As Southeast Asia’s digital economy grows, GrabAds’ Ken Mandel shares how marketers can select the ideal RMN platform to craft an effective strategy and grow their brand in the region.

Analysts predict that retail media networks (RMNs) will be the driving force behind the digital advertising industry's biggest transformation. In the United States, RMNs are already spearheading this by giving access to valuable first party data and providing real-time behavioural insights across the RMN ecosystem for better campaign optimisation, putting them in good stead to serve as a vital lifeline in a post-cookie world. GroupM recently forecasted that retail media networks will have US$125.7 billion in revenue in 2023 alone and will surpass television by 2028.

What is more interesting is that as RMNs take root across different geographies and macroeconomic landscapes, their identity and functionality evolve to better cater to local market needs. For example, Southeast Asia – with a fast-growing digital economy and an increasingly tech-savvy population primed for speed and convenience – is one region perfectly positioned for RMNs to flourish.

Southeast Asia: Fertile ground for RMN growth

Based on  Kantar's Media Reactions Report report 2022, which ranks advertising for advertising equity – or how receptive consumers are to marketing messages – two Southeast Asian retail platforms ranked within the top five. This demonstrates how quickly RMNs are establishing themselves as powerful advertising channels for brands in the region.

However, several unique market dynamics have shaped the evolution of RMNs in Southeast Asia, accelerated by the widespread adoption of one of the fastest-emerging forms of RMNs, namely superapps.

First, Southeast Asia is a vibrant digital economy with 460 million digital consumers, young and tech-savvy populations, and rising internet penetration. Notably, these consumers are typically mobile-first; indeed, it’s not uncommon to see mobile apps launched before their desktop counterparts. As one industry commentator put it, “Mobile is no longer just one of many platforms; it’s now the apex selling channel for all e-tailers.” Research suggests that more than 90% of Southeast Asia’s internet users use smartphones as their primary device.

Southeast Asia also has no shortage of retail options, from hawkers and traditional markets to mom-and-pop stores and shopping malls, which are typically no more than a stone’s throw away. Consumers here are used to being able to get what they need at a moment’s notice. So while the pandemic has spurred online shopping habits, speed and convenience are of the essence.

RMNs drive discovery to conversion

Indeed, these factors have seen superapps become an indispensable part of Southeast Asian consumers’ everyday lives. They seamlessly integrate a wide variety of services from mobility to groceries, logistics to payments, and healthcare to hospitality, while bridging the entire retail experience from online to offline or delivery to sales through their end-to-end ecosystems.

Take, for instance, Unilever’s food brand, Knorr, which worked with GrabAds in the Philippines for a “Shoppable Recipes” campaign. This campaign allowed busy home cooks to add a recipe’s ingredients to their shopping carts easily and instantly check out, delivering not only speed for consumers but tangible, measurable results for advertisers.

These real consumer transactions within the RMN ecosystem provide marketers with invaluable first party data, which can then inform the way campaigns are built and refined. This allows for more targeted and effective advertising efforts to reach shoppers from discovery all the way to the point of purchase and from online to offline. And perhaps more importantly, this means that RMNs are well-positioned to help marketers "close the loop" between intent and actual sales.

Crafting an effective RMN strategy in Southeast Asia

With RMNs set to become an increasingly effective platform for brands to expand in Southeast Asia's booming digital economy, the question arises: how can marketers in the region select the ideal RMN platform to grow their brand?

Here are some tips to consider.

  1. Take advantage of the full ecosystem native to RMNs: RMNs are not merely ads on e-commerce platforms. It’s essential to explore the entire RMN ecosystem and associated features. Does the RMN get the product into customers’ hands seamlessly?
  2. Look at long-term brand building using first party data: Marketers can use first party data to identify signals demonstrating purchase intent. The more signals a platform can combine, the more effective and targeted a campaign can be created. Identifying customer personas also means marketers can go beyond performance marketing and design campaigns for awareness and brand building.
  3. Take advantage of full-funnel advertising to measure campaign outcomes: RMNs’ distinct ability to close the loop by tracking the entire customer journey, from initial top-of-funnel ad impression to final purchase, can help marketers evaluate and optimise each stage of the marketing funnel, as well as better attribute sales to their advertising efforts.

As Southeast Asia’s digital economy grows, RMNs present an exciting opportunity for marketers to better engage and become closer to their audiences who now expect a mobile-first shopping experience fuelled by speed. It’s an opportune time for brands to uncover the possibilities and enjoy a first mover advantage of this highly effective advertising platform.