with some countries advancing with increased focus on analytics and competitive advantage leveraging big data, and others struggling with limited budget and lack of skillset to implement analytics and reporting technology that will enable them to build a case for return on investment.

In spite of this, APAC marketers are generally gaining confidence in their digital abilities, with 28% across APAC rating themselves as 'highly evolved and a leader in their field,' compared to 23% in 2012. Singapore is aligned with the APAC average at 29% in confidence levels, also placing third highest behind India (42%) and Australia (37%).

Commenting on the Singapore results, Mr Hisamichi Kinomoto, Vice President of Marketing, Adobe Japan and Asia Pacific said, “It is clear from the marketers’ key priorities of social optimization and content strategy this year that Singapore audiences prefer to be engaged socially and with compelling content. While social optimization continues to be a top priority for marketers, what’s interesting is that content strategy wasn’t even on their radar last year.”

“This is a clear indication of how much local marketers have evolved – they are no longer only focused on the channel but now understand that to effectively make use of the channel to engage with audiences, they need to also focus on the message – that is, content is king.”

Priorities shift to content strategy, social optimization

The Adobe APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard identified some dramatic shifts in marketers' priorities in 2013. Almost 75% of APAC marketers said they were strengthening their digital marketing content strategy this year, compared to 36% in 2012. Marketers also said they were prioritizing social media optimization (59% in 2013 compared to 52% in 2012). Other top priorities were increasing the performance of search and online display advertising (45%), and websites (36%).

Specific to Singapore, social optimization continued to be the number one priority for marketers for the second year running at 78%, up from 68% last year. While it was not a priority at all for Singapore marketers last year, strengthening the brand’s digital marketing content strategy came in at a close second at 76% this year.

Measuring but not analyzing

A strong majority of APAC marketers are measuring and testing digital campaigns (69%), with 80% confirming they are using marketing analytics and reporting technologies. However, the research showed that they lack the in-house or agency analytic skills to do much more than review these key metrics.

Singapore marketers echo the sentiments of their APAC counterparts with 69% of respondents indicating that measuring and testing is something they do for every campaign, and 82% harnessing marketing analytics and reporting technologies.

In terms of the skillsets to measure and analyze, marketers here feel that they are steadily gaining ground – 51% say that their ability to measure digital marketing investment is getting better while 38% of marketers feel that their digital marketing analysis expertise is improving but do acknowledge they still have some way to go.

"The dashboard shows marketers are leveraging standard metrics, including web performance data (APAC 75% vs SG 91%), click-through rates (APAC 68% vs SG 70%), conversion (APAC 72% vs SG 64%) and acquisition or lead costs (APAC 49% vs SG 57%)," said Mr Kinomoto.

"These are all excellent measurements, but critical performance indicators such as customer lifetime value (APAC 15% vs SG 14%), churn rate (APAC 9% vs SG 2%) and market share improvements (APAC 12% vs SG 5%) are too low on the list right now. Marketers are failing to tap into the business-driving metrics that will help convince senior management to increase investment."

APAC investment lags global average

Investment levels did not move much between 2012 and 2013. APAC digital spend is still below global average, which is between 25% - 35% of total marketing spend, notes Liz Miller, Vice President of Marketing Programs and Operations for CMO Council. "Only 14% of marketers in Asia Pacific and 17% in Singapore are spending on par with this global baseline," she said. "Budgets are still quite low across APAC. Regionally, 71% spend less than a quarter of their budget on digital while the figure for Singapore is comparative at 69%."

Ms Miller said that one of the greatest imperatives for marketers in 2014 will be to advance the business case for higher investment. "Next year, 23% of APAC marketers and 22% in Singapore expect to increase their budgets to align with the global average. But similar intentions were voiced in 2012. Marketers need to be able to build a strong positive business case for the investment, demonstrating return on investment. Without the right analytic technologies in place, it's hard to do this," she said.

"When we consider the ways in which marketers build a business case for digital investment, it's clear that they still rely heavily on data that shows customer preference for digital engagement (APAC 50% vs SG 60%), analytics on lead yield and return (APAC 49% vs SG 51%) and the strategic assessment of business impact (44% for both APAC and SG)," explained Ms Miller.

"To make a more robust business case, APAC marketers should provide additional insights around cost savings and performance improvement practice, which only few of them (APAC 25% vs SG 22%) are doing today in spite of the fact that they also believe senior leadership is interested in digital for its ability to improve business performance (APAC 59% vs SG 61%)."

Challenges and opportunities

Marketers in Singapore and across the region continue to face challenges in building teams with the right analytic skill-set – from their current employees not having the right skills and expertise (APAC 53% vs SG 59%), to lacking the budget to hire skilled senior staff (APAC 48% vs SG 36%), to experiencing difficulty retaining staff who do have the right skills (APAC 37% vs SG 30%).

Looking to agencies to fill the skills gap is not proving a successful strategy, said Mr Kinomoto. "Companies are using multiple agencies to manage different elements of the digital strategy: web campaigns, social media management, online advertising. This adds to the complexity and makes it harder to obtain an integrated view of results."

Mr Kinomoto said that the 2012 and 2013 results continued to show remarkably low levels of satisfaction with digital agencies. "Only 12% of APAC marketers and 11% of Singapore marketers rate their agencies as excellent. The majority think they deliver mixed results (APAC 69% vs SG 76%), and less than a quarter say results are poor (APAC 19% vs SG 13%). In our view, there is a clear opportunity for savvy APAC agencies to get ahead of the curve and invest in technologies and skills to provide deeper, richer performance metrics to clients who are unable to do it themselves."

However, some countries in the region are making interesting progress in how some marketers are using data as a key competitive differentiator, using analytic insights across the marketing lifecycle.

"Nearly 7% of Singaporean marketers are now taking this approach, compared to 2% last year," said Ms Miller. "It is very positive indeed to see Singapore marketers realizing the high potential of big data, and taking steps to get ahead of the game."

These and more in-depth findings were released in the second annual Adobe APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard. A six-month in-field program comprising quantitative and qualitative surveys, the study benchmarked the levels of adoption, traction and success of digital marketing in Australia, Singapore, Korea, China, Hong Kong and India. 276 senior marketers from a range of industries took part.

Source: CMO Council