Heading east: Asian marketing capabilities

With recent research claiming that 40% of global economic activity is now occurring in Asia, a region that is expected to lead world growth over the next decade - the buzz in this area shows no signs of abating any time soon. As we ourselves are expanding our presence in Asia with the opening of a Singapore office, we’ve recently been having some intriguing conversations with Asian leaders to understand what it takes to flourish in this region. We’re excited about what we have heard about the business challenges as well as the opportunity for capability building - and we want to share our reflections with you.

5 exciting things we’re hearing:

1. Marketing is seen as a critical enabler

With reports of economic growth slowing-down in some countries, it’s no surprise that competition is intensifying by the minute – more so for organisations that lack differentiation or operate with a business model that is not centred on understanding customers and delivering a superior customer experience. The positive news is that marketing is recognised as a critical enabler: building differentiation for brands and championing customers at all touch points. Leading companies recognise that investment in marketing capability development is key to driving organisational growth.

Marketing skills and ways of working are currently viewed by many we spoke to as patchy and not as established as global companies might expect. Given this, companies are not wasting time in investing in their marketing teams to ensure they aren’t left behind. We’ve recently been working with a leading global food business to help them create a simple assessment tool from an existing global capability framework. This tool will not only allow line managers to appraise the skill levels of their teams and but also offer data to create a bespoke capability strategy and plan to ensure the needs of the individual and region can be best met. Its initiatives such as this that leverage global ways of working but in a tailored way to meet the teams’ specific needs, that will effectively grow the business, and also motivate and develop the individual.

2. Marketers face huge trailblazing opportunities

While we witness a slowing of economic growth in some areas, emerging growth markets remain exciting. The spotlight on Myanmar is brighter than ever, with a recent McKinsey study claiming that ‘Managed well, Myanmar could conceivably quadruple the size of its economy, from $45 billion in 2010 to more than $200 billion in 2030.’ With global agencies like JWT and consultancies such as KPMG establishing themselves in this country, the need for client-side marketing talent is evident.

Markets such as Myanmar are seen to have true ‘trail-blazing’ opportunities for marketers to make their mark. Local Myanmar companies such as KBZ Bank are hiring ex-pats from international organisations and sending local talent for extensive, regular training with partner banks across Asia. Marketing leaders who understand how to grow in genuinely developing markets, (i.e. leaders who know how to market from scratch) – for example with previous experience building business in places like Mongolia - will find themselves with career-changing opportunities ahead.

3. Capability building is a secret weapon

From our conversations it was clear that the Number 1 challenge on most CMO agendas is attracting and retaining talent. As people are easily mobile across the region, organisations are seeing the need to build organisational/corporate capability as well as individual capabilities. This is about creating common ways of working and common beliefs that new hires can be quickly brought up to speed on - and it’s also about building corporate know-how in how to deliver marketing excellence.

Many organisations see capability building as a means to retain talent, investing in initiatives like a 3-year capability programme so new hires can see the development opportunities ahead and therefore see the value in staying. More and more leading organisations are doing this in the expectation that building a long term, tiered programme will grow retention.

For example, UBS, 2013 winners of the ‘Kaplan Professional Award for Best Training, Learning & Development’ at the HRM Awards have made significant investment in their leadership and development programme in Asia– not only do they have a physical structure to facilitate the learning (their business university), they have an extensive talent development curriculum that ensures employees across all levels of the business are engaged and equipped to grow and deliver results for the business.

4. Organisations are ready to make the leap into and beyond Digital

While talent attraction and retention is the number 1 challenge CMOS are facing, improving digital capabilities of organisations and marketers is seen as the number 1 capability gap amongst everyone we spoke to.

As Liz Miller, Vice President of the CMO Council recently noted: “It is clear that marketers across the region are ready to run into a digital future, but as the hyper-connected digital consumer continues to evolve, marketers must invest in the people, processes and platforms that will better predict and prepare for these engagement opportunities.”

While some companies are flourishing in the area of digital - for example Intel ,who have 3.5 million people consume and interact with their social media content across Asia Pacific - most organisations are prepared to invest in up-skilling in this area but are not always sure where to turn. The key challenge they’re facing is how they can ‘leap frog’ all the current noise and clutter about what they could be doing in digital and actually get involved. What excites us is the openness organisations clearly have to re-orient themselves around the customer – there is recognition that growth in the digital age must be customer-centred.


Click here to read more about how we helped strengthened AkzoNobel’s digital capability with a focus on social marketing.

5. There is a huge opportunity for marketing leadership

We’ve recently been hearing from a number of diverse, leading companies that the marketing leadership skills in Asia are not yet where they need to be to truly drive effectiveness and performance in this changing landscape. Many have attributed this to the fact that the marketing field is not as long-established as other areas around the world, leaving those marketers coming into leadership roles without coaches from an ‘established’ generation of leaders before them and in turn, challenged to offer this same coaching to the generation of emerging leaders behind them.

The great news is that organisations are not only aware of this challenge, but are actively making changes to close this leadership gap. A 2013 survey revealed that 46% of Asian companies plan to spend more on leadership training, compared to 37% of North American-based companies and 34% of European-based companies. Impressively, almost half of companies with $5-$20 billion in revenues expect to increase spending in this area in the next 12 months*.

We’re already seeing fantastic examples of marketing leadership emerging from this region; we’ve been discussing with a new CMO based in Singapore who feels that their marketing function is too focused on marketing communications. To redirect this focus their aim is to redefine the vision, role and purpose of marketing in a holistic, strategic way - with growth being driven by bringing the voice of the consumer into the organisation and building the brand ‘beyond the logo’. The critical aspect of this approach is that Marketing is doing this with their counterparts in HR – a partnership that demonstrates a long-term commitment and investment in marketing talent to deliver growth.

As creating a stronger marketing community and sharing learning cross company is being collectively seen as a ‘must-do’, we are excited about the opportunity to feed the learning culture in Asia. Clearly the region is ready for change and poised for marketing excellence.

See you soon in Singapore!

*Source: Elmer, Vickie. "The market for executive leadership training in Asia is booming." www.qz.com. Quartz, 31 July 2013. Accessed 23 April 2014.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s marketing capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Marketing Capability.

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