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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Of VTubers and influencer marketing: The case of airasia’s Aozora Kurumi

If there is one facet of marketing that is seeing more growth than ever, it would be influencer marketing. The latest data from Statista notes that the market has reached US$13.8b in market size as of 2021, compared to just US$6.5b in 2019. This is all thanks to the rise of the content creator economy, primarily banking on interactions and purchasing powers from their fanbases.

It is no wonder why various forms of influencer marketing have popped up, ranging from real-life influencers like gamers and beauty gurus to virtual ones such as Rozy and Rae. But there is one facet that is considered the middle ground between human and virtual influencers–these so-called virtual YouTubers or ‘VTubers’.

What started out as a niche industry in Japan, VTubing, in general, gained popularity in 2019 as various agencies and brands ramped up in debuting new VTubers into the scene. It is no wonder why global brands such as Crunchyroll, Netflix, MSI, and Suntory have their own VTubers, primarily used to engage with their online fanbase and create new avenues for brands to engage with.

This is the case for the multinational company airasia, which announced the launch of their VTuber project called ‘Project Kavvaii’ in March 2021. Months later, they debuted their first-ever talent Aozora Kurumi in May 2021. Since then, Kurumi has completed over 150 streams and amassed more than 22,000 subscribers and over 1.2 million views on YouTube.

As she recently celebrated her one-year anniversary, MARKETECH APAC’s The Inner State spoke with Rudy Khaw, group chief brand officer at airasia Super App, to learn more about what they have learned dealing with VTubers and how their existence plays out in the influencer marketing scene.

How airasia has worked with influencers in general

Being a multinational company, airasia believes in the importance of representing diversity across their platforms, more specifically in how they tap into influencers to promote their brand. One of those examples was their latest launch of the ‘Red Radio’ in a bid to promote Asian artists on air, and their record label ‘RedRecords’ which has signed artists such as Jannine Weigel and Airliftz.

Khaw found out that with influencers, there wasn’t anything they could really own. It should be noted that there is a difference between a virtual influencer and a VTuber. While a virtual influencer is a computer-generated ‘persona’ that uses AI to shape its personality, a VTuber has a real person behind a digitally-drawn avatar, rigged by a face-tracking software to move the model.

“We also saw some limitations with virtual influencers as it didn’t feel genuine enough for two-way engagement,” he stated.

Khaw was referring to airasia’s previous venture into virtual influencers with the launch of their virtual influencer called Miss AVA. Said influencer was modelled after their chatbot named AirAsia Virtual Allstar (AVA).

He then noted that with their venture to VTubers, they have seen an opportunity to connect with a new online avenue across their followers online.

“When we explored the VTuber space, what we loved most about it is the genuine interaction and community-building opportunity it offers,” he added.

This reflects Project Kavvaii initial vision for their VTuber endeavour, which aligns airasia’s transition from an airline company to a lifestyle brand with the airasia super app, including a focus on the importance of content creators such as VTubers. In addition, the project aims to fast-track airasia’s growth by leveraging its digital capabilities, such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

On Aozora Kurumi’s impact as a VTuber and influencer

With Aozora Kurumi officially celebrating her one year anniversary, Khaw stressed out Kurumi’s importance in the online scene, as it allowed them to tap into a new demographic that could potentially be new customers.

“Kurumi’s following has grown healthily over the past few months and it’s definitely created a new set of audience for us. More recently, Kurumi has been exploring pre-recorded content, which is the beginning of more offline content to come,” he stated.

Aside from the typical type of content Kurumi streams such as gaming and karaoke ones, she is also involved in several brand activations for airasia, including a large giveaway stream, done in celebration of airasia’s 20th anniversary.

When asked how is VTubing just as impactful as normal influencers, Khaw said, “[There is] the ability to engage with a fan base [or] followers through similar interests and also because it is also so driven by personality, which is the core of what attracts a following.”

He also stated that while Project Kavvaii is a fairly new initiative that is unlike any of their previous endeavours, Kurumi’s presence brings value to their airasia Super App.

“Project Kavvaii is a part of airasia Super App; the value that Kurumi or the Vtuber space, in general, brings to the Super App is content. It opens up doors for us to explore more content opportunities in the future and develop our ideas to engage consumers beyond the transactional space.”

Brand advice to entities tapping into the VTuber space

When asked about what brands should keep in their mind in launching their own VTubers, Khaw said that they always put the talent first, not the brand, in order to create much more genuine traction for both the brand and the talent from their new audience.

“Don’t go into it like you would with influencers or other typical advertising projects. It’s a different space altogether and it’s really about fostering a community. It’s also important to remember that it’s not always about putting your brand out there from the get-go or all the time. The fan base will gather and latch onto your brand organically, don’t force it,” he stated.

Khaw’s advice mirrors his previous statement upon Kurumi’s debut, where he stated that they foresee the project to be a game-changer in the future of streaming content in the ASEAN region. 

“As a digital company, the constant change in the way people consume online content drives us to explore cross-industry innovations with Project Kavvaii to stay relevant and ahead of trends. We hope to see Aozora Kurumi taking the content world by storm very soon,” he said.

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Main Feature Technology Global

Beyond technicalities and features: How brands execute their ideal tech communications

With the fast-paced digital world, marketers and communicators have a bigger challenge in their hands to deliver communications that would truly snare consumers’ attention – and in a sustained manner. The boulder becomes even bigger as communication strategies differ per each industry. One such industry that is often perplexed in resonating seamlessly with consumers is tech.

With its intricacy, tech providers are continuously improving their own solutions and as part of the process to promote new offerings, they must rely on effective marketing communications. Being able to hit this area of the business right is vital, allowing existing and prospective consumers to see how their services work and to create an impact on their purchasing decisions. 

But the biggest question remains: in spite of all these ways of communication, how do tech companies actually communicate their services to clients, way beyond their technicalities? In an age where numerous tech brands are all vying for consumers’ attention, effective technological communication becomes the crucial element to win over clients–and create a difference for their respective customers.

In our newest The Inner State feature, we roped in three marketing leaders from various industries; namely Kat Warboys, marketing director for APAC at HubSpot; Kyra Kuik, global head of content at Siteimprove; and Azadeh Williams, founder and managing director of AZK Media–to learn more about their insights, leadership takes and advises in executing the ideal and impactful communications for their clients.

On the principle of storytelling: How one marketing software company uses its ‘flywheel model’ concept

In reality, there is this thing called a flywheel, where it is a spinning wheel that is extremely energy-efficient, pushing something into higher speeds while maintaining a constant source of energy. This is what HubSpot, a marketing software company, utilises through its “flywheel model”. For the company, their business model uses the momentum of happy customers to drive referrals and repeat business. In addition, this model is applied to their products and solutions, which is then adopted by their marketing teams when it comes to bringing product launches to life.

This is what the ‘flywheel model’ does across their organisation, according to Kat Warboys, marketing director for APAC at HubSpot. When asked about their key methodology in their tech communication, she explained the importance of their business model, noting that we are now in an era where customers hold all the power: they’re informed and have higher expectations from businesses and marketing teams than ever before.

“The flywheel model also helps to identify and eliminate any friction, which will act as something that slows down the speed of the flywheel. This could be poor internal processes, lack of effective communication between teams or misalignment with customers. The more marketers increase speed and decrease friction, the more they’ll create promoters of the businesses, and those promoters become the force that keeps the flywheel spinning,” Warboys said.

However, Warboys noted that as much as the “flywheel model” is ideal, bringing it to life requires cross-functional teams to be in unison and aligned every step of the way, ranging from website updates to product pages, running webinars to highlight the product and its benefit.

“At the core of powerful storytelling is identifying a common enemy – in the case of a technology or product story, that’s often a pain point, a barrier to growth or a cause of friction – and the role of the hero. For any new product to be successful in the market, it must solve for the customer. Tapping into customer pain and leveraging effective storytelling ensures your audience feels as though they are being heard and as a result, the messaging will resonate,” she added.

When asked their preferred communication channels to deliver their tech-related messaging, Warboys said that more and more people are leaning towards preference of visual content.

“They’re also shifting where they’re reading content, opting for social media platforms over more traditional or long-form outlets. When it comes to communicating with your audience, we must meet them on the platforms and channels that they’re accessing, if that means visual content or social media, then those should be the preferred channels of engagement,” she explained.

Despite this, Warboys noted from their ‘State of Marketing’ report that traditional channels are still being used, such as blogs, infographics, case studies, interviews, eBooks, white papers and checklists. In other words, there is still a hybrid approach for the company to communicate their tech-related messaging.

“When launching a single product, we lean into specific content such as thought leadership, social channels, public relations and webinars to address both the pain point that the technology solves and also share insights from research,” she stated.

In regards to their key performance indicators (KPIs), they have their so-called ‘Customer Code’ philosophy, where the success of a tech-related messaging is determined when a built campaign that customers love has the customer at the forefront of their decisions.

“It’s not about what you sell, but how you sell. It’s about making your customers more successful, building relationships by doing the right thing and focusing on the long-term even if it’s not always the easiest path,” she stated.

In addition, a more metric-driven approach is measuring demand, where for example, if it’s a well-known product and there is already strong market awareness, they can look at metrics like free trial sign-ups, sales demo requests and opportunities with their sales team.

However, Warboys notes that when they launch a brand new product, they need to consider a much heavier content and education strategy over the long term. She added that this is when they really lean into thought leadership and market surveys to help validate a new concept.

“In these instances, the metrics would be more interest and awareness based, such as webinar registrations or attendance rates, podcast downloads and listen-through figures, and or resource downloads. These metrics give us an insight into how effectively we’re communicating our messaging and help us understand how engaged our audience is,” she stated.

A mix of a multi-pronged approach and understanding of technical differences: How a SaaS company does their communication

Meanwhile, for global software-as-a-service (SaaS) company Siteimprove that specialises on website governance and optimisation, a multi-pronged approach in communicating their brand message and service lineup is vital, as stated by Kyra Kuik, global head of content at Siteimprove.

“We create an overall messaging map for each audience who might want to learn about the product (e.g. customers, prospects, media, etc.). From there, we assess what each of those audiences needs and wants to know about the product. Then we create content and communications that address those needs while maintaining consistent messaging for that audience,” Kuik stated.

She further explains, “For example, we might need to create in-depth tutorials with technical specifications for super-user customers, whereas prospects might only need a light explanation of why our new product brings them value. Overall, this approach ensures we give each person all the information they need without anything irrelevant or overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, on the subject of balancing their messaging to their expert and non-expert audience, Kuik notes that they have carried out extensive personal research, so that they have a good understanding of how technical different audience segments are.

“We always make sure our communications are tailored to their level of expertise and their overall interests. Overall, our tone of voice and brand personality are very approachable and personable. We believe in making things as simple as possible,” she stated.

Meanwhile, regarding their form of communicating, she said, “If we have an important technical update for customers, then we use email or in-product messaging. For more public-facing channels, we use our blog, the website, our social media channels, webinars, emails, and we regularly distribute press releases about significant updates.”

Lastly, on the subject of how they measure KPIs, Kuik says, “We always ask ourselves what success looks like when we embark on a new campaign or launch. We clarify who we want to reach, how, and what we want them to think, feel, and do afterwards. This helps us adapt our KPIs to each project, so we’re measuring the things that actually drive value for us.” 

An understanding of how others digest information: How an integrated marketing agency relays tech-related information

From tech vendors themselves, we move to marketing agencies that have a similar issue when crafting communications for their tech-related clients. 

For Azadeh Williams, founder and managing director of AZK Media, they believe that everyone digests information in different ways, as some people prefer to read a press release or article, while others watch a video or listen to a podcast, and some just prefer to see a one-page slide or infographic.

“When we help our technology clients scale their go-to-market strategy, we ensure the campaign integrates a product launch video with great messaging, all on a beautifully designed and SEO rich web landing page. We then amplify that content with a press campaign, and scale inbound activity with a mix of paid and organic digital, creative and social marketing campaigns,” Williams said.

Williams further added that when it comes to communicating the tech message, they often see technology companies struggle when marketing a new product. To fix this issue, they aim at making complex technical concepts easily understandable, digestible and ‘attractive’ to their prospects and a broader audience.

“So what we do is first deep dive and understand what critical problems or pain points the technology solves for customers at a micro level, along with the wider economic, social and industry benefits of the innovation at a macro level,” she stated.

She added, “We then take a look at what emotions the product evokes: is it trust, confidence or peace of mind? Is it empowerment or excitement? Once we connect the product solution to those key emotive elements, the message resonates at a deeper level with both experts and non-expert audiences.”

Meanwhile, from her eyes as a public relations person, they amplify their client’s press releases and thought leadership content across the thousands of publications in their global media network. In addition, they also have strategic partnerships with key publishers, technology institutes and industry organisations where they further syndicate and scale their client’s messaging.

“On top of this, we leverage powerful inbound marketing strategies, email marketing and social media amplification methods to really amplify all the messaging at scale. From a social media platform perspective, we’ve found LinkedIn as a highly powerful platform for B2B technology message ‘stickiness,” Williams added.

On the topic of business KPIs, she further explained that there are many measurement tools now that can show exactly what revenue can be attributed to inbound marketing efforts, versus other marketing and sales activities.

“We suggest technology marketers measure social media engagement (not just ‘reach and impressions), site traffic increase, click through rates, inbound sales inquiries (leads), number of demos booked and share of voice against competitors. Now this list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point to make more data-driven decisions to help further refine your marketing messaging,” Williams concluded.

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Main Feature Marketing Southeast Asia

Retail banking in PH: Why Citi matters to UnionBank

The service of retail banking plays a significant role in consumers’ financial lifestyle, and as the industry continuously witnesses disruptions, we can expect players in retail banking to continue to undergo considerable development and transformation. This then opens up the competition to devise newer strategies to strengthen businesses and provide customers with an enhanced banking experience.

Last December 2021, we saw this into fruition in the Philippine market. UnionBank, one of the leading banking institutions in the Philippines, specifically, the seventh-largest publicly-listed bank in the country, has revealed that it has decided to acquire Citi’s consumer banking business in the country.

A few months prior to this, Citi has unveiled its new strategy to move its focus to its Institutional Clients Group in April 2021, driving them to finally let go of their consumer banking business in the Philippines. The acquisition by UnionBank entails a ‘share and business transfer agreement’ with various subsidiaries of Citi. Through this, UnionBank’s transactions will now include Citi’s credit card, personal loans, wealth management, and retail deposit businesses. It will also now own Citi’s real estate interests in relation to Citibank Square located in Eastwood, one of Manila’s main shopper destinations; three full-service bank branches, and five wealth centres, as well as two bank branch offices.

For MARKETECH APAC‘s industry deep dive The Inner State, we have invited Albert Cuadrante, Union Bank of the Philippines’ chief marketing officer, to tell more about his insights regarding the marketing implications of the recent acquisition.

Impact of Citi’s exit in the Philippines’ retail banking industry

UnionBank is widely known as one of the most digitally transformed and future-forward banks in the country, with over four million users on its digital platform, while Citi has had the third-largest credit card franchise in the country and is a pre-eminent wealth management provider.

Cuadrante believes that, with the above in mind, the move is a very positive development for the retail banking industry because ultimately, the “real winners here are the customers.” 

He further shared that there is also a minimal overlap, particularly in credit cards which accounts for [a] large portion of Citi’s customer base.

“The clear synergies that this acquisition presents us with opportunities to come out with even better products and further elevate our level of service to customers,” noted Cuadrante.

Uplifting UnionBank’s brand positioning

As per the effects of the acquisition on UnionBank’s brand positioning, Cuadrante said that UnionBank’s aspiration is to be a ‘great retail bank’ focused on growing its consumer retail banking business and led by its digital transformation initiatives. With the recent acquisition, he believes that this will provide them with a transformational opportunity to fast-track their growth aspirations in the retail banking segment.

With Citi being the country’s largest foreign bank and its consumer business offering a superior suite of product offerings in credit cards, personal loans, and wealth management, Cuadrante trusts that UnionBank will be able to benefit from Citi’s expertise in product development, spending management, data intelligence and modelling, portfolio managing and cross-sell, and sales and distribution. 

“This will enable UnionBank to effectively take the business to the next level and further strengthen our value proposition to our customers,” he said.

Citi’s customers transitioning to UnionBank

In terms of adopting Citi’s consumer banking customers, Cuadrante noted that UnionBank is committed to ensuring the quality of products and level of customer service Citi customers are currently enjoying.

He said that customers will have access to UnionBank’s digital channels, a wide range of product and service offerings, and branch network, over and above the existing branches, products, and services of Citi. In addition, customers will be able to benefit from its data-driven decision-making and omnichannel platform offering to enjoy personalised offers tailored to their needs.

Meanwhile, UnionBank plans to retain Citi’s good performance amongst its clients by treating the Citi portfolio as a separate business unit until such time when they are able to fully integrate the systems and practices between UnionBank and Citi.

“Citi, on their part, is committed to supporting the transition and shall continue to provide regional support until we are able to migrate their entire consumer business to our systems and platforms,” added Cuadrante.

The long-term benefit of the acquisition to UnionBank

UnionBank is expecting results in significant synergies for them, particularly from the opportunity to cross-sell products to a larger combined customer base, helping them gain scale and increase profitability and grow their penetration rate.

Cuadrante said that the combined credit card portfolio will bring them to #4 in the industry, up from #10 currently, and within striking distance of the top 3. Citi also has close to one million customers, ranging from the mass affluent to the high net worth, which complements their over 10 million customer accounts today.

“The Citi customer base is largely incremental as there is minimal overlap, particularly in credit cards which accounts for [a] large portion of Citi’s consumer business,” he added.