408: The Digital Landscape in Singapore, with Fabian Lim

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In the digital landscape, where businesses are heading in Singapore, digital marketing tools and techniques provide business owners the best chances for competition, survival, and even growth.

Get ready; our first guest from Singapore joins us this week – Fabian Lim, Founder of Click Media. He shares his interesting career path and how it led him to where he is today. We get a glimpse into what the digital landscape looks like in Southeast Asia, how their market is evolving into the same as western climates, and how they really dove headfirst in the DIY model to learn digital. Fabian shares how different countries have different levels of technology and understanding. For example, there was never a desktop and laptop phase. In Singapore, they skipped over it and went straight to mobile and tablet – the local businesses run everything off their phone.

Fabian Lim is a serial online entrepreneur with over 18 years of management consultancy & digital transformation experience. After a six-year stint with Deloitte Consulting, he ventured into digital marketing. Today, he is Founder of WorldInternetAcademy.com & one of Asia’s foremost Omni-Channel Marketing experts, having trained over 10,000 practitioners over the past 10 years worldwide; and LifestyleTrader.org – the World’s first ‘earn-as-you-learn,’ ROI-based, lifestyle trading system.
He is also founding director of ClickMedia Pte Ltd, a digital marketing agency established in 2008 that specializes in Omni-Channel Marketing – specifically E-Commerce Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization, Facebook Marketing, Google Search & Display, Search Engine Optimization, Content Marketing, Web Analytics, Usability Analysis, E-mail Marketing & Marketing Automation and ChatBot Marketing.

His online marketing clients include multi-national companies, public sector organizations, and top regional and local brands in the telecommunications, high technology, education, and retail industries, including Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Polytechnic, Estee Lauder, Asia Pacific Breweries, Bausch & Lomb, Fujitsu, Pet Lovers Centre & FarEastFlora.com. In 2016, he founded FlightSchool.sg – Singapore’s first private flying school for aspirating aviators. From Sept 2017 to Jan 2019, he led Yellow Pages Singapore on a digital transformation journey as Chief Executive Officer. In fact, in just 8 months, he turned Yellow Pages from a traditional print publisher into a profitable digitally transformed organization.

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George: Welcome to this week’s edition of the Conquer Local podcast. Get ready, we’re going on a trip all the way to Singapore. Our next guest, Fabian Lim is the founder of ClickMedia. And Vendasta is excited to partner with ClickMedia to bring our platform to Southeast Asia. Coming up next, Fabian Lim, the founder of ClickMedia, right here on the Conquer Local podcast.

As promised Fabian Lim joining us all the way from Singapore. Fabian, thanks for coming on the show.

Fabian: Pleasure.

George: Fabian, I wanna get to your history and how you and I arrived working together. And let’s talk about some of those large brands that you’ve been working with, but thanks for having you on the show here. We’re really excited to be working with ClickMedia and the worldinternetacademy.com in Asia. And let’s talk a little bit about your history and how you arrived in this industry that you’re in today.

Fabian: All right, so well my history goes back to 2002 I guess when I had just left Deloitte Consulting as a manager over there. I had two choices obviously, one choice was to look for a new employer and another choice was to stay out of employment, right? So I chose the of employment routes. What I’m gonna tell you right now you may not believe, but believe everything you hear because I’m an honest dude, right? So at that time I had some skills which I thought I could monetize. For example, I was a lounge pianist, I don’t look like it, I know. I was a professional magician and I picked up wedding photography, so I say, “You know what, look here let me try to find ways to look for customers.” And we are talking about the early days of the internet, obviously HTML, Google was already around. And obviously what I did was to build a website to showcase my talents, get some very very basic SEO and believe it or not, the fact that my website was on page one for wedding photography, magician services, jazz piano services, allowed me to really stay out of employment and start my little home-based business as a solopreneur.

Right, so 2003 my first website went up and as they say, the rest is history, right? All the way to 2007, I realized that I hated doing something which was waking up early in the morning. Yes, it started a long time ago, right. Now, how it works is that in the wedding industry and those of you who have been to weddings or at least Asian weddings, they start really, really early. And as a result, I had to wake up at 5:00 AM to get my gear ready and be at a bride’s place at 6:00 AM. And after doing 278 weddings, I got tired, not with a wedding, not with the bride, not with the bridesmaids, but waking up early. That became enemy number one, right? So for me to quit the wedding industry, I need a new income. And at that point in time, I figured that I was good enough in digital marketing to be in the business of education and training, and that’s where I ventured into and alongside of course came the consultancy. And that was in 2007 all the way to now. How’s that for history?

George: No, I said, I love hearing from folks how they arrived in this industry. And to think back to 2002, Internet’s in its infancy and you’re figuring out how to make that work and how to build your business back then.

Since that time you’ve trained over 10,000 practitioners all over the world on how to facilitate digital marketing, ClickMedia and Vendasta are teaming up to bring the platform into Asia. And we’ve done some speaking events together, you’re a great speaker, very engaging. I wanna talk about ClickMedia and talk specifically about the Asian market. What are you seeing, businesses in that market, what are they looking for? What is an ideal customer profile in that market and who are the people that are really leaning in to adopt this technology?

Digital Marketing – The Asian Market

Fabian: Great questions, and the truth is that the markets in Southeast Asia which is really where I’m familiar with, they are evolving, I think similarly with the Western clients. We are now moving into a kind of a do it yourself, learn it yourself culture. And for one, I must say that YouTube has evolved significantly since 10 years ago. There’s really quality content out there that people can embrace for free essentially, right. Now that has created opportunities, but that has also created challenges. I mean, what do I mean by that is that, a lot of business owners now think that, “Well, I can figure out Facebook ads on my own, I can figure out SEO, I can go to a YouTube channel and try to learn these things.” And they are kind of right, but the whole fallacy of this do it yourself system, is ingrained with the fact that there’s a lot of nuances when it comes to any subject matter.

I mean, I’ll give you one example, right? Recently I bought a pair of high-tech swimming goggles. And because of that, I had to learn swimming. And I watch a lot of YouTube videos and I figured out that I could swim. But guess what happens when I get into the pool, right? I end up looking like a monkey and that is not healthy because girls will be laughing at me for the wrong reasons. By sight distance as well, thanks to SEO, is that run a flight school in Singapore. I teach people how to fly airplanes. Can you imagine trying to learn how to fly an airplane using a YouTube video, right? You will get somewhere, but you will get nowhere because there are a lot of involved in aviation training that only a qualified instructor can share with you. And the same goes for anything to do with digital marketing.

Most businesses are gonna be dealing with acquisition, as a basic challenge, and it’s one thing to know how to put a Facebook ad together, it’s another thing to have to figure out what happens when it doesn’t work and you get no leads. So my point is that, the do it yourself, learn it yourself culture, is very prevailing in this part of the world, in Southeast Asia. I don’t think it’s much different in the US. And we have challenges, sometimes to be honest I think you would probably agree with me, it’s easier to talk to someone who has no knowledge than someone with some knowledge.

George: No, I agree with that Fabian. It’s interesting, I like to say that, do it yourself users are lead gen because at some point in time their level of proficiency is going to come to an end and they’re gonna need somebody to help them be the tour guide to move them to that next level. So definitely something that we’re seeing in markets.

Now, but that means we have to have some sort of, a do it yourself component though, because it’s very valued by that customer until they figure out that they’re going to have those challenges and that YouTube is gonna help them take it across the line.

Net Value of Digital Marketing

Fabian: You’re right, there’re are two sayings over here. One is that, “A little knowledge is dangerous.” And the two, “You do not know what you do not know.” So there will come a point in time where these guys that think social media is easy, Facebook marketing is easy, SEO is easy, they will realize that easiness and access to knowledge and effectiveness are two different things. That the therefore has to be, well, we’ve come to an era where believe it or not, whether a business owners or consumers or guys who wanna become digital marketers, where the net value at the front end is almost gonna be zero. And from zero, we look up to a monetary value and hopefully it’s a value that basically equates to your time, value of money, and hopefully way beyond that, whether from a premium perspective, when you have super level knowledge itself.

George: So in your markets, I wanted to get a bit of a view as to what the local business ecosystem is like. And I ask this question of any of our international guests on the show, the podcast is heard in over 50 countries around the world and we’ve had people on the show from Europe, we’ve had people on show from Africa, Australia, Iceland, you name it. And so I’d love to hear from you, do you have a business owners that are predominantly on mobile or they’re still desktop usage? What are some of the challenges that they’re facing? Is it Search Engine Optimization, is it e-commerce website? I just love to get that view of what’s happening in those markets. And I’ve had the privilege of going to China and Indonesia and Malaysia, and so I think I have an idea but I’d love to hear it from you. Haven’t been to Singapore yet, but I’m open to invitations. But I’d love to hear from you as to what the challenges and what that business community looks like in those local markets.

Fabian: Sure, I mean to be honest with you I’m not really a fan of working with struggling SMEs. And I’ll talk about that more probably later on. As a role I had to play in 2017, as Seal of Yellow Pages, which I help digitize or digitalize. Obviously I’ve had to interface with SMEs and the truth is this, right? That a large percentage of the business owners who own small SMEs, are what can I say, ignorant isn’t it? They have no idea what real SEO is all about. To them a website is a brochure and they don’t understand customer journey, customer experience, lifetime value. All these terminologies are ancient to them, right? I don’t think there’s much different anywhere else in the world, to be honest with you. And there’s a reason for that, right. The biggest reason is simply that digital marketing itself as a body of knowledge and we are looking at multi-channel, omni-channel, it takes a lifetime to gain mastery.

Now think about this, if you’re a business owner and you’re a successful business owner, where do you spend most of your time? You spend most of your time dealing with your workforce, product development and likely anything except digital marketing. That’s why they are ignorant.

Now it doesn’t help by the way that we have digital agencies who are lowering themselves from a pricing perspective, right? Where they go off the bargain basement type of pricing in order to win new clients. So we have two issues, which is number one, agencies who are just doing it regardless of their level of contribution to the SME, regardless of results and it spoils the the good repu, that all of us have spent so much time building over time itself, and again I don’t think that we are unique in Southeast Asia, I think this problem and phenomenon occurs all over the world.

Business Challenges

George: This is a global business challenge. And while some jurisdictions may be a couple of years behind other jurisdictions, it’s the remaining thing. And my background, I came from the radio business, came from the publishing business, I’ve sold a lot of ads in my career. And it always was a joke among ad sales folks is, I wish I could get my customer to think about their marketing a little more than the 2% of the hundred percent of their attention.

Fabian: You’re absolutely right, The other 98% of the attention is keeping the lights on, dealing with the staff, products and services and all of the whirlwind that you’re in on a day-to-day basis. So when we look at the stack that these businesses need, and I’ll tell you about, when we were in Thailand and you get tired of eating at the resort that you’re staying at and you try to find a local restaurant. Just having a Google My Business profile, the restaurants there would have got a lot more business because I had a real hard time finding, all I wanted was a lobster, it’s not too much to ask for. But there just isn’t that online profile. I think in North America we’re starting to see more of that, but I, maybe I wasn’t using the right platform to look. What was leading to that experience that I was having, where I couldn’t find a lobster.

Business Cultures

Fabian: The truth with Southeast Asia and the challenge with marketing service Asia, in any type of channel is that different countries have different cultures, different level of tech sophistication. So if you compare, for example in Singapore, you will see very different type of behavior and sophistication, Singapore, for example because of our intense competitiveness, because we’re so small and we’re so competitive. And we probably have like 3000 aircon servicing guys, in a little small red dot. The quest for survival force us, the more forward looking companies to embrace digital monitoring like 10 years ago. And Google My Business, SEO, websites become commonplace for the forward looking companies. And to be honest with you right now dependency on search, dependency on social media, because of the intense competition in Singapore, again gives rise to hundreds of agencies in Singapore that exists for one man show to MNCs, and everybody is just fighting tooth and nail for the next client. But my point is that the value proposition and the delivery is really questionable on both sides of course.

George: So you’re finding that as a business owner to find someone who knows what they’re talking about can back it up, can continue to expand with the offerings that they have, that’s a challenge to find somebody that can put that whole thing together.

Fabian: Correct, and I’m speaking from both sides of the fence. Right, I’m a digital guy, I also run, as I said, my flight school, flightschool.sg is the ranked website for anything to do with flight training, private pilot license. I mean, hundred percent of my traffic comes from SEO. And my point is that when you’re on page one, number one you do get spam a lot by digital agencies. And most of their messaging, can they find fault in areas where they have no idea what you’re talking about. They’re always saying your SEO is crappy. But how did I get to page one, number one, and how did I build a six figure business if my SEO is crappy. There’s no genuine insight of value that you’re adding to me as a business owner, right. I’ve not had a digital agency who can genuinely help me improve my business, ever approached me in the last three years.

ClickMedia Partnership

George: Wow, that says something right there. So let’s talk about how we are working together with ClickMedia and we had a great kickoff earlier in the year with almost 500 folks that were attending that event, we got other ones planned. This is a takeover Southeast Asia get ready, we’re bringing the platform. I know you believe this, but I think that that platform could really help these organizations deliver that stack that those businesses need.

Fabian: You are absolutely right, and to be honest with you, George, the reason why I’m excited about Vendasta being in Southeast Asia is because this gives agencies, big or small, a chance to level up. And by that, I mean that the complexity of the digital space right now, that we are living in the multi-channels, they took us there the one-man show is drowning in final play catch up, yet alone become the trusted advisor to SME. Now, what Vendasta will do, is that Vendasta gives it an option to outsource the tasks and services that he knows nothing about. I rather him the Vendasta platform and outsource for example SEO, to a credible SEO organization and preserve the dignity and the relationship he has with this business owner, than to be forced to come up with a bullshit SEO proposal and mess up the whole implementation because he knows nothing about this. And he’s afraid that if he doesn’t provide the SEO service the SME is gonna go somewhere else and he’s gonna lose the relationship.

George: You’re articulating something that we see a lot where it’s “I’m worried about losing this client, so I’m just gonna say I solved that problem, when I don’t, now I’m going to have misaligned expectations.” And what ends up at the end of the day is the client knows it’s bullshit and it hurts the entire industry. Because the next group that goes in, well are they gonna lie like that last person did? And I’m sure you’ve listened to some of the episodes where I talk about in our Master Sales training, just don’t lie, it doesn’t get you very far in 2021. The prospect knows you’ve lied the minute you walk out the door because they just searched the data points that you were giving them.

Mobile-First Marketing

George: We’re excited about this, and I believe that there’s an enormous amount of opportunity, I do want to get one bit of knowledge from you and that is this whole idea of mobile-first. There’s a lot of markets on the planet that say they’re mobile-first including North America. But in your market, what I mean by mobile-first is the business owner is probably running their business on their phone through a series of apps. Like a desktop computer in the back room somewhere, is not where this is happening. It really is a mobile first B2B environment, isn’t it?

Fabian: More of the third world countries, the developing countries. And let me name them without being offensive at all. Looking at like Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia particularly, many of these countries because the developing nature of their economies, they skip the laptop revolution and right now the kids are all obviously owning mobile phones, so you’re right that is not mobile first, is for some jurisdictions, is mobile only.

George: Where I learned that was when we started working in Africa and the business owners there, everything had to be that mobile lens on it. And when you don’t have all that real estate to work with, the website takes on a whole different meaning, the online listing component takes on a whole different meaning. There’s a lot of voice search happening, so we have to really dial in the keyword optimization. So it’s a whole new set of challenges. And I just, I love asking that question when we bring on international guests like you to just get a feeling for what the markets are like and what the challenges are and it’s pretty cool to know that everybody is facing the same components. Now we’ve got the COVID discussion, gotta have it. Are you seeing more of a move towards e-commerce like we’re seeing in other markets in the Southeast Asia jurisdictions?

Moving Towards E-commerce

Fabian: I mean, absolutely right, I mean let’s put it this way, if you are retail today in Singapore and you’re not offering any kind of e-commerce or any kind of delivery, you are gonna be doomed for sure. And we’re talking about Singapore, that is pretty advanced. We have had COVID under control already. But the truth is this, the food delivery companies, the e-commerce companies are all reporting hypergrowth because even though Singapore COVID-19 has been controlled people don’t wanna leave their homes. You’re smart people, why leave home, go to the shopping mall and being risk of getting infected. I mean, you’re talking about a country with 5 million people. And our infection rate right now for the community is zero.

George: The lens around the e-commerce, we’re seeing this everywhere, where you need to be e-commerce enabled, you need to have on your listing sources, you have curbside delivery or pickup or delivery, whatever it might be. I also found something to be very interesting when we were traveling, when tourism becomes a thing again, just the ability to have wifi was a determining factor of whether we would stay at, go to a restaurant or not. So you walk by, do they have wifi and having that on the listing source, really important components. So, loved having you on the show. We’re looking forward to working with you. I’m told by producer Colleen, the team in the Conquer Local Academy that they are loving this SEO course that you’ve provided. So we’re gonna put the link to the SEO course in the notes of the episode and ClickMedia, Vendasta, it’s a take over of Southeast Asia. And we’re looking forward to working with you in the years and months to come. So Fabian, thanks for joining us.

Fabian: Thank you.


George: The insights into those markets. We’ve been down this road before where we end up in Africa, or we end up in Europe and we find out that there are numerous markets that are, it’s not even mobile first, as he said, it’s only mobile. It’s something to be thinking about as, if you’re thinking about doing some internationalization or you’re starting to deal with other customers, they don’t even think about a desktop computer or a laptop. They’re doing everything on their phone.

And I love the conversation around bad actors in the space where they’re so worried about losing the customer, that they end up setting expectations that they can’t hit. And then they wonder why the customer churns. And then also we wonder why people are a little bit jaded when we go into express that we can solve their problem. So it tells us when we hear about these groups that have a tendency to stretch the truth and things like that that we really need to pay particular attention to how we’re going to measure success for the customer and keep calling that out. Because remember the customer has this idea that at some point in time, you’re gonna lie, you’re gonna miss a line, you’re not gonna hit the mark, they’re not gonna be able to measure return on investment. That’s what’s going through the prospect or your existing customer’s mind, they’re kind of always watching to see if that vision that you painted for them is coming true. So it’s something to keep in mind. And it’s part of the reason why we need to be doing those follow-up calls and those strategy calls.

I always get a little bit of a twinge of, I don’t know what it just bothers me when I talk to a channel partner and I say, “So, let’s talk about your customer base, it seems you got 30 or 40 customers, how often do you talk to them?” “Well, some of them I just sold them and they’re just, they’re DIY, I never talked to them. I’m like, “Whoa, that’s just, that thing’s gonna go away because there’s all sorts of other people that are talking to them trying to eat your lunch.” So having that idea of we’re gonna make the sale, we’re going to work with the customer. We’re gonna turn them into a raving fan and then we’re going to move them forward into other products and services. Fabian talks about that a lot in this episode about using all of the complexity to your advantage where you are that trusted expert, that’s taking them down the path and giving them those best in-breed solutions.

So we look forward to learning more from Fabian. He’s gonna be contributing to the Conquer Local Academy. So keep your eye out for that, he’s got lots of great ideas on how to help businesses succeed. And specifically with that lens of Southeast Asia which is a very diverse market, depending upon the country, depending upon the geography, there’s different things happening but it seems that e-commerce, star of the show. Number two, all businesses have these challenges because they are not thinking about marketing. They’re thinking about running their business. So thanks to Fabian Lim for joining us all the way from Singapore today, here on the conquer local pods.

My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.

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