The Importance of Marketing for Southeast Asian Start-ups: A Mumbrella Analysis

ByAzleen Abdul Rahim

Creativity matters a lot when we want to market to the world, or perhaps to the targeted region. Some of the hurdles we’re going to face require a little intelligence and data to overcome them. The dynamic world of business demands a strategic approach to marketing for sustained growth. That’s for sure. While small businesses and start-ups inevitably navigate challenges, particularly during economic uncertainty, marketing, to me, continues to play a critical role in overcoming these hurdles.

A recent Mumbrella article by Nathan Jolly exploring marketing practices among Australian and New Zealand SMBs offers valuable insights. Of particular interest is the low marketing investment by many businesses, despite growing recognition of its significance. This article analyses Jolly’s findings and provides actionable guidance for Southeast Asian start-ups seeking to thrive in any economic climate.

Economic uncertainty

Concerns about the economy understandably weigh heavily on businesses of all sizes. The Mumbrella study reinforces this trend, finding that 83% of Australian and New Zealand SMBs expressed concerns about the economic impact on their operations. The Southeast Asian landscape undoubtedly reflects similar anxieties due to the interconnectedness of global markets. Economic downturns often bring decreased consumer spending, fiercer competition, and greater difficulty securing funding – challenges that destabilise even established businesses.

The historical precedent underscores this vulnerability. The 2008 financial crisis deeply impacted Southeast Asian start-ups through shrinking investments and cautious consumer behaviour. This experience emphasises the importance of proactive marketing, fostering adaptability and resilience, even when the future seems uncertain.

The dangers of wait-and-see attitude

What happens next is that many small businesses and start-ups tend to prioritise immediate operational needs over long-term marketing initiatives. This results in a reactive approach, rather than consistent brand building and customer outreach. A common misconception is that marketing can wait, a belief that significantly hinders growth potential.

Consider a local cafe with a focus on excellent products and customer service. Neglecting marketing efforts means missing out on the increased reach and customer base achievable through active social media presence, targeted promotions, and strategic community partnerships. No one knows about the cafe, no one will come and visit. Yes, the formula is that simple.

Will cutting off the marketing budget help?

Cut here, cut there and cut everywhere. During economic downturns, cutting marketing budgets might seem a logical cost-saving measure. However, I must say that this strategy is counterproductive. Consistent marketing is essential for maintaining brand awareness, nurturing customer loyalty, and attracting new business even amidst challenges. It’s during challenging times that businesses must differentiate themselves to remain top-of-mind for consumers.

A tech start-up specialising in affordable online education tools serves as a powerful example. When schools and institutions face budget constraints, a start-up’s ability to effectively market its cost-effectiveness and solutions-oriented approach becomes the key to success.

Marketing on a start-up budget

Start-ups often mistakenly believe that effective marketing requires significant investment. The reality is that strategic marketing can be surprisingly budget-friendly, especially when leveraging the power of digital channels. Focusing on targeted social media campaigns, email marketing, and compelling content creation drives engagement without breaking the bank. Understanding where your target audience spends their time online is paramount to maximising the return on your marketing investment.

For instance, a start-up offering sustainable fashion accessories can leverage Instagram’s visual nature to showcase their unique product lines. To begin with, partnering with micro-influencers in the sustainable fashion niche amplifies their reach at a very low cost, while targeted Facebook ads, that only start at $1 per day, ensure their message lands directly in front of their most likely customers. These are proven strategies to drive website traffic and generate sales on a limited budget. Cool huh?

Key takeaways for Southeast Asian start-ups

Nathan Jolly’s insightful Mumbrella article emphasises the importance of marketing during all economic climates. Southeast Asian start-up founders can embrace these key lessons:

Prioritise marketing. Allocate resources to marketing from the outset, recognising it as a fundamental pillar of growth, not an optional expense.
Embrace agility. Utilise adaptable digital marketing tactics that offer flexibility and responsiveness. Consistently analyse data and refine your approach.
Invest wisely. Explore the vast range of low-cost or free tools available. Focus on strategies showing high return on investment for your specific business model.

Just march forward, stay strategic

Southeast Asia’s entrepreneurial spirit fuels incredible innovation. Navigating the inevitable challenges, proactive marketing is indispensable for building a sustainable future and weathering economic storms. While macroeconomic concerns are valid, history reveals the power of strategic marketing. Southeast Asian start-ups prioritising these efforts, even on a modest budget, will gain a significant competitive advantage. More money doesn’t mean we will be great at producing results from marketing. What matters here is how we can optimise the fund allocated to maximise the ROIs. And there are so many ways to do that.

Personally, I’d like to give a proper credit to Nathan Jolly and Mumbrella as they truly deserve recognition for initiating this critical discussion.

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