Asia to me is the most exciting region to be in right now as a strategist.
The pace of daily life, economic advancement, and technological progress here make culture truly move at the speed of light – it’s basically a candy store for strategists.
While tremendously exciting, Asia might also be the most challenging region to be in as a strategist. Short-term-oriented planning approaches and an overtly executional focus in many of the region’s marketing communities make it difficult for strategists to prove their worth. As a matter of fact, Asia’s planning departments, according to the results in this report, have been affected more by cost-cutting from clients than their counterparts in other regions of the world.
So, based on my own personal experience, here are my top five tips for selling the value of strategy in Asia:
1. Think about the things no one else thinks about
A natural byproduct of the incomparable pace of life in our region is that the ‘Urgent’ will always take priority over the ‘Important’. Chasing after quarterly, monthly, even daily sales targets doesn’t give marketers enough room to think two, three years out – mostly not even one. It might still be on their to-do-list, but never on top of it. So, as a planner, take that long-term view on things. Show your clients where you believe the market will be going, what it means to their brands, and most importantly, how they can already future-proof their businesses.
2. Always keep execution in mind
While thinking ahead is crucial in selling the value of strategy, planners should not do so without keeping execution in mind as well. When it comes to long-term strategy, we planners often get caught up in lofty topline trend analysis, Venn diagrams, and brand pyramids, which all might look good on slides, but often won’t translate well on an executional level. Thus, in order to demonstrate the significance of playing the long game, show how things could look like on the ground – make your strategy as tangible as possible.
3. Help clients to really understand their customers
This is an oldie but a goldie. With everything being constantly urgent, no one goes out and spends actual time with their target consumers anymore. It’s just easier for marketers these days to look at quantitative survey data, social media sentiment reports, and artificial conversations in focus group settings than spending a full day talking with the people they want to engage with. Enter strategists. We always will be the ones to bring the consumer to the table. So, make sure your insights go beyond artificial category desires, tell your clients when they’ve drunk too much of the Kool-Aid, and finally draw a vivid picture of who their audience really is…I’m talking human beings, not bar charts, social media handles or hashtags.
4. Make the business case for creativity
I believe that many marketers (and advertising professionals alike) in Asia suffer from ‘Marketing Inferiority Complex’, the constant concern that their professional status seems fluffy compared to their peers in more quantifiable fields. Based on research by the likes of Les Binet and Peter Field, we now know however that the seemingly fluffy creativity of our field can be quantified, and that it can drive real business growth. As a strategist therefore, try to help your clients battle this inferiority complex – not by wrapping up their own profession in science and rationality, but by embracing fame-generating and emotionally-led creativity as the last unfair advantage they’re legally allowed to take in business.
5. Help clients to have the important conversations with each other
Based on my experience, clients often turn to strategists to act as mediators. Sometimes showing your value is not so much about what you yourself have to say about their brand, but more about enabling different functions and departments from within your client’s organisation to come together and for the first time simply talk about big picture stuff.
While the above list might help in selling clients on the value of strategy, agency leaders will also have to play their part - by taking a good look inside their organisation and rethinking the way they leverage strategy. Because our industry’s common practice of giving strategic thinking away for free in order to ‘get a foot in the door’, certainly doesn’t make things any easier.