The role of insights in the modern APAC marketer’s playbook

November 2018

In a discussion moderated by Martin Roll, Google APAC’s CMO Simon Kahn sat down with a panel of industry experts to discuss the anatomy of insights distilled from consumer data and the role an organization’s culture plays in fostering insight-led innovation.

To create the valuable experiences that consumers across APAC have come to expect, marketers need to get savvier at detecting and interpreting the data signals they are encountering every day. In a region that has grown at an unprecedented rate, data insights are at the basis of everything from product development to marketing strategy, making them more important than ever before.

How can marketers move from analyzing data to activating insights? Martin Roll, a business and brand marketing strategist, sat down with a panel of industry experts — including Google APAC’s CMO Simon Kahn, founder of Asian Consumer Intelligence Nicole Fall, Ipsos' chief commercial officer Arnaud Frade, and Google APAC's Stuart Pike — to discuss and understand the anatomy of an insight and the role an organization’s culture plays in fostering insight-led innovation.

Martin: What is an “insight?” In a world where everyone wants certainty, relying on gut instinct to identify an insight isn’t enough. Who is responsible for finding insights, and is there a correct approach to identifying one?

Simon: People often use “data” and “insights” interchangeably. Data is a necessary component to finding an insight, but it is just the raw material that you build a story out of. An insight is the result of connecting the dots between the data to find the underlying human motivation or behavior.

Stu: When it comes to identifying an insight, everyone has a role to play. It’s about observing what’s already around you. You can get an insight by noticing how people are interacting with displays in the shopping queue or when you’re out having dinner at a restaurant.

"The challenge is that there may be an insight among an ocean of data, but without the discipline and processes to find it, it’s a needle in the haystack.” — Arnaud Frade, Chief Commercial Officer, Ipsos

Arnaud: There needs to be a revelation of a particular tension, frustration, need, or anticipation that can lead to a brand opportunity. The challenge is that there may be an insight among an ocean of data, but without the discipline and processes to find it, it’s a needle in the haystack. There’s also the notion that an insight is a magical nugget of knowledge that’s going to fix everything. If a business challenge isn’t clearly defined, you can forget about the insights. Among all your information, you won’t be able to tell insights from trivial bits of data. If there’s no clear answer to the question, “What would I do with this insight if I got it now?” you need to review the challenge you’re trying to address.

Martin: Does that mean business objectives should define insights?

Stu: Maybe 70% of the time, but you have to be open to the reverse — when you see something new and think, “this feels like an opportunity.”

Nicole: The trend forecaster’s favorite quote is “The future is all around us; it just hasn’t been distributed.” It’s important to simply have experiences, look at the world around you, and identify what’s driving human behavior. Research is often used as mere validation because people are worried about making a decision.

Martin: In our extremely KPI-driven world, how do you get a board to buy into something that might have long-term potential but no immediate returns?

Arnaud: I think courage is key. If you come across an insight that’s problematic to the viability of your product or your industry, you might have to make some uncomfortable decisions. The question is whether you’ll have the courage to rethink your business.

“By formalizing disruption, [forward-thinking] organizations are making a proactive effort to break the rules as opposed to simply reacting to what’s happening around them.” — Nicole Fall, Founder & Head of Trends, Asian Consumer Intelligence

Nicole: Some of the most forward-thinking companies have created internal disruptive units, or “skunkworks,” whose sole purpose is to challenge the core function of the business. People frequently focus on protecting the status quo. By formalizing disruption, these organizations are making a proactive effort to break the rules as opposed to simply reacting to what’s happening around them.

Simon: It starts with company culture. For example, in marketing, we can drive immediate impact via performance or acquisitions, but we also play a big part in shaping the future. At Google, we break it down into three areas: our established products (like Search), bigger bets (like Google Cloud), and moonshots (like our AI Experiments). All three categories require a deep understanding of who is going to use these products to design them effectively. Marketing is essential to that process because it manages the customer relationship lifecycle.

Stu: On a practical level, there are a lot of marketers working for companies that are trying to edge out their margins and really can’t afford to take big risks. At the same time, if they don’t take risks, they’re never going to get ahead.

Simon: Sometimes, innovation comes from being desperate. Go to the brand that’s struggling and experiment with it. As a leader, it is important to try and lead by example. As an organization grows, it gets harder to take risks, but great leaders support people who have pursued the big bets and show people that it’s okay to fail.

Martin: Without a tried-and-true roadmap, experimentation and failure seem especially pertinent in this region...

Nicole: Some Western brands entering APAC feel like they can’t change anything because of their legacy. But when you talk to consumers in APAC, brand legacies don’t matter to them — there’s a tremendous opportunity to reinvent. There’s nothing worse than a brand that refuses to change because they’ve done things the same way for the past 100 years.

As an organization grows, it gets harder to take risks, but great leaders support people who have pursued the big bets and show people that it’s okay to fail.” — Simon Kahn, Chief Marketing Officer, Google APAC

Arnaud: I like the point about the legacy of brands. You go to Myanmar, and there is no brand legacy; for those consumers, there is currently no way to relate to any of the global brands, so it's anybody's game. Some smaller brands will leverage that. The rise of Korean beauty brands is yet another example of this — by following their own codes and providing solutions for Asian skin tones and usage behaviors in this region, they’ve taken on the traditional behemoths and have experienced significant success, at least for a while.

Simon: There’s definitely a broader sense that people are more willing to be flexible and go with the flow. The rise of social commerce is a great example. In the U.S., people usually order things online through recognizable suppliers and established delivery systems. Here, entrepreneurs have created entire businesses on social platforms — and people love it. When it comes to finding information and getting things done, people here are more likely to tap into their network and rely on human interactions than an authoritative source.

Stu: APAC marketers today need an experimental mindset. Our challenges have gotten more complicated, but the opportunities are more exciting. Look at “super apps,” for example. In the U.S., you might have many different apps to do different things: one for browsing the web, one for messaging, one for making online payments, and so on. In China, these services are all consolidated into a single app: WeChat. This makes it easier to accelerate rates of adoption and introduce new products and services because there’s basically a single channel to reach users.

Martin: What do marketers need to do in order to stay ahead of the curve in such a dynamic environment?

Embrace an insights-driven culture

As more consumers in Asia get on digital, marketers will have a plethora of opportunities to find and harness insights about their unique interests and online behaviors. However, it is important to remember that insights are not synonymous with data — data is just the first step. An insight is a new revelation about human behavior that is distilled from data.

Finding actionable insights is not exclusively a result of formal research; it is everyone’s responsibility at every level of the organization. Creating a culture that rewards ambition and experimentation — not just success — is critical to instilling that curiosity.

Simon Kahn is the chief marketing officer of Google APAC. He oversees strategy, research, brand management, advertising, and more for Google’s consumer products and business solutions across 16 countries in the region.

Martin Roll is a business and brand marketing strategist with more than 25 years of C-suite counseling experience who is an advisor to Fortune 500 companies and Asian firms. He is a Distinguished Fellow and an Entrepreneur in Residence at INSEAD Business School and a former Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Company.

Nicole Fall is the founder and head of trends at Asian Consumer Intelligence, a trend forecasting and innovation agency that specializes in helping the world’s most recognizable brands, such as P&G, Coca-Cola, and Google develop more effective products and services.

Stuart Pike is the director of market insights at Google APAC. He is responsible for Google’s B2B consumer and advertising research across Asia Pacific. He has spent the last 20 years helping broadcasters and advertisers better understand the value of their media spend.

Arnaud Frade is the ‎chief commercial officer (APAC) for ‎Ipsos. He is a trusted advisor to blue-chip firms with a focus on branding and brand architecture, the role of technology in transforming consumer habits, the changes in retail and shopping behaviors, and future trends impacting businesses across industries.

To kickstart your insights discovery process, head here to read about six trends redefining the APAC consumer landscape, and download the full report (PDF) “A Peek Into Your Consumer’s Future.” Stay tuned for future editions of CMO Fireside Chats, where we speak with chief marketers and business leaders from around the region.

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