Google: Why every Asian business is now an Internet business

In 2001, Google set up its first office outside of the US in Tokyo, in an era defined by the desktop computer.

Smartphones now define Asia – the region already generates the most mobile data in the world – and companies like Google are working hard to harvest this vast sea of consumer information to enhance businesses, big and small.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in Asia, but the changes brought by mobile over the past three years have been astonishing: they’ve been unprecedented for the region, for the Internet and for the world,” says Julian Persaud, Managing Director, Google, Southeast Asia. He explains what mobile means for Asia, why shopping habits differ and how Asian businesses are benefiting from fast-paced digitisation.

Which Google products are most popular in Asia Pacific?
Anything that works on mobile works well in Asia. Asian consumers are transforming some of our most popular services into mobile services. Korea was the first country in the world to use YouTube more on mobile devices than desktop. That was back in 2011. Japan was the next country to flip YouTube to mobile. In Singapore, around 50 per cent of our views come from mobile devices, and in Thailand this figure stands at 30 per cent.

We’re also making sure that the Asian Internet as a whole looks more Asian and less Western. The unprecedented growth of Asia’s number of devices and connections demands that Asian content comes online at the same pace. Recently we launched historical Street View imagery in Singapore, a feature in Google Maps that allows us to go back in time virtually to see how Singapore’s ever-changing cityscape has evolved over time. People in the Philippines use our maps tool to create maps online of their country, parts of which have never been mapped in any detail at all. We’ve launched Voice Search in Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, and Bahasa Melayu. We even tweaked voice search so that Indians don’t have to fake an English or American accent when they use our voice search in English.

How important is the mobile platform in m-commerce?
The term mCommerce is really unhelpful: as if there was one kind of shopping you do with a mobile phone, and then shopping. If you have a smartphone, do you throw it away when you go shopping? Of course not.

Marketers sometimes undervalue mobile’s contribution to their sales because mobile is often not the last step before the sale. In many cases mobile is where they start out and lengthy paths to purchase can be challenging to track. We like to think that only focusing on the device that delivered the final sale is a bit like saying that a football teams’ goals are only made by the striker — ignoring the rest of the team. Today’s marketer needs a strategy that takes the complete consumer journey, across all screens, into account.

On a basic level, how does Google help Asian businesses grow?
Our advertising programs help businesses find customers across the globe. Asian countries tend to have a lot more small businesses than Western countries, yet they also tend to produce a smaller amount of GDP. That’s usually because business-support services in Asia are geared towards the region’s giant conglomerates. The Internet gives small businesses a chance to compete.

One of the more extreme examples is the Tattoo Temple studio in Hong Kong. It makes tattoos based on exquisite calligraphy and it finds customers willing to fly all around the world by using Internet advertising. They’ve effectively found a way to export tattoos.

In Malaysia, two brothers set up a custom-made cardboard boxes business online called Boxman but their site lay idle until they used AdWords, our search-advertising tool. Now 70 percent of their orders come via AdWords.

The truth is: every Asian business is now in some way an Internet business.

What, in Google’s opinion, is the difference between Asian and Western consumers?
In a word: Mobile. But smartphone penetration isn’t as important as what Asians do with their smartphones. 100 percent of Japanese users said they researched a product or service on their phones, for example. The numbers are lower in the UK, the US and France ranging from 73 percent (UK) to 77 percent (US).

When we look at where these searches were carried out, the differences are even more glaring. 97 percent Singaporeans said they search at home – 72 percent of Indonesians did the same – whereas only 55 percent of Americans said they did. 31 percent of Americans said they researched products on their smartphones in a store (the so-called “showrooming” behaviour). In Indonesia, this trend isn’t as common — only 17 percent of Indonesians reported the same behavior. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Singaporeans are currently “showrooming”. I’d say, over time, we’re likely to see more “showrooming” across Asia.

What are Google’s growth plans for the region?
Asia’s Internet growth is one of the big economic stories in the world — for any company in any industry. We want to live up to the changing and high expectations Asian users have for the mobile Internet and help other companies rise to that same inspiring challenge.

Sectors: Communications
Countries: Asia Pacific
Topics: Getting Started
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