In conjunction with this year’s WARC Awards for Asian Strategy, this series aims to showcase perspectives from young strategists across Asia, highlighting their take on strategy as a marketing discipline and career path. This time, we talk to Indonesia’s up and comers.

As Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia recorded 7.07% growth in the April-June quarter compared with a year earlier, its first expansion in five quarters. But the road ahead remains rocky, as the country struggles to deal with the rapid spread of COVID-19 amongst its population of 276 million.

But amidst this gloomy state of affairs, the nation’s young strategists are keeping a close eye on developments and finding inspiration from their own curiosity-driven pursuit of game-changing insights. Indonesia has long been known for its tenacity and resourcefulness, and this holds true with the young strategists making their presence felt in a rapidly changing region.

Michael Purnama

Title: Senior Strategist

Company: Ogilvy Indonesia

Age: 26

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

As a kid, I was always interested in the arts but decided to take a more money-centric decision and studied business for my bachelor’s degree. In my college days, I had the chance to co-found a men’s hairstyling brand called “Smith Men Supply”. I was so captivated when I designed the concept, story, insight and campaign of this brand that I found myself staying up all night doing it. At that moment, I wasn’t even aware of such a thing as a job in strategy. I was enjoying my future job without realising what it was. 

My entrepreneurial pursuit ignited my interest, yet I need to thank my brother who inspired me to look closer at the world of advertising. Leroy, my brother, majored in advertising. He told me a legendary myth about how the whole Transformers movie was a big advertising campaign for their toy line-up, which got people to actually spend money to watch its ad. Although at the end of the day I found out that story was a lie, that lie got me intrigued enough to take advertising seriously. 

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work?

I’m an intuitive thinker. I always start from a hypothesis. It could be done through independent thinking, data gathering or from a collective brainstorm. In order to reach a sharp hypothesis, sometimes you need to question more than your answer, especially to the client.

With the hypothesis at hand, the most time-consuming act is to humanise it. The challenge today is that you can validate anything online. There are too many different views and everything can be true for a certain group of people. I find doing it the old way quite comforting. Simply walk outside the office and talk to a random stranger to understand real sentiments of everyday people. Finding the right person can also be a challenge; thankfully, living in Jakarta gave me reach to diverse people across social economic classes, occupations and different geographical origins. It’s not rare for strangers to avoid me because they think I want to sell them coupons.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

Marketing strategy for me is the supercharger of growth that has the capacity to add value to people’s lives. I think strategy is a connector between brands and humans. The marketing discipline exists to spark growth but I believe brands hold the capacity to not just sell but also add something to society. By that I don’t mean it always has to be a grand, mission-driven, purposeful campaign. I like what Piyush Pandey (the global CCO of Ogilvy) says. “Great advertising is not the awards you collect, it’s when your barber compliments your ad and sings your jingle”. I believe a small laugh, a small boost of confidence, some small chatter matter to the consumer’s day. Advertising can help make their day just a little bit better and brands use that as a means to spark growth.

What’s on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

If I had one wish, I would wish to do more hyper localisation work in my strategy. This is very personal because I live in Indonesia, a very vast country with very diverse human beings. As I get to know my country more, I see many more shades of different people in different areas. With that, I feel that the work done most of the time is centred mainly in the capital city of Jakarta, which does not represent all of Indonesia. Whereas when we discuss nation-wide campaigns, many clients expect us to be able to reach the deeper parts of Indonesia without any idea of what it actually is.

I hope to take more time to understand who we are actually talking to, in hopes that through personalisation and geo-targeting, we are able to expand the impact and growth of our initiatives.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

If I didn’t have to think about money, I’d want to be a rock star (just kidding). I think I have already fallen in love with the job. I found comfort in the balance of art and science that it provides, along with the dynamic nature of the industry.

Call me naive but I believe that through this job, I can still contribute something of good value to the consumer through brands and ideas. Because if we’re talking 10 years down the line, the flow of information would increase so rapidly that it’s easy to manipulate data that can shift a perception. Manipulation is never my cup of tea. For me, a strategist also plays a role of guarding the brand, which I take seriously.

In the future, I would hope to stay in this field and do this on a bigger scale, a more global reach and a more diverse set of brands and people. I’m really curious about knowing more of the world beyond what I know right now, with hopes that I can give something of value. Contributing a little to make people’s days a little bit better (without the manipulation).

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years? 

We’ve reached a certain liberation of information where having too much is the norm. This phenomenon can create a near post-modernistic view of the world where every view can be deemed right.

When we’re talking 10-15 years down the line, everyone in spite of age and background will have a dependency on digital. Hyper-personalisation can impact a generation so much that it’s possible for algorithms to blur what people think is right or wrong.

With these phenomena being set in motion right now, brands have an even more important role to play as a guardian. Brands need to put humanity at the centre of strategy, sticking up for what is right instead of taking the short-term option by manipulating data only for the sake of sales.

I believe that in the future, integrity comes first. With a balance of selling, data and integrity, we can achieve growth while having a good impact on future generations. As strategists, our role is to safeguard those initiatives, helping a brand to be more of a human than a product.

Sasya Anjani Pramono

Title: Sr Strategic Planner

Company: ROMP

Age: 32

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

Ever since I was in business school, I always knew that I had a different dream than others. I dreamt about jumping from one brand to another and exploring many industries instead of sticking to just one and having to commit to it. I know that I want to understand the limitless perspectives of business in an ever-changing way so I can enjoy my life with a little bit of spice and spark every single day. And then I discovered the perfect profession to do so when I learned about what a strategist does.

So after completing my master's degree, I immediately joined a well-known brand agency, Brand Union, as junior consultant. It was the first place where I learned all the basics and the complexity of being a true strategist. It got me more curious and excited about how to grow to be one of the best.

As my love for strategy and creative industry evolved, it finally led me into advertising. This vast and dynamic world allows me to learn more about the connection between culture, people and brand beyond just communication. Since then, every day has become a new day where I discover excitement, knowledge and challenges that helped shape me into what I am today, and it will continue to be.

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work? 

At ROMP, we approach our work with child-like curiosity and treat our work as a playground, so each day will never be the same. We are never afraid of exploring. There are days where the right approach is to go by the book. From getting the right insights through research and data, instil the findings to define the right strategy, develop a stimulus and collaborate with the creative to come up with an idea, and finally call it a day. But there are also days when we feel it's better to experiment with your gut and explore ways that were never done before using ideas or executions that clients have never seen before. And that's what makes ROMP, romp!

I believe this is what fuels the thrill of a strategist. Because the world we live in today is constantly moving and the people we are targeting can change their minds in a blink of an eye. So we need to adapt our ways of doing things as a strategist to find the best, most effective and precise strategy to answer the business and brand problem that we are solving.

The rest is to remember to do one thing at a time, so we don't get overwhelmed with our work. Because we do exhaust a lot of our brain thinking.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

For me, I have never positioned the work that I have done just as a marketing strategy or simply just selling my brands to the people they have targeted. Instead, it is about shaping our point of view on how the brands can deeply understand who they are talking to and what they can do to influence the consumers to think and do about the brands. So indeed, it requires extraordinary power to create those mindsets.

So as a strategist, we should never stop learning and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes every day. To understand their thoughts, recognise what they are longing for and find the solution to solve their tensions. Then we can understand and explore the right way to achieve our goals and solve whatever puzzle we face today.

What’s on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

Being a strategist doesn't mean you are stuck behind your desk alone, looking and researching data to form your thinking process. On the contrary, it will require a lot of heads. From fellow strategists to the account and creative teams, from clients to even the consumers themselves. Because there, you will find a different perspective that can help you deliver the right strategy. Yes, it does take a village.

So I think I wish for more collaboration, especially in today's unprecedented and disconnected world caused by the pandemic. But luckily, at ROMP, we are doing more and more of it so that connection can still happen despite the distance. Not just for the sake of the work but for the well-being needed for us to continue forward.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

It's easy to answer but difficult to foresee. I would say I will still be in the same industry and perhaps in the same company. Although by then, I would have expanded my skills and knowledge not just as a brand or communication strategist but also as someone with a wider role. I want to picture myself gaining more expertise and experience in the creative industry that makes my company and me the go-to consultant for businesses in Indonesia; while at the same time, nurturing young future strategists in university as a mentor or even lecturer to also make the advertising or creative industry in Indonesia become a “sexy” workplace again for the next generation.

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years? 

I think what will change dramatically is the dynamics of the world. The agility and adaptability of a strategist will be challenged, not just to understand the changes but how to change our way of working based on the advancement of digital technology and other innovations in marketing and communication that allow us to evolve as marketers.

As the years pass, I can see that the work of a strategist will get even more exciting and appealing. It could give us another opportunity to become more than we are today. And one thing is for sure, strategy and creativity will go more hand in hand (because it is not something that a machine can do even in 10-15 years). So by then, a strategist will not just think; he or she should think even more creatively.

Novianti Pudji Lestari

Title: Media Director – Planning and Strategy

Company: OMD

Age: 31

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

There are not many people blessed with a chance to meet someone that can see their potential. I consider myself lucky to meet a leader that saw my potency as a strategist. 

My journey started when I completed my Bachelor's Degree in Communication. I chose that major because of my interest in the advertising field from a young age. However, at that time, my younger self still had no clue about my life goals, so I finally took a roundabout route to discover my passion.

I tried a creative writing job in my initial career and joined a digital creative agency as a social media specialist. However, I found myself not enjoying the job and discovered my liking for data and the analytical field. And that is how I decided to change course from a creative agency to a media agency. Previously, I was responsible for media investment and planning in a media agency. 

Then I was accepted by OMD, focusing on evidence and data-driven insights to drive performance and growth. In this company, I met my CEO who sees my potential and guides me to become a capable strategist.

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work? 

As a strategist, I am responsible for the formulation and implementation of a strategy. I also take care of team collaboration to make sure the daily jobs are performed well. 

I am pretty obsessed with consumers' insight and seeing consumers' trends has become my hobby. However, I often find myself spending time thinking and observing. Before the pandemic, I took the commuter-line to get to work because in this way, I have a chance to observe the habits of mass consumers. I also like discovering different consumer behaviours in each region when I take business trips. And this is how I work, by observing and creating opportunities.

Sometimes, people should create their own opportunities and I do so by discussing many things with advertising and marketing colleagues. We discuss a broad range of topics, starting from recent issues, exchanging information and even sharing recent innovations. I also spend my time reading trend reports and joining webinars to stay updated on current issues. Because to be a good strategist, I must be invested in constant growth by willingly committing to lifelong learning.

In addition, I also often found myself observing social media during the pandemic. I gather information from the audience across social media platforms and then process them into structured insights. I processed the collected data and transformed it into social intelligence, comprehending the information and acting upon it.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

Personally, I define the marketing strategy as a balancer of the business and creative sides of marketing. A strategist works by planning for campaigns that engage both sides of the brain, the analytical and the creative. The strategist wears many hats to understand the brand's business side, deep dive the audience, keeping updated with trends and connecting with the creatives.

Basically, all businesses depend on media to get their products or services acknowledged by consumers in all circumstances. Putting together a campaign requires teamwork, from strategists who understand the brand and manage the necessary research to discover the insight that will resonate with the consumers, to the creatives who develop the tactical executions that deliver results for the brand.

So by defining the discipline of marketing strategy, a strategist should understand the problems at hand, then articulate the factors affecting the difficulties. A strategist is also responsible for making a judgment as to which factor to tackle first and identifying an opportunity. After defining an opportunity, a strategist should develop a clear set of plans and actions to achieve success.

What's on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

Building a great business is a product of teamwork. However, a strategist executes the plan and turns the ideas into something tangible that can be communicated. My wish list in terms of strategic thinking is to sharpen my future direction based on existing and predicted conditions. By doing so, I can use more comprehensive picture-thinking to synthesise the development of end goals.

A client may ask for strategies that will assure a more profitable or sustainable future. As a strategist, I should be able to provide an insight that engages and motivates. Because strategy is about a more extensive point of view, having a product roadmap rather than working on a single product. So I wish for courageous clients who have faith in us in planning strategies to achieve the final goals. 

I also cherish clients who trust us and give us access to the necessary data. This can build solid cooperation, where clients see the strategists as a legitimate option. After gathering data, professional strategists will make the vital combination of empathy, critical thinking and data skills to a degree where they can act upon them. 

I wish to be that kind of professional strategist who can solve the clients' problems and engage them in solid cooperation.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

In the next 5 to 10 years, I consider becoming a professional strategist. I am enjoying my job today and I am sure there will be a lot of excitement and unexpected innovations happening in the future. My career outline is to develop in terms of scale and impact. Currently, I am more than happy to be helping the industry in Indonesia. In moving forward, I hope to be of service to markets of different countries and even on a global level.

Aside from agency, some of my future goals for the next few years include being a marketing scholar in a formal or informal capacity. Furthermore, I hope that my background and experiences will somehow find a way to positively contribute to the growth and development of the media advertising industry in Indonesia.

To become a professional strategist, I have to develop clear and defined personal and business visions. Practising pictures to visualise my future in 5 to 10 years with visual mental practices is nearly as effective as an actual physical experience. Doing both will take someone a step closer to becoming a professional strategist.

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years?

Strategists should have a vision of the future because it is their job to plan and achieve an opportunity. When defining a strategy as a discipline, the strategy's role exists in various fields of study. In 10 to 15 years, the strategy could become a major part of every discipline because every person needs to become an excellent strategist to achieve their goals.

Throughout the lockdown, strategists in every field played an essential role for many brands and I believe this course will continue in following years. The need to drive real-time media strategies with data and signals will increase as agility and automation raise topics for all marketing practitioners. This condition, in some ways, could be an advantage to develop professional strategists.

Good strategists should be sharp-minded visionaries and are innovative in their approaches. In addition, envisioning strategy requires both logical and creative parts of the brain. Strategists resemble philosophers who generally have a good understanding of critical thinking. By doing so, philosophers have become good strategists to achieve their goals in life.

I also hope that strategy will be implemented in personality to construct people with a strategic mindset, future vision and strong intuition. People who possess these traits will be capable of doing well in any field. For example, a strategist can have various backgrounds, such as journalism, communication, data analysing, public relations, advertising, etc. And in 10 to 15 years, these fields will expand and strategy will evolve.

The WARC Awards for Asian Strategy is now closed for entries and the judging phase has now commenced. Do stay tuned as the shortlisted papers will be announced on 15 September 2021.