“Is it really different, or are we just using fancier words?”, asked Laurel West, Asia editorial director of thought leadership for The Economist in her introduction to the day's keynote panel.
The answer one can draw from the conference, is 'somewhat'.
“The relationship between customers and the brand matters more profoundly than it has in the past,” said David Roman, SVP and CMO for Lenovo. “Marketing is now defined by how the customer shapes the brand and how the brand structures itself to broader requirements.”
Here are six more takeaways from the event:
Social media and social-media reviews are not the same
It’s easy enough to lump everything connected to social media in one bucket. For hospitality brands like Marriott International however, that just doesn’t work. “When you look at what drives purchase decisions, social reviews really drive brands. We’ve had to define the difference between social media and reviews and determine which departments are in charge of which,” explained Peggy Fang Roe, chief sales and marketing officer, Asia-Pacific, for Marriott International.
So far, the group has determined that marketing is primarily responsible for social media and the amplification of the hotel and brand. “Consumer behaviour is changing the way we’re managing marketing internally,” she concluded.
Left to right: West; Karim Temsamani, Google; Roman; and Fang Roe
Despite everything, marketing still lags behind the consumer
When it comes to digital, marketing definitely still lags behind the consumer’s use of it, commented Lenovo’s Roman. “Shame on us, we should catch up more quickly.”
Roman admitted that Lenovo should have responded immediately when the Superfish crisis first broke. “It’s a large company and there was resistance to responding quickly," he said. "There was a desire to check legal ramifications, and of course, to investigate if the allegations were true. We have since worked at empowering people to respond very quickly. To be able to acknowledge the issue and talk about what the company will do to address it.”
In the past year, Lenovo has worked toward being more transparent at all levels and with a more open and communicative culture, both internally and externally, Roman said.
In China, pure-play retail doesn’t work anymore
A key takeaway from the event’s panel on capitalising consumer trends in China is that retailers need a blend of both ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar locations to thrive. “A handbag retail company I’ve known for 15 to 20 years—which I cannot name for compliance reasons—used to have 5,000 stores in China and used to really rule the scene,” recounted Erica Poon Werkun, managing director and head of Asian consumer research and internet research at UBS. “But when more luxury brands entered China, this handbag retailer got pushed out of several retail channels. The owner took the chance to go online and changed his product positioning to engage consumers who are online and on mobile. Today, the company only has 40 stores but is one of the largest online apparel brands in China.”
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s truly hard to build a super-brand purely online. Many retailers that started out online are finding it necessary to establish some form of physical presence. “Brands that wish to have more than a niche presence in China, need an offline presence,” agreed Zhao Yilu, co-founder and partner of Zebra Global Capital, and former CFO of Qunar.com.
From left: Moderator, Andrew Palmer, Economist; Alan Lau, McKinsey; Poon Werkun; and Zhao
You cannot forecast the future by just looking at tech
People are really very bad at making predictions based on the changes to technology alone, said Greg Borenstein, game designer, technologist and consulting futurist for the Minority Report TV show. As an example, Borenstein pointed to the use of Virtual Reality tech in the original 2002 Minority Report film.
“Hollywood actually missed this prediction because, now we actually have VR, we’re finding that the most popular applications for it are for games like Kumoon, a physics puzzle game where you build a machine that gets a ball from one end of the room to another," Borenstein said. "Or for Tilt Brush, one of the most profound and beautiful VR interactions I’ve seen, for painting in space. What we’re seeing is that people are not using VR to be someone else, they’re using it to make something."
And that’s the key to making futuristic predictions, he continued. “You can’t learn how people feel about technology or how they interact with it from tech changes. You have to look at the deep core human experiences and how it will be expressed with technology. The future doesn’t live in the tech, it lies in the emotion behind it.”
We may have actually learnt how to market to millennials
Obsessed as the industry is about the terror of not being able to market to millennials, the truth is it may have figured it out, was one of the conclusions drawn from a panel discussing the younger generations.
At a launch for a Maybelline New York product in China, L’Oreal used the traditional channels, including having a celebrity presence, in this case, Angelababy. The event also had 50 grassroots influencers who live-broadcasted themselves at the show, using the product and sharing how they felt about the product to their followings. The event had VR devices so attendees could take a virtual trip to New York. And the event was also linked to a product launch on T-Mall.
“In that one evening, tens of thousands of lipsticks were sold online," said Asmita Dubey, CMO of L’Oreal Asia-Pacific. "We’ve connected the dots, it came together. The journey is working.”
From left: Palmer, Cheryl Goh, Grab; Ananth Narayanan, Myntra; Dubey; and Adrian Toy, Puma
Global teams should not be concentrated in global HQ
It’s a mistake to believe that a global, or even regional team, needs to be located in “headquarters”, said Tricia Weener, head of marketing, commercial banking and global banking and markets, Asia-Pacific, HSBC.
“I came from a global role and I need to remind myself constantly of all the things I didn’t know, back then, about the region I now mange,” said Weener. It’s all too easy, she added, for global teams to think they know best. “It’s very frustrating when they have resolved every single creative detail—except they’ve forgotten to add Asian people. And the tagline cannot be translated into Chinese. You have to keep reminding them that it’s just not that simple.”
To fix it, said Weener, have global teams sitting in regional and country roles. “Make sure your global teams are reflective of your global business," she said. "That we don’t have Asian representatives in our global team sitting in London is wrong.”
From left: West; Weener; Nicole McMillan, Wrigley; and Todd Handcock, Williams Lea Tag
Pure CMOs are not ready to be CEOs, and they may not want to be
An Oxford-rules debate about whether today’s marketers could be tomorrow’s CEO drew to an unexpected conclusion. Vivek Kumar, secretary, membership council for NTUC Singapore and its global CMO council, started out defending the motion, but wound up agreeing with the opposing view held by Ruth Rowan, group executive of marketing for Dimension Data, when she reframed the topic as, “Today’s CMO is not ready to be tomorrow’s CEO—yet.”
While CMOs hold some of the keys, and being a CMO does not preclude one from being a CEO, no one with a pure marketing background should take on the role of CEO without first holding other, horizontal, posts that are more directly responsible for the company’s P&L, said Rowan. “As marketers, we have further to go before we can be CEOs.”
At the start of the day, delegates were asked if marketers were best suited to be the CEOs of the future. In the morning, 74 percent said yes, and 26 percent no. By the end of the debate however, Rowan had all but flipped the results. Only 38 percent agreed that marketers were best suited for the CEO role, while 62 percent disagreed.
From left: Kumar, Palmer and Rowan