The role of marketers is changing at an unprecedented pace. In recent years, brands have come under growing pressure to improve their digital presence, and the pandemic has hastened this shift towards online. A new generation of digital-native consumers, who place importance on social values and transparency, is driving brands to find fresh purpose in the context of Covid-19.
It’s a challenging time to be a marketer, but it’s an exhilarating one, too.
The pressure of unforeseen challenges was a refrain that was heard numerous times during the second gathering of The CMO Circle, a roundtable of marketing leaders organised by Campaign Asia and Salesforce in January and moderated by Campaign Asia’s Editorial Director Robert Sawatzky.
As brands pivot to the ‘new normal’, asked Sawatzky, how can organisations prepare for what is coming next?
New research reveals a framework for marketing leaders
“Even heading into 2020, marketing was going through an incredibly complex period of change. Add the pandemic and social injustices and political dynamics, and last year was a watershed moment,” said Jon Suarez-Davis, Salesforce Senior Vice President, Marketing Strategy & Innovation, as he opened his presentation.
Suarez-Davis introduced the findings of research jointly commissioned by the Mobile Marketing Association and Salesforce and published in the November-December 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review.
The authors surveyed marketing managers at 493 companies and held in-depth interviews with 125 senior marketers across various industries. Authors assessed the common themes and challenges reported by CMOs. The report uses these themes to create a framework for marketing leaders to align their growth strategies and capabilities in a new environment and put them in good stead for the year ahead.
Suarez-Davis highlighted that a common theme among interviewees is how the blurring of lines, and the increased need for collaboration, makes it harder for marketers to hone their focus and prioritise. The challenges of data – including maintaining data integrity, the risk of tech ‘eating’ strategy, and knowing how to utilise data effectively – was another prevailing topic.
Jeroen Bleeker, CDO at Daimler, echoed this challenge. “We get loads of data, but what do you do with it to make it valuable? The more you try and leverage what you know about a customer, there’s a risk they become suspicious about what you are doing. It is a tightrope-walking act.”
The common challenges affecting marketers across verticals
“Airlines have been one of the worst-hit industries because of the pandemic,” said Yin May Lau , Malaysia Airlines’ Group chief marketing and customer experience officer, referring wryly to “the entire of 2020” as the company’s main challenge. “For us, it’s not about demand – people are dying to fly! We are trying to sustain the business as far as we can.”
These sentiments were echoed by Sumit Ramchandani, CEO of AirAsia Media Group. “For us, the biggest challenge as a company is how to change the crisis into an opportunity,” said Ramchandani, explaining how AirAsia has pivoted to a ‘superapp’ strategy to navigate the downturn. “We are positioning AirAsia as an alternative media publisher.”
Zalman Zainal, Chief marketing and communication officer at Hong Leong Bank, said that digitising has not been a problem for the Malaysian banking group, as its consumers are used to using its app.
“But transactional services such as wealth advisory and financial literacy require more face-to-face events,” he said. “We have to think about how to be in touch; keeping up relations with our corporate customers.”
Despite the challenging climate, 2020 has arguably been a chance for marketers to accelerate their personal development, said Wendy Walker, Salesforce Asia’s Senior Director Marketing for ASEAN.
“Curiosity to study consumer behaviour has never been more valuable. Demands on teams to grow innovation has been heightened,” said Walker. “The biggest challenge now is that teams are craving predictability: how do we sustain that drive for creativity, but give them predictability where we can?”
Creating customer value
The Salesforce and MMA research uncovered that marketing departments can create value for customers in three areas: exchange, experience and engagement. By creating value, it becomes easier to attract, acquire and retain customers.
Exchange value focuses on the transaction and involves effectively matching your offerings to specific customer needs. Experience value is about the frictionless journey across all customer touchpoints. Suarez-Davis offered the example of Delta Airlines superapp, Fly Delta.
“It can be used for everything from booking tickets, to boarding to locating where your bags are,” said Suarez-Davis. “Now, in the last 10 months, they have changed their focus on the app to safety – what is the protocol for cleaning the plane, what are the safety measures. It is the same value proposition, but it’s drastically changed in the world we’re living in.”
Engagement value is expanding meaning around the product or service. “Initiatives that are very meaningful to your consumers and related to your brand purpose,” explained Suarez-Davis, adding that the Salesforce Trailblazer Community, which nurtures customers and partners to co-create solutions, can be considered a successful example of adding engagement value.
Engagement value and personalisation is crucial to customers in the insurance and investment category, added Roche Vandenberghe, Vice president, head of marketing at FWD Life Insurance Corporation. “We can target campaigns for the specific person across life stages … but you don’t purchase insurance every day – how do you keep engagement going across generations, 20-30 years down the line? That is very important.”
Creating company value
Suarez-Davis highlighted examples of companies enabling synergies to drive strategic value, including Red Bull Media, which has broken through category boundaries to launch its sports and lifestyle platform Red Bull Media House; and the Freestyle vending machine from Coca-Cola, which provides real-time, first-party data on consumer preferences by allowing them to mix their own drinks. This valuable data has been used to inform the company’s R&D.
Jose Antonio (Tony) Valdez, CMO of Meralco, revealed how the company has expanded its scope to ensure a customer-centric experience for people. “We’re a utility company – you don’t want to see us!” he pointed out, explaining that 80% of the company’s staff are engineers.
Valdez explained how Meralco used the recent sales surge of air fryers as a touchpoint to engage customers – with a campaign comparing the cost of frying 1kg of chicken in an air fryer compared with a conventional gas fryer. “It is a way of converting people from gas to electric, using the conversation of the moment,” he said.
The days of focusing on one area are over, said Suarez-Davis, as the roundtable concluded. “If you truly want to put the customer at the centre, you need to create value on the customer side, but you can’t divorce it from the value created in the strategy operation or knowledge. The bar for customer experience is so high that these need to work in beautiful orchestration to transform your company.”
The research shows that, for a modern marketing organisation, the recommended framework is the inversion of what has been commonly recommended. Start by defining your value proposition and mission, and work up to organisational structure and skills. “It is a simple framework,” said Suarez-Davis, but that is truly how much transformation happens.”