Tech in check: Clarks Shoes APAC head of digital Karen Chan

With over 15 years of experience in consumer marketing and franchise consulting, Karen Chan (pictured) spends her days as a digital marketer focused on building an APAC digital hub for the Clark Shoes brand as head of digital. She currently oversees the digital transformation across 13 markets.

Prior to joining C& J Clark, she leads regional digital marketing efforts for Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Coca-Cola. She was the former chief digital officer of Yum! Brands for over two years where she oversaw digital transformation for the region, and drove growth through launching regional e-commerce platforms across web and app, optimised CRM solutions and unlocking digital value from online to in-store with the introduction of AI.

This includes overeeing 15 markets and working closely with master franchisees to build digital capability in-market. She was also with Dominos and Coca-Cola in a regional capacity during her tenures there.

With increasing proportion of consumers browsing and buying interchangeably between e-tailer and traditional stores, Chan believes that the need to provide a seamless omni-channel user experience is core to winning in the new retail age. In this edition of "Tech in check" by Marketing, she shares her funniest tech blunders and how she overcame them.

Marketing: What was your first digital role like? 

My first digital role was as a production manager for a compact disc manufacturer in Sydney back in the 1990s. Those born after 1990s will have no idea what CDs are, but 1980s babies should remember upgrading from audio cassette tapes and spending pocket money on Jackie Cheung’s and Andy Lau’s CDs.

My clients include Microsoft (in the past, MS Office have to be loaded onto your computer via CD-Rom) and Polygram (Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997 in commemoration of Lady Diana was manufactured by the company I was working for). Think I still have dozens of them in storage somewhere.

Marketing: What about your biggest tech blunder?

I make tech blunders everyday, like allowing my four-year old son to download games on my phone (haven’t checked my credit card balance yet). One of the funniest faux pas was using Google Translate when Google just launched the service, which was more for comic relief and nothing like the Google Translate of 2018.

I was presenting to our potential Thai business partners, and trying to impress them with my digital prowess.  This saw me Google-translating the welcome note from English to Thai, in the proximity of “Welcome to Dallas. We look forward to working closely with you and become the industry leader in Thailand.”

Silence. Then one of the brave ones spoke out, “Actually, in Thai, it says - Sorry there is an error, this translation cannot be found.” I consoled myself for breaking the ice in the meeting.

Marketing: How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

I overcame all my mistakes by cracking up laughing and blushing from head to toe. As you get older, you realise laughter and able to laugh at yourself heals most things. I think we sealed the contract in the end, as my boss puts it, in spite of what I did.

Marketing: What are some of the common challenges you face with digital today?

The common challenge I face everyday is having so little time, but so much to learn.

I’m not a digital native so it takes a lot of conscious effort to embrace the process of rapid learning and equally rapid unlearning. Pokemon Go was cool a year ago and I just downloaded the app.

Marketing: Are there any digital trends which excite you or that you are wary of?

I’m excited by its possibilities and wary of its possibilities. When deep learning can compose jazz and paint like a human, and I hear my son having dialogues with Siri, I started asking myself existential questions.

Marketing: Any top tips for marketers and brands embracing digital?

There are so many shiny new “digital” toys out there that it’s easy to be distracted. To win in an intensely competitive environment, be laser-focused on your customers, technology is the enabler. Just ask Google, Waymo is not about replacing humans driving cars, but the way forward to safer and more convenient mobility.