how-to-lead-the-way-through-adaptation-in-apac

This is part of an article series for the Power List 2022, created in partnership with Twitter as part of their global #LeadersforGood initiative.

Like all other industries, marketing has seen immense changes throughout the last few years. Shifting dynamics and consumer behaviours, compounded and catalysed by the pandemic, have forced brands to adapt at a near-constant rate — whether through technological innovation, driving community engagement, or bolstering inclusive representation. However, those who do so boldly and effectively aren’t just surviving the times, but leading the way and changing the game in their respective industries.

Mitchell Kreuch, managing director, Southeast Asia at Twitter, Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Power List partner, agrees. “The world around us is changing fast. And as marketers, we experience that speed more than ever. Whether you are a creator, entrepreneur, or brand planning your next big launch, change will be part of your journey and it will be never-ending,” said Kreuch.

“These past few years, we have seen brands evolve and adapt to stay connected with their audience. As our society transitions into a hybrid community, Twitter continues to innovate to help build an environment where people can connect with their communities and brands can deepen relationships with their audience in a meaningful way.”

In that spirit, we asked three marketing leaders from the 2022 Asia-Pacific Power List — whose brands cover retail, entertainment, and fast-moving consumer goods — about how their companies have evolved for the better.

Set trends, instead of just following them

Partaking in trends is a great way to ensure your brand is part of the zeitgeist, but visionary leaders don’t just follow trends — they’re at the vanguard, inspiring others and changing the game. For Rvisra “Ten” Chirathivat, CMO of Central Department Store and Robinson Department Store, the strategy is “always aiming to be the trendsetter” instead of following the crowd.

That trailblazing spirit, combined with long-term vision, was instrumental in helping Central Retail weather the Covid storm. As a primarily brick-and-mortar business, the department stores were forced to pivot to digital when pandemic restrictions hit. Understanding that “essentially, our customers are not all the same,” the company ramped up its omnichannel presence to tap into consumer preferences: a remote personal shopper experience; “Chat & Shop” social commerce; shopping livestreams hosted by the Central and Robinson sales staff. 

As Chirathivat puts it, innovation itself isn’t the goal, but a tool to be leveraged so the company can “invest in something that provides sustainable growth or a sustainable future,” she said. She credits Central Retail’s omnichannel strategies in helping “save not just the company, but also our people,” as the company was able to avoid layoffs and closures due to the strength of online sales. Meanwhile, the livestreams, which “really empowered our people to step up and upskill themselves,” also had the unexpected benefit of turning the staff into influencers for their brands.

Start important conversations through powerful storytelling

When it comes to driving change, storytelling is one of the most important and inspiring tools there is. Regardless of medium, effective storytelling has the power to be thought-provoking, emotionally resonant, and change-inducing all at once.

It’s something that Jessica Beaton, executive director, head of content marketing (APAC) for Disney+ & Theatrical, understands keenly, and sees the company doing through its regional strategy for Disney+. Beyond offering its vast library of existing content, Disney has rolled out “an ambitious plan to greenlight 50 APAC originals by 2023 for its streaming platform.”

In doing so, Disney is casting a vote of confidence in local content creators, said Beaton, and leveraging its storytelling heritage and creative excellence to “bring world-class storytelling to our global platform.” Citing Snowdrop, a Disney+ Korean drama starring Blackpink’s Jisoo and Korean heartthrob Jung Hae-in, Beaton said “streaming platforms can help elevate the work of local producers to reach broader audiences outside their home markets.” Evidently, they’re onto something, as the romantic drama has already become one of the top five most-watched titles in most of Asia on Disney+.

Beyond its work in fostering local creative talent, the initiative is also driving inclusion within the company itself. Beaton, who called APAC marketers “leaders in storytelling,” said the plan provides an “exciting” opportunity for “our local teams to shine” by “[helping] us take the best APAC content to the world.”

Director for Julie’s Biscuits, Sai Tzy Horng, also relies on powerful storytelling to steer his brand’s marketing efforts — though he takes a more personal approach. Acknowledging that “brands have limitations” and “can’t cover everything,” Sai said that “often, the messaging that we do have [is related to] things that are very close to my heart.”

This is perhaps best exemplified in Julie’s viral Hari Raya ad, which turned traditional Raya advertising on its head and subverted media stereotypes about women — all while being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. “Of course, [female empowerment] is a topic that’s been often talked about in many parts of the world already. But in our case, we did it with lots of humour. And we flipped the script in the traditionally quite masculine society that is Malaysia,” said Sai.

Created “in response to people talking about Julie’s as if [it] existed in a vacuum,” Sai said the 2021 Hari Raya ad — which was the first long-form video content in the company’s history to engage the Malay community, had to be “very meaningful.”

Tap into communities, but do it authentically 

Sustaining the brand-community relationship has possibly never been more important. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every engagement ought to be rooted in a holistic view of the community, built around an authentic connection that ties back to the brand and its purpose.

For instance, while Central Retail’s digital success was enough to see the brand through tough times, Chirathivat said, “the physical store is [still] our key driver.”

To reignite customers’ excitement about the return of in-store shopping, Central and Robinson Department Store tapped into localisation to enhance the experience in its 75 stores across Thailand. Beyond stocking goods from local brands, Central and Robinson also enlisted Thai artists such as Gongkan and Alex Face to showcase their work in its stores, creating a sense of occasion and uniqueness while using its platform to amplify local talents.

Beyond the already-fractured nature of modern life, the pandemic also forced us to rethink our priorities. Consumers — who were already asking for more purposeful and authentic marketing — have increasingly chosen to “vote with their wallets” by patronising brands whose values align with their own.

However, not all community engagement campaigns are created equal. Sai — who

remarked that Julie’s Biscuits had fielded requests to speak up on behalf of specific communities — advocates taking a broader and more inclusive approach. “The way communities are talked about today is pretty divisive. As a brand, if we want to do good in the world, we can’t just say, ‘Oh, we’re going to talk to each community as if they’re independent of each other,’ right?”

Instead of silos, Sai sees audiences as “more intertwined and interlinked,” because topics such as female empowerment affect other “subsets of issues” such as gender or sexuality discrimination. “I think it’s important to talk about the underlying issues that span across communities,” he said.

This year, Julie’s delivered a follow-up to its first Hari Raya video ad which expanded the scope of the original “flip the script” concept further by discussing wider gender stereotypes, as well as cultural misconceptions (such as the celebration being exclusive to Malays) — all while maintaining the “satire and intelligence” that made the first spot such a conversation-starter.

Ultimately, Sai advises brands against speaking about issues they don’t have an authentic connection with. “To be an authentic brand, you need to peel away those layers to actually examine and evaluate who and what you really stand for,” said Sai. “Brands may be ready to champion [certain issues but not others], and I think that’s okay. They should come out to say they’re still grappling with those issues and they’re not ready to talk about them.”

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