Digital marketing has become the norm for most startups in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world, when it comes to cost effective ways to reach a large population. Consumer behaviour that is driving companies to increase their online presence is most likely the main reason behind an increase in digital marketing budgets.

However, does putting more money into the industry help if we’re still doing it wrong? We decided to find out and spoke to David Bobis, the Head of Digital Marketing and Partner, at Australian marketing agency, Studio Culture.

He’s spent time working and traveling around the region, so he’s got a lot of local insight, as well as helping Southeast Asian companies with their social and digital marketing.

We have one rule for these interviews and that is our interviewees have to be as honest and real about the situation as possible. So, David has some interesting and useful insights, which we think all startups in Southeast Asia can use.

Find out what else he shared below.

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David (C) with the other two founders Joe Fox (L) and Fil Cristaldi (R)

So David, we saw from your LinkedIN that you worked in Singapore for a while, but headed back to Australia. You must have a great story, as an Asian Australian who’s well traveled and worked in multiple countries. What have you learned throughout your years and would you recommend it to people to give it a try?

I was born in the Philippines but grew up in Australia, and eventually worked in Singapore (I’m back in Australia now). I learned a lot being a marketer in both Singapore and Australia. I was very fortunate to work with all kinds of sized businesses in both countries – startups, SMEs, and multinationals. I also did some freelance work for a company in Beijing. Sure, it can be a scary step at first, but, in my experience anyway, it changed my life for the better.

Singapore is a great country because of its huge pool of talented, creative people. I was also able to make lifelong friends, get some short stories published and most significantly, learn and be inspired to start a business back in Australia, and also publish more work.

Australia is a great country to do business in. There’s a large startup scene brewing here, and plenty of resources for people to get started. We started Studio Culture in Australia and are now a preferred digital marketing solutions company both locally and abroad.

I highly recommend working overseas.

Let’s jump straight into it. Do you think startups get digital marketing right – this refers to those in Southeast Asia and Australia? I’ll leave the definition of ‘get it right’ to you.

To get “digital marketing right”. I’ll interpret this as “getting digital marketing to do exactly what you want it to do”, which in most cases is to help the business make more money, increase brand awareness or both.

If this is the case, then a lot of startups don’t get it right. We have numerous startups who approach us believing that one aspect of digital marketing, for example, SEO or social media, will be that one thing that will make them rich and successful.

Having a great social media or SEO presence may help you get some short-term wins, but the reality is you need to get everything right about your marketing, and everything right about your business to succeed.

You need to be present everywhere that’s relevant through multiple marketing channels, you need a great sales team, you need to continue to innovate, you need to keep testing your data and you need great products and services. Most importantly, you need to get your mindset out of making short-term wins and instead on building a strong brand.

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The Studio Culture team at Telstra Business Awards. Image courtesy Studio Culture Facebook

When it comes to marketing, some may say that they don’t have the budget or skill set to invest in every marketing channel. The key is to prioritise what’s most relevant to your target audience (for example, a cafe may prioritise Instagram and Facebook) and slowly work your way up from there. Continuously analyse your data: what posts are people responding to the most? What is leading to sales? Look for channels the big companies haven’t caught on to yet or are neglecting. Keep track of how your customers are perceiving your brand. This can be done in the form of surveys, NPS emails, and customer feedback forms.

You’ve said before that some brands don’t invest in getting their product or service right before they turn to digital marketing. Why do you think this is the case?

Let me clarify. One strategy businesses could use is to develop a Minimum Viable Product and test it out on the market – as such, they may not launch with a perfect product or service, but they can improve it over time based on customer feedback they receive from their marketing. The key here is to continuously improve. Businesses that ‘don’t get it right’ are businesses that continue to invest in marketing without improving the products or services they’re marketing. They don’t look at the data or take feedback in and they don’t innovate or improve their internal processes. Why is this the case? There could be a number of reasons: poor management, a shift in market conditions, finances, ego, inability to be agile, fear of change, etc.

If you hold a piece of turd, and you can keep telling everyone you’re holding a diamond, they’re still going to know you’re holding a piece of turd. You can’t fool anyone, buddy. You need to put down the turd and find an actual diamond.

Finding the right talent is a struggle in Southeast Asia, especially quality digital marketing specialists with experience. Is this something you think is changing or does Asia and Australia not have enough talent?

I believe the talent is out there – you just need to keep finding the best way to find it. Do you believe you’ve advertised in the right channels? If so, have you looked at your ads? Look at the analytics to see how many people have viewed your job ads compared to the number of people who have applied. Perhaps there’s something about your job advertisement that’s turning people away – could you add more focus on employee benefits or improve your headline? If you’re getting too many low-quality applicants, it could be the requirements of your ad – try to add qualifiers to your job ads, such as short tests or screening questions. Prior to organising an interview with them, you can also email applicants some pre-testing questions.

If you build it, they will come. Another way to gain top talent is to be a great business (easy done, right?). Sometimes it’s just not about salary. Talented people want to work for a great business with a great culture and strong vision. Think of how you can communicate this via your marketing and brand image.

If you can’t find them, create them. You can also groom your juniors to become the guns they were destined to be. One challenge with recruiting more senior people is they may be stuck in their old habits and unwilling to change to your culture. You may also find yourself recruiting job hoppers who skip through as many jobs as possible to raise their incomes as quickly as possible. You don’t want a job hopper in your business – you want long-term, committed people who will take your business to all new heights. Molding your promising young juniors to be key members of your enterprise who truly understand the way you run things can be highly rewarding for everyone involved.

The next step is to look overseas. If there’s no talent in your town, look elsewhere.

You’re a published author and prolific writer, and you focus a lot on creativity. Do you think Southeast Asia lacks creativity? You’ve mentioned it to us before that advertising lacks a creative edge nowadays.

No way.

South East Asia is rich with creativity. It’s the birthplace of numerous life-changing Cannes winners, painters, authors, poets, musicians, innovators, actors, and whatnot.

What I’m worried about (from a marketing context) is our growing love for data and our growing distance from creativity. We need to rediscover the importance of both.

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David is an accomplished author and has published a book

What do you think are the top three things startups and SMEs need to change in their digital marketing?

Have a good business. Keep improving your products, services, and processes based on data and feedback from customers. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up and be better than everyone else. If you have a good business, your customers will do the marketing for you.
Regularly monitor your analytics and know the right data to look out for. For example, if you run an accounting firm, you want to use a tool like Google Analytics to regularly monitor how many people arrive at the website, where they’re coming from (country, as well as channel such as social media, Google or AdWords), where they’re exiting and if they’re making an enquiry on your contact page. You then want to measure the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns in relation to the cost, quality, and conversion of your inquiries.

As the business owner, you need to look at the bigger picture. Build your brand. Understand the needs and shifts of the market, and be aware of the marketing funnel.

What’s next for you, Studio Culture, and the industry? Is it growth, innovation or where do you see change coming from?

We’re looking to develop a number of tools to help our clients springboard the successes of their campaigns. More on that in the future :).


This is a new long-form interview section focused on delving deeper into industry topics and understanding the situation from a ground-up level. If you have a founder or industry expert in mind, which you believe would fit these criteria. Please drop us a message here.