Siew Ting Foo is Vice President and Global Head of Marketing Strategy & Planning, Print Category at HP and the Jury Chair for this year’s WARC Prize for Asia Strategy. Here she talks to Lucy Aitken about the need to go back to the core of what marketing is in a time of COVID-19 and how innovation needs to fulfil a genuine purpose.

Explain your role and what it entails.

I’m responsible for strategy and go-to-market development that is centred around investment choices for the short- and mid-term.

How is life with much of Asia under lockdown impacting on HP? What are the new demands being made of the business and how are you responding to them?

From an HP perspective, we are committed to doing everything we can to respond to these changes for our employees, communities, partners and customers.

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of employees is the top priority across Asia, and primarily in Singapore. As a tech company, we have provided the right tools to get people to stay connected when they started to work from home in March.

HP’s purpose is to keep reinventing and at the moment there’s a master narrative around helping people to adapt. For instance, our colleagues in the 3D printing business have started working with partners to produce an essential kit for health-workers, such as masks. We are also announcing relief packages and supporting PC rental programmes for people working from home.

For customers and consumers, there are two core programmes. We have launched a print and play programme across the Asia Pacific region which has free online learning resources and activities for kids to do from home. We have worked with our partners such as Time for Kids and Britannica.

What have been the biggest challenges facing you as a marketer and how will they look different in the post-COVID world?

We need to go back to what the marketing role is about: understanding human needs and wants and delivering products and brands. Human behaviour is changing quickly so, as a marketer, it’s important to stay humble and to be prepared to challenge your own thinking and assumptions and unlearn what you know. Having the customer at the centre of what you do becomes more critical because you need to understand how their behaviours are changing so you can adapt your marketing programmes.

Purpose becomes even more critical when people are looking at brands to have a more meaningful impact on their lives. It’s important that the brand comes back to society and meets human need but does it in a way that’s distinctive to the brand and what it stands for. That’s going to be especially important in the post-COVID world.

Another area is digitalisation. Given that all our experiences are going to come from a screen, we need to start adapting how we sell to customers, how we do e-commerce, how we drive experiences and one-to-one marketing. I’ve spent a lot of time in China where e-commerce is the norm. This is where personalised marketing becomes critical; how you use the digital space and also, digital data and social listening to understand insights and adapt.

Finally, authenticity and empathy are even more critical. People are looking at brands and wanting to give them their trust. How you connect that to your stakeholders to give them a sense of hope and optimism, as well as a brand story that aligns internally and externally, is a leadership challenge.

In last year’s Prize, we saw many big brands behaving like challengers. What do you think are the advantages of taking such an approach?

I’m a firm believer that you can be an iconic brand globally but locally you may not be relevant. It’s very important that we really understand context and local relevance. Given what we are currently experiencing, a challenger mindset will become even more critical because a brand that exists today may not exist in the future.

What advice would you give to entrants entering this year’s WARC Prize for Asian Strategy?

Go back to the three components that make up a great strategy:

  1. Start with customers and find a need that is relevant to the context of the market,
  2. Maintain focus,
  3. 3. Demonstrate results and impact, because strategy has to be about driving growth.

Keeping to the above three principles is critical. The other piece is innovation: if you’re able to do those three things really well, disruptive thoughts will come through and I’ll be looking out for those too.

What are you hoping to see from this year’s papers?

I’d like to see papers from Asia Pacific that have inspired global impact or global case studies. I firmly believe that great work from this region could do that. I’d also like to see innovation and disruption; not simply innovation for innovation’s sake. Finally, there’s a need for us business leaders and marketers to be constantly learning and unlearning and reinventing, especially during this period. So, I’d like to see ideas that question and learn from past experiences. It would be fantastic to see papers that have reinvented a strategy based on a lesson learned.

This article is part of a special content programme marking the tenth anniversary of the WARC Prize for Asia Strategy. The 2020 edition is open for entries, with the deadline on 14 July. The Prize is free to enter and winning papers will share a prize fund of $10,000. For further information, visit the website or email