Digital marketing 101 (in Myanmar)

The basics of a digital marketing campaign are no different from traditional marketing, but digital brings advantages that can be harnessed to make your marketing spend go that much further.


I came back to Myanmar to establish Wave Digital, the digital agency arm of Myanmar’s biggest marketing and media agency group. Before this, I had set up the digital team for India’s leading PR agency, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. I discovered that Myanmar had leapfrogged in many areas but we had forgotten the basics of effective marketing campaigns. Digital is no different from traditional marketing: you can’t jump until you get your basics right, especially when working with an agency.

An agent by definition in Myanmar has always been someone who makes things easier to process – traditionally they’re the people who negotiate things ahead of time with various parties so your paperwork gets done. An agent’s services are usually end-to-end: what forms to fill out, which official to talk to and what process to follow. Our mentality, as a result, has always been “tell what you want to the agent, and they’ll just get it done”.

Unfortunately, that’s not how marketing agencies work. Marketing agencies need to know why you want to do a certain activity. They need the big picture so they can really help drive your vision.

The brief

A brief is a document you give to your agency so that they understand your brand, your message and your target audience. More mature companies know the exact age range, gender and geographic location of the audience. Less mature companies would have almost everyone as their target audience. When it comes to digital marketing, precision is preferable. If you’re not certain about your target audience, you can always put your assumptions in the brief for the digital agency to test. This is where digital really comes into its own – you can test and learn, pinpointing exactly what works and with which audience.  

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When you’re briefing your digital agency, have a meeting face to face. It’s like a cross between an interview and a conversation. Smart agency teams will take away not just what you’ve written, but what you said and will incorporate this into their plans. Evidence-based communications was the driver when I worked in India; we listened to what people had to say about a brand or an organization before we planned any marketing communications campaigns. However, Myanmar is yet to see agencies that test assumptions with data. There are also only a few companies in Myanmar who are truly studying consumer behaviour, including listening and collecting data to show whether their marketing assumptions are right or wrong.

Have a proper marketing plan

The marketing plan is the blueprint that your digital agency needs to create their action plans. A minimum three-year plan is a must; without it, they will not know where to drive your brand or organisation. Don’t be afraid to share your vision with your agency: The bigger the picture they can see, the better the digital strategy can be. The teams will also leverage this to build long-term relationships instead of doing just one campaign. One big advantage in Myanmar is that most organisations have a single head of marketing who drives both the marketing and communications functions. This enables companies to make faster decisions and maintain focus. Focus is important because you need a unified vision under one budget to get the most from your media spend on paid, owned and earned media.

Integrated is overrated

There is no real “integrated” communications agency in Myanmar. The onus is on the brand manager or brand owner to ensure that all channels are speaking in one voice and that they are all getting the attention they deserve. As the brand owner, it is best that you set the terms of engagement by which all of your agencies need to abide. Make sure they talk to each other so plans are streamlined and the execution happens seamlessly. I think of it as a giant relay race – you need to know where the baton is going to be passed to, by whom, when, and how things are going to move forward. Globally, Ford does this brilliantly by combining three to five agencies in a particular market with one singular brand focus and message: quality, green, safe and secure. This governs all their marketing communications activities, from large flagship launches to day-to-day social media calendars, as well as websites and PR campaigns.

Think beyond Facebook

Though the growth of Facebook users is not as fast as it was last year – Myanmar doubled our monthly active users in 2017 – it is undoubtedly the most powerful media company in the country. But when I was working for Myanmar’s largest marketing and advertising group, I declared one year that we needed to go “beyond Facebook”. It allowed my team to think more broadly about what was possible and allowed our clients to bring more digital channels into their campaigns, thereby extending their reach beyond Facebook. Yes, we all need to be on Facebook because we’re in Myanmar – but what can your agency recommend beyond that? A short checklist you might want to check with your marketing objectives can be:

Paid social: directly buying ads from Viber and/or Facebook. Paid social influence: having social influencers talk about your brand. (Unfortunately, Myanmar does not have many real brand advocates who are passionate bloggers or reviewers who are as effective as celebrities. There’s still a long while to go before we get there. We also do not have regulations that create disclosure rules for online influencers. Luckily, though, netizens in Myanmar are savvy enough to understand sponsorship – that no product placement or brand mention is ever free.) Paid online media: also known as native advertising or advertorials, this is where you place articles in popular web portals. Display ads: banners, videos, and gifs that you see on the internet via apps, websites or other content that people consume. Owned media: your own microsites and websites – are they resonating the message and the plan you want to drive? Semi-owned media – your brand Facebook page, LinkedIn company profile and so on.

Dare to Leap Outside the Banners

A couple of years ago, a Nielsen MMRD study found that Myanmar audiences do not mind ads on their mobile phones. We understand that if we’re using services for free, someone needs to pay for them, thus ads are something we’ve learned to live with. You’ll need to include a digital ad budget if you’re running a marketing campaign. With digital you can do so much more than just re-purpose your billboard.

You can collect data, you can target different messages for different times of day, or weather conditions, or you can even react real-time to events around the nation or the world. You can send one message if Myanmar wins the Southeast Asian Games football final and another message if we lose. You can also give consecutive messages to the same people with a well-considered campaign. For example, if you know the demographics of people who are affected by tuberculosis and you want to run a public health campaign, you can target the most affected group to tell them that there’s a cure for TB.

You can also segment the same group of people who have seen the first awareness raising message, target their location and show them an ad with the nearest clinic they can go to be screened. You can also target a secondary group – their influencers or loved ones – to see if this will drive more foot traffic to your clinics. There’s also a lot of functionality you can add to a digital ad. For example, they can click and learn more about TB, or they can fill up a form for someone to call back, or they can even click and schedule an appointment for a screening. 

The A team

An agency team is the extension of your team. Don’t be afraid to mentor them and widen their horizons – this will motivate them to do more for you. Plus, you will be helping to uplift the industry and marketing/communications profession as a whole. They are the experts in digital, while you are the expert in your line of business. Combining this knowledge, and truly practising your findings and insights is the best synergy you can harness. The more you invest in your agency relationship, and push your agency to do more, the more you’ll be getting back on your return.

Digital in Myanmar

Digital in Myanmar

This article originally appeared as part of Frontier’s Digital Myanmar 2018 special edition.

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