Reinforcing the importance of Digital Marketing for SMEs with the current crisis and rise of eCommerce.

With the ongoing Movement Control Order (MCO) still in effect, the call for businesses to jump onto the digitalisation platform has never been more crucial. However, recent surveys have shown that the digital marketing arena remains largely untouched by Malaysian SMEs. A lack of awareness and a general mistrust of digital platforms has been cited among the top reasons why Malaysians have been slow to embrace these revolutionary tools. In a bid to tackle these issues, government agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has launched the “100 Go Digital” initiative to help educate Malaysian SMEs on digitalisation.

The initiative is aimed at assisting businesses to integrate and familiarise themselves with the latest digital trends and technologies. To achieve this on a multi-disciplinary approach, MDEC has partnered with various industry players who will provide businesses with in-depth knowledge and assistance. 

One such effort is the “SME Unplugged: 100 Digital Go Series” webinar that MDEC has organised in partnership with Wordlabs Business Network’s (WBN). The actionable webinar series comprises of six events that will take place across the span of six weeks. Each event features essential discussions that are aimed at helping SMEs to “evolve and rebound during and post Covid-19.”

On 5 May 2020, the second instalment of the series was held. This week’s topic was “Reinforcing the importance of Digital Marketing for SMEs with the current crisis and rise of eCommerce”. The webinar was divided into three sessions – a presentation delivered by a digital market specialist, a panel discussion with various industry leaders and a clinic on SEO guidelines, respectively.

While introducing this week’s theme, Wordlabs CEO Sritharan Vellasamy elaborated on the convenience of digital marketing in our current economic climate.

“The base motivation today is that whenever we need to search for something, we go to Google. As such, you need to have a clear strategic goal for what you want to achieve online in your business. Digital marketing is the best cost-effective and accessible tool in the history of marketing. Even smaller companies can take on bigger companies with a smaller budget with strategic digital marketing.”

Psychology is Key

In the first session, speaker Maverick Foo shared his thoughts on what he envisions a post-coronavirus market might look like. Maverick is a marketing strategist with the Institute of Marketing Malaysia with 17 years of experience to his name. In his talk, “Future of Marketing: Debunking the Myth”, he shared some helpful tips on “how to get to the greener side of digital marketing.” He said that it is vital that SMEs get in on the game now as customers are already one to two steps ahead of businesses.

To successfully attract a target audience, businesses need to prioritise their focus. He advised that while technology, creativity and strategy are all obvious factors to a successful campaign, psychology is key.

“Psychology trumps all these three factors; you need to understand your customers to succeed. The psychology of your customers remains the same, regardless of the changing times. People always want to succeed and to be deemed as successful – how can you help them do this? Humans are creatures of habit. You need to understand your customers first before you even start to strategise.”

He went on to explain that businesses also need to understand and adapt to take advantage of the current pandemic-influenced market trends. Terming it as “Bridging the Gap”, Maverick explained that traditional marketing tactics are now outdated with most retail transactions having moved online due to quarantine restrictions. Businesses need to not only have an online presence but be able to offer virtual experiences now that physical experiences are currently unavailable, e.g. selling art supplies and then providing virtual art lessons.  

Furthermore, brands need to observe social trends. For example, with the current implications posed by the pandemic, experts are expecting a rise in health cases, both mentally and physically. This will most likely translate into an emphasised shift to wellness and self-care trends. To this end, brands will need to be able to show that they prioritise the well-being of their target markets in their marketing strategies.

Image courtesy of Maverick Foo

Maverick, Foo
Marketing strategist, Institute of Marketing Malaysia

Panel Discussion: Digital Marketing in a Post-COVID-19 World

Bobby Varanasi,
CEO, Matryzel (Moderator)

Similar sentiments were expressed during the panel discussion, “Digital Marketing Strategies for an SME in a Post-Covid World”. The line-up for this week’s panel featured Girish Ramachandran, Executive Director of 27Advisory; Vittorio Furlan, Head of Business Insights for Ada Asia; and Eugene Lee Kun Keat, the Regional Marketing Director (Asia) for McDonald’s.

Varanasi kicked off the session by asking the panellists why SMEs ought to pursue and invest in digital marketing, especially in the uncertainty of our present economic state. According to Ramachandran, digital marketing is essential for SMEs to acclimatise and to survive the recession.

“Malaysians have not been very aware of digital marketing. Now is the perfect time for SMEs to go into this. How many of the 1.4 million job losses will get re-hired? SMEs need to re-think and re-build their businesses based on the new marketing trends.”

Girish Ramachandran, Executive Director, 27Advisory

On the same note, Eugene said that businesses need to prepare for the “new normal” as it is unlikely that there will be a full return to traditional marketing methods.

“Because of the MCO, we’re seeing a 40% lift in digital consumption. This trend will be sustained into the future; into the new normal. Businesses must be prepared to shift funding and budgets to focus more on digital marketing.”

Eugene Lee Kun Keat, Regional Marketing Director (Asia), MacDonald’s

When considering the recent trend shifts in marketing, Furlan agreed with Maverick’s presentation on “Bridging the Gap” when it came to executing effective business campaigns.

“Consumers still want to have the experience and SMEs need to work quickly to deliver the experience to customers in a different manner. Digitalisation and marketing are one aspect; businesses might also need to alter the way they do business. The businesses that live longer are the ones that understand their customers better and are able to capture information about their customers. This information will then help them to create the experience the customer wants.”

Furlan went on to advise businesses that the digital experience they offer needs to be comprehensive and have as little gaps as possible.

“They need to create a seamless experience from the moment the customer discovers they have a need to the moment the customer might want to recommend the product or service to somebody else. The more seamless the experience, the more likely the customer is going to come back.”

Vittorio Furlan, Head of Business Insights, Ada Asia

Offering insights on keeping one’s branding up to date with the trends, Eugene gave the following example,

“Customers are now more used to brands being more human during this time. People want to hear about how the people behind the processes, the staff, are being kept safe. There’s been a shift in focus from the product in the brand to the people behind the brand.”

Ramachandran also cautioned businesses about establishing the right approach to attract and retain customers.

“Marketing is telling the right story. If you have a product that no one wants to buy, you need to rethink your existing product and business. We also have to be careful with direct marketing. People are not comfortable with that.”

He went on to suggest that strategic marketing efforts such as engaging digital automatisation and rolling out influencer campaigns are cost-effective ways to help engage and retain customer interest.

In conclusion, digital marketing is the utilisation of digital tools and platforms to help elevate the human experience. As Ramachandran stated,

“We need to go back to traditional ways of marketing, but with wonderfully created brand experiences.” 

Key Highlights from SME UNPLUGGED: 100 GO DIGITAL SERIES PART 2