Those of you who crammed your holiday gift shopping last December may be dismayed to find that all the effort it took to drive through insane holiday traffic to get to Manila’s overcrowded malls could have easily been avoided had you paid closer attention to your Facebook/Twitter homepage.

An e-commerce website called CashCashPinoy.com had then posted a limited holiday promo advertising a 50 percent discount for a buffet dinner at the Sofitel Spiral. More than 1,600 Internet users took advantage of the deal, earning the restaurant a massive P6.7 million sales in a span of four days. What started as a Facebook wall post grew into a web phenomenon that demonstrated the sheer power of social media.

“It was too big of an amount that we even had a call from Banco De Oro asking if there was a virus or an issue with the website. They didn’t know what was going on because it was such a big online transaction and it was happening so fast,” recounts Sebastien Caudron, President of NetBooster Asia, a fully integrated digital advertising agency that strives to contribute to the growth of the Internet in the Philippines by “cocooning” e-businesses like CashCashPinoy.com. “The boom of e-commerce has arrived. More than just a medium to raise brand awareness, the Internet is rapidly evolving into an effective platform to generate sales.”

A Critical Mass

NetBooster Asia traces its roots back to Yellowasp Corporation, a company Caudron started that specialized in web development and consultancy. Upon the explosion of social media networks like Friendster, Facebook and Twitter, Caudron realized the need to evolve from a purely web production venture into a digital advertising agency. “You realize that your job is not about making a website anymore, it’s about Internet Marketing and bringing revenues out of the Internet,” he shares. “The first two years were difficult because everybody gave peanuts to the Internet marketing budget, but the boom of social media changed all that.”

Now on its third year, NetBooster Asia stands as the biggest online media buyer in the country. With 30 percent of the total Philippine population connected to the Internet, business is booming. “The shift happened in 2007 to 2008. With over 25 to 30 million Internet users, 19 million of which are on Facebook, we told the brands that we have reached a critical mass—you can’t consider us a small media anymore,” Caudron says.

“The Internet has become a channel that brings in a lot—it’s cheap, it can target specific demographics, and it’s the first media that really talks about return on investment (ROI).”

Social media, says Caudron, is now at a critical point where targets reached are comparable to traditional channels like TV and print. “I had a friend who sells candles for weddings—he makes heart-shaped candles embossed with the names of the newlywed couple. How do you sell that? You could sell it to wedding expos, but it would be difficult. So what we did was we went on Facebook and we found that there are around 200,000 engaged couples on Facebook. Now every time an engaged couple logs in, you’ll see my friend’s ad on the right side of the page. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we do at NetBooster.”

Emerging Markets

Brands are now caught in a race to build “Like” bases. “The idea is to build a community of ‘likers’ around your brand,” shares Caudron.

“Doing so can get you very good feedback about your products, and it enables you to know exactly how your brands are perceived by the target market. This consequently helps in the development of new products and services, as well as in selling.”

It is the same principle that went behind the creation of CashCashPinoy.com. “More and more, the Internet will be considered as a selling platform—a new sales channel,” injects Caudron.

“Globe, for example, will sell more of their phones through online activities. Even other retail brands with standalone shops are now accessible online. Last year, Team Manila sold 250 shirts in a few hours at CashCashPinoy. If in 2010 they would’ve used the Internet as a promotional tool, this year they will use it for e-commerce. That’s when you know that e-commerce is becoming really big because a lot of the traditional commerce activities are moving online.”

When Caudron came to the country 10 years ago, there was barely an online market to speak of.

The small percentage that comprised the country’s online population engaged in online buying through American websites like Yahoo and e-Bay. But with the proliferation of social media, Caudron predicts that the digital revolution will build momentum much faster here than in the United States. “People used to say that the Philippines will be in the level of Europe and the U.S. in 10 years, but I think that it will be much faster. Filipinos are already buying and selling through mobile channels like GCASH and SMART Money—you go to Europe and you can’t pay in a website using your mobile. In a way, we’re already more advanced.”

Will E-Commerce work for your brand?

As a rapidly increasing number of people are drawn to the Internet to make their purchases, the emerging virtual marketplace offers new businesses the chance to try their skills in selling. Sebastien Caudron of NetBooster Asia lists down important criteria to determine if you can effectively sell your product/service online:

1. Evaluate the Price of your product/service. “If it’s a very low-priced commodity you are selling, it might be difficult to sell it online. I’m not going to order, for example, a can of cola online. The price level should be good enough to justify selling it online,” says Caudron.

2. Take a look at your Distribution Channels. “If you have a product that is widely distributed and accessible, it might not make sense to have it online. If it’s the opposite and is a product that’s not easily found, it would do well to sell online.”

3. Brand Attractiveness. “A very strong product will be a success when sold online. Think of anything to do with electronics and garments; if you take away products and think about services, price may not even be a factor. An example would be Laser Extreme, a game that you can buy online at half the price. It only costs P100 and that’s a low amount, but consumers think it’s worth it because it’s a better price online.”

Published in the January 24, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

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