3 Ways the Digital Transformation Affects Marketing Communications in the Philippines

It’s not every day that you get up to go to work on the other side of the world. But that was my (much welcomed) reality for two weeks this year!

Each year at Jackson Spalding, up to two of our team members are selected to complete a one- to two-week exchange with an agency in the PROI network, either domestically or internationally. Working in marketing communications abroad is something I’ve aspired to do from even before the first day of my career, so I was beyond thrilled to learn I’d be going this year. I chose to do my PROI exchange with our Philippine partner, M2.0 Communications.

I walked away from the experience feeling right at home with the M2Comms team culturally, and I also learned a ton professionally about the marketing communications industry in the Philippines. My biggest takeaways from the entire experience, though, were tied to the fact that the Philippines is undergoing a digital transformation that will drastically change the way businesses and Filipinos operate on a day-to-day basis.

In a digital sense, daily living is quite different there than it is in the U.S. Here are just a few examples:

  • Most Filipinos still pay primarily with cash. Cards are not commonly accepted, especially outside metro Manila, which has naturally led to a slow adoption of online commerce.
  • Filipinos leverage Wi-Fi and pay-as-you-go data plans to use their smartphones instead of purchasing traditional call/text plans through a wireless provider. This has given way to the rise of free apps like Viber, Telegram, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to communicate. Businesses even list separate phone numbers for the landline and for Viber, for example, so the general public can reach them.
  • Many companies are just now beginning to operate within The Cloud, largely because of security concerns (…and they may have a point there). Some retail store owners have not yet transitioned to electronic systems, still maintaining paper logs of their inventory.

So, what does a major digital transformation mean for marketing communications in the Philippines?

  1. Websites are important, but social media is the priority. A brand’s presence on social media will continue to make all the difference in the Philippines. During my two weeks at M2Comms, I realized many brands either didn’t have a website or had a website with an outdated look and feel. However, their social media pages were active, and engagement was high – all the information you need to know about the company was available there. Given that Filipinos now spend more time on social media than anywhere else in the world (an average of more than four hours daily, crowning them number one in the world according to a 2017 report), brands in the Philippines continue to lead with social. Partnering with celebrities and other influencers with large followings on social media also places brands favorably with Filipinos.
  2. Dark social can seem elusive but can’t be ignored. You may be wondering what dark social is – it’s the act of sharing content privately on social channels or messaging programs. As you can imagine, dark social is huge in the Philippines. The apps I mentioned before, such as Viber or Telegram, are prime examples of how Filipinos leverage dark social. And while it may seem that dark social can’t be measured well, that isn’t true – so it can’t be ignored. Tracking and measuring dark social leads to helpful insights for any brand, and especially for those with a presence in the Philippines.
  3. Companies will be forced to execute in nontraditional ways, or they’ll be left behind. If one thing is clear about the digital transformation in the Philippines, it’s that it’s happening whether companies are ready or not. And the companies that continue executing traditional PR and marketing plans will be left behind if they don’t give into the new ways of reaching their target audience. From my time at M2Comms, it’s clear that the team is not only meeting the traditional needs of their clients, but also continuing to open their clients’ eyes to new tactics. For example, M2Comms is forecasting that the demand for brand content publishing will grow exponentially from today’s near nonexistent levels, and they propose strategic plans involving content marketing as often as possible. While they continue to hold traditional media events and press conferences, they’re leveraging Facebook Live and Instagram stories to reach newer audiences. They’re also diving head first into working with brands like online retailer Shopee that has entered the digital space in the Philippines in ways others haven’t.

It’s clear that this is a major turning point for marketing communications in the Philippines, and I was glad to see it in action. What can you learn from how brands are leveraging digital in the Philippines?