2012: One billion internet users participating in many webs

There are now more than one billion people online across Asia Pacific (1.016 billion to be precise - nearly 46% of the world's total), and 623 million people access the web via mobile. Although this enormous and growing addressable market seems to hold boundless business potential for marketers, the reality is more complicated - and more interesting. The headline one billion user number is made up of hundreds of thousands of communities of users, spread across a wide variety of devices and platforms, languages and cultures, and who use the web in a profusion of different ways.

The implications and opportunities for marketers are far-reaching:

  • Social media continues to gain in importance, but brands have to proceed with caution. Although 60% of social networkers say that social networks are a good place to learn about brands, 50% also say they don't want to be bothered by brands.
  • Social commerce is on the rise, and marketers can deploy sophisticated, personalised approaches, depending on where they are in the sales funnel, to build brand awareness and understanding, create brand preference, make sales, and do CRM.
  • Search remains vital to helping customers find your brand and for you to find your audience. With crowdsourced curation of content, natural search rises in importance and complexity, and paid search is still effective for driving "last click" results. Search/navigation properties in the region have 84.7% reach.
  • Despite the rise of social media and user-generated content, paid, owned and earned media all continue to play important roles in achieving marketing goals.
  • Although in this fragmented environment marketers must work harder to understand and find their target customers, analytics, behavioural targeting and big data are providing more and more powerful tools for marketers to reach and engage with internet users in personalised ways.

The billion people online in Asia Pacific are spread across more than 14 countries, with a wide range of languages, cultures and online habits. More than half of them (513 million) are in China, which has its own media properties and consumer dynamics. In fact, seven of the top eleven sites in the region are in China. Across the rest of Asia Pacific there is remarkable diversity; the way people use the web and interact with content and with one another differs significantly from Australia, to Korea, to Indonesia, to India.

In addition to obvious geographic, language, and cultural differences, the internet is increasingly host to a profusion of platforms, many of which are interconnected but which also attract their own distinctive communities and patterns of behaviour. In Asia Pacific, portals are still the top category of internet property, and have nearly 90% reach, but the days when users went to one destination as the entrance to their web experience are long gone.

With such a profusion of content, the primary ways to make sense of the overwhelming amount of data, opinions and options are to make it as easy as possible to connect with like-minded users (social media), and to find and be found (search).

Social media platforms have been a strong force to help bring together fragmented media. Content from every site and source is shared both widely and in targeted ways via microblogs. Twitter globally has become a red thread running throughout the web and, in China, Louis Vuitton Outlet , Pengyou and Sina Weibo have become major forces. More than 300 million users post 100 million comments and messages every day on Sina Weibo. Social networking sites have 72.2% reach across the region, and hundreds of millions of people connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, Cyworld (Korea), Mixi (Japan), Qzone, Ren Ren, Kaixin (China) and other localised equivalents. And in search Google and Baidu and Bing and Yahoo! are helping users and marketers to find the content and audiences they are seeking online.

Another trend is that internet users are using the web in increasingly diverse and specific ways. Depending on location, income, age, availability of broadband, use of a smartphone and many other factors, one user's experience can be almost totally different than another's. From a lifestyle perspective, regionwide the top four reasons Asia Pacific internet users go online are to stay up to date on news and events, stay in touch with friends, research products to buy, and to do research for work. In order from high to low, they are most likely to send an email, watch a video clip, do internet banking, purchase a product, review a produce or brand online, connect via an instant messenger, share photos or manage their social media.

But significantly, the "long tail" of what people are doing online goes on and on, to include blogging, micro blogging, gaming, using Cloud-based software and apps, posting on websites/forums/BBS, or buying on a group buying service. This fragmentation of online activities and communities is matched with an explosion of information. By 2015, Asia Pacific's internet users will be generating 530,000 petabytes of information a year, up from 67,000 in 2010. That's the equivalent of every person on Earth exchanging about 50 newspapers' worth of information every day. Dropping costs of storage and new business models are facilitating the storing and sharing of enormous amounts of data, including an increasing amount of video. At the same time that online audiences and media channels are becoming increasingly specialised and focused, they are also growing in scale. We saw a similar phenomenon when cable and satellite TV channels chipped away at the dominance of the TV networks, but the digital transformation is happening on steroids, with growth rates and a scale that surpasses television numbers.

So how are marketers reacting to the changes in online behaviour and the opportunities large scale communities offer? Here's a snapshot of trends and data, and there is lots more detail in the Yearbook:

  • Online advertising spend in Asia Pacific reached US$24.8 billion in 2011, making the region second only to the US, with US$34.5 billion.
  • Every marketing dollar spent online returns US$1.78, exceeding the returns of all other marketing media including TV, print, out of home and trade (according to Nielsen).
  • By 2015, Asia Pacific is expected to account for a third of all global mobile ad spend, reaching US$6.92 billion.
  • India, China, Australia and Japan are expected to generate US$258 billion in commerce sales in 2012 between them, and mobile commerce is on the rise with 34% of mobile internet users in China and Korea transacting via handheld devices.
  • Mobile app downloads reached 5 billion in 2011, generating US$871 million.

David Ketchum is Chairman, Asia Digital Marketing Association
and President of Bite Communications , Asia Pacific.