Asean CMOs unprepared for digital complexity

update Chief marketing officers in region aware of changing online frontier, but feel ill-prepared to manage tide of social data, much less utilize it to shape marketing strategies, study finds.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--Chief marketing officers in the Asean region are well aware that today's business environment has gone digital, where it is strewn with user-generated social conversations about their companies and competitors. Yet, these senior executives are struggling to manage the digital complexity, much less manipulate social data to their advantage in their company's marketing strategies, according to IBM's Global CMO Study.

Faced with difficulty in monitoring the data deluge and responding to the chatter to engage consumers, most Asean CMOs said they were not sufficiently plugged into real-time conversations about their brands, IBM revealed at a media event here Friday, to announce regional findings from the study. Instead of understanding individuals to shape their marketing strategy, Asean CMOs were still focusing on understanding markets, Big Blue said.

Conducted between February and June this year, the survey comprised face-to-face interviews with 1,734 CMOs worldwide--of whom 70 were from Asean--spanning 19 industries and 64 countries. The study aimed to find out about these executives' goals and challenges. The global findings were unveiled earlier in October.

Some 76 percent of Asean CMOs said they expected a high to very high level of complexity their companies would have to master over the next three to five years. Globally, the figure was slightly higher at 79 percent.

Asean CMOs, however, fared lower than the global average in feeling prepared for this expected complexity. Only 40 percent from this region said they were ready for the digital era, compared to 48 percent worldwide. This represented a complexity gap--between being aware of the complexity and being prepared to address it--of 36 percent for Asean, compared to 31 percent for global, said Giuseppe Bruni, strategy and transformation lead at IBM Global Business Services, Asean, who presented the findings.

Asean CMOs are more unprepared than their counterparts worldwide because they are "struggling to get their basics right", Bruni told ZDNet Asia at a separate media roundtable.

On top of having to manage social media channels and social data, these CMOs also need to cope with the overall digitization of marketing and its far-reaching impacts, such as hiring talent with the right skills, experience and "digital IQ", he explained.

Globally, the top three causes for the lack of readiness were an explosion in data (71 percent), social media (68 percent), and increasing number of channels and device choices (65 percent).

In contrast, 81 percent of Asean CMOs pointed to financial constraint as the biggest reason for feeling unprepared, followed by the proliferation of social media, cited by 64 percent of respondents.

Technology to enable creativity
James Thompson, Asia-Pacific CMO at global alcoholic beverages company Diageo, said the marketing community so far has been concerned with "left brain" elements, including data, logic and capturing value and ROI (returns on investment).

"Now there's a need to get better at the right brain [such as] better ideas, better expression, more touch-points.

"Brands are not things that talk to people anymore, they're what people engage. Your brand needs to have a purpose and stand for something," said Thompson, who spoke at a panel discussion.

Nonetheless, the IBM study showed that CMOs were turning to IT investments to better manage the growing volume, velocity and variety of data. For the Asean region, 93 percent were looking at customer analytics tools to boost customer loyalty and advocacy, Bruni pointed out.

However, CMOs said they faced barriers executing and deploy such IT investments. The top inhibiter for 66 percent of Asean CMOs was the lack of alignment and consensus between marketing and IT. Cost was the next barrier at 63 percent, followed by the lack of ROI certainty at 61 percent.

So while Asean CMOs know that it "makes sense" to invest in IT to help manage data which will help deliver better marketing strategies, once they "sit down to write a business case [for it], they find it a challenge", Bruni said.

Asked whether this could be due to doubts over how far IT would be able to improve marketing, John Gallagher, vice president of marketing and communications for IBM's growth markets, said the argument "isn't just about left or right brain".

Gallagher, who was also in the roundtable, said marketing is about the "authentic character of your business or brand" that the company fills with ideas, values and cultures to resonate with its community of customers.

"The real advantage that technology brings is how you can [choose to] use it to engage your clients," he said. For instance, IT allows a company to collectively engage with customers to shape its brand, analyze consumer sentiment, or test and validate ideas, in real-time, he added.

Compared to the past, social media, device proliferation and the digitization of society have opened up dialogues--alongside consumer expectations of dialogues--instead of one-way brand-driven communications, he noted.

Technology such as analytics can help a company ensure how each of these dialogues represents a company's brand the way it wants, Gallagher concluded.

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