Asia marketers' plans for 2021 and Forrester's view on 'outdated CMOs'

While we might be eager to put 2020 behind us and start 2021 afresh, the industry should expect another year of reduced media expenditures, scanty teams, lean tech and agency partner networks, as well as the continued vacancy of business in the travel and hospitality sectors, Forrester's recent CMO predictions said.

Marketers who are content to run promotions, sales support or media buying teams, which Forrester labels as "outdated CMOS", would not be able to hide their "lightweight contributions" behind the strong returns of a good economy.

As predicted last year, Forrester said tough times will bring on the reckoning that CMOs would either step up to spearhead customer obsession or hand over this role to a chief customer or experience officer.

On the other hand, shrewd CMOs who take on this challenge to regrow their companies recognise that they must solve the current challenges in their firms. According to Forrester, such CMOs understand that nothing about this year will blow over or wait for someone else to own.

They must retrench the foundations of their marketing functions instead of continually repairing fundamentally broken systems.

Additionally, Forrester said that an overhaul needs to occur now because legacy structures cannot meet new customer needs or market dynamics that have drastically changed overnight. As the industry gears up for the next year, here are some predictions Forrester has for CMOs.

Do the dirty work

The days of the good economy disguising lazy marketing leadership behind growing sales or a strong agency are gone, Forrester said.

In 2021, superintending CMOs are out; ones who get things done stick around.

Reason being, issues that brands are expected to face next year, such as developing contactless sales channels, reliable supply chains, or facilities that accommodate health protocols and are on brand, as too high stakes to delegate. Additionally, in uncertain times, employees need to feel heard and informed. Quoting Harvard Business Review, Forrester said leaders are recommended to "engage for impact" through frequent, face-to-face (virtual) interactions. Hence, CMOs must take on the daily grind.

Incorporate marketing and customer experience

It has always been a bad idea to segregate acquisition from everything that occurs after a customer makes a purchase - product utilisation, customer service, retention and advocacy. The pandemic has made this disconnect "perilous", Forrester said, adding that disjointed experiences "cost millions and lose customers". 

Growth comes from continued use of your product. CMOs must acquire only customers they can keep.

Media money is already shifting into retention methods such as email, customer service, and producing products that are able to spur growth. Also, some companies have created a chief experience and marketing officer to consistently engage customers wherever they are in their lifecycle with the brand.

Hack their business models

In recent years, there has been a trend of upending established market systems to deliver customer value at higher margins. According to Forrester, businesses today would not last without supplementing delivery and revenue models to accommodate customers’ changed priorities. Expedia diversified into ad sales to support its core business, while Accor Hotels launched a hotel office concept to drive day bookings from homeworkers.

Innovating products, placement, and pricing has always been intended territory for marketing. Prioritise these over promotions in 2021.

Foster diversity

Employees are the best demonstrations of the brand and good CMOs will nurture diverse teams that represent their values. Widen & Kennedy, for example, makes known its gender and race data to be accountable for building a "place where people [can] live up to their full potential".

Multifariousness breeds creativity. And in a sea of digital sameness, creative drives returns. CMOs must craft belonging into their team culture.

Forrester stressed that marketers would not want good intentions stoking existing marketing stereotypes. Unfortunately, as marketing expert Samuel Scott describes: "The ‘small stuff’ is increasingly how marketing is viewed. Smart people build products and create financial models, dumb people make ads."

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Meanwhile, to get a feel of what marketers are on the lookout for in 2021, Marketing reached out to industry players in Southeast Asia to get a low down on the trends that will arise or die down in 2021 and the type of skills they seek when hiring.

Eugene Lee, regional director of marketing (Asia business unit), McDonald's

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With unemployment tripling from 3% in 2019, to 9% today, value focused marketing will certainly be on the rise in 2021 as the country and the world braces for a recession. Price points, good value, and deals will become top priority for many brands because customers will simply have less to spend and more cautious when spending.

As customers start to get used to the new normal, marketing centered around health and safety will slowly start to taper off. Health and safety will become a green fee for brands, be it retail, F&B or any other type of business. Customers will expect it, and therefore the marketing behind it won’t need to be so aggressive.

If you haven’t already, immediately start engaging your consumers to really understand what they’re going through and how they are feeling about 2021. Get a clear understanding of what they are going through, what their top priorities are, and how they will behave in 2021. From there, develop marketing plans to address those needs. Because only by addressing those needs can companies truly keep their customers.

The biggest skill to have in 2021 will be nimbleness, both from a company standpoint and as an employee. Being nimble to the change and disruption that will continue to happen, and agile enough to change plans on the fly.

Nikhil Rao, marketing director – biscuits, Southeast Asia, Mondelēz

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We are seeing even faster growths in short-form video on all digital platforms. Driven by consumers wanting a distraction and wanting to binge watch content quickly. We have begun responding by strengthening our storytelling ability in five seconds, for example, the Chipsmore #2fast2sing five-second birthday song. Also, with people picking up new hobbies like baking, art and gardening, brands that have created immersive experiences in these spaces can get closer to consumers. Consumers are also much more aware of their fitness and mortality. They are increasingly looking for healthier brands and avoiding brands with ingredients of concern.

That said, consumers have become clearer in their expectations from companies on sustainability and environmental consciousness. ‘Green-washing’ and superficial claims by companies on eco-friendliness will be looked down upon. Brands will have to walk the talk and be transparent on their sustainability practices.

When preparing for 2021, it is important to begin with an understanding of consumers post-COVID, especially how have her priorities, lifestyles and preferences changed.

Marketers should also revisit the purpose of the brand and check if it is still relevant or does it seem tone-deaf or out of sync with the new sensitivities. Thereafter, tweak the brand plans and media mix.

Functionally, the top three skills needed in marketing are digital consumer intelligence, eCommerce and the latest digital marketing skills such as TikTok, Instagram and WhatsApp. That said, every market has been impacted differently based on the severity of infections, the number of cases, the extent of lockdown, the financial and macroeconomic implications. It is important to have talent that understand local nuances and their implications. Furthermore, with things changing constantly, the importance of moving fast has never been greater. We are looking for people are comfortable doing great work while moving fast.

Melita Teo, chief customer and digital officer, AIA Singapore

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For tech-savvy youths, the digital transition began long before the pandemic, but COVID-19 hastened the adoption of online transactions for more mature customers. What this means for the future is greater integration of martech solutions in marketing planning and campaigning. Brands will have to double down on ensuring the online customer experience is intuitive, easy to understand, and fast to fulfil.

As opposed to seeing trends fade, we will likely see a shift in priorities with businesses pivoting their focus towards driving online engagement and enhancing the customer experience.

From building smart mobile apps that use AI to predict customer needs to harnessing data analytics to develop more customer-centric solutions, the term “online” extends to so much more than just the internet or a website nowadays.

Digital transformation should be a priority for all CMOs moving forward. It’s time to start viewing tech as an enabler, not a replacement to human touch. With social distancing likely to remain the new norm, AIA Singapore is ramping up our investment in data-driven personalisation to enhance our insurance representatives’ remote customer servicing efforts.

Marketers will now need to balance high-touch and human-touch to create a simpler, faster, and better customer experience as we transition to an organisation of the future. What we are looking for is digitally-minded people who are agile and open to learning, so they can adapt to the changing needs and demands of customers across multiple channels and touchpoints.

Kelvin Tan, head of customer and marketing (retail business) at NTUC FairPrice Group

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I see four major trend occurring which will continue to be of relevance in 2021. These are in areas such as: The surge in food consumption behaviours which point towards home cooking; the rise of more value conscious shoppers given the economic climate alongside indulgent ones given the inability to travel overseas; the growth of all things digital including new ways of digital selling, reinforced ecommerce, live streaming, etc; and last but not least, more health conscious shoppers especially the expansion of health supplements and fitness regimes.

As such, I am on a look out for marketing team players who are able to connect the dots from an end to end perspective from awareness building to fulfilment, bearing the ability to pivot and respond to such new trend shifts by focusing on the customers relentlessly.

Praveen Rajan, CMO, Digi Telecommunications

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As reliance on technology increases, we will see more emphasis on lead generation activities and direct marketing as marketers go where the people are. Marketers will leverage more on digital means like selling via video and webinars and continue to invest into eCommerce as a way of selling and advertising.

Marketers will likely shift budgets away from traditional out-of-home media and commute-related media like train station advertising to focus on reaching people via their phones and in their home. For example, we would potentially see short to mid-term increased ad spend on local news portals as more people go online to seek the latest information on the pandemic.

Online to offline commerce where online platforms serve as foot traffic conversion method for retail stores will take a back seat for a short while. Instead we will see more of offline to online or mainly online being used by retailers to complete a sale.

The way of work among clients with creative agencies will also change. Countless hours will be saved from dreaded pitches and brainstorms as clients will be more focused on maximising results from virtual meetings.

Media and creative teams should be more liberated especially when working with clients, with the freedom and leeway to experiment or give new ideas to reach a common goal. Marketers can start preparing for 2021 in these three ways:

1. Equip the sales channel: Upskill to learn live video streaming to sell and figure out how to use recorded video and streaming to get your brand messages across.
2. Online presence: Get there now. Pick an ecommerce platform. Ask whether you already have or can build the capabilities needed to manage these platforms. If you do not, outsource it quickly.
3. Review your media mix: Ask yourself how much should go to media for outdoor or commute as opposed to home and content. Can you drop certain things? Remember that more brands will also go online, so pick your battles.

Digi is always looking for people who have the courage to create things. We need people who can learn on-the-go and are not afraid to challenge the norms, and have the courage to be agile, to adapt and change quickly. In Digi, with innovation 360 at the heart of our business, we have built a culture that gives our people the freedom to explore, innovate and develop

Schrene Goh, EVP of marketing, Pos Malaysia

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The pandemic this year has made us more agile and innovative, in thinking of out-of-the-box solutions. As businesses shift online with more social sellers, it’s very important for marketers to focus their strategy on efficiencies in these three key areas :

  • Digital: To provide customers with end-to-end mobile first solutions. With good data collection, we can enhance analytics and remarketing to provide better customised offers.
  • Content: To create good content that is customised based on audience and platform. Today, consumers are not concerned about unpolished videos. In fact, they love it because it is more genuine!
  • Customer experience: To respond with real-time information and solutions, which is greatly appreciated by today’s customers.

Meanwhile, gone are the days where 360 marketing campaigns and longform content was pre-planned, with long production lead time. We need to ride on current trends, consumer needs and consumption behaviour. First of all, reevaluate all of the marketing strategies that were set out earlier, and prioritise areas that are scalable, despite the pandemic. Look into new opportunities for products and services in the new norm, and be ready to make adjustments on the go. Secondly, all marketing plans need to be nimble and modular, in anticipation of any future Movement Control Order.

Besides the all-essential marketing skill sets with strong digital knowledge, a good marketer should possess a good entrepreneurial mindset that looks at every situation as an opportunity. After all, it is a marketers’ job to find any opportunity to make a product or service desirable to achieve our revenue targets.

The other essential skill for today’s world is problem-solving. I know I have found the right candidate during an interview when the candidate’s face beams with energy and starts to propose solutions when they hear about the company’s challenges.

Sutapa Bhattacharya, general manager for strategic communication and branding, Tenaga Nasional

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One lesson learnt this year is that no matter what the situation - household expense budgeting, pulling back on spending - what works is to really listen to customers’, have a meaningful role in peoples’ lives that gives them real solutions to real problems.

Leading to loyalty built on trust in tough times. Other trends will be investment in technologies and data to better understand customers, reaping the rewards of integrating martech and adtech, to enable ever-clearer insights into the actions and preferences of customers towards greater customer centricity. And the growing use of digital channels and platforms as even the elderly and the resistant embrace digital.

On the other hand, consumers' trust in mid-tier influencers is disappearing fast, to be replaced by measurable social advertising. Micro-influencers, such as close friends, will remain, and celebrities will continue to play their role. Non-profitable platforms that exist only on the promise that it is their subscribers that add value but have no advertising component, will have a hard time surviving in 2021 and beyond. Also, simply using data for enhancement of media plans will lose its relevancy. Rather, marketers will incorporate significant personalisation strategies in the creative process to improve overall brand experience.

To prepare for the upcoming year, marketers can use martech (digital and analytics) for better understanding and impacting of the buying cycle, from tools to improve conversations and conversions, to new ways of analysing complex data sets.

This can drive innovation and results by finding creative new ways to implement multi-channel strategies.

Given what we have just experience, the following will be the type of skills needed going forward:

  • Being adaptive and agile; the ability to adapt to changing circumstances – and seize the opportunity it brings and fast response times;
  • The smart use of digital platforms and tools – to drive productivity and better serve customers and drive results;
  • Ability to seamlessly combine of pre- and post-Covid ways of working; we may see both wfh and working on-site combinations; and
  • Continued sensitivity to the needs and experiences of customers.

Santharuban Thurai Sundaram, CEO, Advend Group of Companies and ex-SVP marketing and alternate business, Etika

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The most apparent one here is a shift in retail and buying/purchase behaviour alongside an increased e-wallet adoption and online buying behaviour. Most of these trends are not new news. What has happened however is the speed in which the change is taking place is a lot more accelerated thanks to COVID. This will see more online or digital marketing spends across most brands.

In my view, print will be the first to go. While the drop in print is inevitable, the pandemic has restricted circulations, which in turn has broken the much needed habit of reading the newspaper, which has singularly kept print afloat. Secondly, with a higher rate of working from home, and future mandate across most organisations to reduce workplace size there will be lesser traffic congestions in the morning and evening, and this will substantially reduce radio listenership during the prime time and shave off quite a bit from the radex as well.

In preparation for 2021, marketers need to be sensitive to change in the consumer behaviour and reaction.

There will be a significant switch in consumer behaviour and consumption pattern, and this will be true even for media consumption. Try and be ahead of the curb and where possible, take some risks.

Meanwhile, I am still seeking same set of skills that I have always been looking for. Someone with common sense, right working attitude, highly adoptable and most importantly - entrepreneurial. In my experience, this combination is very rare. What will bring a company forward is a strong entrepreneurial skill, this is singularly the strength of most start-ups and such an employee will steer the organisation through, pandemic or otherwise.

Dionisius Nathaniel, CMO, Halodoc

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, many people have adjusted their behaviour and are more inclined to utilise digital technology, we also see this changing behavior in how people consume their information. With the restrictions on movement imposed by the government to curb the COVID-19 transmission, we recognise the acceleration of new media behaviour (digital platforms) and the increasing TV screen time, which we foresee will remain until next year. These result in the utilisation of more virtual-based channels, such as digital ads, webinars, social media filters and TikTok.

Meanwhile, there is a high probability that companies will refrain from putting their investment on channels that are traffic-based dependent, as for the time being many people remain cautious to go to the public places and the continuation of work from home arrangement.

Based on our internal data regarding the customer behaviour, we try to adapt by adjusting and optimising our marketing investment, and content strategy. We make more use of our own channels such as website, application and social media, while at the same time continuing our investment on mass reach channels, with the aim of continuously optimising and balancing between our return on ad spend and reaching our target audience. We also promptly modified our content to be more educative and relevant to the trend, focusing on content that people crave for, especially on educational content in line with the current situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a very valuable lesson as marketers, it turns the world upside down and we shall not survive if we stick to the routine. With the ever-changing landscape, at Halodoc, we expect our marketing team to have a sharp mind and nimbleness, where they are expected to be able to observe, analyze the situation, adapt, and adjust the strategy in a short period of time, as in marketing, the right timing and right content play a major role in reaching the right audience.

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