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Ask the Experts: Charlotte McEleny of the Drum on the State of Marketing in APAC

We recently spoke to Charlotte McEleny, The Drum’s Asia Publisher, about her view on the state of marketing in Asia Pacific.


Tell us a bit about The Drum’s role in keeping people in marketing and advertising informed about their own industry.

The Drum is a global marketing publication aimed at keeping people informed about what’s happening in marketing and advertising. We believe marketing can change the world, and we want to encourage the industry to also believe that what they’re doing is contributing to the world in a positive way. Some of the ways we communicate with our audience include news, content and events. 


For B2C brands, what is their view of marketing technology in 2020, both generally and in relation to the current global situation (COVID-19)?

For B2C brands, the answer to both is actually the same, but the current situation amplifies it. In a lot of the conversations I have with brands, they’re looking to do better at e-commerce. They want to make it more human and more representative of the experiences that people have offline. There is an ongoing omnichannel conversation, and we’re seeing trends colliding and advertising and marketing technology needs to support that. 

Technology such as AI is making marketing a lot more efficient and relevant. These have always been long-term goals of brands, but with people at home more and lacking social interactions, such as shopping or talking with friends about brands they love or recent purchases they’ve made, they are going to want those interactions to happen online. Brands need to be smart and figure out how to capture offline experiences and put them online.

In terms of examples of where this can work, we can look to China for examples. The citizens there have been in isolation for some time, and big tech brands have been able to use their advertising and marketing capabilities to reach people. For example, streamed a nightclub experience online, sponsored by alcohol brands. This is new because clubbing is not typically something that people do in their living rooms, and hopefully those brands can play on this experience as things go back to normal. There will be data for the brands, retargeting opportunities and goodwill towards the brands for the future. 


How do you think marketing technology fits into digital transformation for businesses overall?

Digital transformation is tough because every business is different, but one trend I see overall in terms of marketing technology is that marketing often leads the way in innovation. Marketers are closer to consumers and often have a better understanding than other operations in the business of what they’ll do next. They’re often trying to build in smart tools and solutions, but the business overall might not be ready for that yet. 

At the moment, COVID-19 has been a shock, and many businesses are realizing that they have not been quick enough. They may have some marketing technology set up, and COVID-19 is making them realize that they need to look forward. They will need to be more digital and aim to be better businesses after the economy bounces back. 


How do you think brands view the role of AI in business in general and in marketing?

Tech and its adoption often go through hype cycles, and I feel as though there was a downturn for AI – a period when people felt like they had heard about it too much and were a bit pessimistic about it. This often happens when technology gets exciting and lots of players claim to be doing it. However, I feel like we’re coming out of that phase, and people are willing to talk about it again, particularly in terms of case studies. Brands know AI is something they have to put into the business at some point, but there’s still some confusion about what that means for them. That will improve as they start to see more use cases and success stories. 


You have a unique vantage point on the region – what kind of information are brands and marketers craving right now, particularly in regard to the global situation?

The Drum itself was planning a lot of physical events for this year, and we still need to do something with that content. It’s still relevant, it just can’t be delivered in the same way, but people still want the information. 

For example, we’re running our Digital Transformation Festival online for six weeks. This is a big topic. Consumer behaviors are going to change in the short term around the virus situation. Brands want to leverage any intelligence or insights they can get on customer behavior to understand these changes so that ad campaigns can be especially relevant. This intelligence could come from their own data, or from other brands that have anonymized data on search history for example. There are opportunities for businesses to provide insights into how people are spending their time. Everyone wants to consume content and be entertained during this time. This is a good opportunity for brands, but getting to people in the right way is the challenge. This is what brands and advertisers want information on. 


Do you think marketers need to be more tech-savvy, or can existing tech platforms solve any issues on this front?

Big companies with a lot of first-party data should build some maturity of understanding within the business. However, this is only within reach of major organizations that have a lot of data about their own users. Eighty percent of brands probably don’t have this, so it’s not feasible for businesses to build this in-house every time. Tech platforms help bridge that gap. You need a savvy person or two to understand how the solutions work together to keep on top of what consumers are doing. This is going to continue to be important in the future, not just in relation to the current global virus situation. 


Charlotte McEleny is The Drum’s Asia Publisher, charged with finding all the interesting advertising and marketing news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. She is based in Singapore, and prior to her role as Asia Publisher, she spent 10 years working across London-based marketing trade magazines, winning awards such as Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her time as digital editor at Marketing.


* Read more from our “Ask the Experts” series, and see what we have discussed with other thought leaders about AI, digital marketing, data, technology, and more. 


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