Damien Bray is the CEO Asia for Brand New Media, an Asia Pacific content marketing company. He is a former professional AFL player who now lives in Singapore.

What was it about Asia that attracted you? Why go there to set up a business?

I set up the business in Asia primarily out of boredom with the local market. We had been evangelising a different way of thinking for some time, and we certainly had some success but we really were frustrated with the rate of innovation. A lot of people are reluctant to innovate unless they need to, then leave it to the last minute. Sometimes it’s too late if you’re in the brand building business. I wanted to have more opportunity, more challenges and throwing myself into the deep end of a whole bunch of different sovereign markets in the Asian region was really exciting.

Why content marketing?

Several years ago we had an epiphany that the brands will one day become the broadcasters and publishers, they’ll own the media and tell stories themselves. So we set up an enablement model that empowers brands to take this journey of becoming media owners. Content marketing is not just about building content assets, but building audience as well. Rather than being dependent on buying the audience via a media owner, you’re actually building an audience you own yourself, your own community.

How did you choose where to go?

We evaluated consumer behaviour around new media. We looked at internet speed, to see if you’d be able to consume video content over the internet. We looked at the take up of connected devices, particularly smartphones and tablets. We looked at the behaviour of brands and agencies, whether they had started to engage with digital content and we also looked at actually being able to operate, being an Australian company in Asia. With those key parameters Singapore will always come up as the first place to land but it is a market of only five million people. If you look at the population within three hours of Singapore you’ve got one of the most highly populated regions in the world. You’ve also got the greatest economic growth in the world and growth of a middle class, therefore the growth of consumerism.

After Singapore our next port of call was the Philippines, the other end of the spectrum. The Philippines didn’t perform as well when it came to internet speed but it rated very highly when it comes to social media and smart phone consumption. What we wanted to do was pioneer and be the first settler with content marketing. It will be a while off actually paying dividends but in the last 12 months we’ve built a team of 30 people so we know that when the tipping point comes we will be very well placed.

The next step for us is both Malaysia and Hong Kong. They’re more advanced markets and we’re getting traction much quicker than we would in some of the emerging markets. In the next twelve months we will be setting up in China, Indonesia, India and Thailand.

Tell us about the Creator Collective Academy.

The Creator Collective Academy is a partnership with Singapore’s Media Development Authority. The rationale for it is a gap of knowledge in the marketplace, we can see a significant need in the market in Asia to breed content creators and marketers to service the growth in the future. The Creator Collective Academy is both an e-learning program and an education workshop series held in a facility that will consist of studios, classrooms and an education campus [opening late 2016]. We’re bringing together some of the best people in content around the region who can act as a mentors to the next generation.

Case Study: Food for Life

FairPrice is the number one supermarket in Singapore with 70 percent market share, it’s a government owned business. When I first met them 5 years ago they were a very traditional supermarket retailer, they weren’t ready to have an ‘always on’ asset. In the first two years we ran a content marketing campaign for two months of the year called Family Cook-Off. It was a prime-time TV show leveraged through instore activation, social media, digital media - a whole range of consumer touch points. We wanted to demonstrate to the brand that we could use a very small part of its marketing investment to engage in a different type of conversation through this television format around home-cooking, family values, togetherness, all of these wonderful virtues that supermarkets espouse in their 30 second ads. The biggest success was actually increasing sales of fresh produce featured in the TV show.

The next step was this audacious goal - for a supermarket - of owning the number one food TV channel. We created a concept called Food for Life TV, our ambition was to have an ‘always on’ media asset that consumers could access anytime anywhere, through any device. What we’re trying to do is to empower Singaporeans to cook at home one more day a week, because it’s quite cheap to eat out in Singapore. In its first two years we achieved 10 million minutes of content consumption which was our key metric. It is now the number one most viewed food content platform in Singapore, now 60 percent of visitors to Food for Life are regular visitors, they come once or twice a week. We have a fantastic program called The Domestic Goddess which has a very high male viewership. It’s all about improving domestic skills, because in Singapore, a lot of people are dependent on hired help around the house. We have a full time production studio that makes content around the clock for the brand. We have over 2,000 video assets that are owned by the brand and a significant online community. The next step is converting that community to commerce, so they have the capability to watch, click and buy ingredients for the recipes they see and have them delivered to their home.

One of the biggest failings of international content companies that have gone into the Asian market is that they’ve paid lip service to local content. We recognised early on was that we wanted to bring some of our western production values to make better quality content but we needed to do it in a way that really made sense for locals; 70 percent of our assets are bespoke productions made in local languages.

You said earlier there is a natural fit between Australia and Asia. What do you mean?

I think most Asians consider Australia to be part of Asia and I would go so far to say, as an Australian working in Asia, I consider myself to be Asian. I may not look Asian but I think I have an Asian type behaviour now. As a country we need to embrace Asia culturally, not just see it as a cash cow where we pull stuff out of the ground and sell it to China and therefore we’re part of Asia. We have quite a way to go before we are integrated with the thinking of the region - from politics through to how we operate business partnerships and cultural contact.

One of the biggest learnings for me is recognizing that most Asian countries like Australia. They see Australia as aspirational, they see us as friendly. They might think we’re a little bit hick, a little bit small town in our thinking. That’s probably true, I don’t think we’re ready to admit that.

How should we go about it?

There’s no question we’re very smug because we’ve had it so good. The smugness has led to a reluctance to really embrace Asia. When I went through school French and German were the only two languages we could learn. Why weren’t we learning Bahasa or Mandarin or Cantonese or Filipino or Thai? They’re our neighbours, we have to integrate and communicate with them!

I don’t know if it’s racism, but we don’t celebrate diversity as well as we could. In my personal journey being in Asia, the biggest attraction for me is the diversity. Get yourself in the deep end, as deep as you can is my advice. When you travel offshore into these sovereign markets ego is your worst enemy. If you get thrown into Manila or Jakarta or Bangkok in a business context, you might have a lot of knowledge but you know nothing about doing business in that market and you won’t know a lot about the culture and the people. So you’ve got to take humility with you as a tool, and you have to have this almost obsessive passion to learn and evolve. If you do that you can be hugely successful - you’ll build trust and respect with the locals and it’s super enjoyable. You learn a whole range of things you didn’t know before.