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Main Feature Marketing Southeast Asia

Rebuilding tourism after the pandemic: How the travel industry in PH is crafting its marketing recovery plan

Travel and tourism marketing has taken a different turn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The major tourism industries have ceased activities in response to travel restrictions, which include the closing of airports, hotels, and travel agencies, as well as restrictions on mass gatherings worldwide, amongst others. This inevitably spills over to consumption behaviour where tourists have drastically shifted their lifestyles, coming to realise the risk and safety of the global health crisis.

Two years after the pandemic outbreak, travel restrictions and quarantines are now being lifted around the world. Many countries have started various marketing and promotional tourism campaigns to support travel recovery. For instance, the tourism marketing agencies of Maldives and Malaysia have recently announced their efforts in boosting inbound travel. Thailand has also launched many travel campaigns this year, like the recent partnership of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and Thai AirAsia, jointly promoting travel to Thailand in key ASEAN and South Asian markets by utilising the airline’s increasing regional flight network.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the country’s Department of Tourism (DOT) has recently unveiled its new campaign called ‘It’s More Fun for All’, aimed at promoting inclusiveness and accessibility in the tourism sector. Moreover, DOT has launched a special playlist on Spotify, ‘Sounds More Fun in the Philippines’, which is a compilation of specially selected Filipino music that aims to welcome listeners back to the Philippine destinations they love, letting them relive epic travel memories. 

Another interesting campaign from DOT is the ‘ASMR Experience the Philippines‘ project, which seeks to bring people to certain destinations through ASMR videos that explore the natural sounds of a place, allowing one to tune into nature and be fully present in the moment.

As tourism in the Philippines has shown signs of bouncing back now that we are in the new normal, MARKETECH APAC’s The Inner State spoke with Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones, Tourism Promotions Board Philippines’ (TPB) chief operating officer, and June Allenie Caccam, AirAsia’s head of marketing for the Philippines, to learn more about the marketing and promotional efforts of the travel and tourism industry today in the country.

Marketing and brand strategy of the Philippines’ tourism sector

While the pandemic has given the travel industry some pressing challenges, it also presented unique opportunities. According to Velasco-Allones of TPB, physical events and out-of-home advertising, which were very strong avenues for MICE and business travel promotions in the Philippines, were rendered moot at the height of the pandemic. However, the lockdown became an opportunity for the destinations to recuperate and recover from over-tourism.

At the same time, the Philippines took this time to rebuild a greener and more sustainable tourism industry. This allowed them to revitalise the tourism products they were going to market as soon as borders reopened.

“We increased our support to community-based tourism sites, providing various assistance in terms of enhancing capacities, particularly retooling skills in areas like digital marketing and leveraging the use of social media. Coincidentally, the pandemic made more tourists aware of the carbon footprint they leave when travelling; they now prefer less crowded destinations and those that support local communities,” said Velasco-Allones. 

Meanwhile, for airlines, Caccam listed some of the challenges they faced during the outbreak. This includes questions on safety, the uncertainty of lockdowns, changing intercity travel protocols, and emerging new COVID-19 variants, as well as the expenses to travel due to testing protocols and quarantine requirements.

“Along with the challenges came opportunities because people were forced to learn to adapt to new technologies and be more present online. Most brands fast-tracked their digital pivot to address the changing customer habits,” said Caccam.

In terms of the influence and marketing strategy reorientation in reigniting travel, TPB has developed new avenues to reach its stakeholders in the digital space.

“The pandemic [also] allowed us to strengthen our domestic tourism program. We were able to promote lesser-known destinations, and, through intensive policy implementation on health and safety protocols, we were able to reopen particular destinations and curate more exclusive experiences,” said Velasco-Allones.

For AirAsia, Caccam said they had to go back to the drawing board and identify the new pain points of its customers and the additional steps needed to include in their booking and travel journey. The airline has maximised all its digital assets to push relevant content to alleviate customers’ uncertainty like disseminating information about the different travel requirements and reminding them of the travel protocols a few days before their flight. 

“We also leveraged on ‘collaborative tourism’ and strengthened our partnerships with different stakeholders in the tourism industry such as the Department of Tourism, local tours and restaurants, and hotel and resort partners,” she added.

As the pandemic-related travel restrictions are now being eased, there are factors the tourism sector considers when creating tourism campaigns during the new normal. For TPB, the imperatives in creating tourism campaigns post-pandemic are revisiting the new avenues where the audience consumes content, redirecting its efforts in building travel confidence, and making sure that its tourism products and services are both sustainable and inclusive for this discerning market of travellers. While for AirAsia, the campaigns are now more personalised based on the segment, destination, and travel behaviour.

Future of tourism in the Philippines

Technology in the tourism sector will primarily be adopted in its marketing and business engagement from the point of sale to the collection of feedback, according to TPB.

Velasco-Allones noted, “Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and the Metaverse are just new platforms by which we intend to engage our current and potential consumers. The unique virtual environments will allow for availment, enjoyment, and sharing of tourism experiences in a broader more visually immersive digital world.”

Meanwhile, Caccam shared, “These technologies such as AR/VR and meta verse are innovative and creative channels that can help brands acquire new customers, provide a wider reach and upsell new products by bringing to their homes the brand experience.”

And now that the Philippines’ borders are open to international tourists, the tourism sector is working continuously on improving the systems to ensure that visitors will have a seamless and still fun experience for the duration of their stay in the country. 

Velasco-Allones said, “One of our approaches is keeping our tourists up-to-date with the latest travel advisories and health requirements for local destinations through digital innovations. The TPB also continues to enhance its digital content development and distribution to make sure we are able to promote the Philippines on all relevant platforms.”

Caccam also shared, “AirAsia is a digital and lifestyle platform for everyone and we aim to be our customer’s everyday app. We are more than just an airline, we are a one-stop-shop for all your travel and lifestyle needs.”

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Premium Main Feature Marketing Global

The exception: Hearing from a Russian global brand in a sea of corporate boycotts

On February 24, Russia declared war against Ukraine, immediately awakening unimaginable threat amongst entities around the world–but what would come after is a horrifying realisation of events beyond the war itself – the exodus of companies from Russia. 

Global behemoths and MNCs across industries – from finance, professional services, and consumer goods, to food, retail, and tech – all were in unison to withdraw operations in Russia as a form of condemnation even if massive consequences to business are afloat. 

But what if the tables are turned, as in a Russian-origin brand continuing to play in the global market? While Russian consumer goods do not necessarily have strong positions in the international market, there is one brand that stands as an exception in the current geopolitical tensions – Kaspersky, the leading cybersecurity solutions company founded in Russia that currently holds a global presence. 

Global brands that operated in Russia found themselves tested against moral and business judgement. The pressure to pull out from the market loomed over companies at the beginning of the war, and the undertaking had been far from seamless as it blew companies’ finances such as Shell whose exit from the market would cost it $4b to $5b. 

Meanwhile, those that decided to stay, mostly citing humanitarian reasons such as their products being a necessity, endured the risk of backlash and boycott, such as Japanese apparel Uniqlo which previously wanted to keep its Russian stores to continue providing clothing to Russians.

Without a doubt, it hadn’t been easy at all for brands with Russian ties, but on the flip side, how does it pan out for someone with Russian origins playing against the global market?

The Russian-founded global brand

For Kaspersky, the cybersecurity and anti-virus solutions provider whose roots find itself in Russia, there definitely had been a marketing challenge amidst the current geopolitical tensions, although the brand admits it wasn’t until the war that people found of its origins.  

Mark Opao, the communications planning partner of the brand for APAC, Middle East, Turkey, and Africa, spoke to MARKETECH APAC and said that Kaspersky had always been positioned not as a Russian brand but as a global cybersecurity brand and that it had been a surprising learning that not all of its consumers in APAC are knowledgeable of its heritage. 

Nonetheless, the brand was not freed of the risk of boycotts, where several companies decided to part ways with some of its long-standing vendors and partners in the business. 

“To a certain extent, [we experienced boycott]…unfortunately the reasons for these actions were mainly driven by the geopolitical tensions in general,” said Opao. 

Regaining the trust of consumers 

As the collateral damage to brands continues to unfold, Opao said that the biggest challenge for the software brand right now is regaining the trust of its consumers and enterprise partners. 

Despite Kaspersky being a British registered company, and each local office being a legal entity, Opao said they are “unfortunately stuck in the middle of a geopolitical clash that undermines brand trust and business.” 

For other Russian-origin brands, the case is quite different. Most of the Russian firms with renowned cross-border presence are those tied to the state such as energy giant Gazprom and its national air carrier Aeroflot who simply cut ties with several countries allegedly as a retaliation for the global sanctions placed upon them, and reportedly due to business challenges amidst the war. Kasperksy is one of the several companies of its nature that continued to market to general and business consumers. 

In the wake of these unprecedented marketing challenges, Opao believes that a product’s quality and value will outstand whatever disruptions a brand may find itself battling. 

“I always believe that a good product doesn’t even need to be advertised,” he said. 

For Kasperksy, it is confident of the quality and expertise it has proven globally throughout the years but said that teams continue to keep their guard up, working closer than ever in responding to the developments of the geopolitical conflict in terms of re-prioritizing its markets, its marketing channels as well as its communication messages.

“Our transversal approach to managing this current crisis – from product marketing, e-commerce, and digital media to CXO, PR, and brand communication teams – provides agility and flexibility in adjusting our marketing efforts holistically,” said Opao. 

Going back to the core of marketing – the consumer 

As the communications planning partner of the brand, Opao currently manages Kaspersky’s growth regions. He said that during this time when external political and macroeconomic factors continue to push pressure on brands, it is important for marketers to always look back at the core of any marketing activity- the consumer.

Opao said that the key is to have a level-headed mindset and keep acting and thinking in accordance with what would benefit or possibly hurt a company in the long run.

“Let me start by saying that there’s always an end to every crisis. During these types of uncertain [and] unprecedented challenges, the key is to not panic and make hasty short-term decisions,” he said. 

“Amidst the external political and macroeconomic factors affecting us as a company, we need to focus first on what our consumers and enterprise customers need in a cybersecurity solution and use that as a springboard to develop solutions and communications that are relevant to them,” adds Opao. 

Ultimately, he said that no matter the struggles, the “backbone must remain strong,” but that this would require teams to tackle the challenges together rather than working in silos. 

This story is published under ‘The Inner State’, MARKETECH APAC’s dedicated industry deep-dive.

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Premium Main Feature Marketing Southeast Asia

K-pop brand ambassadors: Are they the new ‘upmarket’ or a ‘relevancy’ ploy?

Korean pop music or most commonly known as ‘K-pop’ has now become a global force to be reckoned with, despite its relative local roots in South Korea. Part of the rising popularity of K-pop nowadays can be attributed to frequent use of social media. Data from Twitter shows that K-pop stars averaged 1.2 tweets per day by second-generation stars, 3.5 tweets per day by third-generation stars, and seven tweets per day by fourth-generation stars. The latter also tweeted 5.8 times more than second-generation stars, and two times more than third-generation stars.

With the combination of global popularity of these groups and the evident presence across social media channels, it is no wonder that a lot of brands, both locally and globally, have tapped into the growing popularity of K-pop groups to be their respective brand ambassadors.

There have been countless examples across the globe of the rising number of K-pop brand ambassadors, ranging from automotive brand Hyundai, insurance brand Prudential, to local brands such as Philippine telcos Globe and Smart, and more recently, global fast-food chain McDonald’s.

Looking at these brand ambassador examples, most of them have unified reasons as to why they chose to tap into K-pop groups: bringing favorite groups closer to the brands’ consumer base, while integrating the K-Pop group’s trademark into the brand’s objective into being customer-centric. 

And while this seems like a positive message for brands to delve into, some customers feel like brands should instead focus on improving their services rather than tapping into K-pop brand ambassadors. For instance, insights provided by media intelligence and insights company Isentia unveiled that Filipino customers shared their concern about Philippine telcos tapping into K-pop ambassadors.

With these seemingly divided thoughts from brands and consumers, it begs the question: are K-pop brand ambassadors the new way for brand representation, or is it merely a ploy of some to garner traction and relevancy?

For our first-ever deep dive under The Inner State, MARKETECH APAC’s feature series, we spoke with four public relations industry leaders: Li Ting Ng, director of innovation and client experience at DEVRIES Global in Singapore; Sailesh Wadhwa, chief strategist at Edelman Malaysia; Andrew Sha, managing director at RedTorch Communications in the Philippines; and Elya Eusoff, general manager at Ruder Finn Asia Malaysia, to once and for all, get their take on the tipping point for brands realizing the impact of K-pop brand ambassadors, and how integrating them can affect the overall health of their brand; their brand value and reputation.

K-pop brand ambassadors: why them instead of local ones?

According to Li Ting Ng of DEVRIES Global, part of the growing trend of K-pop brand ambassadors can be attributed to the fact that prior to its global expansion, K-pop stars have long been tapped by Korean brands themselves to be their front for both their local and global campaigns. However, with the spread of the so-called ‘Hallyu’ or ‘Korean wave’, there had been a steadfast rise of non-Korean brands finally hopping into the K-pop brand ambassador scene.

And with the now evident mainstream success of K-pop globally, Ng also noted that non-Korean brands tapping into the bandwagon can be highly likened to the phenomenon of roping in Western figures, like a Hollywood A-lister actor or actress who have been signed as a brand ambassador.

Such global recognition of these brand ambassadors, Ng notes, can now help brands be able to streamline their brand campaigns to a much wider and global scale.

“In addition, as the world is increasingly connected across geographies, consumers do not distinguish between what the brand does in different markets. Therefore, everything consumers come across from a brand – whether online or offline – contributes to their overall brand perception,” she stated.

This is also agreed upon by Elya Eusoff from Ruder Finn Asia Malaysia, which, according to him, further stamps the brand’s quality of their products or services, and therefore linking the brand to be labeled as ‘international’ and ‘of quality’.

In an example given by Eusoff, he compares K-pop brand ambassadors to the fact that Malaysian brands have also tapped international celebrities in order to add recognition and relevance to their brand. For instance, athlete Usain Bolt was used to signify connection speed with Malaysian telco Celcom, while football player Roberto Carlos was showcased by AirAsia to signify ‘the possibilities of daring to dream, among many other similar partnerships. 

But perhaps, the most notable reason for the rise of these K-pop brands: the growing demographic of K-pop fans, which are well known to start large-scale fandoms. Ng notes that K-pop fandom is one unique asset within the K-pop scene, which in turn is a great opportunity for brands to tap into to grow their consumer base.

Sailesh Wadhwa of Edelman Malaysia also agreed to the aforementioned statement, noting that the heightened interest in K-pop groups can be hugely chalked up to the fact that the genre being a source of positivity for millions of fans worldwide, which pushes brands to think of innovative ways to incorporate the same cheer and positivity through their desired collaborations.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sha of RedTorch Communications also affirms the belief in seeing K-pop fans being the strength for brands tapping into K-pop stars, stating that long before ‘Hallyu’ became globally known, K-pop has been a dominant genre of interest across Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. He also noted that with K-pop fans providing a large purchasing power in support of their idols, it is no wonder that brands can also leverage this to generate engagement and sales.

Will riding the K-pop brand ambassador wave work always?

For Sha, brands hopping into the K-pop wave “will work,” as long as it is done right. Sha uses the example of photo cards, a well-known merchandise among K-pop fans, and he notes that buyers from both the brand’s home country and overseas will try to get hold of the product as long as it is relatable and appealing to them because they want to support their idol. 

However, there are mixed thoughts about the effectiveness of K-pop brand ambassadors, as Eusoff states that while a K-pop affiliation may bring value to the brand, they would still need to adhere to their core values from a corporate aspect, and not just merely ‘riding’ the trend, which in turn can bring a negative impact to their existing customers. 

Wadhwa also agrees with this reasoning, stating that while having K-pop brand ambassadors can have brands offer its customers a piece of the pop group’s existing story and persona, there is still a critical point brands should take into consideration, or else it only ends up as an ‘opportunistic tactic’ by the brand, which does not add up genuinely to the brand’s value.

Furthermore, Ng supports this reasoning by noting that brands should also take into consideration the proper affinity of the brand and the group they are pitching to be their front. She also added that just because K-pop has an international following or any related group, for that matter, doesn’t mean brands should immediately jump into this endeavor. Rather, they should ask themselves the purpose of the brand ambassador’s appointment, whether it is for the longer run or merely just to get a boost of attention and sales.

“We have seen many instances of K-pop collaborations resulting in products selling out almost instantly for the latter. However, while you may achieve short-term sales and buzz, it is important to question whether these consumers support their K-pop idols or support the brand or products,” Ng stated.

Tipping the pros and cons of K-pop brand ambassadors

Content, gamification, and activation or pure engagement: this sums up what unique experiences brands should apply as with any brand ambassador, according to Wadhwa.

“We’d like to view them as creative collaborations. And the best natural fit aside from values, personality and talent attraction fit, is their willingness to curate unique experiences for your brand. Given their currency with the audiences we intend to connect with, the brand story needs to have a natural fit, else we run the risk of being left out from the romance,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Eusoff notes that the factors of global link and reach to a much wider audience, as well as the possibility of faster and higher impact results are some of the advantages of tapping K-pop brand ambassadors. This was agreed upon by Sha, who added that factors such as increase in return of investment (ROI) and the brand being the front and center of buzz online or offline gives the brand an advantage to win some brand love. 

On the other hand, almost all of the public relation leaders agreed that extremely expensive fee and strict rules in engagement are the main factors that pose a low point for a brand seeking a K-pop brand ambassador, with Sha adding that one wrong move from the brand would result in immediate backlash from the fans, and Ng adding that the K-pop brand ambassador could potentially outshine the brand and its product or service being offered.

Pointers to ponder for brands venturing into the K-pop brand ambassador space

Both Sha and Eusoff agree that in order to truly work out a K-pop star-brand partnership, there should be questions considered regarding the relevance of the group to the consumers, as well as on the match of the K-pop star’s story and persona against what the brand truly embodies. 

Wadhwa agrees with this as well, stating that in addition to the science and rigor of choosing an ambassador is ticking the boxes on ROI metrics where the real question to ask is – what would the brand’s role going to be when these stars are romancing their audiences.

Meanwhile, Ng’s stance is for brands to take a precautionary route, noting that with issues emerging from the industry such as perpetuating toxic beauty standards, bullying, and its notorious training boot camps and contracts, brands should ask themselves how they should align themselves with the groups or idols they desire to work with.

“If you’ve decided that engaging a K-pop ambassador would benefit your brand, it’s key to recognize that K-pop talents and groups are brands of their own. Choosing the biggest and most popular talent or group may not necessarily add value to your brand, especially if it becomes all about your K-pop ambassador rather than your brand,” she concluded.