In a significant marketing move earlier this year, StarHub named Jeannie Ong as its first chief marketing officer.
Previously the senior vice president of corporate communications and investor relations for StarHub, Ong is still leading areas of corporate communications, investor relations and corporate sustainability; as well as leading StarHub’s marketing and its customer value management team.
She tells Marketing that the role is not new to her, having overseen the marketing communications and branding team, in addition to the corporate communications and investor relations functions, in her second year at StarHub in 2002.
Following that she moved into investor relations for the company. “I never really left the marketing role completely as I continued to be one of StarHub’s brand custodians,” she says.
“Three months into the role, I found out that everyone has different expectations of a CMO’s role,” says Ong.
She added that she rarely sees CMOs holding the combined portfolio of corporate communications, corporate sustainability & responsibility, customer value management, investor relations, as well as loyalty and retention, in addition to marketing, as she currently does.
“Hence, I admit I was rather overwhelmed when everyone tried to tell me what a CMO should be doing,” she says.
“But, my role is unique and it is up to me to define it. So, I will do the things that I know best and do them well,” she added.
Big data and digital focus
Going ahead, big data and digital marketing is a focus for Ong.
StarHub currently has a team examining big data, customer value management, retention and loyalty, as well as a team for marketing activities and creativity.
The idea is to push for better synergy amongst the teams and have better realignment of roles.
For digital marketing, paid, earned and owned media are gaining importance and the brand is looking to invest in all three aspects.
And while the brand has done well in using social media, the team recognises that accountability and transparent conversation with customers can be a double-edged sword, and the goal is to better connect with the online community, says Ong.
The restless consumer
A recent global survey of Loyalty Sentiment by Nielsen to evaluate consumer views on loyalty levels various product categories showed locals to be the most loyal to internet services, finance, mobile or retail.
However, Ong highlights the persistent challenge for CMOs is of cultivating loyalty and sustaining growth for the business.
“The rise of technology, accelerating pace of change and globalised marketplace have created increasingly savvier and less loyal consumers who are well-connected, quick to compare brands and vocal about their experiences,” says Ong.
CMOs have to chart and lead company-wide initiatives that will anticipate and answer evolving buying patterns. “As products and services offered by companies become increasingly homogeneous, the key differentiator would be the customer service experience”, she says. And one way to raise this level is by leveraging on big data, which would allow a brand to customise experiences for the consumer.
Also, the rise of social media poses a challenge. Social media, rather than traditional media platforms, is now the go-to source when consumers wish to find out more about a product. Besides being informative and responsive, a good social media platform need to proactively and frequently engage the consumers.
As for her take on agencies, Ong echoes the age-old answer that the client-agency relationship is like a marriage, citing that she believes in long-term ones.
“I acknowledge that the StarHub business is complex and it takes time for an agency to familiarise itself with our industry and our fast pace. It is hence worthwhile to establish longer term partnerships with our agencies,” she says.
She was responsible for hiring DDB in 2005 she adds, and the relationship has been great so far. “It was very much love at first sight. Of course, the fact that their leader supports the same football club that I do certainly helped,” she adds.
As for StarHub’s other agencies, media agency Mindshare and social media agency Vocanic, these have been with the brand since 2009 and 2010 respectively.
StarHub’s evolving brand image
StarHub was the last telco to join the arena in 2000 and merged with Singapore Cable Vision, then the only pay TV operator in Singapore.
It pushed for market share with campaign taglines such as “Make The Change” and “Power To The People”.
Following that, StarHub Group’s service offerings expanded to include pay TV, broadband and fixed phone lines, besides mobile services. Within five years of operations, it became Singapore’s second largest mobile operator, in terms of both revenue and subscribership.
The company then moved into its “Hubbing” brand idea, to represent the convergence of its platforms.
Now, it has moved into positioning itself as a connector, moving into its “Home Is Where the Heart Is” tagline, which also sees the brand infuse a strong corporate sustainability and responsibility element in its brand image. Initiatives such as Project Family Time, which had the brand arranging to have families have reunion meals together are an example.
Another initiative was StarHub’s MySmartEye, a mobile app that enables a global community of smartphone-using micro-volunteers to aid the visually impaired. The visually impaired will be able to use the app to snap a picture, and share it in real-time with micro-volunteers who have installed the app. These volunteers can describe the picture, and their replies are read out over the visually impaired’s phone.
This Christmas Eve, over100 StarHub staff will also spend the morning with less privileged children.
“Looking ahead, my wish is for a deeper integration of our CSR and marketing efforts. We can pride ourselves on having a reliable network, being innovative and offering excellent customer service. But at the end of the day, when it is a level playing field, what differentiates us would be our strong and emotive brand,” says Ong.