Having worked with the United Parcel Service (UPS) network for his entire career, newly promoted vice-president of marketing Philip Wu has lived out the company’s philosophy of ‘constructive dissatisfaction’. That essentially means that the company should avoid complacency and challenge itself to find more efficient and effective ways of operating. Given the complexity of logistics, perfection is an elusive concept.
“It’s all about getting out of our comfort zones and striving to do things better,” says the cheerful Wu. “I get bored easily and I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I want to do something better and explore new markets, customers and products.”
The attitude comes from long experience. Born in Taiwan and raised in the United States, Wu has been with UPS for 19 years, having started off in an administrative role of application programmer at the UPS corporate office in 1993. His work across departments gives him a deep understanding of the company and network that he is now able to channel into marketing activities. The understanding he has built up helps to establish relationships with different departments in the company, paving the way for smoother communications and collaboration.
“I was hired right out of college,” Wu explains. “I spent my first assignment doing a lot of manual reporting that seemed very tedious and repetitive.” While many would either have resigned themselves to boredom or left, Wu used the unsatisfactory situation as an opportunity to make his own moves within the company.
“On the side, I was working on some computer programming which gave me the idea of automating the reporting process. Once I pitched the idea, I was given the opportunity to do it hands-on. I got pretty good at improving the entire revenue management process, which was recognised by management. The rest is history.”
In 2005, he relocated to Singapore, when he was appointed as marketing director of revenue management, business planning and analysis for the region. He was subsequently named marketing director of UPS China in 2007, where he initiated and headed UPS’s strategic alliance with AliExpress, Alibaba’s online wholesale marketplace.
As marketing director for China, he was responsible for all marketing functions for the country, which included revenue management, pricing, advertising, public relations and sponsorships. With UPS an Olympic sponsor and logistics partner, he was closely involved with the 2008 event and says this participation helped raise the company’s profile significantly in the country.
The challenging part came soon after the Olympics as the economic downturn hit. Wu recalls that bringing the team together and keeping their spirits up was particularly difficult. This prompted him to make open, two-way communications with staff a priority, something he says helped individual team members remain focused on performing their specific tasks.
Monthly performance rewards and birthday celebrations were two elements Wu initiated. “Some of these things were pretty simple, but they meant a great deal to the team,” he says. “As a result, we pulled through a very tough economic environment and came out as a stronger team.”
Over the course of his career, Wu has also taken his fair share of inspiration and guidance from a variety of mentors, including former regional president Derek Woodward, whom Wu worked with in Singapore. He uses his own experience as a barometer in trying to mentor his own staff in a complicated industry.
The supply chain plays a vital role in today’s fast and competitive corporate world, ensuring goods or services are delivered efficiently and safely. The supply chain industry itself, by contrast, is what many would describe as a relationship business. This is evident in Wu’s approach to marketing.
Media inflation remains a challenge and it is getting increasingly expensive to engage in advertising across regional markets. This challenge, nevertheless, gives UPS the opportunity to be more targeted in its messaging to customers, as opposed to just mass-marketing across the traditional channels.
The marketing strategy UPS adopts, according to Wu, is hosting events with corporate clients, building relationships and hence mapping out customised service. “We sponsor events such as the European PGA and the China Basketball Association, host customer appreciation events, and spend one-on-one time with clients to understand their business needs. Building strong relationships with our customers is important as it enables us to provide them with customised services,” he notes.
Additional recent activities include content-led initiatives in partnership with media owners such as CNBC to produce short vignettes to support the key pillars that UPS focuses on. The vignettes are also broadcasted on its portal, which has also become an important tool for the company in providing customers the opportunity to learn more about the products and services that are relevant to them. It also has a presence on social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter and Sina Weibo in China, all of which are managed internally.
Operating in a diverse region means varying levels of brand recognition from one market to the next. While budget limitations do not allow UPS to invest as significantly in brand building in smaller markets, Wu sees great opportunity for more one-on-one customer interaction from employees, who can act as brand ambassadors for the company.
He points to the importance of education in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and secondary sub-regional markets, as to the nature of the company and its activities beyond basic package delivery.
“We try to make UPS known in these markets through a mixture of survey-based research, customer hospitality events and service and network enhancements, which help to establish UPS’s positioning as a trusted partner with in-depth industry knowledge and network capabilities.”
He cites an example where the company began flights out of Chengdu in July last year, continuing its expansion in China to facilitate trade between Asia and the rest of the globe. While the move saw UPS being the first international express carrier to operate out of Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, it also reinforced its commitment to catering to specific sector needs in key markets, which in this case was supporting Chengdu’s role as a key player in technology and manufacturing in China’s ‘Go West’ strategy.
UPS takes on a different marketing strategy for developed markets, whereby it reinforces communications on its existing services, while ensuring that its audience is aware of key enhancements. The deployment of the DIAD V, a handheld device used by UPS Service Providers during pickups and deliveries, is an example of the company’s global strategy to channel its annual investment of US$1 billion in technology, which helps to improve its responsiveness to customers’ needs.
In light of the fact that trade within Asia-Pacific is growing faster than that in the rest of the world, UPS has made several new investments in the region, including two air hubs in China, to facilitate international trade in Shanghai and to cater to Intra-Asia demands in Shenzhen. Most recently, it launched a health care distribution facility in Singapore to meet the increasing demand for health care solutions in the region.