For some in the conventional business world, digital marketing is seen as something of a poor relation to traditional marketing; a voguish concern with Twitter feeds and YouTube views, but of little actual consequence. But, as Malaysians become increasingly comfortable online, living more and more in the digital world, companies will have to wake up to the future of marketing.
Among ASEAN countries, Malaysia has the highest level of online shopping penetration with 67% of Malaysians online, and according to Wee Huay Neo, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) director of e-commerce enablement, its retail e-commerce market is behind only Singapore. This shows how digital marketing, in a country where its internet users have on average four social media accounts, will grow in increasing importance.
Malaysia’s advertising market is seeing steady expansion, with the key aspects of this rise coming from both digital and out-of-home (OOH) media, and will continue to do so throughout the coming year, according to Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia chief data officer Sue-Anne Lim. While traditional media formats still account for the majority of advertising spending in Malaysia, digital advertising expenditure will increase considerably by 2020.
With its largely affluent, English-speaking middle class who spends an increasing amount of time – and money – online, Malaysia is an optimal location for e-commerce to expand. This has brought the attentions of not only online start-ups, but also the major players in advertising, all wanting to take advantage of these ideal conditions.
Acknowledging this situation, the Malaysian government has been quick to recognise the potential in the digital marketing industry, and has been instrumental in promoting its rise.
As well as the appointment of Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma to the role of digital economy advisor in 2016, the government has made clear its firm desire to propel the digital economy forward. Amongst other initiatives MDEC, a government-owned institution responsible for the management of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), opened the world’s first Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) in an attempt to accelerate digital advancement in Malaysia by standardising infrastructure, facilities and distribution for anyone wishing to establish an e-commerce or digital style business.
This enterprise gives start-ups an opportunity to take advantage of a plug-in-and-play system, enabling them to compete with established digital companies without the infrastructural outlay that this would otherwise entail. It is expected that the DFTZ will double the growth rate of small and micro enterprises’ goods export and create 60,000 jobs by 2025.
As this recognition of potential in e-commerce continues, there is an advancing notion that digital marketing in Malaysia is expanding, substantially increasing the requirement for candidates in the area, and there has been a surge in demand for junior and mid-level digital marketers in the last 12 to 24 months.
Unlike other sectors, where companies may start by appointing a department head to develop a team, due perhaps to a misunderstanding of the workings of digital marketing and its potential importance, when companies open a digital arm there is a tendency to start with a specialist in a junior position, rationalising that nothing more is required, considering positions more senior than this as an unnecessary expense.
The demand for these candidates is being seen right across the country. There is the expected boom in digital markets in Kuala Lumpur, the home to many e-commerce companies, but even in the more suburban areas such as Selangor, companies from right across the spectrum – from hospitals to advertising agencies to entrepreneurial start-ups – are looking to market their services digitally, which is seeing this demand spread outside of traditional spheres.
Although demand for digital marketing candidates is high, it is still something of a young industry and companies are finding it difficult to find staff with relevant skillsets and experience. Many candidates are self-taught and are well able to talk up their abilities, but on the whole companies are struggling to find people who can add significant bottom line value.
This means that candidates in possession of these skillsets, who hold the requisite qualifications and have diverse experiences working for major e-commerce groups are highly sought after. Candidates who fit this bill and are well versed in strategy – knowing not only how to get ‘hits and clicks’ but also how to turn them into added value and, most importantly, revenue – are considered to be very much the Holy Grail. In these instances, financial packages are of extremely high value, and in some of the non-traditional industries flexible working hours may be offered as additional incentives.
In the case that these ideal candidates are not found, companies are upskilling existing traditional marketers or brand managers and pairing their roles with digital marketing positions, with around a 65/35 per cent share in favour of their original role. Other organisations may look abroad, especially if they are in the market for higher-level digital marketing chiefs or heads of digital strategy for whom financial packages can be quite some way above the market average. However, due to strict governmental restrictions surrounding visas, this opportunity for expatriate hire is only granted to technology and digital companies with MSC status.
For other companies, until the candidate pool grows, as long as candidates have some of the relevant skills required for basic content management – search engine optimisation, search engine marketing, email marketing, mobile marketing, marketing analytics and social media – companies are making do with what is available.
Of course, while this situation can perhaps be expected to continue for the next 12 to 24 months, it is unlikely to last indefinitely. As Malaysia becomes more digitalised and consumers become increasingly tech savvy, marketers cannot rely solely on the traditional forms of marketing. It surely cannot be long until digital marketing shakes its perception as traditional marketing’s faddish cousin and comes into its own. Once this happens, candidates who have in that meantime gained qualifications, experience and have learned to appreciate the importance of adding bottom line value strategy, could hope to be considered as the aforementioned Holy Grail themselves.