Freddie Covington, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing and Cross Border, Asia Pacific, Visa, is chairing this year’s WARC Prize for Asian Strategy. She spoke with WARC’s Lucy Aitken describe why CMOs need to be on a constant learning journey and why business strategy has to underpin marketing strategy.

Describe your day job and what its biggest challenges are right now.

The role of the CMO is really evolving. One reason I was keen to chair this year’s WARC Prize for Asian Strategy is because CMOs have to be on a constant learning path. There’s so much disruption going on right now, especially in tech. You can be someone like me with more than 20 years of experience but you still wake up every morning thinking you know nothing. If you want to be great at your job, you have to learn about the customer and relearn what they want. This starts with insight, especially with millennials and Gen Z, because they have very different expectations around work and life in general. Everything we thought we knew about the customer, we need to relearn. Meantime, everything about tech and infrastructures is also changing. So, on a typical day, I’m leading and learning, reconfiguring the capabilities in my team.

What are the biggest challenges facing marketers in Asia?

The need to drive growth. You have to be super business savvy – I’ve never had to use my MBA as much as I do now that I’m preparing financial forecasts and implementing strategic decisions. I’m not there as the ad expert or the person unveiling the show reel.

There’s also no such thing as ‘Asia’ because every single market is figuring out its own way. China has its own way of doing its own marketing, while Indonesia can no longer be run as part of South East Asia. There’s very heavy local regulation in every market so we need to be operating much more locally and that makes it a lot harder.

How are agencies helping them meet those challenges?

Agencies are having a really hard time. It’s not new to say that – we’ve been talking about agencies struggling for a while. But now we’re seeing clients starting to in-house. A lot of it is about billing by the hour. We have to think differently. Creative agencies could learn from media agencies and innovate, aligning payment with client business goals.

What role can strategy play in helping to meet those challenges?

It’s all about strategy. You’ve got to have a really great customer strategy and know your customer through different sources of information. What are they doing throughout the day and where are they doing it? Why are they on their phone? What meal are they consuming? These journeys have become critical as we need to understand the user experience and write a strategy for marketing that includes not just a comms strategy but something that can yield growth. That’s a different type of strategy because it’s a business strategy that underpins the marketing strategy. In the WARC Prize for Asian Strategy, we’ll be looking for entries that demonstrate strategy: do they show new ways of gathering inputs? What are the real-time inputs they brought to bear in the strategy? What’s the user experience? Where’s the customer journey?

What is your pet hate when you are reading case studies that have been entered for awards?

You can smell a mile away if it’s a phony case. The tell-tale sign is if all the KPIs are measured in terms of social mentions to cover up the lack of business results. There have got to be business results. Another tell-tale sign is when there’s a clever creative strapline that comes from the agency but there’s nothing much more than that, and no thinking on the media strategy. If the creative and media aren’t well aligned, you can tell it’s phony.

Which particular markets are you hoping to see work from in this year's Asia Prize?

I’d like to see work from Cambodia and Myanmar. There’s a lot of talent in Cambodia, it reminds me of Thailand a few years ago.

The WARC Prize for Asian Strategy has, over the past few years, attracted a lot of purpose marketing campaigns. Do you think that tradition will continue this year?

Purpose is still very in vogue. I worry that people confuse purpose with CSR scam campaigns. When it’s a CSR mechanism instead of a truly purpose-driven campaign, it shows.

What, in your view, is the biggest advantage of collecting a body of work together in this competition every year?

It’s the sheer variety. Through a large body of work, we can see the difference in business strategy. And the larger the body of work, the more we’ll be able to see what’s unique about these markets.

What advice would you like to offer the entrants of this year's Prize?

It’s nice to be surprised. Don’t use the tried-and-tested recipe, i.e. the client had this problem, we found this information and prepared this solution. I’d like to read case studies that show how they struggle, failed and tried again. Tell the truth and explain your journey, the trials and tribulations and, most importantly, the failures. That’s what makes a great case study. The entries that are most authentic are the ones that will win.

The deadline for entries for the 2019 WARC Prize for Asian Strategy is 10 July. Please email or take a look at the WARC Prize for Asian Strategy page for more details. Entry is free and 22 of the region’s finest minds are on this year’s jury.