SINGAPORE: Better email marketing communications and automation are among the priorities for Southeast Asia's marketers in 2016, a new report has indicated.

E-consultancy's State of Email and Marketing Automation in South-East Asia survey reveals the main concerns of the region's marketers as the rise of digital and mobile across the region pushes online communications to the forefront of brand strategy.

Marketing automation was only the fifth-ranked priority for marketers last year, but has moved up to third place with 37% of brand owners and 39% of agencies identifying it as a focus for 2016, behind content marketing (62% of brand owners and 49% of agencies) and social media (43% of both brand owners and agencies and just ahead of email marketing (34% of brand owners and 32% of agencies).

Automation will also enjoy more investment, with 31% of brand owners and 34% of agencies reporting this area will command a larger budget in 2016.

While content marketing is the top priority for Southeast Asia's marketers, recent reports have indicated that many are struggling with the operational burdens of the discipline, suggesting that greater efficiency in production may be just as important as effective content in 2016.

A move toward automation reflects the multichannel landscape marketers are facing, and the drive for efficiency across platforms. 

Around one quarter of clients (24%) and agencies (25%) considered management of multiple touchpoint campaigns to be the single most important opportunity in digital marketing at the moment. A smoother customer experience was runner up.

Data from the report indicates that there is room to grow for brands in using more sophisticated email marketing techniques. 

"Transactional emails for marketing" are currently used by two thirds of client-side marketers but just 8% considered their usage "advanced". Even mobile optimisation of email communications – an essential strategy in Asia's smartphone driven landscape – is not universal.

But challenges remain in pursuit of automated content, particularly skill sets.

A third of respondents reported that a lack of suitable skills or training was the biggest barrier to effective email marketing for clients, with 42% of respondents citing insufficient skills as a barrier to implementing a marketing automation strategy.

Data sourced from Econsultancy; additional content by Warc staff