James Henderson

Making marketing sense of the AI equation in Malaysia

As a sector widely open to trialing new technologies, it’s no surprise to see the marketing industry at the front of the artificial intelligence (AI) queue in Malaysia.

Notably Generative AI in response to an ongoing talent war, with businesses attracted by a tool capable of rapidly improving efficiency and productivity. In that sense, it’s unsurprising that local appetite is strong.

But this shouldn’t be viewed as new territory for a country relatively open to assessing and adapting new technologies.

Over the years, the Malaysian government has invested significantly in the development of AI, allocating RM 100 million (US $24.9 million) to its digital economy and AI initiatives in recent budgets. In fact, Malaysia is ranked 29th globally for AI readiness, according to Oxford Insights.

“I expect that most large enterprises are having discussions around how Generative AI will impact their business and people,” observed Christopher Greenough, General Manager of Malaysia at GrowthOps. “The challenge in fully adopting it however will be ensuring that their staff have the training to truly maximise its potential.”

Christopher Greenough (GrowthOps)

For Greenough, Generative AI has “far-reaching implications” for all businesses and processes.

Specifically, the use cases for advertising, marketing and technology agencies range from content creation to enhanced personalisation, analytics and even improving the briefing process. More broadly, efficiencies can be gained for departments such as human resources, finance and legal among others.

“However, Generative AI is not a reliable tool for studying consumer behaviour and should not replace the scientific approach,” Greenough cautioned.

Citing a recent study by Open AI on the impact of large-language models – such as ChatGPT – on the workforce, Greenough said findings highlighted this to be true.

“Roles requiring critical thinking skills show a negative correlation with AI exposure, while programming and writing skills show a positive correlation,” he explained.

Within this context, Greenough predicted that the battle for skills will shift from technical to strategic as businesses hunt for thinkers capable of “going beyond” AI predictions to challenge the concepts and ideas that come from it.

“Furthermore, AI replaces many junior and inexperienced roles, making it challenging to train for the future without making redundant hires today,” he added.

“To address this paradox, businesses need to prioritise building a culture and training programs to equip young talent with the mindset of utilising Generative AI appropriately to perform their roles and complement their skills.”

According to Greenough – who is based in Kuala Lumpur – demand for enterprise-grade marketing technologies continues to increase in Malaysia as businesses seek enhanced levels of personalisation, improved insights through data and better return on campaign investments.

“The first is to help increase personalisation at scale on digital channels,” he explained. “This improves the customer experience and drives higher engagement and conversion rates.

“Advanced marketing technologies like AI-powered recommendation engines and real-time personalisation engines enable businesses to achieve this at scale without sacrificing quality or accuracy.”

For example, through leveraging tools such as Adobe Target for personalisation, GrowthOps has improved conversion rates by 38% for some clients in Malaysia.

“The second factor is improving data and analytics capabilities for better insight into the customer experience,” Greenough shared. “Businesses need to be able to gather, process and analyse vast amounts of customer data to gain insights into their behaviour and preferences.”

With advanced analytics tools, organisations can identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately visible and use this information to make data-driven decisions that improve the customer experience and drive business growth.

“And finally, technologies that are easily adopted by internal teams and provide efficiencies that can offset the cost of their investment,” Greenough added.

Citing work with a digital transformation customer, Greenough said a large telecommunications brand transitioned into an enterprise CMS solution and saved over RM 400,000 – just under US $100,000 – annually. This was primarily achieved by reducing the time to launch a campaign from seven to two days and page launches from two days to two hours.

“Economic uncertainties further reinforce these priorities and the fear of a potential recession as businesses seek to maximise the value they can get from their marketing investments,” Greenough added.

“However, to fully realise the potential of these technologies, companies need to ensure that they are adopted and embraced by their internal teams and can integrate with existing systems and workflows.”

Building AI marketing expertise in Malaysia

Operating as a marketing solutions provider in Malaysia – and across key markets in Asia Pacific – GrowthOps specialises in performance marketing and analytics, digital-first creative and experiences strategy and design.

To meet continuously evolving demands, the local business has hired key capabilities in technology, personalisation, analytics and creative skill sets.

“We invest a lot in up-skilling and coaching, which are simple yet under-utilised tools for employee retention and growth, having tracked almost 3,000 hours of staff training in the past nine months,” Greenough shared.

Alliances with technology partners such as Adobe, Salesforce and Qualtrics offer access to best-in-class certifications in digitalisation skills, supported by programs which help employees build soft skills such as teamwork, communication and productivity.

In addition to better meeting demand, the strategy has increased the average length of tenure at the company beyond the industry norm, resulting in the emergence of several homegrown leaders heading up various practices in Malaysia.

“We are a customer-centric transformation agency known for delivering effective digital experiences for large enterprises on time and budget,” Greenough said.

A key focus during the next 12-months is to expand in key markets such as Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as continuing to invest and expand enterprise technology partnerships with vendors such as Adobe, Salesforce and Qualtrics.

“And with the advent of Generative AI, we plan to expand our training and capabilities to focus more on developing creativity and critical thinking,” Greenough added.

“We perform the best when we help businesses solve large digitally-centric problems that require an integrated skill set, so we are capitalising on increased demand for independent agency alternatives for multi-market transformation projects.”

When assessing current trading conditions, Greenough acknowledged that economic concerns are restricting some markets and budgets, which in turn is delaying “some decisions”.

“Data shows that brands that continue to market succeed,” he advised. “Further, continuing to invest in digital transformation will have longer-term impacts on efficiency.

“One of the most significant challenges for businesses is finding the balance between the efficiencies of having large, cross-departmental transformation projects while still giving autonomy to local teams.”

In many cases, Greenough said large projects have the challenge of getting local buy-in and thus using quality tools. On the other hand, too much autonomy can lead to bloated technology stacks and overspending on redundant technologies.

“In both cases, there are challenges to overcome,” he added. “Our challenge is helping our clients navigate this within the context of their unique situations, digital literacy and budgets.”


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