Editor’s note: ORIGIN Conference is TechNode Global’s premier international content track about the latest development in the Southeast Asia tech and startup scene. ORIGIN Conference this year was held in Macao on May 11, as part of the BEYOND Expo Week.

One of the panel discussions in the ORIGIN Conference for the Southeast Asian tech and startup scene focuses on the region’s next generation, including Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Entitled “Capturing Southeast Asia’s Emerging Generation,” It explores the importance of understanding and engaging with the younger generation’s value in the modern economy, the challenges businesses face in attracting the younger generation, and the impact of sustainability and environmental concerns. It also discusses the shift in customer behaviors and the emergence of omni-channel approaches in retail and other industries.

This panel was moderated by PNTR Group Managing Partner AJ Lee. The speakers were Mercular CEO and Co-Founder Worangun Wattanasakchai, Gtriip Founder and CEO Maxim Tint, and Hoow Foods CEO and Co-Founder Yau Png Ow.

Here’s a summary of the thoughts and insights the speakers shared in the panel discussion.

Worangun Wattanasakchai, CEO and Co-Founder of Mercular

The key to reaching out to customers is to appeal to their preferences for more conveniences and sustainability. Many customers in Southeast Asia share similar behaviors shaped by modern times, and many more are moving towards this desire for greater convenience and sustainability.

To attract younger customers, it is important to learn their interests. These interests and behaviors are quite fragmented. It is not easy to determine them accurately, so it is important to dissect them and personalize your offerings channel by channel to connect to these younger customers and capture them.

Additionally, companies need to learn how to differentiate themselves. Some pundits would say that businesses need to be more agile in adopting new trends and appealing to the changing tests of younger customers. However, there are also those who sensibly say that it also helps to pull back a bit and educate or acquaint customers to what you are offering instead of being the one to change or adjust to them.

A good compromise to this dilemma is differentiation. If you create a unique product that serves existing needs, it can appeal to customer interest and you may not need to chase changing customer preferences. You can make customers chase your product or be the originator of a new trend. Avoid competing based on prices. Pursue verticals that allow your business to operate on your core business while exploring new opportunities. This is better than

On the question of new opportunities in Southeast Asia in view of the emerging generation of customers, I think the most appealing industries are mostly the same like e-commerce, retail, and travel. These are still driving much of the growth in Southeast Asia. Since these industries are not new, it is important to learn how to differentiate your products and offer real value to get the attention of customers.

Maxim Tint, Founder and CEO of Gtriip

I think businesses really need to think digital first. The younger generation is already accustomed to using digital technologies. Businesses will be surprised to learn how tech-savvy the younger generation of customers are. They will examine your digital capabilities, look at your website, scrutinize your digital concierge, etc. Digital is their primary mode of communication. Digital is the key touch point for Gen Z customers.

There are many ways to take advantage of digital technology to reach out to customers. For example, you can look at online forums like Reddit to learn about the interest of your customers. We collect tons of data to help us understand and connect to customers better. However, we understand that the younger generation is quite concerned about digital risks like privacy violations. That’s why we make it a point to emphasize the measures we put in place to secure customers’ data and provide the assurance that we will not be selling their data.

Even B2B businesses have to realize that the interests and sentiments of the emerging generation of customers matter. In our case, for example, we serve a large university in Singapore, but we convey to our client what we know about the preferences of the younger generation (the students of the university we serve). Sometimes, we have to educate them about things like data privacy and other concerns of younger people, who are the customers of the businesses we serve.

On the other hand, it is important to bear in mind that the emerging generation of customers is not that different from others in how they change their preferences and interests. For example, back in the day, hotels lost customers to Airbnbs. However, things eventually changed and hotels found new ways to attract younger customers. Businesses need to keep track of changing trends and adapt as needed.

Moreover, it helps to acknowledge the keenness of the younger generation for sustainability. The desire for sustainability among younger consumers is not a fabrication. It is a reality that even preschoolers demonstrate, just like how my preschool son asked me one day to buy an electric car because it is supposedly better for the environment. The emerging generation of customers has values that impact their consumership, and businesses need to look into that to guide their decisions.

Yau Png Ow, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoow Foods

For me, the key to reaching out to the next generation of customers is communication and constantly improving yourself. There has to be communication between the previous and the younger generations. The future of the economy lies on Gen Zs and Gen Alphas, but the older generation should also learn to improve themselves–ourselves (the speaker is a millennial).

One thing I realized about the younger generation of customers is that they are very “woke” and passionate about the environment, about sustainability. They put value on how businesses ensure the protection of the environment as they produce and offer their products. This is one way we can improve ourselves, improve our products to be relevant to the emerging generation.

It is important to stay true to your core as a business and offer value. However, in the context of the Gen Zs and Gen Alphas being keen on sustainability, it is advisable to offer products that are sustainable and make your core business resonate with the younger generation of customers. You may need to adjust your business core to appeal to the new breed of customers. You have to improve your products and your company.

Additionally, it is important to acknowledge the need for “omni channels.” Businesses can’t just do business online. Offline sales channels are still important. Nobody can be sure about the future, particularly if online sales will become the primary or most important channel for doing business. However, for now, what is certain is that companies should adopt the omni-channel approach.

When it comes to opportunities for businesses in Southeast Asia, I think what’s most important is to find a need or gap and fill it. It does not have to be some specific industry. You do not have to be a trailblazer. There will always be new needs that will emerge, especially with the changing customer demographic in the region. In our company, for example, the needs we see and serve are not that novel, groundbreaking, or too different from before. We still see the need for healthy and sustainably produced food products. What’s important is the value we offer and how we market our products.

Featured image L-R: AJ Lee, Managing Partner of PNTR Group; Woragun Wattanasakchai, Co-Founder & CEO of Mercular; Maxim Tint, Founder & CEO of Gtriip; Yau Png Ow, Co-Founder & CEO of Hoow Foods (Hegg)

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