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 speak to Hong Kong’s emerging bright minds.

Hong Kong has had it rough, but things are starting to look up. Its economic rebound continued in the second quarter of 2021, with gross domestic product growing 7.5% year-on-year as business activities revived amid a relaxation of social-distancing rules.

The market’s young strategists are keeping their eye on the horizon ahead, driven by a deep love for the discipline and the perspectives it unlocks to enable meaningful outcomes. With full confidence in the value that strategy brings to the table, these curious minds will no doubt continue to push the boundaries of what it means to be a marketing strategist.

Wong Yee Ching

Senior Strategist

dentsumcgarrybowen Hong Kong

Age: 28

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

I never really knew I wanted to get into strategy, I just knew I wanted to get into the world of advertising. Strangely enough, I have loved watching commercials since I was young and wanted to be a part of the process to craft creative work that has the power to move people, change behaviours and compel action. 

When I graduated, digital and social media marketing was taking off and I knew it would be a great springboard for my career. I was hired to be a digital strategist, taking on the whirlwind of emerging platforms and services, helping brands solve how they can best leverage social media in their brand ecosystem. Four years later, I found myself wanting to explore beyond social as it only plays a small part in marketing. I interviewed at mcgarrybowen and was fortunate our CEO decided to take a chance on me.

The switch from social to brand strategy was a steep learning curve. I was exposed to consumer research, insights, propositions, brand positioning and more. Until now, I still find myself learning something new every day. And it is through this journey where I discovered my love and talent for brand strategy and what I am doing today.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

To me, marketing strategy is a plan that serves two purposes: It is what guides the brand and grows the business. 

A marketing strategy helps navigate where the brand is going. It is the north star. The exercise of building a marketing strategy not only helps navigate brands but brings structure, ensuring that as brands grow, they don’t lose sight of who they are, what they stand for and where they want to go. 

It also has the power to help grow the business by identifying the problem behind the problem and finding the right solution. The process can be tedious but rewarding – researching consumers to understand them so clearly that it feels like you’re living in a penthouse in their head, studying trends or mapping out consumer journeys to identify pain points and opportunities. Once the problem has been singled out, the strategy is the game plan for the brand to achieve its goals and objectives. 

In my line of work, strategy provides a framework for the creatives, to ensure they honour the brand’s ambition while they ideate creative solutions to solve a business problem. 

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

Today’s market is driven by conversion and this is especially in the case of Hong Kong. I hope to have the opportunity to work on campaigns and solutions that do not just drive sales but build long-term brand equity or initiatives that are unconventional and do good for society. Brand-building campaigns deliver longer lasting commercial impact and stronger brand health metrics. They provide the opportunity for brands to connect with consumers over shared values. But more importantly, for strategists to be seen as a partner rather than a vendor. 

Speaking from experience, the best strategic work comes from collaboration with clients from as early as the briefing stage. Workshops are one of my favourite platforms for collaboration. They provide the time and space for clients to share their knowledge of the brand/product and for strategists to bring in consumer trends and point of view. Together, we can gain a holistic view and identify the most impactful solution to tackle our problem.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? How do you see your career developing?

I enjoy the agency life – the people, the culture, the energy, the collaboration, the innovation, you name it. At an agency, work life is never boring and you are constantly learning about different industries, different technologies, and tools. So I can imagine myself still working in an agency in the next 5-10 years but who knows where life will take me. 

All I know is that I want to work somewhere where I am surrounded by creative thinkers and innovators, somewhere that I can learn from the people I work with so I can continue to develop my skills because now more than ever, you need to be agile and flexible in adapting your skills to futureproof your career.

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

With the increasing importance of martech, data integration will be key in the next 10-15 years. I foresee a need for strategists to be able to pull skills from multiple disciplines. The days of honing skills in one discipline (ie comms planning, brand planning, media planning) and working in silos will be long gone. Instead, strategists of the future could be a jack of all trades in planning, to stay versatile in providing effective solutions. 

However, I believe the fundamentals of strategy will not change. Strategists might become more resourceful with data but ultimately, it is their role to formulate strategies that solve problems, albeit more data-driven. 

Annika Park

Title: Senior Strategist

Company: TBWA Hong Kong

Age: 25

How did you find your way into strategy work?

My childhood dream was to become president. I studied political science and wanted to go to law school, until I realised the world had too many lawyers and I didn’t want to get into debt just for a career stepping stone. 

I found my way into strategy work when I reached out to a connection for career advice to get into public service. He vehemently advised against it (for reasons I won’t get into) and referred me to a creative agency that worked closely with various government ministries to handle their advertising and communications. And the rest is history.

I think one of the greatest things about our line of work is that most of us “fall” into strategy as opposed to “find” our way into it. Most of us are mavericks, misfits and has-beens with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. But that’s what makes us great. It’s one of the last career paths left for people who genuinely get a kick out of thinking, writing and discussing things – but love the thrill of making cool things happen at the end of it.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

I think it’s so important for any young strategist to get his or her bearings right in this industry because with every refresh of your LinkedIn page, there’s a snake oil peddler trying to give you the latest take on the 4Ps. I must apologise that I don’t have a personal definition on the discipline of marketing strategy – I think you can only really have one if you are Les Binet, Mark Ritson, Michael Porter or Byron Sharp. As a young strategist, I’d feel a lot better spending more time studying these textbook disciplines versus trying to define my own just yet – for reasons stated above. 

But in an elevator pitch scenario, I find that I never go wrong with this sassy quote from Sergio Zyman (ex-Coca Cola and P&G CMO): “The goal of advertising is to sell more stuff to more people more often for more money.”

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

I’m a chronic workaholic so I wish I would one day master the art of the flow. 

I know I definitely learn more about my own work talking to an Uber driver, watching my boyfriend play video games, stalking obscure Facebook groups, reading poetry, chatting with new moms than I would ever from even the most well put-together white paper. But I somehow always find myself back in front of the glowing screen of my computer typing away, mistaking productivity for creativity. 

So #1 on the wish list for me would be a little Disney sidekick animal to remind me once a day that it’s okay to give it a rest so you can go again tomorrow. 

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? How do you see your career developing?

I love being an agency strategist and hope to still be a part of the industry for as long as I can. But if there’s anything else I end up doing, I’d be open to taking a year or two off to write children’s books. I have this idea of wanting to write a series of children’s books on adult topics so that we can start having important conversations with our kids in their most formative years. 

But coming back to what I’m doing now, I’d like to find a way to best marry the three sides of me that would be incredibly lucrative in the coming years if I get it right. I’m Korean and it’s my mother tongue. Korea is a staggering wellspring of cultural capital and leadership in Asia. I grew up across Southeast Asia; it is arguably one of the biggest growth markets in the world now. Being a third culture kid, English is my most comfortable spoken and written language. It pays to be articulate but priceless when you’re able to write well too.

I think our industry has plenty of people who can do each of the three separately but not all three together. If you’re in the top 5% of 3 different categories and you manage to bring them together, you’re automatically in the top 0.01%.

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

I don’t think there’s been a better time to be an agency strategist. As the traditional creative agency model gets squeezed by digitally-driven indie boutiques and the consultancies of the world, I think it’s good there seems to be a collective reality check happening across our industry. As we get our bearings right and try to renew ourselves to fit in a world that no longer buys “we feel it to be right” and demands “we know it to be true”, strategists will gain a greater share of voice within institutions to facilitate this great reset towards a more futureproof model of creativity.

Reese Liu

Consumer Insight Manager 

Havas Media Hong Kong

Age: 30

How did you find your way into strategy work?

I started my career as a media executive. I didn’t have a clear concept about agency but I knew that I like creating ideas, so I was looking for an advertising-related jobs and OMD picked me. In the beginning, I already had plenty of chances to work with strategists and formulate communication strategy with them from a media planning perspective but not until I moved to Havas was I eventually given the chance to collect market intelligence and do analysis for the head of strategy. I enjoy studying data and connecting the dots from bits and pieces to find the ultimate solution. It feels like doing a puzzle. So I asked my MD whether I could work in the insight and strategy department, and here I am.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

In today’s world with all our activities and behaviours being tracked, we are swamped by data and all kinds of information. While data is our lifeblood, a strong marketing strategy to me is whether the company can spot the opportunity that other competitors might have overlooked. Just like ice cream, a snack which was for kids many years ago but only Haagen-Dazs found the untapped adult market and turned it into an indulgent treat for everyone seeking joy. So marketing strategy is a plan to win the market backed by unique insights and the bravery to step into the unknown when others are set in their ways. 

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

Strategists have been enjoying a sort of renaissance since the onset of the pandemic. I am thrilled to see clients needing us more than ever as they want someone to give them clarity in times of uncertainty. But I can also feel that they are overwhelmed by all the pressing issues and simply want one or two tactics that can quickly revive the business. In the short run, giving customers a big discount might help but more often, there are some fundamental issues that require radical transformation and it takes time and resources to revisit everything beyond the communication itself. I wish strategists from the agency side will be given a chance to be involved in the early stages. 

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? How do you see your career developing?

This was once a tough and vague question to me but now I have a clearer answer. I want to be involved in businesses that make society better and progress through innovation. I still believe advertising has the power to bring positive impact as the narratives we have been formulating are part of the culture and somehow influences the trends. Apart from that, I do have lots of fun being challenged by new briefs and learning new things in a rapidly changing field. But I am also thinking of doing something concrete that actually improves people’s lives, so I dive into the world of furniture design and work out creative, sustainable solutions to tackle problems. If the spark in advertising wears off, I am more likely to devote myself to furniture design and establish my own brand.

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

Doing strategy today is a bittersweet job. I am trying to learn every new thing as much as possible so that I can get a more holistic picture of the issue. It definitely stresses me out a little but this is how I see strategy going. You cannot expect to be sitting in your ivory tower and use only past skillsets to deal with current challenges. That means strategists have to coordinate well with their media planners, project managers, UX/CX professionals, product marketers, etc, and have a thorough understanding of their work.

Also, I believe that more clients are expecting strategists to have the ability to anticipate the future and find the next big thing. Instead of drawing insights based on past and present data, we need to put the future in the limelight and make plans for possible changes down the road. 

Kitty Kwan 

Planning Manager 

Carat Hong Kong

Age: 33

How did you find your way into strategy work?

I am probably a very typical case when people look at my portfolio. I was studying media communication in university and entered the advertising field after graduating, with everything going smoothly and logically. Indeed, before that, I experienced different kinds of internship like PR, event coordinator as well as reporter, which didn’t feel right for my further development. Fortunately, I met my first boss who offered me my first permanent job in Carat HK and directed me on the journey of media planning, which is so interesting. Day-to-day, I manage various research tools and look into tons of data for planning and reporting. That’s where I was trained on the fundamental skills of data analysis, human insights and strategic planning. 

I am always passionate about new market development and insights and bring them into my work, going through plenty of media planning and pitch presentations over the years, thanks to the team who discovered my flair for strategy and let me grow into a media strategist. It was a turning point for me to go up to the next level in agency life, which allowed me to improve myself strategically and, most importantly, feel that this is the line of work I want to pursue, with motivation.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

For me, it is all about storytelling. The strategist is the storyteller crafting the storyline and connecting with the audience. Both qualitative and quantitative research data like business landscape, market challenges, consumer insights etc definitely guide and inspire, identify the touchpoints and design the content that you want the audience get from your story, to make the biggest impact possible and bring unique experience to potential consumers. 

Drawing the audience’s attention from the start is important and keeping them until the end is crucial. Whether it is an ordinary story or not depends on the setup during the process but I do believe a good storyteller always has the ability to beautify a boring story to make it fun and exciting. 

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

Effective source: Good insights are heavily reliant on effective data sources so I wish I can unlock any kind of research tool that can help strategy development and validate our planning. Without knowing the market trends, categories and human behaviour, it is hard for us to recommend and forecast. 

Time is of the essence: Insights won’t pop up by just clicking a button but take time for a diagnosis and to come up with a comprehensive plan. However, in our day-to-day work, most of the time, clients share a brief at the last minute but request a short turnaround time, so I wish clients would understand that if sufficient time is allocated for strategic thinking and ideation, the communication would be even more effective (instead of simply looking for a quick-fix). 

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? How do you see your career developing?

I am curious too! But at the moment, I still see myself open to being in an advertising agency as there is still a lot to learn because the industry evolves pretty quickly. I would hope to continue on this path and develop more opportunities, driving integrated solutions with a people-centric approach to connect brands and consumers. Aside from personal growth, hopefully I can also take up a role in training junior teammates on integrated and strategic planning so that we can have new blood in this field of work. But you know, with the rate of disruption today, you never know what will happen next so I will just go with the flow and be agile to change. 

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

Big data has changed the game. Many of the processes have already been automated and continue to accelerate with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Tech will allow us to draw deeper insights to decode an individual’s identity. In the foreseeable future, I believe (and hope) strategy can play a far bigger role and is prioritised by clients when designing campaigns. Because brands shouldn’t work on just becoming more adaptive in this fragmented customer journey but personalise communication for each consumer. We should make an effort to have a tailor-made box with individualised strategies.

In a sea of change, the strategist would be proficient and instrumental in all areas of advertising instead of only specialising in a single medium, and I do believe every one of us remains the most essential human resource for driving business goals.

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.