APAC Marketers

This post on the Philippines is the first in a series where we’ll explore different marketing ecosystems in APAC.

The Philippines is a good one to start with because the consumer behavior we find here is common across most of Southeast Asia – but as you’re about to see, there are a few areas where Filipinos stand out.

The digital marketing landscape in the Philippines is really about these 3 things:

  1. Filipinos are the world’s #1 social media power users
  2. Filipinos are always on their phone, and
  3. Filipinos really really like watching videos

Let’s dig in.

1. Filipinos are the world’s #1 social media power users

A personal anecdote to start this section:

If you happen to be like me, and have family in the Philippines, then you’ll recognize the experience of being in multiple family group chats across several platforms: Facebook, Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp … all of which are very active and always seem to have new posts or updates! (To stay sane, I mute all notifications. Sorry, family.)

That’s a small glimpse into what Filipino social media “power user” behavior looks like on a micro level.

On a macro level, it looks like this:

What this means for marketers:

Social media has an outsized influence on purchase decisions.

In most countries, consumers turn to search engines first to find info. Not so in the Philippines, who scores far above the global average for social networks influencing the buyers journey (source)

All of this has lead to the development of an ecosystem of influencers, with some brands and influencers identifying a need to professionalize and standardize the influencer economy.

Your social media presence needs to have a proper strategy. Don’t just have interns running it.

For lots of companies, your Facebook page was that thing that you cared about in 2014 and have long since abandoned. But for many Filipinos, Facebook is not just another social media platform on the internet – it IS the internet.

If the Philippines is an important market for you, your social media accounts need to be active and you need a coherent strategy behind managing your overall online footprint.

2. Filipinos are always on their phone

When you’re running persona exercises and trying to figure out what your Filipino customer is doing, don’t imagine them doing this:

Because they’re spending most of their time like this:

Like other countries in SEA, it’s an emerging economy whose development timeline meant a leapfrogging of the desktop as the primary computing device — and, back to point 1, many Filipinos have family members spread across multiple countries, so they use social media – on their phones – all the time to stay in touch.

This is another trend you’re seeing everywhere in Southeast Asia, but Filipinos are in their own league. Instead of a chart comparing mobile usage by country, here’s a view of what this looks like practically:

What this means for marketers:

Your entire buyer’s journey (not just your website) has to be optimized for mobile.

The obvious one is to make sure your website is responsive, but we all know that by now. (I hope!) So this is more about all your other content being mobile-friendly.

When Filipino prospects convert on your lead gen offer, do you make them download a giant PDF where the font is tiny and they have to pinch and zoom just to read it?

If you have embedded videos on your website, does clicking “play” work reliably on a phone, one with spotty internet?

Can people engage with you via live chat, or are you forcing them to fill out forms and do back-and-forth via email?

One last point to drive this point home: you could argue that “optimizing for mobile” is an outdated mental model for the Philippines. Perhaps you should actually be thinking mobile-first, or even mobile-only. Desktop experience becomes the secondary consideration.

Some brands have picked up on this. Dove Philippines launched a campaign where they allocated 95% of their ad spend to mobile, and it vastly outperformed their traditional marketing launches.

3. Filipinos really, really like watching videos

Combine the first two trends, sprinkle in some cultural nuances and this last one is almost an inevitable outcome.

Instead of just showing you another usage stat, here’s one of the ways we can see this trend unfolding:

As a marketer, here’s what this means:

Increasingly, content strategy means video (not blogs).

When you think of “content marketing” – most marketers immediately think: blogs, SEO, infographics, ebooks, 4,000 word buyers guides, etc.

While those are still going to work in the Philippines, adding in a video strategy will help you access a larger audience and drive deeper engagement to stay top of mind.

Ecommerce is leading by example here. Check out these video platform audience stats for Lazada and Shopee (Q2 2021)

TikTok followers
YouTube subscribers

For context, Amazon has 477K YouTube subscribers globally.

Video being a “tier one” marketing channel in your marketing mix feels like an inevitable trend we’ll see unfold everywhere around the world, we’re just seeing it in the Philippines first because of their consumption habits.

Epilogue: a look towards the near future of the digital marketing ecosystem in the Philippines

One thing to remember is that the Philippines is still in early days for digital marketing, like many other markets in Southeast Asia.

There’s still infrastructure-level problems that need to be sorted out, from internet stability and availability (ie: the President personally calling out the telcos for having such terrible service) to digital payments (most of the country’s population is unbanked) to the talent ecosystem in the country.

For me, this last one is an interesting thing to watch in the near term, because of the confluence of several factors.

The Philippines famously has a reputation for being an outsourcing hub for call centres and customer support. What is lesser known is that the country also has a growing reputation for being an outsourcing hub for marketing, design, community management, content research, etc.

There’s also a nascent startup ecosystem that is slowly, but surely, attracting marketing talent away from the traditional employers like FMCGs, telcos and global agencies.

Combine this with the headcount footprint that regional players like Grab, Lazada and Shopee are building in the country, and you have several signals foreshadowing that the digital marketing talent in the country will continue to level up.

Finally, we should expect to see more multinational companies like Canva tapping into the Philippines for more than just handling customer support.

Looking into the profiles of their Philippines team on LinkedIn appears to confirm this direction:

This is good for the Philippines, and good for the SEA marketing ecosystem as a whole.

As I’ve written before, many of the Southeast Asia’s problems require a hyperlocal approach, which means lots of smart people on the ground are needed help unlock the growth opportunity in the region.

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