Breaking into APAC: how performance marketing can unlock local regions... fast

Brand giants from the West are changing their approach to the APAC market: to grow in the region they must focus on local nuance in the data.  

In the past few years, Asia Pacific has gone from being a ‘growth market’ to being an ‘established revenue stream’ for many western brands. Consequently, competition to break into APAC markets is higher than ever, especially in a post-pandemic world where not only are Western brands trying to crack the APAC market, but brands born in Asia are also trying to pivot, re-navigate and identify the formula for success. 

To learn the secrets to their success, Performance Marketing World spoke to a handful of leading practitioners from top agencies across APAC to get insights on how they have helped several western brands breakthrough in the region recently.

Q: Have you worked with any western brands that have recently broken into the APAC market? How did you use performance marketing to help achieve this? 

MJ Kim, CEO Mediabrands Korea:

“We recently launched performance for Spotify in South Korea, streamlining ways of working to ensure global consistency is matched with local nuance. Spotify’s performance activity has exceeded all benchmarks by taking a pragmatic, solution focused approach to overcoming barriers and challenges. With an objective to increase subscriptions, we started with various local and global platforms to find the best working media.

There are other examples of western brands entering Korea where we focused on commerce; such as working with Nike, Vans, LEGO and J&J, driving users in different e-commerce platforms from D2C to local e-commerce platform Coupang. Nike’s performance involves a massive amount of data optimisation for each campaign daily. Our commerce specialist is working with LEGO to roll out across two major e-commerce platforms, Naver and Coupang. Vans which has both a D2C and Naver Brand Store is leveraging global and local platforms to best generate the effective ROAS.”

Sonya David, Strategy Partner, Media Group, Dentsu Singapore:

“When it comes to performance marketing, all our efforts in media, irrespective of upper funnel or lower funnel, are designed to maximise user experience with the brand and strengthen that connection. We have, for example, worked with a brand to use a pull strategy by attracting online gamers through content integrations with gaming apps and follow through on the experience promised using data through performance marketing channels.

As APAC enters the decade of digitalisation, brands need to go beyond mental availability to physical availability. We are seeing some apparel and tech brands facing a fragmented marketplace where brick and mortar stores are more of experience enablers rather than pure points of purchase. While consumers seamlessly move their brand experiences between offline and online channels, the overall consumer experience is supported and amplified at multiple touchpoints such as through online store presence and direct-to-consumer avenues. Beyond brand and partner channels, independent e-commerce destinations like Shopee, Lazada, and Amazon, also play distinct roles, with varying degrees of credibility and volumes that differ with categories and price points.”

Supalurk Tangcharoensiri, Managing Director Reprise Thailand:

“We recently worked with Tyson Foods who have just entered the Thailand market and launched two brands called Tyson (frozen chicken and nuggets) and First Pride (plant based nuggets), to look after performance marketing, media planning, buying and search strategy to drive conversion at marketplaces Shopee and Lazada.”

Carlos Matriano, Head of Innovation & eCommerce, Omnicom Media Group Singapore:

"We have recently changed the conversation on performance marketing with clients. It is crucial for us to clearly articulate and align with the client on what performance marketing means to them. With a clear definition of performance marketing, we will be able to work out a plan to achieve our client’s goals. In the past, performance marketing simply meant focusing on the lowest cost per sale. However, today we know that efficiency doesn’t always translate to effectiveness. With that knowledge, we can craft better responses that lead to more meaningful results.

With one of our clients, we have used programmatic marketing for new product launches to drive impact and reach. When we understand what success means to our clients, we can strategically leverage on performance media to achieve our client’s desired results. Good communication and deep understanding of our clients’ needs are key factors in helping us plan better campaigns to achieve short term and long term goals.”

Q: Which platforms did you use? Does it differ across APAC regions?

Roshat Adnani, Growth Director, APAC, Saatchi:

“The media landscape in APAC can easily be divided into two buckets i.e. ‘international publishers’ and ‘local publishers’. The international publishers focus largely on western media and platform owners who have a presence globally. This would consist of players like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, BBC, CNN, etc. And in general, their presence is consistent across the APAC markets.

However, what differs from market to market in the APAC regions is the local media landscape. Every market is different in terms of the local publishers and platforms. For example, if we talk about the messenger category, Zalo is popular in Vietnam but in the Philippines it is Viber. Carousell is popular in Singapore, but OLX is popular in Indonesia. Thus, the most important task for the majority of the western brands is to get an understanding of the local media landscape and the nuances. In general, the diversification of the cultures across the APAC market can be easily seen in the media landscape in each market.”


"With Spotify we started with multiple platforms including the local platform Naver, as well as global platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The local platform Naver is the dominating portal for search as well as daily usage in Korea. Kakao is also a dominating messenger with over 90% penetration. It is important to best utilise the platform from CRM messages to targetable DA banners. Thus, it is important for the brand to have a presence in these local platforms for both brand awareness as well as to drive an effective performance campaign.

However, this does not imply that Korean users do not use global platforms. When it comes to video and social, global platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Google also play an important role providing effective performance results, so it is important for a brand to test out both local and global platforms to find the best media mix."


"For most markets, Google and Facebook still offer the best reach and cost efficiencies. It is always important to run various tests and trials on different publishers to see if we can unlock disproportionate ROI based on more advanced targeting or creative opportunities. Individual markets have dominant local publishers that can be used to perform “performance roles” such as Naver in Korea, Line in Thailand, Nine Network in Australia and of course BAT (Baidu / Alibaba / Tencent) in China."


"Unlike the homogeneity across media platforms in Europe and the US, regional and local home-grown app networks have drastically changed the landscape here in APAC. For example, in China, and in some parts of Hong Kong, media players like WeChat  and Baidu are indispensable, while in Japan, Yahoo is a major e-commerce player. 

"Even OTT is growing very differently in APAC compared to Europe and America, resulting in a very different consumer experience. Therefore, while the opportunities for advertising on platforms, especially in e-commerce and OTT, might be more, they are also quite fragmented.

"The gaming advertising scene is picking up in APAC. Gaming championships that were once “underground” are seeing more and more traction from brands as they attract more eyeballs from specific audience segments. This is only to be expected in a region that is established to be the fastest growing gaming region in the world."


"We focus on marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada where 80-90% of online shopping is happening in Thailand. We use Facebook CPAS and Google search for offsite and onsite search in Shopee and Lazada for visibility within the platforms. This varies by country as the dominant marketplace players are different."

Q: What are the major differences in terms of marketing mix – not just between western and APAC, but across different APAC regions? 


"There are a lot of factors in which the different markets in APAC differ not just from the West but also from each other. There are many factors that are related to development like internet penetration, mobile usage, technological infrastructure, purchasing power, media consumption habits etc., that vary hugely across all the different markets. These differences have a huge impact on the marketing mix and thus we have seen brands adopting a different marketing mix in various markets. For example, in developing markets like India and Indonesia, the spending on print advertising is still growing which is not the case in the west.

However, what we should focus on are not the differences but the similarities which are in  the form of the trends. The trends in the shifts of the marketing mix are like what is seen in the West, although the proportions might vary. For example, there is a growing trend of shifting budgets from traditional TV to Connected TV. Western brands need to keep experimenting with their marketing mix but they can take cues from what is happening in the East." 


"While APAC tends to be more reliant on mobile, campaigns should be designed with core objectives in mind. Regardless of the marketing mix, it is crucial to craft mobile friendly messaging and destinations as a substantial amount of engagement comes from mobile devices. The good news, however, is that consumers are consistently engaged across the funnel and we have seen a significant purchase volume happening across mobile apps and websites.

The SEA market has been immensely affected by COVID-19. The pandemic impacted consumer behaviours and the lockdowns have plagued the markets. Stuck within the walls of their home, consumers gravitate towards digital screens to reduce their boredom. This trend has accelerated the growth of online marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada. They have capitalised this growing trend by expanding their livestreaming sessions and creating more promotional activity with special emphasis on “Shoppertainment”. Thus, with this knowledge, Omnicom Media Group’s approach with Digital Commerce is focused on balancing both brand and conversion goals. The marketplaces’ large audience base represents a great opportunity to stimulate brand awareness, consideration and preference."


"The media mix will be different by brands and their audience data, however the local media always plays an important role. The dominating local platforms in Korea are Naver and Kakao with high user penetration at over 80~90%. So it is important to best utilise these platforms. 

Koreans have 95% smartphone usage across all ages, so when it comes to commerce, it is important to focus on mobile for effective sales. Naver and Coupang being the dominant e-commerce channels, it is important to enter as a brand store. From there the brand can actively communicate with users for live commerce.

As different platforms have their unique capabilities, our team works closely to optimize offsite e-commerce search on each of the platform’s best practices. To drive effective D2C shopper strategy, we also leverage Naver Search – the dominant search engine for timely optimisation. The global framework will be leveraged where applicable to ensure constant evolution of best practice.”


"Our focus is toward lower funnel (getting people to purchase) therefore we lean toward media that can capture consumer intent such as search, Facebook CPAC, where we can identify the product and audience that are already engaged. In Thailand, Live Commerce is big and directly contributes to sales results. Most marketplaces ask brands to engage with Live Commerce through their platforms. The focus will be on mobile to ensure that there is no prime time, as people can shop anywhere, anytime. In general, search marketing is applied across every market as it gives the highest conversion as people intentionally search for products to meet their needs.”

Q: How does regulation affect data collection and adspend across different regions in APAC?


"Different markets in APAC are at different positions in the maturity cycle for cyber and privacy laws. Thus the status of regulation is one aspect where there is a huge gap between the West and the APAC. There hasn’t been a lot of initiatives in the market similar to GDPR and CCPA. This has resulted in no correlation being created between regulation and adspend. However, I think there will be an impact seen in the near future based on how these regulations are making international companies like Google, Facebook and Apple change their offering. This is a space to watch out for in the new future and it is too early to make any conclusions."


"The digital data regulations are still nascent in APAC but every partner that operates in the EU or US markets is compliant with GDPR or CCPA respectively. This will become increasingly important as data consciousness becomes a business imperative for any marketer with operations that span more than one country or region. Increasingly, we find clients, both existing and new, working with us to adapt their data policies to become more customer centric and privacy conscious."