Visual GPS: The Southeast Asian Consumer

Trends / Realness
Carlina Teteris
Kate Rourke
Sep 16, 2020
Our ongoing Visual GPS research revealed the key forces driving purchasing decisions among consumers across South East Asia. When we surveyed consumers in this region again during COVID‑19, we found that the four forces we identified—Wellness, Realness, Technology and Sustainability—remain relevant, strong, and, in some cases, intensified.
Wellness was our strongest force in the study globally and the second highest for South East Asia. Wellness is a broad term that can mean something different to everyone, but from a visual perspective, we have historically seen wellness visualised through physical health. However, our findings revealed that for the majority of consumers, wellness is actually about achieving fulfillment in every aspect of life: connecting meaningfully with friends and loved ones, our inner voice, and addressing mental and spiritual health.

In South East Asia, physical health is important, with 94% of consumers saying they take care of themselves physically. However, 88% state that they also take care of themselves emotionally, as well. Globally, the pattern was similar. Regarding emotional wellness, the increased desire to celebrate the good in life with friends and family was particularly high among South East Asian consumers. Our customer searches on Getty Images mirror these findings. Searches for ‘Together’, ‘Joy’ and ‘Wellness’ have increased by 1500%, 900% and 235% since COVID19, and for the first time in South East Asia, searches for ‘Home Workout’ and ‘Positive Thinking’ became newly significant during this time. Companies and brands have the opportunity to focus on visualising wellness in this new way to further reflect the concept of celebrating everyday moments.

The expectation that visuals feel real has had a profound impact on consumer expectations of how brands tell their story. The desire for realness, truth and authenticity in media and advertising did not change during COVID19. Our findings show that 84% of consumers say it’s important that the companies they buy from celebrate diversity of all kinds, and 79% agree that companies and brands need to show people with all body shapes and types.Furthermore, they were almost unanimous in desiring full transparency from brands, with 9 out of 10 wanting to know what goes on behind the scenes when a product is being produced, proving that brand trust and transparency are key consumer considerations.

It’s hard to imagine our lives without technology, especially in the current climate, where our use of technology has amplified in our everyday lives and in business. Our research found that technology, while being a source of inspiration, also created the most dynamic tension in both South East Asia and the rest of the world. South East Asian consumers and professionals rely on technology to help manage their lives and connect with loved ones, with 93% stating that technology makes them feel connected to those who matter most. 93% also state that having a mobile device or phone helps them feel connected to what’s happening in the world. However, this is where the dynamic tension lies: consumers have concerns around privacy and data risks, as well as the negative impacts technology can have on relationships. Around Artificial Intelligence, people in South East Asia are bucking the trend compared to the rest of the world: 80% agree they are excited how artificial intelligence could impact their lives in the future, compared to 62% of consumers globally.

This points to the need to visualise how humans connect through technology. It is enabled in everyday lives, more than ever and is integrated into our lifestyles. Therefore it is important that visuals work at humanising technology for consumers.
Sustainability is now mainstream. While previously seen as more important to younger generations, our findings show that this is no longer the case. It is a force that is universal across generations, genders and regions.

Sustainability is the strongest force for South East Asian consumers, and concern for the environment trends higher compared to the rest of the world. 96% of South East Asian consumers believe the way we treat our planet now will have a large impact on the future, with 94% worried about air pollution and 89% worried about water quality.

Sustainable actions continue to be top of mind for people living in South East Asia: 92% actively try to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and 79% only buy products from brands that make the effort to be eco‑friendly. This is also reflected in what our customers in South East Asia are searching for on the Getty Images site, with searches for ‘Recycle’ up by 181%, ‘Food Waste’ up by 900% and ‘Sustainability’ up by 400% this year—as well as newly significant term ‘Environment Conservation’ emerging since lockdown began.

But in contrast, almost three quarters of those consumers (71%) also state that they prioritise convenience over the environment. Globally, our research shows that 48% of consumers across the world are facing this consumption conundrum, with the issue notably higher in South East Asia. This presents a unique opportunity for brands to engage and assist consumers in bridging the gap between intention and action by speaking to these issues in authentic visual terms.
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