How can chief marketing officers use disruption to stay ahead?

Chief marketing officers have shared their views on technology, innovation and how they see their roles transforming into the near future at an exclusive breakfast at ClickZ Live Shanghai.

A recent ClickZ intelligence report surveying our readers in the U.S., found that while 75% of respondents said they were familiar with digital transformation under half were yet to formulate a clear strategic plan. The Pulse of Digital Transformation report also found nearly half of client-side organizations of 10 years or older had no plan in place at all.

Scott Likens, emerging technologies and data analytics leader, for PwC’s Experience Centre and Digital Services, says the big difference in China is how much faster things are moving.

“Because of the pace of change here, we recognize it’s not just about the ideas, it’s about bringing your ideas to market faster than your peers, where are we seeing disruption and what are we doing to get ahead of it,” he says.

Likens was hosting a breakfast for chief marketing officers (CMO) at ClickZ Live Shanghai, to share ideas on disruption and how new technologies can be embraced to give brands an edge in China.

Marketers in China face a number of unique challenges. China’s rate of adoption of new technologies and innovations is just one of them.

It took three years for smartphones to penetrate the Chinese market and reach 100 million users. This was in 2011. It took half that time for 100 million Chinese users to adopt the social messaging app, WeChat. By 2014, Alibaba’s online investment fund product, Yu’e Bao, took just over one year to hit that mark.


Source: PwC Analysis

“Here in China you are seeing applications, strategies, and brands come online and get 100 million users in less than a year, and it’s that reach and pace of change we want to focus on,” says Likens.

Chinese consumers also have much higher expectations of their integrated digital experiences than their western peers – as this graphic below shows.


*Source: PwC

The role of the CMO is shifting. According to Laura McLellan, research VP, Gartner, in 2017 the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO.

“We are seeing the convergence of where technology is actually enabling the business and the CMO is becoming the powerhouse when it comes to what we do, especially around emerging technologies, and especially in China,” says Likens.

Customers in China are using digital channels to research, experience, transact and share, says Likens. Marketers need to take advantage of the trust and reliance Chinese consumers place on social networks by looking at it from a disruptor angle.

China as a new hub of digital investments

In 2015, a fundamental shift occurred as venture capital investment for digital businesses moved from the U.S. to China.


*Source: PwC Money Tree (2015)

“Everyone thinks about Silicon Valley over Shanghai and Beijing, but the money is coming here now, so let’s use it,” says Likens.

This new investment is resulting in companies starting to pick apart the traditional value chains of big business. As an example – the introduction of third party payments in the financial services sector.


*Source: PwC analysis based on company announcements

What does all this mean for marketers in the region? Likens says CMOs should be focusing on the following three emerging technologies when it comes to embracing disruption for a unique marketing edge.

1. Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) has been around a long time but 2016 is the year it has started to go mainstream.

“The reality is virtual reality is here and the technology has caught up. So we are seeing it for storytelling, immersive experiences, integrating 360 HD video, and to be able to tell a story using immersive 360 video shot in a real environment with a real experience, and combine that with a virtual experience that you don’t know is fake, is quite scary,” says Likens.

The impact it will have on marketing will be profound as metrics move from clicks to interactions.

Gnomes and Goblins, HTC Vive

2. Artificial intelligence

When people think about artificial intelligence (AI) they might think about things like Robo advice in the financial services sector, but it’s a lot more than that, says Likens. The self-driving car is a prime example. The AI built into it is making billions of decisions every second – something a human can’t do.

“AI is becoming a reality in every business. It starts off very basic, but it’s moving very fast,” says Likens.

He cites the film Humans Need not Apply to illustrate the pace of change for AI.

Humans Need Not Apply

3. Blockchain

Blockchain is a fundamental technology revolution as big as the Internet – possibly bigger, says Likens.

It has traditionally been used for bitcoin, but the technology can be applied across industries. blockchain takes data from an organization and puts it into the public domain. It allows everyone to have access to the information through a public ledger, but the data is protected by very complicated algorithmic cryptology.

“It lets consumers connect and transact and trade value for services or goods with no intermediary. [For the CMO], that changes our fundamental strategies,” says Likens.

He believes blockchain will change the entire infrastructure of the exchange of money or value.

“The Internet was made to exchange information and for blockchain it’s money.”

It also proves that a pureplay technology with no owner, no control, no government and no regulation, can grow to a $10 billion business in about three years, adds Likens.

(To learn more about blockchain and other disruptive technologies in the financial services industry, check out this recap of a blockchain panel Scott Likens hosted at ClickZ Live Hong Kong in August.)

What keeps CMOs awake at night?

Getting key stakeholders in the business to understand these changes and why adoption of new technologies and innovations are so important, was a key challenge identified by CMOs at the breakfast.

One attendee shared how his firm sometimes puts a small team into a company as a startup and tells them to break up the business as a way of educating senior management and the boards of big companies that they need to transform their businesses.

Another delegate highlighted the importance of ensuring digital knowledge is spread all around the company.

“You have a department literally called the digital department but since digital impacts all departments, it would probably be better and more concrete to have top management or middle management having an understanding of those digital impacts so that strategies can be implemented faster.”

Security was also raised, especially in light of the ubiquitous nature of WeChat. “WeChat is a fantastic tool, it has social and commerce and a lot of us have work conversations on WeChat – but what if that gets hacked? What if it goes offline for two days?” asked another delegate.

In conclusion, marketers at the ClickZ Live Shanghai CMO breakfast felt understanding and adopting new technologies and innovations was a no brainer. “You need to embrace it to survive and prosper,” said one.

“Digital has been around for over 20 years – if this is still something new to the management – the management needs to retire,” he said.

Likens concluded the breakfast by asking how many people in the room had a mentor under 20. None said they did.

“There is this different mindset, so why aren’t we asking them? What’s happening in this environment and how do we keep up with that.”

*Featured image courtesy of PwC Experience Centre, Hong Kong

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