APAC Brands Embrace DTC Model for Customer Feedback

SoundCommerce Q&A

While most businesses today look to establish a direct customer relationship to more effectively push sales, more in future will want to do so to improve their products and brand messaging.

Merchants on Carousell, for example, are opening up stores on the Singapore-based online marketplace to have conversations with consumers. It is this direct feedback link to customers that brands see as truly valuable, according to JJ Eastwood, Carousell’s managing director of advertising.

They then would take the insights and use these to drive creativity across the business, said Eastwood, during a panel discussion at All That Matters conference in Singapore.

Fellow panellist and BlockPunk’s co-founder and CEO Julian Lai-Hung concurred, noting that the connection between sellers and consumers would evolve in future beyond simply a transactional relationship, to one where it could be tapped to ensure the right product or content was produced.

Creators would want to be part of a community where their fans were willing to share data and personal preferences, so they could be offered content and merchandising they would pay for, which then could sustain the creators, Lai-Hung said.

It also might be possible in future for fans to share some of the returns from the sales, so they would be incentivised to be part of the creative process, he said, adding that one of the reasons BlockPunk used blockchain technology was to create a fairer ecosystem that broke down barriers.

The online marketplace was established after its founders realised fans of Japanese anime series, Devilman Crybaby, found it challenging to purchase the show’s merchandise as these was not available or was available only in small quantities and shipped only within Japan. As a result, these consumers would buy old versions of the anime’s merchandise or pirated products.

And while the global collectibles market was worth USD$200bn (£162.48bn), anime merchandise accounted for just USD$8bn (£6.5bn). Lai-Hung said it was “perplexing” to see e-commerce and social commerce grow exponentially, but creators–such as illustrators, animators, and YouTubers–were not using these tools or did not have the DTC skills to reach out to their fanbase.

BlockPunk then inked a partnership with Japan’s largest printing house, Dai Nippon Printing, to build a print-on-demand platform that used blockchain to authenticate merchandise and digital content. “We’re moving to a world where there’ll be more peer-to-peer (P2P) relationships between creators and fans,” Lai-Hung said.

But while the elimination of the middleman helped establish a direct line to consumers, it also led to a different set of challenges for content creators.

Content distribution, for one, today essentially meant streaming so creators would have to decide the streaming platforms on which to stream their content. However, several of these platforms did not share data about viewers and relationships, hence, were not optimised to help content producers sell merchandise, he said.

So creators needed to develop the skills to manage these streaming platforms, so they still could leverage these channels, as well as be savvier about creating a direct relationship with their fans, he noted.

With more data comes some caution

With a more direct communication channel with consumers, bands also would need to know how to better tap data to improve their service delivery and product offerings.

The Carousell team, for instance, focused much of its efforts on helping brands understand data signals from the marketplace since these could have varying inferences when the data came from the buy as well as sell side, Eastwood said. A more sophisticated understanding of the consumer could be established when multiple data signals were analysed and considered.

For instance, a pregnant consumer could be targeted for relevant products for up to nine months and later for products involving toddlers. These initial data signals then could be reviewed in six years when the child was ready to start its first day at school.

Carousell was tapping predictive data models to help brands uncover insights from the various signals across the e-commerce site, according to Eastwood.

The ability to analyse and establish links across categories also was critical for Grab, which offered at least 80 advertising segments including travel and cuisine. Once just a ride-sharing app, Grab now offers a range of other services including food delivery, ticketing, grocery delivery, and payment.

Ken Mandel, Grab’s regional head of GrabAds and brand insights, said the startup had a team of data scientists who worked to ensure its data could provide actionable insights for brands and enable them to better localise products and services across the various Asian markets.

Where data is involved, however, businesses always should keep in mind the key objectives they hoped to achieve from the data as well as future use of the data. This would ensure they were collecting only what they needed, with consent from customers, to provide better products and services, said Lia Sheena, Mastercard’s senior counsel for privacy and data protection.

Speaking at a separate panel at the conference, Sheena said it was critical organisations established the right data strategy from the onset.

Get this wrong and consumers could revoke permissions to use their data, cautioned CIMB’s group CMO Adam Wee. He said companies needed to get better in defining a clear purpose on how they intended to use data they collected as well as the policies around customers, including how frequent they would be contacted for marketing purposes.

Wee noted that while most organisations aimed to create a single profile of their customers that cut across different touchpoints and product categories, or what some termed “segment of one”, this targeting approach was not suitable for all businesses. This was particularly true for brands that offered a limited range of products, compared to an e-commerce site that sold a large variety of products, which could end up targeting customer with the same items repeatedly.

He recommended brands governed their data use more closely and organise it with clearer purpose.