5 Key Trends that Shaped the Southeast Asian Marketing Industry in 2023 

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5 Key Trends that Shaped the Southeast Asian Marketing Industry in 2023 

2023 marketing trends in Southeast Asia

Vero reflects on the trends that defined the marketing landscape in Southeast Asia in 2023.

 

Looking back over the past year, 2023 seems to represent a pivot point upon which many brands in Southeast Asia definitively shifted their marketing priorities to target young Millennials, Gen Z, and the emerging Gen Alpha.

The increasing attention directed towards these audiences – their nuances, preferences, pain points, and aspirations – has paved the way for a more personalized and empathetic approach. This year, we’ve seen marketers actively building communities through cultural engagement, emphasizing the importance of fostering connections with their target markets over customer conversion.

As cultural trends accelerate and new consumer segments come into the picture, it is clear that marketers are employing more savvy and forward-thinking strategies to stay relevant and build brand loyalty.

Here’s a quick recap of the strategies and trends that have shaped the marketing landscape in Southeast Asia in 2023. We foresee these trends continuing to evolve and further influence marketing efforts and tactics in the coming year.

 

1. The ubiquity of AI 

While few agencies talk about it publicly, it is an open secret that 2023 was the year when AI became omnipresent among marketing creatives. While human creativity and expertise are still essential to produce a polished final product, machine learning has dramatically shortened the pipeline from ideation to demonstration, as marketers in Southeast Asia harness generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Google Bard, Bing AI, Canva Magic Write, and GitHub Co-Pilot to create personalized content, streamline workflows, and enhance user experiences.  

ChatGPT may not produce high-quality original copy, but it does a good job at creating outlines in flawless English, making it handy for non-native speakers working across language barriers. It also powers chatbots on e-commerce platforms, providing instant customer support in various languages — crucial for brands that operate in multiple markets. Midjourney and Dall-E, meanwhile, are proving helpful in previewing a range of visual concepts before developing them into final designs. It has even been used in the final product of a well-received campaign by Pizza Hut Singapore

The region is also catching up with AI-created influencers like the virtual Puma ambassador MAYA, whose appearance is based on selfies sent by people across Southeast Asia. 

With its deep learning capabilities, Google Bard enables marketers to generate high-quality content for diverse audiences, while Bing AI and GitHub Co-Pilot empower marketers with advanced tools for content generation and collaborative coding.  

With ASEAN expected to take a relatively hands-off approach to regulation, it is certain that AI will be everywhere in the years to come — and skills with the relevant AI tools will become a standard job requirement in the industry. In fact, we at Vero feel so strongly about this that we established an AI-focused sister agency, Rover, this year. 

2. Brands adopting sustainability as a new USP 

Sustainability in terms of both the environment and business practices is a larger concern for Southeast Asia’s Gen Z than previous generations, and brands are making the shift to meet them where their priorities lie.  

One organization, Clean Creatives, has become a beacon for sustainable marketing practices around the world. The group names and shames big PR agencies that work with fossil fuel brands, including many operating in Southeast Asia, which seek to downplay and distract from the realities of human-caused climate change. Agencies can also take the Clean Creatives Pledge to refuse fossil fuel contracts, as Vero did in late 2022 and several others across the region have done since. 

Brands in the region are increasingly adopting eco-friendly campaigns, reflecting the growing commitment to environmental consciousness. Studies show that Southeast Asian consumers approve of brands that prioritize sustainability, and some are willing to spend more on it. As such, the spread of sustainable marketing practices is a response to consumer demand and a strategic move to align with the younger generation’s values. 

On the downside, as interest in sustainability has grown, the practice of greenwashing has become more popular than ever, making it a growing concern in the industry and a threat to consumer trust in genuine sustainability endeavors. With this in mind, Vero released a Greenwashing Playbook earlier this year to help communicators identify greenwashing before they develop a campaign rather than face backlash later. 

3. The explosive entrance of TikTok Mall 

Social commerce, in general, was a massive marketing trend in 2023. Integration of selling and shopping in the user journey on social media has created a seamless experience, and brands doing it right are doing well — but none did it more impressively than TikTok. 

TikTok, synonymous with short-form videos, has become a trusted platform for Gen Z in Southeast Asia. Its growing influence in e-commerce has created opportunities for savvy brands to capitalize on the platform’s popularity among younger demographics

The platform seems particularly tailored for Southeast Asia, having launched this year in six countries across the region (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and only two (the US and UK) outside of it.  

In Thailand, TikTok Mall secured 4% of the total 4.4 billion GMV for the industry in 2023, placing it third behind the established e-commerce giants Shopee (56%) and Lazada (40%). TikTok’s success lies in offering a seamless e-commerce experience and leveraging its user base with tools like the new TikTok Mall.  

In Indonesia, TikTok Mall grew so fast that it spooked regulators, leading to a ban on social commerce in October. Now, just a couple of months later, it looks to be making a return with ByteDance’s purchase of Tokopedia — a testament to the massive potential the parent company sees in social commerce. 

The Philippines, home to the 7th largest number of TikTok users, welcomed a new phenomenon, the “budol culture,” where Filipinos buy something unplanned because they were influenced by social media, specifically by TikTok. 

The platform’s power to influence consumer behaviors and its impact on businesses is expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead. 

4. Influencer marketing shifts to loyalty and authenticity 

Influencer marketing in Southeast Asia has never been bigger – or more inclusive. Far from the celebrity focus of yore, Nano influencers and niche creators are growing in influence, especially among Gen Z, who are looking for more authentic voices that represent them.   

For evidence that influencers are trusted more than brands, look no further than the de-influencing trend that took hold early this year. 

Building long-lasting relationships with influencers is essential for agencies aiming at a higher ROI. The Southeast Asian market is witnessing a shift towards authenticity that only grew more pronounced this year, with brands recognizing the impact of genuine connections. Increasingly sophisticated consumers can discern short-term influencer campaigns and see them as one-offs rather than significant relationships. Recognizing this, brands focus on creating enduring content, working with fewer influencers but taking time to foster more authentic relationships with them.  

As a result of this trend, brands are finding that it’s no longer necessary to invest millions in owned content or advertising, as influencers are starting to plug this space more affordably. Loyal, relevant influencers create more authentic content and assets to drive awareness and education, which they then amplify on their brand feeds rather than creating their own branded assets. These long-term partnerships tend to yield a higher ROI and foster stronger connections with the target audience — and they’re the reason Vero launched InFluent, a marketing stack designed to help brands find the right influencer for them, in March 2023.  

5. Leveling up engagement through gamification 

Southeast Asia’s young demographic is deeply engaged in mobile gaming culture, making it a prime space for marketers. Recognizing the elements that make games popular (such as scores, rewards, and competition), brands are increasingly incorporating gamification into their social media campaigns to captivate and retain the attention of their target audience. 

E-commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee integrate games to make shopping fun and keep people coming back for rewards in the form of coins, vouchers, daily bonuses, and prizes like promotional items or invitations to exclusive events. Duolingo, which has achieved steady growth in paid subscribers in the region, uses the gamification model to motivate regular language learning habits, propelling it to record growth in Vietnam and Indonesia

And it goes both ways: brands are spending more on promotions in standalone games such as Roblox and Fortnite, which are popular among youth, sponsoring unique experiences that gamers actively engage with rather than passively take in.

Closing Thoughts 

These broad trends only scratch the surface of changes to the Southeast Asian marketing landscape in 2023. If we can leave brands with one big takeaway that ties these together, it would be to go beyond thinking of your audience as mere consumers and instead work to cultivate a fanbase. This entails fostering a dedicated community of enthusiasts who view themselves as an integral part of your brand and, in the best of cases, have real stakes in the business. Brands could accomplish this in many ways: through influencers, social engagement, values like sustainability, or just quality products that address consumer pain points.

The fanbase approach goes beyond transactional relationships, emphasizing the creation of emotional connections and a sense of belonging. While consumers may engage with your brand for a single transaction, fans are in it for the long haul, often contributing to brand equity by championing your values and products, even when they aren’t actively making purchases. If you show your young audience how much you value them now, you could have not just fans but real brand ambassadors for life. 

 

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