Emma Bilardi - PMA 0:00
Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Emma Bilardi and I'm a content marketer here at PMA. This week, we're joined by Vincent Xu and we'll be discussing digital accessibility in APAC's emerging markets. Vincent's a product marketing manager at Google where he drives regional strategy formation and executional planning for APAC Android. Plus he's also an ambassador here at PMA. Welcome to the show, Vincent.
Vincent Xu 0:28
Yeah, thank you so much, Emma,
Emma Bilardi - PMA 0:29
No problem. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at Google?
Vincent Xu 0:35
Yeah, definitely. So as Emma mentioned, my name is Vincent, I am a Regional Product Marketing Manager at Google, based out of Singapore, the product that I focus on is Android. So on a day to day, that involves deep-diving into the latest consumer trends and insights, working closely with local marketers and other cross-functional stakeholders to strategize and execute on campaigns that support Android market share and mindshare within our target users.
As you can imagine, APAC is a very vibrant and diverse place so you end up having a lot of differences, a lot of nuances, not only across different countries, but also a lot of differences even within a single country. The landscape that you start out in, in the technical digital field at the beginning of the year might be completely different by the end of the year. So that sort of ever-changing state is something that I think really drives me and something that I find really exciting about my work.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 1:37
Excellent. So can you talk us through some of the major tech trends in APAC, any specifically in the context of emerging markets?
Vincent Xu 1:47
Yeah, I think APAC has a lot of tech trends this year, and in the past couple of years. So let me hit on one specifically that's more pertinent to the developed markets and then I could talk more about the trends in the emerging markets.
In the developed markets, so markets in Asia like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, something that's become a phenomenon over the past two to three years is this concept of 5G. 5G, in a nutshell, is the fifth generation technological standard for telecom infrastructure and it offers 10 x improvements over 4G in areas like peak speed or latency, or connectivity.
To put this more tangibly, imagine downloading a three-hour movie, which will take approximately 26 hours on 3G, about six minutes on 4G, and actually less than four seconds on 5G. So just the impact that having this sort of technological improvement can have is pretty widespread in society, and it really allows capabilities that are sort of futuristic in nature to become a reality for the first time.
Things like smart homes and self-driving cars, you know, remote 3D surgery. In the context of marketing, specifically, it really enables widespread AR and VR based immersive marketing to take place. In my mind, I think that's going to be something that really impacts and really changes the way that businesses interact with consumers and how consumers experience products for the first time. So that's going to be the trend in developed markets.
Then on the emerging market side, I think something that is very important to me, personally, is the importance of and the rise in the importance of digital accessibility. What I mean by that is just connectivity, right? People who are able to go online and experience a lot of these tech trends that we've been talking about. I think the importance of digital accessibility has become ever more important. Number one, because of just the sheer volume of innovations taking place, across all pillars of society, from medical technology to educational technology to the e-commerce boom.
To give some tangible examples here on the med-tech side, you have things like the rise in the online pharmacy market, which in a market like India is poised to grow something like sevenfold from being a $500 million market in 2018 to over $3.5 billion by 2022. Or potentially in educational technology, which is really sort of pushing out this concept of video-based tuition, some of the largest startups and fastest-growing startups in the country are ed tech-based and this has huge ramifications in terms of democratizing education in the country and in the region.
The other reason why digital accessibility has become increasingly important is because of an enduring post COVID era, essentially, where schools are forced to move learning online, or potentially having a lot of doctor tele-consulting services, which is not only helpful in terms of personal hygiene, personal safety, but also can have massive impacts in terms of mitigating the strain on over flooding hospitals.
So, the rise in digital accessibility, again, because of all the innovations taking place, and because of this enduring post COVID era where things are slowly moving online, or rapidly moving online, for that matter. This is something that I think is pretty important in emerging markets.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 6:36
Okay, so how accessible are these types of technology in the emerging markets? Do most users have the means to access them?
Vincent Xu 6:46
Yeah, so I think this is where the picture potentially is not all rosy. You hear about millions of people coming online for the first time, every week, every month. But at the same time, I think I read a statistic somewhere today that said something like 40% of the world's population still doesn’t have basic access to the internet. And out of this group, I think something like one third comes from south Asia. And so when we think about digital accessibility in the emerging markets, I think there are three key pillars to consider. Three things that really unlock digital accessibility at a high level for users.
Number one is government infrastructure. Number two is the price of internet or data. And number three is the hardware device that users use to access the internet. And so I think, particularly relevant to Southeast Asia and markets like India, right now, the government infrastructure and price of internet and data are not so many roadblocks anymore, at least from a basic internet access standpoint. It's really just hardware device that sort of serves as a bottleneck.
For example, right now the cheapest smartphone in the market is about 40 to 50 US dollars. And actually, you have 70% of the population who are unable to even afford the cheapest smartphone for them to access the internet, which translates to over 500 million users in a market like India, who could be potential users, but just don't have the basic means of connectivity. So in essence, I think that we still have a long way to go in terms of really unlocking digital accessibility in Asia's emerging markets.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 8:33
So how can we begin to address these roadblocks to digital access? And what's the role of product marketing in all this?
Vincent Xu 8:42
Yeah, I think when we think about digital access in 2020, I think the two biggest roadblocks as of right now for Asian markets are still number one, the price - the price of the cheapest smartphone for them to access the internet, which roadblocks about 70% of users. And then after that, there's still various other reasons, like people feeling uncomfortable with the navigation system, or people not finding any use cases, or don't think that the smartphones will offer value to their everyday lives.
Talking about the first point, the biggest roadblock around the price, I think that this will really depend on the partnership between public and private sectors in either lowering the price of smartphones by coming up with innovations that are gonna bring the price down or finding ways of unlocking affordability by, for example, providing funding programs for users, a lot of who come from villages, for example, who don't have the traditional type of background to secure bank funding. Helping these types of users secure the funding, the loan programs, that's going to allow them to afford these products and go online.
So that's a bit on the price, I think it's quite macro in that sense, having the government being involved, potentially providing incentives or for major tech companies to come in and really innovate. But besides this price point, there are other reasons that really roadblock people, for people who can afford a smartphone, but just choose currently not to. I think this is where a lot of individual efforts can come in handy, for companies looking to enter emerging markets, for them to really invest in user education. And this is one specific area where marketing has a lot of control and can have a lot of impact.
When we think about user education, coming in and helping users understand why a particular product or app is useful in their everyday lives, what the before and after state looks like, and potentially mitigating or addressing user concerns, even before they come up. Doing a lot of user research, really understanding your target audience, and then helping them mitigate any concerns that they might have. Another area where I think marketing can have a lot of impact is by informing product and sales counterparts.
So a lot of times when the product teams are developing a new product, there's a lot of complexity with diversity in the user base. So for marketing to potentially lead some of the research, that UI UX research, or thought leadership here to provide recommendations to the product team on developing a product that's really catered to the target audience. And then in terms of sales teams, who go into emerging markets, trying to get mom and pop shops to come online to advertise for the first time.
I know a lot of times, potentially, there might not be a lot of discourse like that happens, but how can we help these teams better understand what are the main roadblocks in these target user’s minds? And to actively address them through an empathy-driven approach. So user education and informing cross-functional teams, I think are areas where marketing can have an outsized impact.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 12:02
Excellent. So what about you personally, is there anything that you've done to address these issues that you'd be open to share with our listeners?
Vincent Xu 12:11
Yeah, so personally, I think from a work angle this area is something that's very important to my team or rather a very important issue to Google overall. We're evaluating things from product partnerships to marketing to understand what are some areas where we can drive impact? And where I can speak to most is the marketing side and sort of like I mentioned earlier, user education is one piece that we think could be quite helpful, and something that we can really lead and drive and own to scale impact.
Besides work, on a more personal level, I've also started getting involved in quite a few organizations. For example, a volunteer organization. So I currently sit on the board of an organization called Books of Joy. It's mostly catering to Nepal at the moment, but it's also looking to expand into other markets in the Asia Pacific.
The mission is to really level the educational playing field, and it started out as the name suggests, by providing books and revamping classrooms, but just given how much havoc COVID has racked on the traditional brick and mortar classroom style and highlighted important digital literacy, this is an area that we're exploring as well. Something as simple as providing two publicly used computers in a shared library, and providing infrastructure, which doesn't seem like that big of a deal to us at all, could have a big impact in terms of teaching hundreds of students the digital literacy skills that might help them for years down the line. So I think the message here really is that everything has to start somewhere.
Again for someone like me, where providing two computers, raising enough money to buy two computers really doesn't seem like that big of a deal, honestly, even something like that can drive massive impact, and to continue going after these opportunities and to continuously think, what are some other things I could continue doing to bring impact and drive digital accessibility? I think that's the kind of mindset that's really gonna help as well.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 14:29
Absolutely. So this is obviously something that you feel really passionate about and it's absolutely a matter of equality, so if any of our listeners are feeling inspired to help in any way, where would you point them in the right direction? Where can they go to help?
Vincent Xu 14:46
Yeah, I think first and foremost is just to read up on the matter, right? So gaining knowledge, and by gaining knowledge and reading all these articles on what's going on, I think people would naturally develop more empathy for those who are struggling to gain access to the internet - to digitalization. That's something that I think a lot of people in the quote-unquote 'developed market take for granted.
But you'll see, I was reading through, especially during COVID sometimes, and you hear about families who have to go to radical extreme measures to help support their kids’ education as all the schools are closed, and it's moved online. People, families, entire families selling farm animals or prized possessions in order to get their kid that first smartphone so that they can go online. These sorts of stories, I think really speak to me, and this is something that's helped me develop a lot of empathy for users in these markets.
Some of the resources that I will recommend are I guess, number one where you can generally start off is this site called GSME and they provide all sorts of articles and news and resources on the state of digital development across the world. There are other tech-focused journals and articles like TechCrunch, or Tech in Asia, that sometimes have articles on these sorts of developments as well. Sometimes even just a Google search can lead you to local news sources. So for example, when I'm working on a market like India, The Economic Times India is actually a news source that I find myself going to over and over again.
So again, number one is just to read up on the matter and just to learn more about it, I think the second thing in my mind is to think about, if this is an area that your company is involved in, just to take a minute and kind of think about your company's strategy. Because, on the one hand, it might be that your company is already doing everything it can to drive digital accessibility and help in this area. But a lot of other times, in my work included as well, I feel like sometimes things do tend to run on autopilot. So maybe this is the way we've done things in the past and we'll just continue doing it this way without really thinking about it.
Really taking a moment to step back and think, 'Hey, is this the really best way of reaching these users or helping these users?', I think, could be very helpful, especially again, like I mentioned at the start of the podcast, how quickly things change in terms of landscape and in terms of consumer trends. I do find that sometimes marketing messages tend to be fact focused. Like, "Hey, if you use online advertising, here's how factually, it can help your business". But sometimes, it might be more emotionally driven factors that you'll never get to the bottom of unless you really take the time to deep dive and understand the local context and where users are coming from.
Personally, for example, when I was in Southeast Asia, on a trip a couple of months back before COVID, I was talking to a couple of local small business owners and a lot of them actually realized the importance of digitization, they actually wanted to go online, but part of the reason why they didn't was that they felt "Oh, I've never done this in the past, I don't know where to get started. I feel like I'm too old to change. I don't want to feel like I'm giving up on what I did before". So all these are sort of more emotionally driven and I think, catering your marketing messages to the audience in this way, debunking their emotional roadblocks, could be quite impactful in the long term.
Lastly, I think another way is through donations, it doesn't have to be just monetary donations, it could also be donating your time or donating your influence - reposting articles, or signing up for volunteering programs. So, shameless plug, my nonprofit Books of Joy is actually looking for volunteers and donations, if that's something you're interested in, just feel free to go to booksofjoy.org. But there's also a lot of other organizations out there, another one I've been looking at for India is AVASAR (avasar.ngo), so these are sort of NGOs that partner with tech companies to drive digital literacy and stuff like that. So again, very pertinent to this discussion, as well.
I guess the last thing is I want to highlight the fact that striving for digital equality is really an ongoing issue, and it'll take a lot of time, innovation, and passion to address. So keep your eyes peeled and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the topic, I'm happy to discuss at any time. To be honest, I think there's a lot of things individually we could be doing, but it really it's going to be a collective effort for us to tackle this issue in the next five to 10 years.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 19:57
Okay, excellent. Thank you so much, Vincent, we'll have a list of those resources on the blog that listeners can access. Again, I just want to thank you so much for your time and for talking us through this topic that you're super passionate about. I'm definitely going to do some reading up after this so thank you for inspiring me too.
Vincent Xu 20:24
Thank you so much for your kind words, Emma, and I really appreciate the opportunity.
Emma Bilardi - PMA 20:29
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you have a great day and again, thank you so much for joining us.
Vincent Xu 20:35
Yeah, definitely. Have a good one. Bye-bye.