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Lighting the tunnel for consumers: How to lead through change

In a year of seismic, all-encompassing change it’s easy to focus on the problematic and negatives elements the pandemic has had on brands. However, marketers who seize the opportunities and embrace the change as a positive, can and will prosper. That was the overarching theme of a recent roundtable of APAC marketing leaders hosted by The Drum and Salesforce.

Keeping pace with digital acceleration

“I'll throw something a bit controversial out there,” says Siva Jayaraj, VP, head of marketing and events, Prudential Thailand. “I actually think that Covid is a great thing. I think the virus is horrible. I think people dying is bad. But I think what’s happening around the world, triggered by Covid, is probably one of the best things that's happened in a long time. I think what is great is the acceleration of a lot of things.

“The acceleration of technology, the acceleration of digital, is something we're looking at now. From an insurance perspective, it’s been so hard to actually convince our distributors to sell online. They still want that face-to-face, to meet people and have roadshows and stand at the side of the road and flag people down. They fought us for years when we said we wanted to modernise. Then Covid hit, and in three months, everybody did remote selling, everybody started doing social media,” says Jayaraj.

The pandemic’s impact on technology and innovation cannot be understated; however, marketers agree the adoption of technology has not yet ushered in a wave of new tools or innovations.

Haswar Hafid, VP of advertising, Bukalapak says, “People are adapting and adopting more existing technologies, there are no new innovations, but people are using these existing innovations more in the recovery.”

Haswar says consumer use of digital payments tools has exploded while collaboration tools have become hugely popular for their convenience and cost-efficiencies during the pandemic.

With consumer behaviour shifting rapidly, Haswar says agility has become immeasurably important for businesses. In another portfolio of businesses that Haswar manages, Vidio (an OTT platform that is part of Emtek Group) has adopted a more agile approach to its business and has begun to promote different types of content for shorter periods.

“Previously, we promoted content for a longer period of time, but now we promote content on a shorter period of time and have become more programmatic. We saw traction in Korean dramas in May, then we went all out for Korean dramas. However, in July, there was traction for teen flicks content, then we shifted our strategy to push teen flicks content. This is to make sure that we are agile enough to survive in this era because there's so much uncertainty happening, even for content consumption behaviour.”

Building data strategies

The ability to pivot business models has become a crucial component in driving change and it’s helping brands to create and build their data strategies, according to Yoke Kuan Sun, regional sales director, marketing cloud, Salesforce.

“With FMCG companies in ASEAN, a lot of them are still trapped, selling via very traditional means to a retailer, it’s all B2B to C. They don't really own any consumer data because they don't sell direct to the consumer. But times are changing.”

Yoke Kuan says companies are looking to build direct to consumer strategies in order to start owning consumer data and ensure they can market to consumers who are no longer going to physical stores to shop for products. This focus on collecting, unifying and sharing customer data across a business was identified as a key focus for marketers across APAC in Salesforce’s 2020 State of Marketing report.

Elfrida Napitupulu, country marketing head, Indonesia, Herbalife, agrees. “Our current finding, because of the pandemic, is the company needs to move to be a customer-centric organisation and become data-driven. Innovation and creativity still matter, and technology has evolved the way that we do things for our customers, but we have to ensure we remain relevant. So, where we have less customer loyalty, we need to create emotional connections.”

Kristiana Putri, leader of content and performance, Bhinneka, says customer data has become even more critical in this current Covid-age.

“Now that people are staying at home, the internet is on 24/7; all our activities are in online media. Digital marketing is not only a must-have item; it's become essential for everyone in the marketing area. And obviously, digital is now the most effective way to reach out and understand our customer. Having that kind of feedback from using digital and the data that you can get is fundamental to knowing your customers.”

Avoiding the digital pitfalls

However, Putri warns against companies relying too much on technology and digital plans that aren’t supported by customer data.

“We cannot rely on just marketing technology. As marketers, we need to be more sensible to what our current condition is, and what the customer says and what the customer is doing right now. I think it's like the mix of the technology and understanding our customer is the best strategy to make the best marketing strategy possible,” says Putri.

“I think there's a danger of jumping on this digital bandwagon,” says Jayaraj. “When CMO’s are getting the push from the board or the CEO saying, ‘what are we doing for Covid?’ the immediate thing is to go digital. But I think it's too fast too soon. I think there’s a danger in jumping too soon; it's what's going to bite everybody.”

As technology continues to accelerate, the need for humanity and purpose will be even more important, continues Jayaraj.

“I think the future is purpose-driven. It's not about the light at the end of the tunnel; our job as marketers is to light the tunnel. People are suffering; people are losing their jobs; people have no access to technology. So, let's make the journey easier for them and light the tunnel. I think that's where the brands who adopt this will do well.”

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