What is digital marketing and is it suitable for my local business?

Have you bought some ads on Facebook and not get any sales out of it ?

Often times , this experience alone is enough to drive business owners to come to the conclusion that digital marketing is unsuitable for their business.

So is digital marketing all about Facebook ? Lets take a look at the bigger picture first.

How has internet affected marketing

Whether its now or 20 years ago, marketing hasn’t changed. It is still about reaching out to your target audience. To do that, we utilize a channel to broadcast our message.

What has changed is people’s behaviour, as a result of the proliferation of the internet. Newspaper, TV , magazines used to be the defacto choice of channel to reach out to this group. Now, singaporeans spend an average of 4.42 hours a day on the internet. Any initiative that requires reaching out to a large group of people for its success has evolved. We are all familiar with the 2015 elections. The various parties made use of channels including Facebook, Twitter , Instagram, Youtube and blogs to send their message. They even hire digital agencies for consultation. Such is the implication of internet boom. Marketing is similar to politics in that aspect. We need to communicate to a big group of people. Otherwise, your great product or service will just collect dust.

The other internet phenomenon that has affected marketing is the explosion of information. In the past, you may just settle with the first restaurant or car dealer that you come across. Now, you search for reviews and compare prices. You go to social media to ask your friends for recommendations. You have become a much more well-informed consumer. Information is widely available, giving consumers increased power. Anyone can put up any information on the world wide web.

Therefore, the marketing approach of today has to catch up with consumers’ behaviours.

Digital marketing is like Southeast Asia

Digital marketing is basically reaching your target audience through digital channels such as Google or Facebook. However, digital world simulates the physical one closely and pretty much every online channel has its offline counterpart. It is therefore not too difficult to understand digital marketing.


As such, we can’t think digital marketing as one whole strategy. Each of the component has its own nuances. In Southeast Asia, every country has its own culture and speaks its own language. Likewise, we have to speak a different language in a different channel. Think of advertising on Facebook the same way as you do on straits times newspaper, and Google being akin to Yellow Page directory.

Country A vs Country B

Search is a different animal from Social. The former is about demand fulfilment whereas latter, demand generation. Each one is suitable for different type of business and requires a distinct messaging.

Search engine is an established marketing tool that has given tremendous returns to countless businesses. You guessed it. Its because people searching for a product or service are ready to buy it. If you are locked out of your house, you are going to engage the first locksmith you find on Google results page. I don’t think you will start surfing on Facebook when you are having a pressing need like this.

People are on Facebook when they are relaxed and chilling. They are not there to buy a product. Think AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. Facebook marketing helps you to create awareness around your company when people have their guards down. If you have a brand new product that no one knows of and search for(yet), Facebook marketing definitely is crucial. On the other hand, Google users have the desire as well as the impetus to take action for something they already need.

Other Islands

Above are 2 main types of online channels applicable to all businesses. But we also have localized websites for various industries in Singapore. For example, Singaporebrides for wedding industry, SGcarmart for automobile industry and Digital Senior for tertiary education industry and so on. They have various advertising models including advertorials, display ads and directory listings. To simplify the whole discussion, we focus mainly on search and social in this article.

Each business and industry is different. To find out the best online marketing strategy for your business, consider doing web audit.

Brick-and-mortar business?

If I run a restaurant, retail store, massage parlour or any physical business, should I still do digital marketing ?


Brick-and-mortar businesses are already paying for foot traffic. The rental expense that you are forking out every month, which is based on the popularity of the location, is also considered a marketing cost.

Because of the ready-traffic, such businesses are less dependent on other channels of marketing including digital ones. For the ones looking at quicker growth, digital marketing can make all the difference. Both Google and Facebook allows precise targeting down to a specific area in Singapore, say Jurong(Yes, their technology is incredible). That means the increasing number of smartphone users in Singapore will know about your shop when they are nearby.

Is digital marketing suitable for my B2B business then?

We have to break down this question. Again, Search and Social.

On Google, there’s more than 300 monthly searches for accounting software, HR cloud software, virtual office , management consulting respectively in Google, all of which are B2B products/services.

Most businesses can tap on Google considering 60% of Singaporeans search online before purchase, including purchasers within companies. However, you can read about 3 situations in which search marketing is not applicable for your business.

What about social media ? Is it impossible for B2B business to use Facebook ?

All I can say is that you won’t get sales immediately. Granted, B2C brands may see quicker results because decision making process is less complicated for consumers. However, it works just as well for B2B companies, though the strategy is different. You have to tap on content marketing to showcase your domain expertise and create value for the audience.

The most important question

So back to the question, why is Facebook ads not showing results then ?

Before that, there’s a more important question.

Where’s your target audience? Go to where they are. There are 3.5 million Singaporean users on Facebook, making it the biggest social media platform locally. This also means that not everyone is on Facebook. My mum isn’t. If you want to market to someone of my mum’s profile; baby boomer and Chinese speaking generation, then put up your ads on Lianhe Zaobao. She reads it everyday.

The most important question you ask is not about Facebook, or Google or the internet. Its about your customers. And it can only be answered by them. Ask them: Do you get ANY INFORMATION online before you deal with a business like ours?” If more than 20% of your NEW clients in Singapore say yes, then you need to pay attention to Digital Marketing.

Why digital?

Digital marketing is not revolutionary or groundbreaking in any sense. It is simply a way to reach your audience.

However, it is the best invention for SMEs. Why ? because channels such as newspaper and TV are out of the question for this group, financially speaking. As such, we abstained from marketing for many years and rely solely on word of mouth and cold-calling to grow the business, making progress very slow. Advertising for growth acceleration is made possible with cost-effective digital marketing channels.

It is also laser targeted and highly scalable. Instead of putting an ad on newspaper and reaching to half of Singapore, most of whom are not your target audience, one can use Facebook and Google to zoom in to just say, 10,000 of your ideal customers and pay on per click basis. As such, you pay for only what you need and convert more views into customers. Afterall, we dont have deep pockets to invest for “brand awareness” like MNCs do.

Shown below is a comparison of spending for offline vs online channel and its ROI taken from Marcus Ho in his book, Social Payoff. It tells us that social media has a lower cost per impression compared to traditional channels, and with positive ROI.


Social Media (Facebook)


Reach CPM Earned media value Total value from fans ROI71,786 $23.94 $138.60 $9840.60 578.8%

Wrapping it all up

Digital marketing is simple, isn’t it? Your business requires people to know about it awesome product or service. We use digital channels to reach them at low cost. Thats about it. Don’t be held back because of fear of the unknown, like most people. That said, the rule of thumb still applies in business. Know your audience and create an awesome product for them. Nothing exposes a bad product faster than good marketing. All the best!

Ted Chong

Ted is the director of Ice Cube Marketing. His insights on marketing has been featured in AsiaOne Business, Singapore Business Review , e27 and TechinAsia. He graduated with a 1st class honors degree in Business IT from NTU. While not planning campaigns for clients, he enjoys a good read on books related to psychology.



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