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Why Marketing is Key for Regional Growth for SMEs

Why Marketing is Key for Regional Growth for SMEs

posted on 24 May 2016, 10:05 pm

Our Boss, Will, recently co-wrote an op-ed piece with Hornbills Concepts and Communications Co-founder, Luenne Choa, that was picked up by the Business Times on 24 May 2016. The full text of the article is below.

There are many opportunities for SMEs to expand outwardly in the Asia Pacific region and across the world. According to official data, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute heavily to the GDPs of our neighboring economies. They comprise more than 95-99% of all business establishments, and also generate between 51 and 97% of employment in the region. In addition, governments in this region are also making a huge push to encourage the SMEs to venture abroad by providing the physical and financial infrastructure to aid their ventures overseas. However, they only account for 30% of exports in the region.

What this means is that there are opportunities abound for SMEs should they wish to venture abroad to expand and look for new opportunities beyond the confines of their own shores. Indeed, the local companies that are successful and sustaining the headwinds that everyone is facing now are those who took the giant leap forward to beyond the shores of their sunny isles. Besides capitalizing on the infrastructure that provides the pull factor for them to venture out, one thing is clear: these SMEs have adopted a marketing communication strategy so that their brand, and/or their product is able to stand out significantly from others in their “market” that they are selling it in. By standing out, it also means that their products and companies are visible in the crowded foreign marketplace that they are venturing into.

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Kris Aquino endorsing Cherry Mobile

Some understanding of the communication and culture of the market you will be going into is essential. For example, the Filipino market requires celebrity endorsements for your product to be visible. The Filipino Inquirer cited that Kris Aquino, a talk show host and from a political dynasty, as one of the top celebrity endorsers in the Philippines. The Inquirer also states that, “an endorsement makes brands real” and allows identification and association with the person endorsing the product.

In Indonesia, the market is big on digital and online advertising. In 2015, emarketer.com noted that the digital and mobile internet advertising growth in Indonesia was the largest globally. Emarketer’s data and forecasts show that currently, digital’s share of the market is still in the single digits, and it estimates that in 2016, “more than 1 in 10 ad dollars in Indonesia will be spent on digital channels—including mobile—and in 2019, the share will exceed one in four.”

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A Smart Master Ad on a billboard in Kuala Lumpur

With regards to Malaysians, they need to see your products on billboards. According to Brandconsultantasia.com, for something to be credible there, consumers need to see the brand on a signboard—this signboard preferably has to be huge and clearly visible, and located alongside a busy highway or on a building. Statista.com supports this claim by sharing that “out-of-home advertising accounts for 2% of ad spent in Malaysia, but this is growing at over 35% per annum” and was worth in excess of $30million in 2015.

Besides knowing the market and its modalities, the campaign must at the same time carry the “essence” of the brand or product. While a campaign can be localized, it also needs to stay “true” to what it stands for and not deviate too much to suit the local conditions. In this respect, embarking upon simple market research to discover how your brand is perceived in the market helps to give you a peek into the mindsets of your consumers.

In other words, the enterprises should be guided by a clear and well-thought-out marketing communication strategy that seeks to understand the marketplace they are penetrating. This understanding includes a systematic process of identifying who their audience is, how to speak to them and how to listen to what they want. And this is not rocket science either, as pointed out by Charles Wong of popular local brand Charles and Keith. In an interview with IE Singapore, he shared his understanding of the market by taking his clients’ feedback seriously. He revised the designs of his shoes and even their pricing based on this feedback. There is a clear effort made by the company to provide the market with what it needs while at the same time creating demand for their products. And more importantly, this basic process of listening and responding can be replicated in all markets, thus allowing the product and brand to become universally recognized and desired.

Without a MBA or a huge marketing team, there are also systematic ways of finding out who your audience is, what they want, and then translating this knowledge into a good product or service for them. This is called planning for a good marketing strategy. For a start, it is important for the SME to understand the capacity of its own setup and what is involved when putting together a marketing communication strategy for penetrating the region.

Who is the best person to drive the project? What do they understand about it? Is it all “smoke” and “fluff” that anyone with a point-and-shoot camera or some basic understanding of the free software Picmonkey can be an “expert” in marketing? Yes and no. Yes, it is ‘smoke and mirrors’. But no, in that there is thought behind how ‘smoke and mirrors’ are used to achieve the right ends. The “smoke” is well calibrated to make sure that it helps you dazzle customers. The “mirror” is positioned in a way that deliberately gets your customers excited about the product. And more importantly, you need experts whom you trust to create this so that you do justice to your brand, product and service where ever it goes.


Luenne Angela Choa is the co-founder of Hornbills: Concepts and Communications, a start-up focused on strategic communication, skills training and empowerment for SMEs and their staff.

Will Lee is the Principal Consultant for That Marketing Guy (TMG). TMG is an integrated marketing consultancy that manages several key SME accounts in Singapore. TMG is currently planning to venture abroad with an online platform to help both media owners and media buyers in the region.