Boye Hartmann: Southeast Asia Needs More Marketers with Programmatic Skills

Put off by the lack of needed skills to support new technology, such as programmatic, most marketers in Southeast Asia avoid moving into uncharted territory. They also are often unsure about what they want to achieve from their online campaigns.

In a phone interview with ExchangeWire, YDigital CEO Boye Hartman said it remained challenging to find marketers in Indonesia who had clear ideas about what they wanted from their digital campaigns.

While brands elsewhere, such as the US, were focused on marketing ROI (returns on investment), advertisers in Indonesia would simply indicate their available ad budget for the year and identify ways to spend it.

“They should instead be talking about their targets and what they want to achieve online. If we know, or can help clients to know, what they want we can do a better job giving them measurable results,” said Hartman, who is based in Jakarta.

Founded just over a year ago, YDigital touts itself as a performance marketing consultancy focused on helping companies in Indonesia go digital and run successful online campaigns. While incorporated in Singapore, where it also has an office, the company’s main business is in Indonesia, which generates the bulk of its revenue.

Hartman noted that while there was much interest in programmatic in Indonesia, few brands were willing to actually adopt the platform.

Ydigital CEO Boye Hartmann

“It’s an easy thing to talk about and people want to hear about it, so you’ll be able to fill auditoriums when the topic is programmatic. But, how many of those listening are seriously looking to invest money on it? Not many,” he said, adding that the majority of brands in the region, especially brick-and-mortar companies, were happy to stick with what was working well. “They think everything is working okay and don’t see what they’re missing out on.”

He further noted a lack of maturity in technology as well as knowledge and skillsets to support the industry, echoing what other market players had observed about the Asian landscape.

Hartman explained that the majority of digital skillsets required in Indonesia were unmet, leaving organisations unwilling to deploy new technology their employees would be unable to maintain.

“Sometimes it’s cheaper to have someone [manually] working on something than to have a piece of software [that no one knows how to use],” he said. “People who know and understand the holistic picture about programmatic here are very rare.”

He also noted a lack of robust infrastructure in the region — with the exception of Singapore — where inventory was not built to scale out. Recalling how a client was clocking a small number of user registrations each month, he said it was later determined that the client’s website was, in fact, experiencing healthy traffic. However, its hosted infrastructure could not scale and was unable to handle more than 50 people clicking on their website at one time, resulting in the low registration.

He also called for market players to do a better job explaining how ad tech tools work and what they actually do for clients.

“We have an obligation to tell people what they get out of it, start the discussion with the CEO, and explain how it can transform the company and they can make money out of it. Then they can have the drive to move forward,” he said.

He noted that, in Indonesia and most Southeast Asian markets, marketing and human resources were typically not well perceived or well represented on the board, despite their importance to the company’s brand health and talent development. Marketing budgets would be set aside as an annual spend, instead of being allocated when there was a business case for it. When they did spend, ad dollars usually would go to TV, even when this was not necessarily the best move, according to Hartman.


Glory be to TV, but is it showing the real money?

“TV gets so much advertising money that’s not related to how many hours people spend on the platform,” Hartman said, noting that there were 40 million TV sets but 280 million mobile phones in Indonesia.

Despite mobile’s bigger audience base, only 3% of marketing budgets in the country were spent on the channel last year, with 60% splurged on TV ads.

“There’s a lot of glory in running TV ads and a lot of money is spent producing an ad and showing it on TV. The reality is, though, that brand awareness is 21% for TV, so one in five people would remember your brand on this platform,” he explained.

“For online ads, brand awareness is 24%, indicating that it’s a better place to build brand awareness. In addition, it’s up to 200 times cheaper at the moment to run ads online than on TV,” Hartman said, pointing to the misconception marketers have about the cost-performance ratio from these channels.

He also noted the lack of accurate performance measurement from TV ads as well as billboards. “I’m still waiting for the business case that says a billboard that people saw led to them actually buying that product. I know it leads to brand awareness, but is this significantly increased?”

He further highlighted the need for marketers to identify what they wanted to measure before embarking on a campaign and set up the necessary tools across various channels, including websites and mobile apps.

Part of the Mountain Ventures SEA Group, YDigital works with various partners in this region including Sitecore and Google. The agency has clients in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, and the Philippines, and is looking to open a third office by the end of the year, which will likely be in the Philippines as well.

Hartman also revealed that the company was scheduled to launch the first Bahasa Indonesia version of email marketing software, MailUp. While not widely used in the country, he said email campaigns provided a higher conversion rate than other channels of push marketing.