When Wayne Arnold co-founded creative agency Profero in 1998, he was sure digital would become fundamentally important to the marketing industry. It turned out he was right.
Now CEO of global agency Lowe Profero, Arnold is leading an army of 600-plus employees on a digital crusade to re-educate marketers around the world about the creativity and opportunities that exist in Asia. Read on for his thoughts about technology's impact on marketing in the APAC region, how he defines true leadership, and why he believes “APAC should be the first mobile-first continent on planet Earth.”
CMO.com: You’re running a global marketing agency from Singapore. How does that impact what you create?
Arnold: Singapore is a very small place, but the challenge and opportunity with Singapore is the impact it can have on the 4 billion-plus people who live in this region we call Asia. A lot of the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies we work with are increasingly basing themselves in Singapore. The role of Singapore then becomes a best-of-breed gateway to those 4 billion-plus people who live in the region–you take the best ideas and adapt them to amazing and dynamic markets like China, Indonesia, or Australia.
CMO.com: The Lowe and Partners site talks about “populist creativity.” What does that mean?
Arnold: If you look at a lot of the clients we work with–many of them are Fortune 100 or Fortune 500 companies–and if you really want to affect the share price, you have to create ideas from scratch. Can we create ideas that integrate into popular culture? And, increasingly, can we do that across all channels like digital and mobile?
CMO.com: What are the topics keeping marketers up at night in this region?
Arnold: I’m the chairman of the Southeast Asia Marketing Society, and we held an event at the end of last year, which was called the Uncomfortable Breakfast Series. The idea was it’s all very easy for people to say how great they’re doing, how wonderful the world is, and that their business has no problems and all is fantastic. It’s far more difficult to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable.
This breakfast set the agenda for senior marketers–most of them being regional CMOs for the biggest Fortune 100 companies. The four most uncomfortable topics were marketing in the digital age, the legacy left behind by marketers in the region, global versus local, and understanding the value of marketing at a boardroom level–the classic CMO versus CFO debate.
CMO.com: What about the challenges–what kinds of issues are they facing on a daily basis?
Arnold: From a marketing perspective, the biggest challenges are the ongoing emergence of the middle class in the region; the increasing power and influence of China–politically, economically and now with big brands, like Lenovo, for example; and finally, mobile versus traditional communication–the reality is, mobile is the first access point for the majority of the people living in the region, yet most marketers anywhere in the world haven’t got their head around that yet.
CMO.com: How do you prepare for these challenges?
Arnold: Wow! I touched on so many big areas. I’m not sure best how to answer that, really. I guess it comes down to two things: leadership and talent delivering that leadership and leadership goal.
Recently we had an amazing dinner with Keith Weed, the global CMO of Unilever. The leadership vision for Unilever is to double its growth while halving its physical carbon footprint. Once you set that vision as a leadership team, everything else then falls off that–the way you manufacture, the talent you get on board, how you attract Millennials [Generation Y], and the way you go to market.
If you look at India’s mobile campaign for Unilever–which was named “world’s best” by global marketing intelligence service Warc–they basically created the world’s biggest radio station, and that came off the back of that mission. They delivered free and educational content via mobile phones about how to be more hygienic–and this is the sort of thing that actually saves lives. Kids can die just because they don’t have clean hands. They worked out a way to provide content that’s both entertaining and educational. This is just one way of working to achieve their vision.
So, true leadership vision is what you’re trying to do and then creating clear objectives around how that vision comes to life.
CMO.com: What impact is technology having on marketing, and marketing campaigns, in the Asia-Pacific region?
Arnold: What’s interesting is that mobile penetration is actually quite high. If you look at these 4 billion people, how are they going to access information? Over the next five to 10 years, the mobile phone is going to become that access point.
The challenge is, marketers haven’t really worked out how to use it yet because they’re still thinking in the Western mentality of apps and smartphones, rather than what most people’s mobile phones are in this region, which are first and second generation: audio, text, SIM cards.
There’s a lack of acknowledgment and understanding around this.
CMO.com: What can marketers do to prepare for this level of diversity in terms of platforms?
Arnold: They need to re-educate themselves. We all need to re-educate ourselves. We need to go back and learn about the channels to market in this region rather than resting on our laurels and assuming the old way still works.
Don’t get me wrong: Print, TV, and radio still have a massive role to play, but it’s thinking about what do these 4 billion people have in their hands every day? How do they access information? If you look at this in Sydney, London, or New York, you’ve got a different challenge–most people do have a smartphone. That’s completely different to talking to people who are on $5 or $10 a day. Most of the Fortune 500 companies in this region are marketing fizzy pop or soap.
CMO.com: In what ways can you see Asia-Pacific marketing pulling ahead of the rest of the world?
Arnold: APAC should be the first mobile-first continent on planet Earth in terms of communication. It is the way to communicate, it is the way to think, and, quite frankly, the rest of the world is way behind in thinking mobile-first in reality because of TV and the Internet.
I can also see a social trend here. You look at tech giants and the innovations from the likes of Chinese companies Alibaba or Tencent–I believe they’re really going to challenge existing social channels. I can see in five to 10 years’ time Silicon Dragon dominating the communication world over Silicon Valley. Alibaba is a fantastic example because it’s actually buying U.S. businesses.
Also, APAC will lead in the pace of innovation and change compared to Europe and the U.S. I find it embarrassing how slow Europe can be sometimes.
CMO.com: How is all of this complexity in terms of messaging and technology and platforms changing the way the marketing industry operates?
Arnold: We’re going to need a new collaboration between client and agency partners. Clients can’t do it on their own, and agencies can’t do it on their own. The challenges we face require a whole new type of collaboration. I think there’s a danger in our industry where we’re moving away from this idea of partnerships between clients and agencies.
On the client side, if they don’t realise they need long-term partners to solve this problem, they will fail. And if agencies don’t take the view of “this is a relationship that should last five-to-10 years or even a few decades they will fail. They need to become more loyal to each other. How can you solve problems that require a long-term commitment if you’re being flirtatious and regularly changing your partners?