Q&A with Dentsu Aegis Network Chief Digital Strategy Officer Bea Atienza on Digital Marketing

Bea Atienza is the Chief Digital Strategy Officer of Dentsu Aegis Network. She was formerly Strategy Lead of Edelman Digital Singapore, Head of Strategic Planning in Wunderman Singapore and Digital Strategist of Commonwealth (a McCann company) in Shanghai, China. She acquaints us with her role as a strategy planner as well as the trends in digital marketing that she has been spotting.

Q1: You have been a strategy planner, how important is it to be a full stack planner in a digitalized economy and what does it take to be a full stack advertising planner nowadays?

A1: One of the most important things I’ve seen through more than a decade doing digital is how critical it is to consider context alongside communication and content. The traditional planning discipline usually leads to what a brand should say or stand for, but now we also need to understand what kind of customer moments we hope to be part of when each communication piece reaches them. This is the idea behind the “full stack planner” – someone who can strategize not only how a brand should present itself, but also how and where it should be encountered. We took inspiration from the idea of a full-stack developer who is able to handle all the different software layers. This doesn’t mean trying to specialize in everything, but rather being able to understand how different channels and disciplines can be pulled in to the strategy. Today there new areas that can be part of the brand arsenal – such as CRM, mobile, programmatic, CX, UX. Part of the planner’s role is to make sure we maximize these while ensuring that they are cohesive and efficient.

What this entails is, first, an ability to draw insights from a larger range of data, and second, an ability to do both communication and connection strategy. In terms of data, we call our approach “360o Insights”. A planner has to be able to mine data in different areas – Brand Performance, Owned Digital Assets, Cultural Trends, Consumer Digital Behavior, Consumer Motivations, Category Dynamics, Competitor Performance and Multi-Media Mix Trends – to get a complete picture of issues and opportunities. Using these he or she must be able to leverage a solid base of classic brand planning and then extend into engagement planning – designing a communication ecosystem that has a connection plan for all assets and pieces of content.

Q2: How do you maintain a balance between data and intuition in creating campaigns? Can you cite examples that data was ignored in favor of intuition and yet the campaign still turned out well?

A2: Just as I’ve mentioned, there so many data areas that a brand can explore, should they decide to mine them. While there are tools to cull and collect data, the act of deciding what to look into and what to act on is still a strategic area. No automation, as of now, will tell you what to take away from a data set. The planner still needs to know how to read, analyze and synthesize, and then articulate – what do we do now?

I don’t think the idea is to ignore data, but to properly contextualize it. When we get campaign or listening results, we need to find the right benchmarks and comparisons so that we can tell what the numbers mean. Similarly when it comes to innovation, data needs to be interpreted carefully. We’ve had ideas where we couldn’t find direct evidence that customers were demanding a particular utility. Yet when we looked at the attitudes and pain points of the same segment, we could read that there was a real gap that could be addressed. This is the intuition needed, based on how well you are able to read an audience, that will tell you if a solution is worth testing.

Q3: You have worked in China, Singapore and the Philippines, what are some trends that you have encountered in digital marketing that we should watch out for?

A3: Each city has its own personality and spirit. I lived in Shanghai, which feels both historic and futuristic at the same time. Singapore is still finding its identity but is bold in creating iconic landmarks throughout the city. What is interesting about both was how technology was embedded into daily life.

It’s been six years since I lived in China, but even then they were booking taxis on mobile, paying with NFC and sending voice messages. Singapore is a smart city where you can check apps to find out how long before your bus or train arrives. All the banks even joined forces to created a common peer-to-peer payment service embedded in all bank apps. They’ve made data available for businesses to use. This sets a different tone for digital and technology, hinged on utility, and inspires marketing that is equally service-oriented.

With this solid digital infrastructure, brands are able to embrace the discipline of customer experience. They use digital not only to communicate but to improve their service proposition, from retail to fulfillment to personalized customer service. This infrastructure that makes it easier for digital-first businesses to go to market which challenges traditional companies. At a certain point digital needs to be on the business agenda, not just the marketing agenda.

I see this as a challenge in the Philippines at present to how far we can go as a digital society – and consequently have strong digitally-enabled industries. As a market we are are and have always been extremely social, yet we are not fully digital yet. Being able to leverage digital as a utility, service and experience-driver will be the next frontier for brands and companies here.

Q4: Which companies do you admire the most for digital strategy and execution and why?

A4: There are a lot of companies using digital and tech to reshape their business. I will always be thankful for Chevrolet, the client I served in Shanghai. It was through this brand and category that I learned hardcore digital basics. The brand really ensures that its foundational digital assets – its website, search results, and video content – tell the product story beautifully. Some marketing clients I speak to here seem to be afraid to let the product be the star of their content. Yet digital users want to know what products are made of, who designed it, who it was created for, what makes it worth paying for. Digital can bring the reasons-to-believe to life, and smart digital users are inspired by digital-first brands that put product experience first. Beyond this, Chevrolet takes all digital assets seriously from digital and social analytics, omnichannel planning, CRM and even dealer enablement. My favorite tool to work with was the lead scoring platform that would score each website visitor’s level of interest based on their actions on the page. If the visitor reached a certain score, the site would trigger marketing automation to push an offer that would move them closer to the lower funnel.

Another company I admire is Taco Bell for their R&D approach in creating products that not only taste terrific, but that get talked about on social. This is a great example of quality product thinking that becomes wonderful marketing. They spent years developing their Quesalupa so that it would have an Instagrammable “cheese pull”. I also look up to Disney, for re-engineering the experience in their theme parks using technology. They created Magic Bands, which visitors can order when they book their trip, to make it easier to enter rides, eat at their restaurants, check-in or buy products. The data they gather helps them serve each customer together, but also optimize their park operations.

Locally McDonald’s is doing interesting work building more technology into their stores. They have one of the strongest loyalty programs in the world so it will be interesting to see if they bring that customer thinking in to their Philippine strategy.

Q5: What are some of the most common mistakes in creating digital campaigns that must be avoided and why?

A5: I’ve been back in the Philippines for a year now and it’s been so inspiring to be home again in our vibrant advertising and marketing industry. It seems like technology has come a long way however digital marketing still needs to grow in addition to our adoption of social media. Brands also need to be more cognizant of how their digital strategy will strengthen their funnel performance.

A lot of brands seem to be transferring their thematic TVCs and print ads to digital through brand films and social cards. This is a good starting point but the transformation can’t stop here. I feel frustrated when I see brand videos with millions of views that don’t have an engagement plan that nurtures those viewers and gives them product communication or offers to bring them into the store or capture their data to get in touch with them later. It doesn’t have to be done within the film itself but leveraging behavioral data we can serve the same customers who saw the video with a follow-up material such as a testimonials, offers or a product story. With a Full-Funnel Content approach, we can now ensure that engagement content gets followed up by lower-funnel messages. Yet this can only happen when, as I mentioned at the start, content and context are strategized together and bring to bear the total power of the digital space.

In addition, brands also need to prepare for the scenario where customers may not even see a campaign but enter the consideration journey on their own. People are so empowered nowadays and will find the best solutions for themselves. Brands need to be equipped with shoppable assets to catch interested customers. Marketers need to prep their ecosystem to “find, catch and close”. A good search strategy, intuitive content marketing and a solid website should nurture interested customers and convince them to convert with your brand instead of a competitor’s.

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