Staff Writer
Apr 20, 2021

Building resilient brands: marketing leaders on adapting to the mobile era

During an invite-only roundtable, co-hosted by Campaign and InMobi, marketing leaders from across APAC discussed how the rise of mobile has helped brands navigate shifting customer journeys and business strategies, and how to thrive in a decade increasingly defined by data.

Building resilient brands: marketing leaders on adapting to the mobile era

The global ad market is set for a strong rebound in 2021. Marketers who were reeling from the fallout of the pandemic are establishing how to bounce back from the changes seen during 2020. Many of these changes, including the shift to a primarily mobile-first outlook, will be permanent.

In 2020, 40 million new users came online in Southeast Asia – compared with 100 million between 2015 and 2019. On average across the region, 1 in 3 of all digital service consumers are new to the service due to Covid. According to InMobi’s 2021 Southeast Asia Mobile Marketing Handbook, over 60% of respondents in the region now use mobile to make purchases. A tremendous 94% of new digital consumers intend to continue using such services post-pandemic. 

The need for marketers to harness brand building and growth while providing a safe and engaging customer experiences was the focus of a lively roundtable, co-organised by Campaign Asia and InMobi and hosted by Campaign Asia’s senior content lead Christie Lee.

The role of marketing leaders

Opening the floor, Rishi Bedi, InMobi’s VP and GM for SEA, Japan & Korea, explained how the emerging “mobile-first world order” requires marketers to build new data strategies using data points and tech capabilities. 

“Some organisations are evolving faster than others and taking the lead: we call them resilient brands,” said Bedi.

It’s crucial for marketers to demonstrate the value of data to encourage investment in brand building, agreed Siew Ting Foo, chief marketing officer, Greater Asia, HP Inc. Foo explained demand for HP products has outstripped supply following the onset of work-from-home.

“Crisis can create opportunities,” said Foo. Asia’s high digital penetration offers “a great opportunity” [for CMOs] to demonstrate the science behind marketing – “using data to prove impact and hold onto marketing budgets.”

Creating seamless customer experiences

While the pivot to mobile commerce opens opportunities, the ongoing impact to traditional trade, local mom-and-pop stores and wet markets has been significant, highlighted Kraft Heinz Asia CMO, Dhiren Amin.

“There are two levers that you push: physical availability and mental availability,” said Amin. “During Covid, physical available was impacted overnight and continues to struggle, increasing the importance on mental preference and accelerating newer channels of access, such as D2C and e-commerce. .”

While drops in physical trade may be changing the face of CPG, this pivot towards adding value to ensure the best customer experience is also underway at online shopping platforms, echoed Marlen Deine, SVP of brand strategy at

“When we talk about online shopping, especially in Indonesia, the key driver to convert customers to shop online is about providing assurance of shopping” said Deine.

“The challenge of navigating this [pandemic] is to strive to bring the best customer experience on mobile platform – providing all features to be seamless online and to be perfectly ready in creating an ecosystem on mobile,” said Deine.

At Danone Waters, a surge in online sales has served new data-driven insights to improve the customer journey.

“We’ve done deep dives to see which channels our customers are coming from and whether they purchase from mobile or desktop,” said Jack Wang, global eBusiness director at Danone.

“We see a lot of micro-moments – when consumption of snacks goes up, people buy more drinks. By consulting with data from partners such as Blibli, Gojek or Grab, we can quickly adapt to identify these snacks to build content and revise our user-acquisition strategy, based on cross-category shopping affinity”, shared Wang.

Supporting customers builds loyalty

Supporting SMEs towards a “mobile-first world order” was a recurring theme for many brands during the conversation.

As a superapp, Grab has navigated shifting customer behaviour across multiple sectors. Ken Mandel, Grab’s regional managing director for GrabAds & Brand Insights, shared how the company’s adaptations included converting ride-hailing drivers into delivery drivers to maintain fulfilment capacity at the onset of the pandemic.

“[During lockdown] our ads business became very important to merchants and QSRs (quick-service restaurants) because of the insights that we had,” he said.

The company used its insights to help partners harness the ability to target different types of eaters, such as vegetarians, by cuisine. “Now, we can assess if an advert will drive a purchase, right through to conversion,” explained Mandel. 

“Indonesia is a growing market for mobile with more handsets than the population, and there's still scope for “a lot more” in the country, said Chander Kohli (CK), SVP of brand & strategy at Smartfren. “It’s not just about pumping money but about getting smarter, contextual and more convenient to users.”

He highlighted that Indonesia is still a cash-led economy, particularly in second and third-tier cities. “The opportunity isn’t to force the customer to upgrade to digital in the way we want, but create an ecosystem to help them evolve naturally.”

To that end, Smartfren created a platform for its resellers and distribution network, allowing them to develop and activate custom packs/plans in real-time, depending on each customer’s need. “With tech, you don’t have to do everything in one-go, you can start with the small things that really matter. Phase it out, encashing the low hanging fruits, while building the digitally powered road to the future. Keep in mind it’s about an integrated omnichannel approach.”

The FairPrice Group, which oversees cooked food centres alongside hypermarkets, has also worked to support smaller players who are used to a cash-only model, shared Andrew Tan, the group’s assistant director for customer & marketing. “For them, cash is king: the last thing on their mind is going to digital payment like Visa because the commission rate will eat into the profit margin.”

After lockdown, FairPrice witnessed a deluge of smaller players joining food delivery circles in Singapore. The initial challenge lay in getting these players used to the mobile platform. “A year later, and they’re fighting with big players like McDonald’s and Burger King – and a lot have struggled. Many are wondering if they should stay on digital platforms. That is why we are making a platform to make it easier for them to shut out the other brands and the promotions and the campaigns. We're trying to change the food service industry's mindset – that marketing doesn't mean that you have huge money. It's about how we can work together to make everyone felt digitally, and stay digital as well.”

Indeed, data has thrown up opportunities to acquire new customers and retain current customers.

“As Rishi said earlier, data is elusive and shape-shifting,” concluded host Christie Lee as the roundtable came to an end. “And to face up to its challenges, we have to become shapeshifters ourselves. That’s why it’s important we all come together in events like this to learn from one another.”

Campaign Asia

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