Is There a New Love Story Between Brand and Demand Marketing in Southeast Asia? 

SEA’s exploding e-commerce scene brings to the forefront the balancing act of brand building and demand generation. 

During my recent keynote at DigiBranCon in Kuala Lumpur, I spoke to a congregation of leading marketers on the dichotomy of brand building versus demand marketing. In the post-Covid-19 era, where digital adoption and acceleration changed everything, should you invest more on brand building or demand marketing?  

The Context: Southeast Asia’s Rising Digital Adoption 

Southeast Asia’s massive e-commerce sector is advancing at a rate that is exceeding expectations. There are over 350 million internet users today and close to 10 million more coming online each year. In SEA, the time spent online has already surpassed the time spent watching TV and the online time spent in China and Japan. 

Brands hoping to engage with SEA consumers must keep in mind the mobile-first nature of the market, with high levels of social media usage and influence. Successful brands are already using social as an e-commerce sales channel, catering to a young population with strong consumer ambitions. Established unicorns such as Grab, Lazada, Shopee, InMobi and Tokopedia are investing heavily in digital commerce and beginning to compete with newer, emerging players in the space. 

The digital acceleration that took place during the pandemic invariably led to more brands shifting sales online. While there is a myriad of factors that lead to success or failure, one key consideration is the tension of brand building versus demand marketing.  

Having a brand that stands out in the sea of competition is especially important online. In e-commerce, becoming a preferred brand is even harder yet critical – how do marketers build brand affinity and grow demand? Given most brands in SEA are small to medium-sized enterprises, this can be difficult given the time and financial investment required. As a result, many brands focus on near-term goals, relying on demand marketing for short-term sales and promotions. While this may convince consumers to make impulse purchases or trials, it doesn’t accomplish the longer-term goal of building true brand loyalty. 

Should You Invest in Brand or Demand Marketing? 

If no one knows your brand, your demand generation isn’t going to be as successful as it could be. You need brand awareness for demand generation to work and vice versa. Your brand establishes your legitimacy, creates loyal customer relationships and helps efficiently drive demand. Demand marketing is more about “Why buy one now?” It involves education and highlighting pain points with urgency. Branding is more about “Why buy from us?” It entails building your reputation so that people choose your product to solve that problem – even though there are likely other options.

As marketers, we know brand strategies don’t always directly connect to a sales pipeline, and demand doesn’t always lead to increased awareness in the market. But when the efforts from both sides are designed to complement each other, we’re able to reach a new, unprecedented level of cohesion across the entire marketing program –creating a powerful growth engine that helps us achieve the goals of: 

  • Building preference for your brand and products  
  • Reducing price sensitivity  
  • Nurturing loyal and repeat customers 
  • Saving costs with improved operational efficiencies 
  • Creating a sustainable revenue stream
  • Higher effectiveness and ROI with our marketing investment  

Prophet’s approach to brand and demand marketing is grounded in recognizing that there is a better way to engage with modern audiences, which is especially meaningful in SEA. It is a sustained, integrated approach that continuously engages with audiences inside and outside the marketing funnel in a value exchange that drives growth for both the audience and the brand.  

How to Strike the Right Balance?  

Is there a magical ratio between brand to demand? The conventional 60/40 brand/demand investment split is helpful but increasingly outdated and doesn’t accurately reflect what any medium or touchpoint can do. It also depends on the market situation and your business goals – the ratio will and should change at any given time to adapt to competitive environments.  

To be good, we need to do both. But to be great, we need a more intentional, unifying strategy. The ideal state is to develop a long-term strategy across the customer journey to build preference, which helps to achieve faster, short-term quick wins during moments when buyers are more receptive to “demand” campaigns.  

There are four golden rules that we identified in our recent, global research

  1. Build a marketing organization that has the skills and capabilities for both brand and demand, with teams working together against a shared purpose
  2. Design your marketing approaches in an integrated fashion starting with annual planning.
  3. Experimentation leads to success. Build a learning agenda and provide an investment budget.
  4. Track performance and progress with an integrated brand and demand view and laddering up to business goals. 

Through expertise and excellent marketing campaigns, you’ll build relationships that showcase how your product really is better than your competitors, and you’ll have a whole audience of loyal fans to back you up on that. The key lies in regularly fine-tuning your brand-to-demand ratios based on the goals of your brand, the product/campaign and audience response.  

A good example is the regional fashion e-commerce brand, Zalora. When it was still a lesser-known brand, it focused investments on building its brand through traditional and social media marketing across Facebook and search engines. Today, as the brand matures, Zalora invests more heavily in demand marketing through strategic brand partnerships and social commerce, while still investing in data-driven Google ad campaigns.  

Brand and Demand Marketing is the Ideal Couple and Content is a Compelling Aphrodisiac 

As we seek out tactics that will lead us to achieve a proper ratio, there has been a trusted hero of the brand-and-demand approach: Content. If brand and demand are the ideal couple to engage audiences, then content marketing is how we amplify the love story of the couple successfully.  

Experienced marketers know that one asset or social post does not result in a subscriber, let alone generate a lead. Trust takes time to develop, and the consistent cadence and drumbeat of a long-term content effort can help to build and nurture real relationships with audiences.  

Like those addictive Korean drama series, if you can produce a steady stream of engaging and compelling content throughout the customer journey, your audience will be more engaged, and your brand messaging and communication will become more appealing. When this consistent drumbeat aligns with memorable brand campaigns, you build brand recognition and earn loyalty across the marketing funnel. 

Through a strategic storyline approach, brands can extend their master narrative and create meaningful audience interactions throughout the entire funnel, ultimately nurturing prospects to conversion, recommendation and ultimately, loyalty. 

Take the Indonesia-based e-commerce platform, Tokopedia, for example. The brand has embedded K-pop in its marketing content to better target its younger and female segments across Indonesia since 2021. Not only did Tokopedia present K-pop groups BTS and BLACKPINK as the face of the brand, but it also created a long-term content strategy to feature Korean artists in its programs, campaigns and events to drive customer acquisition, engagement and sales. This creates a consistent customer experience, delivering key benefits to the target audience along every step of its customer journey, thereby building brand loyalty. 


During the mobile-first digital age, the new marketing benchmark requires an integrated strategy involving both brand building and demand marketing, calibrated to deliver impact based on the maturity of your brand. A balanced mix of both short- and long-term tactics is key to achieving uncommon growth.

At Prophet, we believe content is where brand meets demand – the sweet spot that fosters brand loyalists and fuels consistent ROI that compounds over time. Brand and demand marketing requires delivering a well-thought-out content strategy and cohesive customer experience. Download our global research report, Brand and Demand Marketing: A Love Story, to learn more.