4 Data-driven Strategies For Southeast Asian Marketers As Covid-19 Further Threatens Economic Decline


Marketers can and must navigate the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. ADA shares four strategies for marketers to navigate through this period of economic uncertainty:

  1. Lean into the data
  2. Be hyper-targeted and make your dollars work for you
  3. Let’s get personal
  4. Invest in your brand while being a responsible brand citizen

Southeast Asia is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, with countries like Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia downgrading their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) forecasts and introducing stimulus packages. There is also growing concern in the financial market as stocks continue to plunge.

Fig. 1 Stock market chart
Figure 1.1
Fig. 1.1 Financial apps

Fig. 1 and Fig. 1.1: As Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand’s financial markets dropped, the use of financial apps increased.

We analysed data from XACT, our proprietary Database Management Platform (DMP), to uncover some interesting insights on travel patterns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Contrary to most reports, not all countries experienced the same effects in the travel industry. People travelling to Thailand from Malaysia and Singapore remained steady; while people from Malaysia travelling to and from Singapore still peaked during the Lunar New Year period – and overall travel between the two countries is bouncing back quickly.

Fig. 2 People traveling to Thailand
Fig. 2.1 Travel between Malaysia and Singapore

Fig. 2 and Fig. 2.1:  People from Singapore and Malaysia continued to travel to Thailand; while people in Malaysia still continued to travel to Singapore.

Similar trends were spotted in the retail industry. Physical footfall traffic to shopping malls in Thailand remained on a steady trend, despite fluctuations; Singapore saw a decrease; and Malaysia is recovering from a sudden drop.

Fig. 3 Singapore shopping mall footfall
Fig. 3.1 Thailand shopping mall footfall
Fig. 3.2 Malaysia shopping mall footfall

Fig. 3, Fig. 3.1, and Fig. 3.2: Decrease in physical footfall traffic to shopping malls in Singapore; while Thailand remained  relatively steady; and Malaysia is bouncing back from an initial drop.

Overall, the situation remains uncertain in Southeast Asia. For many brands, small and large, there is a natural inclination to panic as some brands we spoke to faced immediate cash-flow problems. However, as our 2020 Outlook for Southeast Asian Marketers shows (which predicted a possible economic slowdown), economies in Southeast Asia are some of the most resilient. We’ve been through recessions, political uncertainty, and inflation. And yet, Southeast Asian marketers always find a way to bounce back.

In response to COVID-19, here are four ways any agency and/or marketers can build up their sales and marketing strategies with the help of data analytics.


1. Lean into the data

Most brands sit on a mound of valuable first-party data, and if not, there are increasing options to get hold of third-party data. Of course, the trick is to get insights from this data, which allows you to shape your tactics and strategies.

Given the COVID-19 outbreak, marketers might be asking these key questions:

  • Which of my customers are most affected by the outbreak, and who are not?
  • Is the change in consumer behaviour just temporary, or will there be long-term repercussions?
  • Are there potential or competitor’s customers that I have not yet reached out to?

To answer these questions, look at what the data tells you. Our XACT DMP shows that:

  • Travel, shopping, and dining out in Singapore were most affected
  • However, we see a steady trend for these categories in Thailand
  • Meanwhile, in Malaysia, while we saw an initial dip, this eventually began to normalise as shopping and dining out picked up again

Looking at the data, you might shift your advertising dollars using tailored campaigns to seek out potential customers in Thailand; or target specific personas in Malaysia who are likely to start consuming again once shopping and dining out picks up.

But if you wanted to get really precise information and find where your key customers (and your competitors’ customers) are, there are a growing number of sophisticated tools and methods to do just that. One way is  geo-fencing, which allows you to construct virtual boundaries around specific areas like your store locations through Global Positioning System (GPS), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC), or Identification for Advertisers (IFA or IDFA).

Or you might want to use tools like ADA’s suite of Retail Business Insights Dashboards, designed to uncover more about your existing and potential customers, specific personas who visit yours and your competitors’ stores, and the best way to reach them. The point is, lean into the data to guide the way.


2. Be hyper-targeted and make your dollars work for you

The right data allows you to optimise your digital marketing dollars by being hyper-targeted. For example, our data analytics shows that physical footfall traffic across shopping malls in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand either decreased or remained flat. Conversely, entertainment and game apps increased in popularity, possibly because people spent more time indoors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fig. 4: An increase in usage of entertainment apps in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

When you look at the insight above, you might want to increase advertising efforts on entertainment and game apps to reach potential shoppers there.

Being hyper-targeted starts with the data we mentioned in step 1 – marketers can get pinpoint precision and be more specific about their target audience personas as hyper-targeting moves beyond the broad components of demographics (like age and gender) to specific attributes based on psychographics (like their habits, hobbies, and behaviour online).

Malaysian digital telco Yoodo was looking to acquire new sign-ups to their mobile app. Because they were a purely digital business with no physical channels or stores, they knew that their target audience had to embrace specific traits. Their digital marketing strategy created offerings that aimed at five groups of personas: gamers, tech enthusiasts, international travelers, entertainment lovers, and sports activities. An ad targeted at a gamer, for example, focused on a high-data package that would carry them through an intense marathon gaming session.

3. Let’s get personal

Today’s consumers are spoilt for choice – over 400 hours of video content are uploaded every minute, with more than 20,000 videos on COVID-19 specifically. They have become more discerning, and expect (even demand) greater personalisation through social media marketing, and brands have to service that need.

Omnichannel is not just a buzzword

Omnichannel has become top priority to meet customers where they are, and how they prefer to buy or consume information. According to Econsultancy, more than 70% of Southeast Asian marketers believe they are prepared for omnichannel marketing.

This is encouraging, because as it looks like the effects of COVID-19 are only just starting to unravel, so being attuned to the changing behaviour and consumption habits of your consumer will be a must.

One brand that has done this well is IKEA with its IKEA Place app that allow customers to shop remotely for products they can visualise in the context of their own homes, lessening the need for them to travel to its vast network of self-service, out-of-town stores.

Other ways of bringing the experience full circle include REVO, a tie-up with Mastercard that uses a cashback reward system to drive physical footfall to stores.

Dynamic Creative Optimisation (DCO)

DCO combines the best of data science with creatives to help marketers deliver personalised ads at scale. The technology behind DCO automatically generates multiple variants of creatives, which allow marketers to test, learn, and optimise. Unilever Indonesia used DCO to create multiple variations of a simple ad that captured moments of an early romance – each clip was micro-targeted to the relevant target audience.

Creative Management Platforms (CMPs)

CMPs allow designers to produce large sets of ads – with variations in copy and design in the thousands – using super-powered design tools. CMPs also allow marketers the ability to make small changes to individual creatives to enable true personalisation.

With the high demand for personalisation and hyper-targeting, CMPs allow brands to be more efficient in their efforts. There are an increasing number of platform providers and agencies who are able to help with this.

Video Analytics and Creation Engine by ADA

As marketers jump onto the bandwagon of video content and the TikTok phenomenon, it is hard to make sense of the sheer volume of content that is being created daily. Data from the Video Analytics and Creation Engine by ADA showed an inequality in the spread of information on COVID-19. Brands can cut through the clutter by creating awareness in countries with a high number of reported cases but a low number of videos being published.

Fig. 5: Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea have a low number of videos despite having a high number of cases

4. Invest in your brand while being a responsible brand citizen

A recent report by ADA found that over 76% of marketers in the Asian region will struggle with sluggish consumer growth and would start looking at cost-savings or promotional methods to stimulate consumer spending.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we challenge brands to divert resources to brand-building, which establishes consumer trust. The study by experts Les Binet & Peter Field showed that brand-building drives long-term growth as 62% of consumers are loyal to brands that they trust.

Here are how three Southeast Asian brands used this time of crisis to stand out, and build trust with their customers, whilst doing some good.

  • Carousell’s #ChooseToGive campaign aimed to curb panic-buying by encouraging over 900 people in Singapore to give away surplus protective face masks
Fig. 6 Carousell social media mention
Fig. 6.1 Carousell positive sentiment peaks

Fig. 6 and Fig. 6.1: ADA’s social media listening data show that both social media mentions and positive sentiments for Carousell increased after their campaign.

Fig. 7 Mr.DIY social media mention
Fig. 7.1 Mr.DIY positive sentiment peaks

Fig. 7 and Fig. 7.1: ADA’s social media listening data show that both social media mentions and positive sentiments for MR.DIY increased after their campaign.

  • Gojek’s GoHeroes campaign gave $10 ride vouchers to frontline healthcare professionals so that they could travel safely. The campaign resulted in the Indonesian-based brand gaining over 14% in positive sentiments on social media
Fig. 8 Gojek social media mention
Fig. 8.1 Gojek positive sentiment peaks

Fig. 8 and Fig. 8.1: ADA’s social media listening data show that both social media mentions and positive sentiments for Gojek increased after their campaign.



The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in a decline in many Southeast Asian economies, creating an unprecedented challenge for marketers in the region. But as we’ve discovered in our 2020 Outlook, Southeast Asian marketers are extremely resilient.

Marketers can still bounce back by leaning into the data, being hyper-targeted, getting personal, gaining trust by brand-building, and creating strong impact through negativity bias. We believe that marketers can leverage on opportunities that others might miss, cost-save through optimisation, and make the most of the current situation to still come up on top.


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Rozy Laxana

Head of Business Insights

Rozy Laxana

A veteran professional, Rozy has more than 25 years of experience in Consumer Insights, Data Analytics, and Marketing across South and Southeast Asia with a recent focus on building the digital media landscape and introducing data-driven, outcome-based marketing in Sri Lanka.
Rozy currently serves as the Head of Business Insights at ADA, leading a team of passionate insight experts to provide data-driven solutions and harness positive business outcomes.
On a personal note, Rozy is exceptionally passionate about coaching and mentoring, and she looks forward to building the next generation of leaders.