Friday, July 22, 2016

5 Reasons Why Brands Don’t Spend (as much) on Digital Marketing

Having been in the digital industry for quite a while, I’ve seen growth of the industry in terms of services, available platforms as well capabilities in terms of analytics and automation. However, why is it that brands still haven’t shifted their advertising and marketing spend to embrace digital as a channel? Shouldn’t it be the norm now for brands to do so, given that the industry has advanced and matured over the years to the point where it is now no longer termed “new media” but “mainstream media”? Yet, most brands only dedicate a small portion of their total advertising budget to digital channels and campaigns. Here are some of the reasons this could be the case:

Where do you even start?

The digital landscape is fragmented. VERY fragmented. There are many components and parties that rely on each other to make things work. Creative agencies, media agencies, publishers, ad serving, tracking, etc. In fact, it’s so fragmented, that there are providers that provide overlapping services to one another, and it can be totally confusing for someone to grasp what each service provider really does. Just to give you an idea, here is an image from on the marketing technology landscape.

Marketing Technology Landscape -
(click here to view full image)

Believe me, I sometimes get confused as well after looking at this chart. For brands who want to invest in digital after seeing this, you can understand why there is confusion and doubt.

Don’t know the ingredients to make that sauce

Digital channels or media as a whole are made up of 4 main pillars: Display, Search, Social and Mobile advertising. Those are then fueled by content, which relies on optimization platforms and analytics to get the right balance. The question is, what is the right balance? How do you choose your digital media mix? How do you choose what platform to be on? What services to use? It’s like cooking. You first have to know the ingredients and cooking methods in order to make a particular dish. This is where the majority of brands rely on agencies to provide them consultancy on how to go about doing it. The challenge is always working with the right (and competent) agency, who knows your business well in order to recommend what you need to fulfill a business objective. But in my opinion, that in itself has its own set of challenges. (Read morehere)


Digital jargons are scary. There are so many metrics and measurements that are being used to the point that brands (and also agencies) sometimes do not really know what metrics they should be looking at. It doesn’t help that every year, that jargon list grows. Brand owners who do not know how to justify these metrics to stakeholders would tend to stay away, hence playing it safe by only investing to what they know (i.e. traditional media) – they fear the unknown. Again, the best way is to keep abreast with what’s happening in the digital marketing world. Agencies should play a bigger role here by educating brands through workshops and training, so that brands are constantly updated and know how to look at these metrics and make sense of it.

“I don’t want to know what I don’t know…”

In this case, it’s more like “I’m afraid of what I will know”. For digital, (almost) everything is trackable. Hence, for a brand owner, it could be something that may work against them. I once asked a client why they did not want to run a particular campaign on digital. They said it was too technical for them, and everything is trackable to which, should the campaign not do well, it would be hard for them to “hide” the evidence and justify to stakeholders! But then I asked, why do you think it would fail in the first place, given we have tools that can optimize the campaign? What if you can show your bosses that you can actually track and show proof of success? To which they became interested and asked me to explain more. The main thing here was more the case of the client not knowing the benefits of investing in digital. All it takes is a little education and effort to try it out to be able to understand its benefits.

Digital is expensive!

This is kind of a chicken and egg situation. Digital investments can initially cost a lot to start. With cost of creative development, cost of media, setting up of platforms, re-occurring cost for services, etc., you could also see why brands tend to sway away from this. However, most of these are initial one-time setup costs. For example, if you want to run multiple creative ads online using display advertising, you would initially have to pay a hefty fee for the design of dynamic ad templates. But once those dynamic ad templates are created, it doesn’t cost much to have multiple ads running off those templates. You could then update these creative in almost real-time whenever necessary. Which other traditional medium lets you do that? Similar to having a mobile application or building a website, the initial setup does seem expensive, but in the long run, the cost will justify the investment if you do it right.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Facebook Canvas: What does this mean for other mobile rich media ads?

Last week, Facebook announced the launch of its new ad unit called Canvas, a full screened rich media ad unit capable of delivering high impact experience on mobile. While many say that it’s cool and what not, I say “It’s about time, Facebook!” This is not exactly something new if you’ve dabbled into creating mobile rich media ads before. Mobile rich media ads have been around for at least the past 5 years or so, or when HTML5 was first introduced. It enables ads to be interactive and engaging with the use of video and multiple functions.

Facebook-canvas ad
(image via

To explain this to the layman, I normally say it’s an ad unit that expands full screen to show a micro-site of your brand. It is used to tell a story of your brand / product / service by creating different pages and different functions to drive home the points.

Facebook Canvas vs Mobile Rich Media Ads

To be honest, I think both have its own strengths and weaknesses. The standard mobile rich media ads are design to run across mobile ad networks (which are outside of Facebook), meaning it can reach users on other long-tail sites other than Facebook. This works well if you want to reach an audience who are not necessarily on Facebook (think China). The key challenge for ad networks are of course the visibility of your ads to the audience, since most are running on bidding inventory and limited screen real estate.

On the other hand, Facebook Canvas is native to the app to provide the user a seamless experience when browsing through the timeline. Facebook of course have one major advantage….data. When they launched Facebook Reactions, its primary goal was to gather richer data from users (You can read more about it here). This means the Facebook Canvas ads are able to be micro targeted based on Facebook’s already rich data filters. Not to mentioned, how targeted the ad can be if you include your own set of data through Custom Audiences.

So which is better?

I would say, rich media mobile ads still plays an important role beyond Facebook. I’ve seen mobile rich media ads that can take advantage of mobile phone functions such as camera, gyroscope, voice functions and GPS to create a more personalized and engaging experience. I don’t think for now that Facebook Canvas is able to do that (or not yet at least). The main advantage that Facebook Canvas has is probably the richness of its targeting capabilities.

So before you decide to jump on the band wagon of creating ads using Facebook Canvas, it’s important to ask what is its main objective. For me at least, Facebook Canvas works well with brands that has e-commerce presence (works well as it offloads mobile traffic on e-commerce sites), telling a brand story and brand building. These ads does not necessarily require a lot of interaction with the user, but yet informative enough with a strong call to action.

If you want your ads to be more interactive and fun, then go for mobile rich media ads as it is able to leverage of mobile phone functionalities. End of the day, it also depends on where and who you want to reach out to.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Is it better to hire in-house talent than rely on agencies?

A very controversial topic, seeing that I spent more than half my working career in advertising and media agencies. Now that I’m part of a client side marketing team, I somewhat understand why clients are generally frustrated with their agencies which makes them not loyal to one agency which often result in calling for agency pitches every now and then.

Here are some examples on why this may be the case:

Focus on the client’s business

While agency teams rely on multiple clients to survive, it may be hard to get an agency team to only focus on your business. Admit it, even though agencies say they have “dedicated team(s)” to service the account, most agencies often assign more than 1 client account to any one person so that a resource is fully utilized during down times. While I’m not saying it’s wrong to do that, it also implies that the resource does not have full focus on a particular client’s business in order to fully provide valuable strategies and inputs.

Not able to see the bigger or overall picture of client’s business

In order for agencies to fully understand a client’s business, it is sometimes necessary for them to also be involve in other parts of a client’s business, and not solely focused on Marketing alone. They have to understand how Sales, Marketing and Product departments work together as well in order to get a bigger picture of the overall business. This is somewhat how consulting firms such as IBM, Accenture and McKinsey operate and service their clients. They get to see a larger picture of organizational functions and processes in order to give better recommendations for a client. Sometimes it’s frustrating for a client because agencies do not understand the overall business.

In an article by Rezwana Manjur, Deputy Editor for Marketing Magazine Singapore, she made a comparison between agencies vs consulting firms. She said “Traditional agencies are generally more focused on creating campaigns to drive awareness and sales in the short term. Digital agencies are still more right brain oriented and work closely with the marketing teams alone. They are driven by a creative idea and the associated media plans to amplify the reach of the campaign. Consulting firms, on the other hand tend to be more left brain in their approach. Their scope of work could entail working with departments such as marketing, sales, customer service, HR, finance and such.”

The key here is being able to give long term strategies to shape a brand, rather than just campaign ideas that just focuses on short-term gratification, even if it means driving sales and numbers (and awards). In order to do that, agencies need to see the bigger picture.

Turnaround time

One of the biggest factor of why a client would rather have in-house think tanks would be exactly this reason. Agencies requires the time to be briefed, come up with creative ideas, run through their strategist, copywriter, creative director, etc before they come back to you. On the other hand, if you have an in-house team, they would have already been briefed in daily meetings and thus would also able to give an almost immediate feedback to the team.

Then comes the “what-if” situation of the agency’s proposal / idea not sitting well with the client. It then goes through the whole vicious cycle of “back to the drawing board” and again time taken to come back with a fresh proposal. Time taken to do this may vary of course, but agencies often feel the pressure and rush (hence all those late nights) in order to meet the client’s deadlines. In my years in agencies, I hardly (or maybe never) get the “go ahead” from clients on the first proposal. It’s 80% okay, and 20% of tweaks most of the time if you’re lucky. Again I feel that this turnaround time has a lot to do with how agencies work in sharing of key resources (creative person, strategist, account manager, etc) as most of them are working on more than one client account, which contributes to prolonged turnaround time.

So is it all doom and gloom for agencies?

Not for now. While most of the above are reasons to consider setting up an internal team, agencies do also offer some value, especially if they are part of a large network. If the client’s business involves creating presence and impact outside of the local market, this is where agency with global networks thrive. Clients get to leverage on getting insights and service from an agency that has a local setup in that particular country to better understand the market.

Agencies also heavily invest in tools and research to come up with proposals and insights. This is an area most clients won’t have the capability (or time) to do. Tools that help do predictive modelling, media planning or even to budget media spends are expensive to deploy on the client’s end that does not justify being purchased in most cases, simply because it’s not the client’s main nature of business. With the use of these tools, also come another set of talents which client teams do not have expertise on.

To hire in-house or not?

In summary, I feel it really depends on how much control a client wants over their brand. If you look at companies like AirAsia, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever in some markets, they have already started to develop in-house capabilities and teams. P&G invests in their own digital platforms and teams in order to have some control of how they want to position the brand(s), while relying less on agencies compared to a few years ago.

I feel that agencies need to give more valuable capabilities in order to stay relevant, something that clients can’t emulate even with an in-house team. It can be products, platform or even services, so that clients need agencies as much as agencies need clients.

Friday, October 16, 2015

5 Ways To Have Effective Mobile Ads

Being in the industry for some time, I've came across different businesses that wants to start a mobile ad campaign, because they say it's the most effective way to reach their consumers, since almost everyone nowadays has a mobile device. When further asked, what is it that they want to achieve in doing a mobile campaign, most say, "I just have a new product launch and I want people to know about it", or "I want to drive them to my company website for sign-ups and get leads". While you can do both using mobile ads, there are also some effective ways on how we can deliver the message and drive quality traffic to be able to achieve those objectives.

If you want to run an effective mobile ad campaign, here are some important tips:

1. Ensure Landing Pages Are Geared for Mobile Devices

This the single most important rule. If your site isn't optimized for mobile, DON'T use mobile ads to drive them there. Nobody likes to zoom in and scroll left to right to read information, therefore your landing page needs to be either adaptive or responsive to cater to various screen sizes. Also, when the mobile user clicks on a mobile ad, they expect bite-sized information, and if there is a form it should not be more than 4 fields. If you don't have one, be prepared for high drop-offs and bounce rates.

2. Size Matters! Use Large Banner Ad Units (where possible)

Mobile devices have relatively smaller screens compared to desktops. Hence, you wouldn't want the mobile user to squint their eyes trying to read your message or identify your brand. Using larger ad units also has an impact of click-through rates as the table below clearly shows.


3. But It's NOT all about Click-through Rates (CTR%)

When was the last time you clicked on an ad on your mobile device? Ok, let me rephrase, when was the last time you ACCIDENTALLY clicked on an ad on your mobile device? Chances are, that you most likely clicked on one by accident rather than you actually wanting to view details on the ad because mobile ads are small in nature, and your fingers are usually larger than even the 'close' button on the top corner (hence point #2 above).That is also one of the reasons why CTR% are also higher compared to desktop ads. Therefore,
you should look beyond just CTR% when you want to measure a campaign's success due to these accidental clicks.

4. K-I-S-S (Keep It Short & Simple)

Studies will show that most users on mobile have short attention span and want quick information and not long a winded type article explaining on how a certain product works. Therefore, information and messages should be short and straight to the point with a clear call to action. Bear in mind that real estate on mobile ads are also limited.

5. Explore Rich Media

Rich media banners (or banners running on HTML5), can deliver high engagements at the same time fulfilling points #2 and #4 above. Most rich media banners starts off as a simple banner, but with clicked, it expands to a full screened mini-site that allows more information to be displayed, as well as enable videos and different interactions using the mobile device's functionalities (camera, gyroscope, GPS, etc).

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Death of SMS?

(Image via

SMS or Short Messaging Service, has been one of the longest and often used (and sometimes overused) form of mobile communication by both consumers and marketers.

But, with the rise of mobile chat applications such as Whatsapp, Viber, WeChat, Skype, Line, and even Facebook Messenger, it's not really surprising that we see a decline in overall SMS usage here in Malaysia.

We are already seeing a decline of total SMS sent in Q2 2014 vs Q2 2015 in Malaysia (13,193 mil vs 6,855 mil) by about 48%. And the usage still seems to be in a downward trend in 2015 in Q1 (7,768 mil) vs Q2 (6,855 mil). That's a reduction of 10% usage in just one quarter alone!

Source: Communication and Multimedia Pocket Book of Statistics, Q2 2015, MCMC Malaysia.

In the near future, mobile chat applications would probably replace SMS as a preferred form of future text communication as it gives the user more flexibility as well as options. Mobile chat applications allows:
  • Real-time response
  • Multi user participation (groups) 
  • Sharing of files 
  • Most importantly - No extra charges to send a message if you're on a data plan or using WiFi
The SMS usage numbers will only decline even further within these 2-3 years as more mobile chat applications become available, mobile data prices becomes more affordable and smartphone usage increases.

However, one thing to note that while SMS usage is on the decline, it's still regarded as a more reliable form of messaging compared to chat applications. SMS is also available as a default to all mobile phones, while chat applications are still very fragmented in nature, meaning, not everyone are on the same chat platform or application as you.

So whether SMS will still be around in the next few years remain to be seen, but the days of SMS are certainly numbered!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fan-gating - Yay or Nay?

I'm sure many of you would have come across similar imagery to the one above when you're on Facebook brand pages. This is call fan-gating. The reason why many brands do it is to get more people to Like their brand / page. I'm against the idea that brands need to fan-gate especially if it's a contest by the brand. I feel that people should be able to participate freely, but not necessarily like your brand / page.

Speaking from an ethics point of view, personally I feel it's not right. Why do you need to Like the brand before joining a contest? If your brand sucks, it sucks and that is the perception that the brand would need to fix though marketing efforts or PR, but definitely not forcing people who do not believe in the brand to Like the brand.

I am against this is because someone who Likes your page for the purpose of joining a contest or for the purpose of any promotional offer, is not a quality fan. They would most likely tend forget, Unlike, or won't engage with your brand anymore once the contest / offer period is over. Why would this matter you ask? Well, simply put it in terms of advertising dollars. How much would you pay to get a non-quality fan versus a quality fan?

At the end of the day, the idea of having brand pages is all about having long term engagements with quality fans. Think about it. Would you rather have 5,000 fans with 1% engagement rate, or would you rather have 100,000 fans with 1% engagement rate? What then happened to the advertising dollars spent on getting those fans? The development cost for the application to run that contest? Would it be money well spent if your goal was to grow fans by fan-gating then? Maybe not. Similar to respect, Likes should be earned and not forced upon.

What do you think? Should brands fan-gate?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Online Privacy: Some Ways To Protect Yourself

Some joked that the Internet (or WiFi) is now part of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is true to certain extend if your work actually involves you accessing the internet on a daily basis. While the internet is great, it does have a darker side to it.

Online privacy has become a major issue in the past few years or so. Simply because people are ignorant, and not many people even know what it actually means. In layman terms, if your online privacy settings are weak or set to "default", most of your personal information from websites you visit, from social media content you consume on Facebook, Twitter, etc becomes public information.

Recently, there was a case of a website showcasing a collection of photos of girls (some of which are almost nude) to which most of them are underage. It's shocking because these girls innocently upload their photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, without realizing that once it's up, it's available to the public. When I refer to public here means anyone (not necessary someone you're friends with or know) will be able to save your photo or use it for malicious intend. You can read about the full story here.

In a recent article from Social Media Today, you can see that 67% of Facebook users check their privacy settings only once a year or never at all, and that 50% never ever used the "View As.." function to know how others view your profile (I'm sure some of you don't even know that this feature exist on Facebook right?).

Photo credit:

Another thing about photos being uploaded on the internet, they do carry location information of where the picture was taken if you use a mobile device. There used to be a site called (service now disabled) which you can upload a photo and they can show you exactly where the picture was taken. This is possible because mobile devices allows location services where you would use it for apps like maps and check-ins (Facebook & Foursquare). This will allow wannabe stalkers to know which places you usually frequent and plan their "attack".

Be vigilant!

Do remember, while the internet is great, there are some steps that you can take to minimize the abuse of cyber stalkers.

  1. Review you Facebook privacy settings. Create groups and permissions of who gets to see what content and photos. For me, I only allow friends or people I know well enough to view my photos. To acquaintances, I only allow them to view selected updates. Once you created the groups, read this: on how to select who to view what content.
  2. It does not mean that you have to change your profiles to "protected / private" mode. What I post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are very different. I post photos of my family and friends on Facebook simply because I have privacy and permission settings to control who views them. As for Twitter and Instagram, I chose not to post photos of my family simply because I would like these profiles to remain public and I wouldn't want the public to start stealing photos especially that of my family members.
  3. Be careful of "Check Ins". "Checking-in" can be fun (especially on Foursquare), but it can also be dangerous. Only allow people you know and trust know where you are. The easiest way to avoid this is by looking through your Foursquare friend list. Remove anyone who you think you do not know well enough as a precaution. Only add friends who you know.
  4. Blogging only of the past. I know this is something rather hard for people to do especially if they are going to an exciting destination or some place really nice. But think about it, if I want to take advantage of that, all I have to do is to read where you will be going and on what date and time in order for me to plan my "attack". In my view, if you must blog about it, limit the information about date, time and with who for security reasons. The best is to only blog about past events to avoid the hassle.
  5. Check your privacy / security settings regularly. As services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram changes their privacy policy from time to time (and they don't usually inform users until someone discovers it), it is important to always check your privacy settings from regularly. Checking once every 2-3 months would be a good habit.