2020 in review: Top insights from across APAC

Jess Duarte / December 2020

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2020 marks the year of the rat — a year that should represent new beginnings. This rang true to us as marketers — as we redefined our understanding of consumer behavior and adapted our marketing strategies in an ever-accelerating digital era.

Although we aim to help marketers move fast and stay agile, we also understand the need to help ensure every dollar spent is measured, and the return understood.

Here, we have curated a list of the top Think with Google content from 2020 that covers digital opportunities across APAC, consumer and industry insights, best practices for achieving digital marketing maturity, and tips on ensuring optimized and efficient spend.

1. Looking back to look forward

As marketers, we pride ourselves on knowing our consumers. However, in a year where so much has changed, we challenged ourselves to differentiate the trend from the reaction. In our first-ever APAC-wide Year in Search report, we look back at the rising searches in 2020 and identify five consumer trends brands need to know before heading into 2021. From challenging social stigmas to more proactive management in future-proofing their lives, we see how the last year has shaped consumer mind-sets and redefined the rules of successful brand engagement.

Interact with the trends and download the full report

2. We learned how cognitive biases shape shopping behavior

In the online environment — one of abundant choice and limitless information — how do consumers make decisions? The “messy middle” is part of a new decision-making model that uncovers six cognitive biases encoded deep in consumer psychology. These biases can be so influential that, when combined in a study, it caused a fictional car insurer to win an 87% share of consumer preference over other known and trusted brands. This highlights the importance of behavioral science principles as powerful tools for winning and defending consumer preference.

Learn more about the six cognitive biases and how to apply them

3. India’s online video audience continued to grow

With 1 in every 3 Indians watching online videos, India’s online video audience is now larger than the population of the United States. It’s not only their size that represents an opportunity for brands but also their level of engagement. On average, each user spends over an hour watching content online — and mostly from the comfort of their own home. More than half of the online video population watches for pleasure — to relax, unwind, and be entertained, and 43% choose content that is learning-based. This intersection of entertainment and learning also presents a unique opportunity for brands to collaborate with influencers who have built large, loyal, and captive audiences eager for new content.

Check out the top online viewer trends in India

4. Digital adoption in SEA surged

In SEA, a massive wave of consumers began using digital services for the first time — a number accelerated by COVID-19 lockdowns. In the last year alone, we saw 40 million people come online, doubling the annual average of the last five years. This enormous growth means 70% of the region’s population now uses the internet. In fact, 1 in 3 digital consumers tried a new service during this time, with the highest growth coming from education, grocery, loans, and online videos (see what they’re watching). However, this behavior is not limited to lockdowns. As people start to put more trust in digital tools, we expect to see these trends continue. Across SEA, 90% of new users stated they will continue using digital services post-COVID-19. As a result, by 2025, it’s estimated that online gross merchandise value will exceed $300 billion.

Download the full e-Conomy SEA report

5. Digital marketing maturity is more important than ever

As we move into an accelerated digital era, 11 industry experts explain how achieving digital marketing maturity is foundational to success. Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of the world’s largest advertising and PR group said, “Understanding the role of data and programmatic, and how that fashions highly personalized content at scale, is going to determine the future of marketing.” However, brands don’t need to start big. The first step to digital maturity is simply building strong digital hygiene foundations, such as accurate naming or tagging, and using experiments to ensure your biggest investments are profitable ones.

Hear from 11 industry leaders

6. Asian gamers lead the charge

Home to 1.5 billion gamers, Asia is the fastest-growing gaming region in the world, driven primarily by the rise of female gamers. With an established audience of esports players and fans, a robust internet cafe infrastructure, and a prominently mobile-first consumer base, it’s no surprise that Asia drove 68% of global esports gaming revenue in 2019. The Asia gaming market represents endless revenue-driving opportunities for game developers, marketers, and strategists — particularly in Japan, where mobile gamers generated 10x more annual revenue than the average gamer in Asia. But take note of the differing game-playing preferences across APAC markets. Players in SEA, South Korea, and Japan favor role-playing games, people in India favor action games, and China’s gamers are shifting to strategy-based games that usually tap into local art styles, heroes, and storylines.

Explore the complete APAC gaming insights collection

7. The future is first-party data

Renowned for his 30-plus years at WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell believes that one critical factor will redefine the future of digital marketing: first-party data. In a conversation with Matt Brocklehurst, Google APAC's head of platforms marketing, the advertising trailblazer shares his thoughts on how data drives better creative, the importance of transparency, and how brands should navigate the next decade using “persistence and speed.” “First-party data, plus digital content, plus programmatic is the way you get to speed, quality, value.”

Watch the video

8. In an uncertain year, agencies stayed agile

Speaking to nine agency leaders, we uncovered some of the best approaches to ideating and creating in isolation, as well as tips on how to rethink your brand strategy, now and for the future. When it comes to creative thinking, agency leaders are using this time to test new approaches and challenge traditional working models — from thinking digital first and doubling down on quick production turnaround times, to behaving more like publishers by creating work and responding to clients’ needs at speed. For marketing strategy, leaders are looking to keep things stable wherever they can, only adjusting the parts of their business that are required to remain agile as they find the balance between “new” and “normal.” Fluidity, co-creation, and real-time insights are the key drivers of success for today’s marketing world.

Hear from agency leaders

9. New online stores opened on every digital corner

Southeast Asia saw a 62% increase in Shopify store creations between April and May compared to the previous year. With more online storefronts now capturing the attention of a growing digital shopper population, expectations for fast, frictionless e-commerce experiences are on the rise. Increased online engagement is set to define retail, as 70% of shoppers will continue to shop the categories they began to buy online due to the pandemic. Trendwatching confirms, “all meaningful, lasting trends in consumer behavior are founded on a fundamental human need or want, and with e-commerce, it’s often about convenience.”

Learn how to maximize omnichannel impact in the retail space

10. The region is cautiously optimistic about traveling again

In APAC, booking a vacation is top of the priority list when it comes to actions to take post lockdown. However, the way consumers travel will clearly be different, prompting a need for new marketing considerations in the travel industry. Safety and cleanliness, promotions, and flexible bookings will all be key factors in securing travel customers alongside a greater understanding of new traveler preferences, such as lower-risk local travel. For business travel, instilling customer confidence is key to reigniting demand; however, this reassurance looks different from market to market. For example, in China, approximately 48% of travelers view hotels as having better health protection measures, versus only 12% who thought vacation rentals had better health measures, whereas travelers in New Zealand had the opposite perception.

Read more about the state of travel in APAC

Looking back to move forward: The 2020 APAC Year in Search Report