M&C Saatchi Global brings branding unit Clear to Malaysia, hires Lim Sue-Anne

M&C Saatchi global's marketing and branding consultancy, Clear, has expanded into Kuala Lumpur with Lim Sue-Anne as MD. This marks Clear's third entry into Asia after Singapore and Shanghai. In her role, Lim (pictured) will spearhead Clear's brand reach and lead market expansion. 

Before joining Clear, she was chief data and strategy officer at Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia, where she drove integrated and strategic synergy at the group level. Lim also worked at McCann and Bates. She has 17 years of industry experience working with brands including Honda, Air Asia, Abbott Nutrition, and Celcom. Clear is a separate entity from ad agency M&C Saatchi Malaysia and Lim reports to Damian Symons, global CEO of Clear. Previously known as Clear Ideas, the agency was acquired by M&C Saatchi in 2007 for about US$22.8 million.

The new unit aims to offer rigorous transformative strategy and proprietary insights for brands seeking to close the experience gap or accelerate growth at a time of disruption and complex digital transformations. According to Clear, its core capability is in delivering clarity in insights and analytics, strategy planning and practical application to help businesses grow their top-line results via corporate, B2B, consumer and employer branding.

Clear currently works with Mamee and Celcom in Malaysia. Meanwhile, its global clients include Toyota, Abbott Nutrition, GSK, Virgin, Western Union, and Unilever. Some of Clear’s proprietary frameworks include but is not limited to growth mapping and segmentation, impact modelling, experience design, and business model innovation.

In a phone conversation with A+M, Lim said she was seconded to the New York office in February this year, with plans to launch clear on 1 May. However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans but with the Movement Control Order easing up, Lim said things are coming back to life. This is the moment where businesses need to recover, relook at their strategy and reset. In Asia, Clear has a team of five individuals in total and Malaysia has a headcount of three staff members.

Lim explained that the two strategists are a shared resource within the Clear network in Asia. "As we are new, we are currently very careful with expanding the team. We are going to be efficient by tapping into existing resources to ensure that the company grows to a comfortable size before deciding to hire. 

"I would like to help put more Malaysian businesses on the global map. Of course we will open our doors to everyone, big or small, but I feel that we can make more difference in local Malaysian brands," she said. Lim explained that Clear delivers more upstream work for clients as opposed to advertising or campaign plans. Having built a foundation for strategy planning throughout her career in the ad land, Lim is confident that her experience will help her deliver better up stream strategies for clients.

While other branding firms in the industry might be competitors, Lim clarified that the approach Clear takes is different. "They may take a top down approach, such as evaluating the skin of a brand. However, we work bottom up by doing rigorous audits with employees, as well as figure out the ideals of the management team and where the business is heading to," she said. 

While some might feel it would not be an ideal time to launch a new business in the midst of a pandemic, Lim said there is no worst or best time. “Businesses need strong brands and effective marketing to increase their valuation and reputation. A strong and well-managed brand with the right dose of aspiration maximises value during the best of times and minimises attrition during the worst of times," she said. 

To her, a strong and well-managed brand is one with a strong identity and vision. While MNCs have developed strong branding strategies, Lim said this aspect is often overlooked at SMEs as they are often focused on growing their business fast and their pipelines. According to her, companies that have never invested in branding would lack consistency in terms of the look, feel and tonality.  

We cannot view brands as just a logo. We need to understand how brands have evolved to become an ecosystem provider.

Building a collaborative approach with clients

Having been seconded to the US earlier this year and done an induction in the UK last December, Lim pointed out a main difference between clients in the West and those in Malaysia. According to her, the client-agency relationship in the West is more collaborative. "Over there, the process is more formative. Both parties know they don't have the answer to the problem and are willing to work together to get there. Over here, clients usually expect agencies to come with the solution, so that's the biggest cultural difference," she explained. 

As such, Clear wants to be more collaborative and be part of the clients' team. Lim said that her approach for the Malaysia market is to set that collaborative expectation from the beginning. "Clear is not an ad agency. We are here to ensure we build sustainable brands and part of that is how we operationalise the brand for the long term. We should get everyone engaged to ensure that what we propose gets buy in from the management at the same time," Lim said.

When asked if brands have been well-equipped to handle the changes brought about by the pandemic, Lim said this boils down to whether the business already has a pre-existing situation. She explained that it is not the pandemic the paralyses the business, but rather the existing underlying issues with the business that were left unaddressed. 

"The pandemic has taught us not to postpone addressing any brand issues. For some businesses, there might have been strategic priorities that were needed to be addressed However, because they were not pressing, businesses felt that they could continue amassing revenue without addressing them. That delay probably had a strong impact on businesses, causing them to shut," she explained.

Meanwhile, Clear's global CEO Damian Symons said Lim brings heavy weight and seasoned experience in creating value for clients in the areas of brand, innovation and experience.

"Many might raise an eyebrow about why this and why now. The truth is that as we emerge from the wreckage of COVID-19, client leaders need strong strategic thinking more than ever. They need best-in-class insights to ensure their brands continue to connect with evolving consumers’ demands, and deliver transformative products and services that are imaginative and innovative,” he added.

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