So proud to be asked to help out with an MBA dissertation, when I asked how Francesca found me she said I was the top guy on all search engines,… shucks!
Re: Questions for Interviewees
St. Mary’s College University, Twickenham
Date of Interview: August 6, 2013
Interviewee: Alan Johnston
Verbal Consent given to use interview:
Type of Interview: Semi-Structured
I believe the Thai culture is a very insular one, foreigners always struggle with coming to terms with the way Thai people do business, yet they get stuff done, and they do rather well at it within the confines of the nearly 70 million people. Social Media has hit Thailand big just like any other Western country, and the Thais have used social media well and integrated it into almost every aspect of their social life. Companies are marketing using social media, and it’s rare to come across a young business with a web site without social media links. The challenges are very similar to the Western cultures; the older more stable manufacturing companies are slow to pick up on using social media as a tool. Also I believe the Thais are missing a massive opportunity in marketing to the English language and exporting possibilities.
2. What do you believe are the main uses of social media in Thailand? What entices that use?
Social media is very much aimed at the younger audience and the capital of Bangkok is awash with people glued to their phones. You could be mistaken by thinking the average age of Thai people was 24 if you never left Bangkok.
The online shopping has really integrated social media well and gaming, Thais love to indulge their imagination and have a very long appetite for daydreaming and escapism. On the back of this financial services have leached on to this and promise an easy way to pay for all this shopping and gaming with easy access credit cards. With a smart phone costing an average Thai person’s month’s salary the finance sector have a massive grip on Thai consciousness, and if you don’t have a huge phone in your hand on public transport you feel ,well, left wanting, Makes me think of a big bubble popping soon!
3. What uses do you believe an average Thai views social media for? What information do you believe they pull out of digital media?
I think the Social media marketers are faced with a conundrum of how to turn social media into a profit, as they have given the Thai population a way to communicate everything at any time, the next step is to get people to ‘like’ and understand brand loyalty. Just recently at a trade show, a company was giving away T-shirts for likes on their Facebook page, I heard a couple of people saying after that they never heard of the company and will just ‘unlike’ later. This is one example of how many businesses conceive quantity on social media as more important than quality.
4. Do you believe that Thais only see social media as a medium for social interaction? What about a market platform?
If you asked the people they will tell you that they are not being marketed to and they have a choice, yet smart marketers who understand marketing know that choice is an illusion. Smart marketers give content and feed the people the information they require to build up trust and brand recognition, so that when the person is faced with a buying decision they will go with the brand they trust and recognize, and that has been pre-determined by clever subconscious social media marketing from a very early stage.
5. What type of social media do you believe the Thais use the most (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)?
Two to three years ago it was Hi5 now Facebook took over Foursquare is popular in Thailand, LinkedIn is slowly gaining ground. Thais struggle with Twitter.
6. What do you believe are the benefits of using social media within Thailand? Do you think these benefits will increase or expand if a stronger marketing strategy was implemented?
Not much different from the West, established businesses struggle with the concept of the social media bottom line, how does this stuff make money? The first thing I ask any potential client of one of my Online marketing training courses is; what do they understand about branding versus Advertising, and this is the crux of the matter. Social media is long-term, you need to be sharing altruistic passionate conversations through blogs for months and months and forget about an ROI that comes much later in the guise of brand recognition and trust. When a client has really understood this then I can train them to create a separate blog site where they ‘have fun’ and tell the world what they know and how what they know, will help the reader, in a no sales environment, but with all so subtle calls to action to ‘lead’ them to the corporate sales site.
To give you an example in 2012 I trained 30 companies in the United kingdom through my UK company Netmediauk Ltd how to blog and engage in social media, how many actually made the effort and blogged the minimum of once a week for two hours of their time? Just one and that company is dominating their key-phrases and converting regularly through their web presence! Thai people are no different from Western people in their understanding of what is needed, and a huge amount of education is still required.
7. What do you believe hinders or helps the success of social media consumerism in Thailand?
The lack of knowledge of how to subconsciously convert a gamer or a surfer to a paying customer through a strong brand image, they ‘hit too soon’ when not enough brand loyalty has been established, it’s about the time needed to build the brand loyalty. All too often I see an advert on Facebook for a condo in Pattaya when in reality they have built no loyalty first, and when the ad gets no response people are turned off social media. Social media is not a place to sell anything it’s a sharing of knowledge place, that then leads people to your main selling website.
8. Do you believe the role of digital technology is important for marketers in Thailand, why or why not?
It’s paramount, the social media landscape will change dramatically over the next ten years, the mobile phone application market is growing and marketers must be learning every day to keep abreast of the fast changing arena. The travel business is one aspect that is being proliferated by Social media; people can now stand outside a hotel and get a review of the people who stayed there the night before on their phones and make a decision there and then to go somewhere else. I always said social media is one aspect of your overall marketing plan but a vital component nonetheless.
9. As social media is growing as a marketing platform, do you believe that more Thai companies will turn to Internet usage for awareness and expansion?
Yes but kicking and screaming, the temptation many give in to, is; outsourcing social media to another company. As marketers we have to understand that blogging and sharing to social media is not what everyone enjoys doing, some people are private people and you have to respect that, but one way or another if you are not getting involved you will be lagging behind. In fact at a seminar of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management in UK a couple of years ago they told a crowd of 250 top marketing people in the UK that
“If you are not engaging in social media your company will die!”
Eventually all business will get it, and start to understand the essence of social media which is being yourself and getting personal and sharing knowledge and not selling. Social media will sell for you but only on the next level, first level is establishing rapport.
10. What complications within business are confronted when implementing social media into the marketing strategy in Thailand?
Apathy is the main one, the stubbornness of many established business people to come to terms with the fact that the old ways of doing business are slowly dying. Cold calling is now proven by top universities to have an astonishing low rate of success, canvassing, what I did when I started work, is pitiful, and Golf, well I hacked up to many nice walks to say that worked for me. Networking at events has seen a massive growth and people are finding a lot of business through clubs and establishing rapport in person.
The work ethic involved before any business begins to feel that their online brand recognition is growing is a major factor. Most companies rely on cash flow and one of the hardest things in the world is to demonstrate graphically to the CEO where you are with brand and social media in relation to the budget you have been given, so initially it feels like a massive waste of money and resources, and trying to get a business to see 6-12 months in the future is quite a challenge
11. Where do you see the future of social media going in the Thai market?
Again really not much different to the west:
I imagine a time when a lady arrives home from work and kicks off her shoes and says:
“TV on” An 80 inch screen on the wall kicks into life, she saunters over and put’s on the kettle
“New shoes for party Saturday” the TV then instantaneously showers the screen with many hundreds of shoe shops.
“Red shoes size 6 with 4 inch heel” she dips the tea bag in the cup whilst the TV reduces the number of shops to around 20.
“Remove open toes, damn that bunion!” about 5 shops remain on the screen
“Shop three hmm let’s see” the screen moves into a set of shoes which are now 8 foot high on the screen, she waves her hand and the shoes turn around.
“What about with a red dress” the screen instantly puts the shoes on a fashion model in a red dress
“Walk” the catwalk model struts up and down in her shoes.
“OK how much?” the price is revealed on the screen, aaaarrghh! (Which I think is any woman’s reaction to the price of things they really want!)
“Reviews!” she demands, The TV screen then gives her a list of her friends who have tried these shoes and their testimonials about quality and design on social media sites. The reviews have videos with their friends with the shoes.
“OK I’ll have them” She walks over to remove the teabag from the cup, sits down and around 5 minutes later the doorbell rings and her shoes are delivered.
Science-fiction? Who remembers the first mobile phone back in the 1990’s calling Mum and she did not believe you?!