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APAC-based chief marketing officers meeting for an exclusive breakfast at ClickZ Live Hong Kong, have outlined some of the key challenges inhibiting transformation of the businesses they work for. 

Legacy issues, regional fragmentation, a lack of integration between departments, skills and talent shortages and a lack of confidence in being able to map and use data across all customer touchpoints, were some of the key concerns identified by the group.

The breakfast, led by Google and Avado Learning, gave marketing heads in the region an opportunity to share these challenges.

Almost all those present agreed their companies were on a journey of digital transformation. Implementing it was the hard part.

ROI and legacy challenges

Not surprisingly, being asked to prove returns on investments was a key challenge for many marketers.

“It’s difficult to prove ROI. You can end up transforming one point of the customer journey but not another,” said an insurance firm’s head of digital.

The group agreed this often came down to legacy issues – something afflicting bigger and more established businesses.

“Many large clients have huge legacy system issues that are just hard to integrate into the digital world, whereas startup businesses don’t carry that baggage and can move a lot faster at creating the right sort of digital experience,” said Stephen Hay, regional director, Asia Pacific, ICLP.

The regional director of another insurance company said transformation went beyond having a legacy mindset. “If you can get legacy mindset, you then have to get the [different] legacy systems. We are going to be bombarded by the Internet of Things (IoT), connected homes… and so you get past the legacy mindset but then you have to deal with legacy regulation,” he said.

The head of marketing for an international telecommunications provider used the example of the business’s (Read more...) issues in its home market, versus the startup mentality it had been able to embrace in Asia. As a result, she believed key lessons from the business’s Asian operations could be applied to digital transformation strategies in the organization’s home market.

“The customer experience, whether its B2B or B2C is so important and bridges so many departments that no-one really owns it, so it’s about how the marketing team can really take the lead,” she said.

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Managing customer touchpoints

Marketers highlighted the challenges of managing different touchpoints. “Who owns the customer touchpoints and how can you be on all the platforms?” Asked one delegate.

Adrian Toy, regional director, marketing, Puma, says consumers are fickle when it comes to touchpoints. “They can be on one thing one minute but onto something new at another,” he said. Therefore, trying to justify new investments to a boardroom can be challenging, especially if a previous investment has not brought in a measurable return.

“For example, just when we thought we got the right balance for content marketing on social media posts, live posts emerge as the new goalpost,” he said.

A lack of integration across departments was a pain point for many clients, said ICLP’s Hay.

“For many brands, particularly luxury brands, key digital assets such as the website are often controlled by brand marketing, who almost see them as an extension of advertising. This sets up challenges with other key areas of the business such as CRM or ecommerce teams who see these same assets as a critical part of the customer journey. The resulting conflicts slow down the digital transformation and devalue the customer experience,” he said.

It can work both ways. One delegate shared her experience working for a startup where there were no legacy issues and everything had a digital focus.

“There was no digital transformation because everything was already all digital, but there was a lack of respect for other parts of the consumer journey. There needs to be respect for the whole customer journey which isn’t all digital,” she said.

Where does transformation begin?

David Ketchum, chief executive officer, Current Asia, and moderator of the ClickZ Live Hong Kong CMO breakfast, asked where transformation begins. “Where are the forces for change?”

Sandy Tsang, commercial director, Squared Online, said there was a disconnect between wanting to achieve digital transformation and actually implementing it.

“You have the roadmap but do people actually believe it’s going to make a difference to the business?”

The chief digital officer of a popular apparel brand said his best successes were when he owned the technology. This allowed his team to be agile when it came to implementing successful campaigns.

Startups and partnerships

The founder of a mobile advertising platform asked delegates how many of them partnered with startups. He outlined his own business’s experience of partnering with a big financial services brand. That partnership helped to make digital more desirable within that business,” he said.

“It has to start with some sort of tactic that shows it’s starting,” he added.

Another marketing head recounted a common challenge for marketers – a lack of strategy. “The CEO comes back from Silicon Valley and says, lets do this! But there is no strategy. It might be let’s implement an app, but there is no real plan around it,” he said.

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Localization was another challenge highlighted by the delegates, especially in Asia with its fragmented markets. One marketer highlighted the very different eco-systems between China, Russia and the West.

Another mentioned the variation in social media platforms across regional markets. For example WeChat in China and Line in Thailand.

Talent retention

Anita Chan, marketing manager, Ahsay Systems, says the big challenge around talent is educating the C-suite. The gaps rest with other CXOs, often with the CEO.

“They don’t understand the latest marketing trends, and can be focused only on old-fashioned ROI, or don’t understand the mechanisms of digital marketing,” she said.

Top-level executives with conservative mindsets risk losing their digital marketing talent if they don’t adequately support teams to implement digital strategies, Chan added.


Many marketers put root issues back on the chief information officer (CIO). For example, one attendee said slow adoption of the cloud by many businesses could be attributed to legacy systems – which ultimately came back to the CIO.

“In the past, the CIO’s job was to ensure everyone had access to a Dell [computer] and that they all linked together. Today, CMOs are looking to steal the role and put in that innovation,” said one attendee.

Another talked about the role of the CMO in presenting a vision of the future to the company and the implications of failed investments. “Omnichannel failed five years ago, so now the CIO doesn’t want to hear about it again.”

The comments reinforce results from a 2015 Google / BCG Talent Revolution Survey which found only one in four marketers believe their marketing teams can connect data across all digital activities to understand what delivers on business objectives.

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Other key findings include:

Less than 20% of marketers have consumer journey plans that capture all online and offline touchpoints. Less than 50% believe their content is optimized for all devices and platforms. And only 19% of marketers surveyed believe their organization’s mobile strategy is based on a clear understanding of mobile’s role within the customer journey.

“Making sure you are mobile optimized and ready is the most simple thing you can do,” added Nathan Guerra, Google evangelist, Google.


Marketers are all facing similar challenges in an ever-changing landscape, said Puma’s Toy.

“Just when you thought you were on track to mastering the latest thing, everything shifts again. It is more important to be open and flexible to adapt to change to survive the next seismic shift,” said Toy.

Conclusions from the event show digital transformation is easier when done one step at a time.

“Create a small success. Fix a specific problem. Then management and the rest of the organisation will begin to see the benefits in tangible ways, and the momentum will accelerate,” said Ketchum.

In the end, people are ultimately at the heart of successful transformation.

“At times digital transformation seems to be more about HR than marketing because so many of the roadblocks seem to be about team skills and mindsets, rather than technology or platform issues,” said Ketchum.

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