Rethinking creative online sites in Asia

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News article in the Business Review written by Nellie Willow

Thordur Adalsteinsson is the Managing Director and Founder of Area Digital, a web strategy and development company focusing on creative solutions through graphic design, program architecture and online marketing.

The year 2000 might have heralded the dawn of a new Millennium but in the realm of Internet marketing in Scandinavia, it marked an end to the Golden Age of the 90s before the Internet business bubble burst, or at least deflated. Creative agencies producing quality websites and online strategies struggled to compete against the glut of people who'd been attracted to the industry during its hay days. For Thordur, an Icelandic working in Denmark, it was time for a big rethink so that his skills, experience and expertise were not blown away by the strong winds of change that swept across the economic climate

After their business went under, Thor and his Swedish friends realised that they needed to regroup so that they could offer less expensive solutions and make these more accessible. Denmark didn’t seem Viable to sustain their new business model. Spurred on by the success of a friend overseas, they decided to move to Asia. “We looked at Hong Kong and Singapore before deciding on Thailand", explains Thor. “It made economic sense and Thailand seemed more accepting of foreigners starting a business. We needed to start quickly and easily and we set up Area Digital in just a few weeks here."

Just a few years ago, having a company website was something of a status symbol, regardless of whether it was necessary. There was a prestige to having your own business site and this was often because hiring a company to design, build and possibly manage your online presence was expensive Large organisations with budgets of over the equivalent of 2 million Thai baht were attracted to this type of marketing campaign. After the bubble burst however, the market changed, with the advent of open source technology. Where as previously it was necessary to buy an expensive license from Microsoft, open source meant more companies could afford customisation without this hefty fee. A knock back and an understanding that the industry was changing brought Asia Onto Thor’s business plan map.

Settling in Thailand

When working remotely Chiang Mai is an obvious choice, both in terms of lifestyle and business costs. While this worked for the first year or so, about six years ago Thor was driven out of the North by the smog The annual March pollution proved detrimental to everyday business, as well as to the equipment, The decision made sense all round for Thor. “We’d been regularly coming to Bangkok anyway to meet clients and network and we soon realised what a dynamic, cosmopolitan city it is and how we just had to be there to be in that mix too" Since making the move they haven’t looked back and whilst the vast majority of their clients are in Europe, being in the hub of the city has helped keep them connected with the business dynamics of Thailand as well as foreign companies with bases in Asia.

As an Ad agency specialising in online solutions, Area Digital found its home in Asia but has firmly had its door open to business from Europe, The company is a very creative company with technical know-how.

Site implementation can take anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the level of system development and graphics, with costs ranging from 75,000 Baht to over a million. This focus on quality is established with European businesses "Companies know that they are paying less because we are based in Asia, but at the same time they are aware that they are getting the same skill set as they would in Europe. We're in Asia but can offer the same quality as a Scandinavian company operating in Europe. We are ‘hands on‘ with the business and we have in-effect outsourced ourselves", explains Thor.

The Thai experience

It might be a perfect business marriage of costs and accessibility, but there are inevitable challenges associated with running a successful creative Internet agency in Thailand. “It was difficult at first to get motivated staff. In Europe we grew up with the Internet boom of ‘95/’96 and it was an exciting, ‘can-do' time”, admits Thor. “They haven’t had the same culture here in Thailand so there’s sometimes less enthusiasm". However, he believes this is changing. “Asia is open to new ideas which means there‘s room for change. The boom and hype didn't come in the same way as it did for us. We’ve learnt from experience and mistakes and understand the market better. We're looking to focus on this growing client awareness in Thailand the rest of South East Asia".

Area Digital not only designs, develops and builds sites but recommends how businesses should market themselves online by looking at the brand, product and industry. They come up with full design details and create websites through brainstorming, concept building and mock-ups, The sites are generally maintained by the clients themselves although content can be advised on or supplied. The idea is to provide all—encompassing advanced solutions rather than simplified template choices.

While a high level of quality is established in Europe, historically there’s been less of a demand in Asia, according to Thor, However, with the fast—moving world of smart phones, tablets and 36, the times are definitely changing. It is an interesting and exciting time for Thor and Area Digital. “Last year business changed. Budgets dropped in Europe and there was more demand in Asia where we’ve been doing a lot of work through referrals and word of mouth. Previously some businesses didn’t appreciate the value of a quality website and were not willing to pay the price for this. There is a big change among Asian owned companies and Western owned and operated businesses in Thailand and, also, Westernised Thais are also promoting different ideas on what online presence can mean".

Asian projects inspire growth

Not only has Area Digital created the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce site, but also sites for big Malaysian holding company Sime Darby, which operates in many industries such as hospitals and healthcare. The company also serves a number of Scandinavian companies in Bangkok such as Hyde and Seek a stylish gastro bar owned by two Swedish brothers 7 and a Danish-owned travel website called Visit Beyond which features six destinations including Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, Nepal, and the Philippines.

With Asian businesses waking up to the value of a quality online strategy", Thailand is not only attractive for companies trying to reach out to Europe for less, but also for those wanting to make solid profits from initiating business closer to home Their new Thai home that is.‘