Digital disruption is transforming the way the world does business. But of all areas of business, none has been transformed as much as marketing.

At a recent forum on digital marketing, organised by Think Business and TODAY newspaper, an expert panel discussed how marketing is changing and how businesses large and small can respond to the challenges and opportunities that digital offers.

Here are some edited excerpts from the forum:


Assoc. Prof. Ashok Charan, Dept of Marketing, NUS Business School: Conventional media such as broadcast and print is unidirectional. But on the internet consumers not only listen, they talk, and as they converse about their interests and about products they play a role in marketing. To harness this growing power of consumers, marketers need to listen and engage, and collaborate in ways that channel the consumer’s affinity for a brand into creating brand value. They need to understand their audiences in their totality, engage with consumers as they weave their way in and out of different media, and then synchronize their marketing and communication efforts across the physical, conventional and digital touchpoints.


Danny Kim, Google APAC Strategy & Planning, Adjunct Faculty NUS Business School: What we see in this part of the world is consumers jumping straight into mobile as their first entry point to the internet. Where most in the Western market went from desktop to laptop then to mobile, a lot of consumers here and in the developing world get a smartphone and they go straight to apps – social media, games, messengers etc. And that has changed the dynamic of how businesses in this part of the world engage online significantly as well. This is something we’re really seeing take off in Asia, even among really small businesses like market retailers – the way they embrace digital and leapfrog some of the evolution on how business goes from traditional to digital is mindblowing. So, we’re seeing a lot of new and disruptive business models come out just because the market dynamics are very different.


Assoc. Prof. Keith Carter, NUS School of Computing: What’s becoming increasingly apparent is that without the right data, we are going to miss the target. In fact, one of the key stats that we hear is that 53% of digital advertising – only 53% – went to the right person.  So, this is a challenge – a 47% error rate, 47% not getting it or 47% are maybe getting something wrong. Marketers and retailers, banks, insurance companies have a tremendous amount of data, but individually they cannot actually make much sense of it.  The way that we handle data as marketers is not just taking a look at it and trying to act. We want them to be inspired to buy our product or service. So we have to add in another layer, which is will we be able to attract the customer to what we need them to do? And can we do this in a way that it does not make them feel like we are imposing on them and certainly in a way that doesn’t embarrass them?


Ashok Charan: As a marketer, irrespective of whether you are leading consumers or whether you are following them, you need to be with them. We know that word of mouth is more persuasive than advertising and that social media greatly amplifies it. Whatever consumers say on the net, whether it is in the form of reviews or comments or opinions or it is in the form of rants and complaints, marketers have to manage the dialogue. Consumer advocacy on the internet has a very powerful influence on the markets themselves. Similarly, there is a considerable realisation that brand messages online can go viral and they can generate enormous value for the brand or they could be causing irreparable damage. This heightens accountability as marketers must respond quickly to contain potential threats, and in the global context, it means they must remain alert all the time.

Danny Kim: With social platforms, pretty much everyone can try to be a social influencer, because even when you make a very simple purchase decision, you are influenced by your friends. I think what makes a difference is consumers are behaving smarter about these sort of influence, and brands cannot just bombard ad dollars at it because consumers want authenticity. With social influencers consumers or fans actually follow them because of the authenticity and if that authenticity is lost, then the overall fanbase or reputation goes down. And I think that is why a lot of social influencers have actually been very selective in terms of what they promote. There have been a lot of cases where they haven’t done their right thing and there has been a backlash in terms of their reputation.


Keith Carter: If I spend a dollar, I want to earn five – that’s the mantra of many companies. So the question the marketer needs to ask is where do I put my ad spend to make sure I am getting those kind results? That requires a cross-functional advertising eco-system that delivers actionable intelligence, in other words having the right information in the right person’s hands at the right time in order to improve outcomes. So, as an advertiser, how do you prove that?  You have to go through the entire journey of the customer and make sure at each step you are tracking: What did they do? Was it because of you? With millions of customers you can’t possibly do this by hand. So then you have to implement the right algorithm, run it through a data analytics system to see what happened, and then show here is the likelihood that it was because of us and what we did. The age old question of did marketing spend improve sales is possible to answer with facts!