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The past two decades have seen APAC’s remarkable development and rapid rise as the new center of the world, thanks to its soaring consumption and increasingly central role in global trade and innovation. Indeed, even prior to the pandemic, APAC had already been taking the lead in many areas, and market pundits are waiting to see when the “The Asian Century” would begin.
Based on the data tallied by the Financial Times, it was found that the APAC economy, for the first time since the 19th century, will be larger than the rest of the world combined in 2020. For context, APAC accounted for just over a third of world output in 2000.
APAC is retaking the center stage not just because of its two largest economies, China and India, but also due to growth in smaller and mid-sized countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Regional powerhouses like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, whilst recently overshadowed by China, will remain sizeable and influential economies. Collectively, these markets will continue to propel the region’s forward momentum towards upending the existing global order in key areas such as trade flows and networks, the corporate ecosystem, and consumer dynamics.
There is a general consensus that the pandemic has been a trend accelerator, pulling forward consumer behaviors by five or so years.
One of the most dramatic development over the past decade has been the speed of digital adoption among APAC consumers. The region already accounts for half of the world’s internet users and growth in some markets continues to outpace the world. The sizeable pools of digital consumers in the region support a flourishing and innovative technology sector, with China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore being among the most digitally advanced countries in the world.
From e-commerce to mobile payments, virtual reality to artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles to robotics, APAC is driving both demand and supply on a global scale. Correspondingly, the Asian consumer has become a real force in the global economy, whose buying behaviors and preferences are increasingly setting trends for the rest of the world.
Even the pandemic couldn’t halt APAC’s strong forward momentum. With the exception of Taiwan, all the other countries in the region have had to impose some form of lockdown for an extended period of time, resulting in shifts in digital behaviors that have played out relatively similarly across the region.
There is a general consensus that the pandemic has been a trend accelerator, pulling forward consumer behaviors by five or so years. In areas like e-commerce and food delivery, markets like India and those in Southeast Asia that had been behind the region’s adoption curve have been catching up faster than they would have otherwise.
Chinese consumers have quickly thrust telemedicine solutions into the mainstream for their market. New behaviors were also formed across the region, including quickened adoption of remote working and online learning tools.
Looking ahead, we have identified four ways the forward momentum will play out, impacting how we work, play, shop, and live beginning tomorrow, and explained the nuances for APAC. The opportunities for brands and marketers remain exciting as the region starts to emerge from the pandemic and look to regain the growth trajectory from before.
The Lunar New Year of 2020 ushered in what many such as the BBC News had termed as “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” Under a government-led mandate, companies all across China started to restrict employees from returning to the office post the festive holidays. As the coronavirus unfolded across the region, various countries quickly instituted similar lockdowns and work-from-home policies.
Unlike in the west where remote working has been an emerging trend for years, APAC’s business culture and work ethics have not been as encouraging of similar practices. Countries such as Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have a more formal, top-down hierarchy that shapes how teams, customers, and clients interact.
Ironically, the collective culture deterring APAC from embracing remote work has also helped the region to effectively restrict the spread of the virus
The region’s prevailing collective culture is reflected in the blurry boundary between work and personal life as colleagues see each other as friends or even family, with after office-hour networking and socialization being a significant part of work-life, which further prevents the region from embracing remote work. In many Asian cities, space comes at a premium due to high population density, which means finding a quiet space for work, in or out of home, a practical challenge for many.
Therefore, remote working has not been an accelerated trend in APAC, but rather a new behavior many have had to embrace. Nevertheless, aided by improved digital and technology infrastructure, many office workers in the region were quick to adopt new tools and gave remote work a try.
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, the local government set up a “work-near-home” initiative to address the challenges facing remote workers, including power breakdowns, hardware limitations, and the pressure of juggling both work and family duties for female employees.
Perhaps alongside an increased acceptance of remote working will emerge the Asian equivalent of the digital nomads.
In China, ByteDance’s Lark business app experienced a 6000% year-on-year increase in downloads from January 22 through to February 20, and Alibaba’s DingTalk and Tencent’s WeChat Work also benefitted from the influx in remote working.
Ironically, the collective culture deterring APAC from embracing remote work has also helped the region to effectively restrict the spread of the virus. As a result, many APAC nations have returned to offices and resumed working as before. However, remote work is not completely going away.
A recent survey conducted by MMoser Associates, which evaluates experiences from 120 clients in 15 major hubs across APAC, found that 56% of respondents will “most likely” continue to adopt flexible arrangements.
Across key markets, there has also been an uptick in remote job postings and applications with Singapore accounting for the largest growth in the share of applications for remote-working positions, followed by India, Australia, China, New Zealand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Perhaps alongside an increased acceptance of remote working will emerge the Asian equivalent of the digital nomads. In Japan, a country notorious for its long work hours and unused vacation time, the concept of a ‘workcation’ has been slowly catching on.
Then Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, suggested the solution during a government tourism strategy meeting as a way to rebuild Japan’s shattered tourism industry, and various governments have since implemented incentives to encourage workcations.
With Asian companies now willing to shift to less traditional work practices, work locations will become more flexible and working patterns less predictable, resulting in changes in media consumption and behaviors.
One prefectural government, Mie, installed high-speed internet and announced infrastructure upgrades in certain tourist areas to drive workcations. In contrast, the Wakayama prefecture focused on a long-term goal by building offices with unobstructed views of the Shirahama coastline. The Japanese government is also working to remove the need for the use of Hanko, the traditional seal which had required face-to-face business procedures to take place.
Working from anywhere has also lifted the borders for talent recruitment and location. Technology professionals in India are now getting more offers for remote work positions from global employers. Hiring companies like Instahyre, Interviewbit, Rocket, and Pesto Tech have all reported that companies from the US, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East have been actively hiring, especially for contract roles.
In Australia, many have been leaving major cities as they no longer need to endure exorbitant property prices and heavy congestion for the sake of living close to where they work. This urban exodus has left Sydney and Melbourne experiencing net losses of 14,000 and 10,000 residents respectively, in the first half of 2020, with most who left moving to regional and rural areas around the country.
With Asian companies now willing to shift to less traditional work practices, work locations will become more flexible and working patterns less predictable, resulting in changes in media consumption and behaviors. It will get even more difficult to pinpoint exactly when consumers would engage with media as there is less distinction between work and play.
To address this, marketers should learn to activate a wealth of data and develop a targeting strategy to effectively direct their marketing efforts. This means reaching the right audience in the right contextual environment, in the right moment, and with the right message that would resonate with them.
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