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 week, we hear from Singapore’s up and coming thinkers.

Singapore may be one of the smallest nations in Southeast Asia, but as a regional hub it certainly punches above its weight. While the global pandemic continues to limit travel and in-market movements amidst the backdrop of a less than robust economic outlook, it hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm and hunger of the island’s young strategists.

Always with an eye toward the long-term, bigger picture, if there is one thing these curious minds have in common, it is a hunger to do and be more. It’s more than likely that Singapore’s young strategy community will soon be at the forefront of orchestrating sizeable change across markets.

Zhang Weitian 

Title: Planner 

Company: Iris Singapore 

Age: 28

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

We were not taught strategy in school and that is despite having spent a bomb on both my polytechnic and university programmes. In school and specifically in my area of study (advertising and business management), the dichotomy that was fed to us about jobs in the industry were (1) Accounts Servicing (be a great people person) or if we hated people, be a (2) Creative (be a great artist and creative thinker). 

I got my first brush with strategy work during a six-month internship in BBH Shanghai. I was 20 and peered into this other realm of advertising that was unbeknownst to me. I was fascinated and have not looked back since. 

My very first task then? Conduct social listening on what netizens were posting about Baileys – an alcoholic beverage that has been traditionally favoured by women. My partner and I trawled Weibo, combing through hate comments, spam texts and photo albums posted on this sprawling micro-blogging site. The breakthrough came when we stumbled upon a photo album of a lady in her mid-20s, revealing the circumstances and environment she and her girlfriends consume this beverage. The stills depicted Baileys being enjoyed during a sleepover, in an unfiltered, casual and safe space. This insight validated the 2014 Baileys Sisterhood Campaign where Baileys China invited Chinese women to celebrate their best friends or “sisters”. 

Needless to say, seeing this project come to fruition from ground up and from insights sieved through the treasure trove of consumer information brought an immense sense of satisfaction. There on, I have searched for a role for such “planning/strategy” placements. 

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

Apart from the grind of checking current workflows and working on creative briefs, a large bulk of my time is spent on fireside chats with the team, bouncing off ideas together. These chats spur creative thinking and productivity and allow the team to test assumptions/ ideas/ see the big picture. 

A big part of my day is to also investigate the motivation and reasons behind consumer behaviours. The first step is to really get under the skin of consumers and take the time and initiative to be at the heart of the action. That is achieved through shopper journeys, where we tag along willing participants on accompanied shops, heading into supermarkets, getting first-hand insights and answers from them as they go about their day to day. 

I wish I could have more “white spaces” on my calendar so that I could pour over more trend reports (consumer, cultural) and do more ideation! In looking at trend reports, my greatest joy is when I spot something that could be adopted for the projects/clients I am working on. What comes a close second is when I see trends manifest as I thought they would over the years. 

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy? 

Driving growth through customer understanding. The audience/consumer sits at the core of this discipline. 

While the purpose of a marketing strategy is to promote and sell a product or service, understanding the consumers and deriving insights from perceptions form the core of an evidence-backed marketing strategy. What are their motivations? What keeps them up at night? Which brands do they gravitate to? 

It is both an art (understanding the audience through intuition and indepth understanding of the strata targeted) and a science (data-driven, backed by research). 

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

Crafting long-term strategic pieces for clients, having space and resources to workshop together more frequently on such topics instead of only focusing on short-term campaign level goals. The creative brief that we usually get is just the tip of the iceberg – the action lies in going beyond that to holistically solve the long-term business challenge. 

Another piece of work that I wish clients see the value of is the shopper walkthroughs – getting clients out of the office to be part of the ethnography process of talking to consumers as that is where the real gem of an insight stems from. 

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

In all honesty, I see myself working in childcare or owning a massive plant nursery in the next 6-10 years down the road. Bet this was not the answer you were looking for! 

On a slightly serious note, I am interested in entering the space of future strategy, predictive intelligence – the likes of WGSN, Trend Watching, Sparks & Honey and JWT Intelligence. We’re moving at the speed of culture and brands need to be agile and flexible to connect with modern customers. Being in advertising puts us in the hot seat to bring it to life during the right cultural moments. 

In the immediate term, I would fine-tune my efforts in understanding my client’s audiences, backing it up with research via trend reports and through the rigour of accompanied shops. 

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

In an instant gratification society that we live in, where every brand is vying for attention, the importance to craft out sharper work that resonates and relates to consumers has never been more important. 

Strategy will receive more emphasis and be a mainstay in ad agencies as clients become attuned to the fast-evolving needs and preferences of their consumers. I foresee a discipline that is highly regarded and is depended upon to reduce the probability of a poorly received campaign in the world of the shrinking advertising dollar.

Prema Alexander

Title: Senior Strategist

Company: The Secret Little Agency

Age: 30

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

While in university, a classmate told me that his brother had a job where he could “watch YouTube videos all day and get paid for it; apparently, it’s called collecting creative references”. I knew I had found my calling and applied for my first internship in planning. 

I found that what my friend told me was only a half-truth – and the other half of the job was everything I loved. I had always been fascinated by the motivations, quirks and nuances of human behaviour, and this interest had influenced my choices in everything from education to television shows. I never knew there would be a job that would allow me to marry my intrigue in culture and ethnography, with my yearning for creativity. Once I found it, it was a natural and seamless fit. 

From that first internship, I continued on the path of strategy and took on my first full-time job as a strategist in an advertising agency. With the opportunity to consistently learn something new each day and immerse myself in all sorts of unexpected industries (from martial arts to eldercare) and fields (from brand planning to UX), I’ve found myself in the line since. 

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

At TSLA we are driven by culture, and accordingly, a lot of what we do as strategists is immersing ourselves in culture. A large part of my job is research, which comes in diverse forms – reading reports, rummaging through Reddit, conducting focus groups, mystery shopping and even going up to people in bars and asking them if we can buy them a drink and have a chat. 

The other part of it then is creating value out of this research for the team and clients. This happens through defining insights, carving out audience segments, determining messaging, writing briefs and developing channel plans, to name a few forms of output, that are all rooted in data and human behaviour. 

Being in a collaborative environment, as a strategist I keep in close contact with creatives through the ideation and creative development process as well, helping build and refine ideas, ensuring we are answering the brief and providing inspiration to take the work to the next level (here’s where those YouTube videos come in handy). 

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

I believe that marketing strategy is about connecting ambition with reality. 

Strategy has a strong role to play within an agency to enable wider teams to see the potential in a brief, the opportunity to play a greater role in peoples’ lives and the chance to truly transform a brand. With clients, long-term strategy enables them to see how their brands and businesses can transform over time. 

At the same time, it’s about grounding the path to these goals in reality. Rejecting presumptions about assumed challenges and digging deeper to find out what really stands in our way. Unearthing data about the market and how the competitive landscape will evolve. Speaking to real people and learning what they think or how they behave. Identifying the touchpoints that are in the right places our audiences are at. 

Strategy holds the power for people to see the bigness of an ambition, while also being assured that it is attainable because it is grounded in fact, data and truth.

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

This is an experience I have had with some of my best clients, and I wish all clients worked this way. I feel that the best strategic work comes from a collaboration between clients and their agency as early on in the process as possible. This means working hand-in-hand on a marketing calendar for the year, identifying opportunities together and co-writing briefs in partnership. 

This allows the marriage of clients’ in-depth knowledge of the brand and their organisation, with a strategist’s perspective from beyond the brand bubble, to collectively think about the best possible route to business growth.

As such, my wish list is less about time or approval, but more about transparency and trust. This ultimately serves to fortify a client-agency relationship as well as create the foundation for even better work that answers objectives and fulfils ambitions. 

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

Strategy gives me the opportunity to feel like I’m working multiple jobs – because I regularly have to hop from one industry to the next, become an expert on a new platform, or get into the minds of an obscure audience. The potential to constantly grow and feed a sense of curiosity is what motivates me, and I see it continuing to do so in years to come. 

I would hope to continue on this path and develop more opportunities to align the work I do with greater social and cultural impact. This would translate to thinking about how strategy can enable brands and organisations to play a stronger role in improving the lives of diverse communities and addressing social causes. 

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

The pandemic has taught us that life is unpredictable and it will certainly continue to be. Strategy has to grow to become far more agile, putting in place systems that allow brands to pivot. These challenges are incredibly trying on businesses and it is the responsibility of agency partners to help clients mould their brand and businesses to weather whatever comes their way. As such, we would see strategists working far more collaboratively with clients in the future. 

This would also mean breaking out of a traditional scheduled campaign mindset and thinking more about the right answer for the context at hand. Unpredictable challenges demand unconventional solutions. The onus is not just on the creatives to craft unique responses but the way strategists write briefs or develop strategy should also lay the foundation for responses that can involve anything from programming, to product innovation, to partnerships. 

Recent times have also shown us that life is much bigger than advertising. It will become increasingly important for strategy to reference the world outside of advertising. Moving forward, the field should take cues and learnings from ground up movements, everyday creators and new industries in order to be relevant and resonate. 

Faith Lim

Title: Strategy Director

Company: PHD Singapore

Age: 32

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

I ventured into strategy completely by accident. I had studied Psychology as part of my bachelor’s degree and I wanted to take a gap year before perusing my PHD. I didn’t want to be one of those academics whose only exposure was the education system. 

I got into my first advertising job through failure. 

Given that I was just looking for work experience, I wanted to make sure that I did something fun and different from academia. I applied for the Ogilvy Management Trainee program, thinking that job rotation would mean that I get to learn a lot in a short period of time and advertising was going to be easy and fun. Isn’t it all just about creating ads?

Alas, after full-day interviews and fake pitch presentations, I didn’t make the cut. But I was invited to apply for a digital performance media role within Ogilvy. I had no clue what that meant but I suppose it had something to do with social media. So in search of my quest for fun, I applied. 

I was very fortunate that my first boss, who gave me my first break at neo@Ogilvy, also saw my flair for strategy, a skill I never knew I had. She directed me to my first communications planning role with PHD Singapore and the rest is history.

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

I spend a lot of my time reading, holding discussions with internal teams as well as clients to constantly find ways to make the leap in our work.

I believe that every great idea out there is an amalgamation of insights and observations from different fields. And it is important to me to have a perspective on the ongoing, on how that will impact our clients and agency teams.

It can be overwhelming at times, given that everyone seems to have an opinion on everything and every new technology update claims to reinvent the world like the first smartphone. To me, it’s also often about sifting through the noise and finding clear and unassailable human truths because that the insight will ring true no matter the geographical location or industry. 

Next, I will start speaking to our internal teams and clients to see where the opportunities are to apply those insights into actionable and positive influence across the agency to ultimately improve the day-to-day client output. 

This requires constant refinement and the support of collaborative teams to ensure we are constantly improving our work. This process can take years to bear fruit sometimes. But it gives me great joy to know that the strategy or framework I’ve helped to build contributed to something and is not lost in a sea of decks. 

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

The reason why I never went back to further my PHD studies was because through marketing, I was able to see the real-time application of marketing theories in the real world. In parallel with the growth of digital, we are also navigating and testing new marketing theories in the evolving media landscape. 

As such, I believe marketing strategy is the distillation of real-world insights that informs the basis of which marketing theories we should apply. It is a rigorous process, one that requires hard work and robust research and analysis. 

The creative ideas and channel choices can change but the selection and usage of channels is a fine balance between art and science. My work is to ensure creatives can thrive and shine (Art) in the carefully selected media channels that were chosen based on proven marketing principles (Science). 

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


In these pandemic times, I think budgets might be the top of mind for most agencies since advertising spends have been severely impacted across industries and markets. However, even with tightened purse strings, we need to be brave to create communications that we think are right for our brands and audiences.

When I first started out in my career, I spent a lot of time rationalising our strategy and if it was the perfect fit for the brief/client. With experience, I’ve learnt that it’s not difficult to build a logic arc structure to support a big idea or channel choices. What is difficult is persuading clients to be brave. 

This is not to ask clients to take unnecessary risks or leaps of faith with me just because I recommended it. But rather, I wish I had more time to help our clients to be more brave to make choices that are out of their comfort zone so that we can do truly innovative work that can drive disproportionate growth for their business. 

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

I think the next development of strategy is already here. In fact, it’s been around for the last decade. It is the fusion of data and strategy, and the importance of a Chief Data Officer (CDO).

CDOs are not new roles and they already exist in many companies but typically, they are still in their infancy stage where they manage the acquisition and protection of first party data. However, there is still a big gap pertaining to the analysis and deployment of such data, especially in conjunction with the wealth of second and third party data in the market.

Where I think the future development in strategy lies is the ability to translate the digital data signals that consumers are giving us with a strong omnichannel strategy. By doing so, we can strike out a completely new way of planning our communications.

I’m really excited that PHD has already built a truly data-first planning tool as part of OMNI, Omnicom’s proprietary marketing and insights platform.

As a result, I can already start exploring with direct data access across all our markets which drives new insights. And I firmly believe that the next wave of strategists will be born in companies like PHD, a place where they are able to build a strong foundation across proven marketing principles as well as data. 

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

This is a tough question because I would like to have a definitive answer that I will be at (insert location) in the next 5-10 years. 

This question used to give me a lot of anxiety as growing up, I absolutely had a long-term plan with detailed milestones on what I thought I needed to achieve in school to build my foundation of being a “successful” adult. Or my version of the Singaporean 5 Cs – Cash Car Career Children Culture (Travel). This meant that I was constantly striving for my imaginary trophies and despite achieving them, I didn’t feel successful or satisfied.

And of course, once I started working, the real world totally trashed my perfect plan and that was not a bad thing at all.

I have gained a different perspective on what makes a “successful” person and that is to be someone who is happy. And for me, what makes me happiest is creating and executing plans and ideas that have a tangible impact on business and society. 

Therefore in the next 5-10 years, if I do not find that joy in agency land anymore, I would definitely be open to brands/consultancies/tech startups and not pigeonhole myself on where I can find happiness at work. 

Xiewei Tai

Title: Senior Strategic Planner

Company: VCCP

Age: 30

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

To be honest, I didn’t even know what strategy meant when I first got out of school. 

I started my career as a market researcher, in an agency that’s renowned for brand and communications effectiveness. Given the nature of my job, I had to look at tons of creative work day in, day out. As time went by, my curiosity for what goes behind the work grew bigger; I wanted to be on the creation side of the marketing value chain and this fuelled my interest in exploring a career in the marketing creative industry.

Since I wasn’t exactly the most artistic person, I thought applying for a strategist role would be the best use of my research skills. Eventually, that landed me my first role as a communication strategist and the experience to date has been mind-blowing. The ability to leverage an insight to inspire left-field thinking, clutter-cutting and effective marketing solutions has been my constant dose of motivation since day 1.

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

A fair bit of my time would be spent having my ear on the ground. As strategists, we are kind of the reconnaissance elements of the agency, actively surveilling and collecting intel. Therefore day-to-day, I see myself occupied trying to grasp what’s happening amongst our consumers and in the category. 

Trudging through competitors’ work, rummaging through secondary research papers online, social listening, deploying surveys and even intercepting passer-bys on the street, are common practices in my research process. All in all, this ideally helps me delineate the challenges that stand in the way, the whitespace for the brand and the target audience insights to unlock the opportunity.

With the research ammunition gathered, translating that to a sound, succinct and stimulating action plan for the different stakeholders (eg clients, internal creative teams) will definitely take up whatever remaining time I have for the day.

How do you personally define the discipline of marketing strategy?

For me, I always like to think of strategists as marketing sherpas for brands - we guide them from where they are today, to where they want to be. 

There’s no “one size fits all” to navigate through the tricky marketing terrain but I always believe in looking at it from the consumers’ POV. Depending on which part of the marketing funnel they are at, there would be varied pain points to tackle and opportunities to leverage. The strategy should then be able to clearly map these to what the brand needs to do and where it needs to show up.

Clarity comes before cleverness. Once we have that strategic blueprint mapped out, the fun begins by working with our creative counterparts to bring this to life in the ways beyond conventional norms. 

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

Being partners rather than vendors, owning a two-way relationship of trust with even more clients will definitely be ideal.

As partners, the possibilities of getting access to multiple fronts of the business will likely be higher. This grants us a holistic view of the brand, allowing us to draw stronger synergies between different divisions/projects and make robust proactive proposals. 

Additionally, I believe that having such dynamics can foster better work - creative firepower and autonomy from the agency, amplified and guided by clients’ brand legacy knowledge.

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

I would like to see myself being a subject matter expert of the region, a go-to person for the network or clients regarding any marketing challenges in Asia. Regardless of whether it's on the agency or brand side, the dream is to take on a regional role that tag-teams more with industry peers across the various local markets, while further immersing myself in the region’s diverse consumer cultures. 

Along the way, picking up a couple more technical skillsets would definitely be the icing on the cake. Particularly in the space of data analytics, getting more involved in this area will definitely help in the all-important insight gathering part of the job.

In the long run, having the chance to mentor junior strategists will be an awesome opportunity to share what I’ve soaked up across the years and hopefully help nurture the next generation of young strategy talents.

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

Brands would look to be more embedded into culture and strategy needs to deliver on that. 

From the positive reception of brand collabs across different categories (eg Nike X Ben & Jerry's) to brands' adventurous leap into unconventional platforms (eg games, Netflix), these feel like telltale signs of how best for marketing to play a more meaningful role. 

As a communication strategist, beyond the traditional channels of advertising, we need to be even more attuned to popular culture, to understand what are moments in our target audience’s lives that we can help brands add value to. With that, it’s no exaggeration to say that these are exciting times for all marketers out there.

How to enter the WARC Awards for Asian Strategy

The WARC Awards for Asian Strategy are now open for entries. The deadline for submission is July 14, 2021.

Now in their 11th year, the Awards aim to showcase the region’s best strategic thinking with a view to inspire the next generation of strategists.

Entry is free. For more info on how to submit your work, visit the Awards website.