Microsoft Asia’s comms chief: This is Asia’s decade, which means brands have to change how they think

Having lived and worked in Asia for 12 years now, I’ve witnessed first-hand this region’s development. It’s been a thrilling ride. Here are my top marketing trends and observations, as well as tips to achieve digital/technology marketing success in Asia.

Andrew Pickup strap

Embrace diversity

I am the head of communications for Microsoft in Asia. But I have a confession. There really is no such thing as ‘Asia’. There, I’ve said it. The huge diversity of the region dictates that if you adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach, you will fail. It’s taken Europe more than 50 years – from 1957’s Treaty of Rome – to reach some shaky semblance of political, economic and monetary union. None of that exists in Asia. Australia and Vietnam are about as far away from each other – geographically, economically, politically and alphabetically – as two nations can be. So prepare a segmented approach to your marketing strategy and resource allocation model.

Mobile first

Many of Asia’s emerging markets – China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, etc – have large, young populations who skipped the PC and will experience their first taste of technology via the smartphone. I was in China recently and asked our mobile devices leader how many smartphones will be shipped there this year. His answer was: “Oh, about 400 million.” That is more than the entire annual shipment of PCs across the globe. Marketing in Asia needs to be optimised for mobile, even if the project or campaign is not mobile in nature. This does not mean traditional media are not important – in many Asian emerging markets they are still the predominant mechanism to achieve audience reach. Mobile, however, is the future. Design your campaigns with mobile in mind.


Asia is the most socially engaged region on Earth, driven by the massive populations of young, mobile and increasingly affluent citizens. According to ForbesJakarta is now the world’s most active Twitter city. My advice to Western brands is to optimise their campaigns and content in Asia for social engagement, involvement and sharing; but don’t just rely on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Include the Asian equivalents – Baidu, Weibo, Line, WeChat – in your plans.

The rise of the Asia tech brands

Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei, Xiaomi and ZTE are poised to join Sony, Samsung, LG and Lenovo as truly global technology brands. For decades, Asia was the low-cost technology manufacturing plant of the world. Global technology brands designed and created their devices (mainly in the West) and outsourced the manufacturing to third-party Asian suppliers while retaining the brand engagement with their customers. This model was neatly summarised by Acer chairman Stan Shih as the Smiling CurveSince then, two things have changed. First, Asia has transformed from being primarily a manufacturer to a very significant consumer of technology. More PCs will be sold in China this year than in the US. Second, Asian technology companies – which have traditionally created relatively few truly global brands – are moving quickly up the Smiling Curve to build brand presence, engagement and loyalty directly with consumers. The ultimate example is Samsung, which started out as a low-cost Asian component manufacturer and – through advertising, sponsorships, retail marketing and other tactics – has become one of the most valuable brands in the world.

This is truly Asia’s decade – its time has come. Smart brands should adopt a segmented, locally-relevant, mobile-first, social-savvy approach to their marketing and communications strategy if they want to make a positive and sustainable impact in the region.

The Marketing Society is a network of over 2,700 senior marketers. We challenge our members to think differently and be bolder marketing leaders by supporting the development of leading-edge thinking and promoting the evidence of effective marketing. As part of our partnership with Marketing Week this regular global column will feature the insights and thoughts of senior members in Asia and afar.