On Friday, August 17th, in Singapore, Econsultancy is hosting an afternoon event which will feature talks by some of the top marketing talent in the region.

We’re calling the event ‘Digital Divas‘ as, unlike our other events, this one will feature fresh insights exclusively from women in senior marketing positions. For those in Singapore, you can book your spot here.

To let everyone learn more about our great line-up, though, we’ve been posting short interviews that we held with each of the speakers. Today we feature Connie Chan, Executive Director at WPP Government & Public Sector Practice in Singapore.

Econsultancy: What does it mean for marketers to provide ‘brand leadership’?

Connie Chan: If we look at what being a brand leader means, it is really about having the greatest market share. It’s about having a bigger base for you to innovate and address targets and segments.

So, when we have discussions with clients we ask them whether it is more important for your brand to be a leader, or is it more important to have loyal customers? Most say that being the brand leader, the market leader, is more important than brand loyalty.

The other aspect of brand leadership is behaviour. In order to become a brand leader, companies have to adopt different strategies. There are specific strategies which define brand leaders, challengers, and followers.

Brand leaders aim for business growth and aim for that as opposed to achieving brand loyalty.

Econsultancy: How does this translate into marketing strategy?

Connie Chan: Well in most industries, certain brands will be a leader, but do they really behave like a ‘brand leader’?

From a strategy point of view, many brands behave like brand challengers. They keep the innovation growing, continue to explore new segments, seek to understand the market and the competitive landscape.

So, even if you’re a brand leader it makes sense to adopt brand challenger strategies so that you avoid becoming complacent – and remain the leader.

There are many examples of how some brand leaders did not keep in touch with the changes, did not adjust fast enough, and now they no longer exist today. Acting as a challenger brand can help you avoid that.

For example, many of the brand leaders today have moved away from owning products or assets, Airbnb and Uber for example. The market shifted and they were able to challenge the leaders. Or Kodak and Instagram, either one could have owned the ‘beautiful image’ market and look what happened, the leader lost to the challenger.

Brands still have to stay current, though, because ‘now’ might be where all the immediate growth opportunities are. It’s much more difficult to predict what will happen in the future. So brands also have to stay relevant while keeping one foot in the future.

Also, as business cycles are shortening, brands also need to think strategically about planning. Our organisations are structurally biased to plan in 12-month cycles because of how things are reported financially.

But the world doesn’t move in 12-month cycles and so brands need to also consider the ongoing or ‘always-on’ approach which may require changes to organisational structures and processes.

There are no easy answers, but marketers need to be aware of all of these factors when they are developing their strategies.

Econsultancy: What do you feel are the current trends in agency/media relationships?

Connie Chan: One thing which needs to be better understood is the expectation of the agency and the scope of the relationship between brands and agencies.

At some organisations, the agency is seen as an extension of the marketing team. In these cases, the clients do not have the resources to manage the very specialized areas of marketing and they also benefit from the breadth of experience that agencies have from other industries and clients. It’s a complementary relationship and ultimately you have a very integrated relationship.

With other organisations, the brand has a supplier relationship with the agency. The brands are essentially replacing internal resources and outsource to the agency to reduce costs. In these cases, things get more challenging. When the agency is just a supplier than the relationship is based around providing services for the lowest cost and this can lead to a breakdown in trust.

So, it is important for the brands and the agency to agree on the type of relationship so that expectations are understood.

From the agency point of view, we can do a lot better. There are three ways we talk about client relationships. First off, we may talk about ‘client servicing’ and from a language perspective, it’s just not the right way to look at our relationship.

Then, at a second level, we call our relationship ‘client management’. But when you ‘manage’ a client, you are keeping the relationship within a limited scope and you’re not really looking at new potential opportunities.

At a third level, we can talk about how to ‘lead’ a client relationship and improve the level of interaction and trust.

At one end, agencies end up feeling like a supplier but at the other, we can feel like we are part of the marketing team.

Econsultancy: What should marketing leaders be doing to ‘prove’ marketing return on investment (ROI)?

Connie Chan: Most often, discussions about ROI are about attribution. But for marketing, there are actually many different kinds of ‘return’.

Trying to put a single dollar value on marketing is quite difficult unless the brand is very performance driven and only uses direct response or performance marketing.

If you’re talking to brands, you also need to look at the timescales of what you’re measuring.  Some returns will be immediate, but others can only be measured over the longer term.

So if you’re aiming to be a brand leader, will that be immediately measurable? No, it’s going to be over the longer term. So, how do you compare something that might take two years with something that has an immediate return on investment?

There is not one answer, but you need to be very clear about which areas you want to measure in terms of return.

Also, you need to look at different data points before you can see if you’re trending up and down. One option is to take many data points and triangulate on an answer.

Finally, you have to look at the investment required to measure ROI. Is it worth coming to an answer?  There should always be a discussion about the cost of researching ROI versus the value of finding an answer.

An agreement on these points is always important, if there isn’t an agreement then there will always be disappointment.

Econsultancy: What should senior marketers be doing to progress in their careers?

Connie Chan: I think it is important for senior marketers to keep grounded and think of marketing in terms of first principles. They shouldn’t get carried away with terminology or technology without being grounded in the foundations of marketing.

At the end of the day, marketing is about communicating with an audience about what you offer as a brand, what are the benefits.

And so everything you do must go back to the objectives, what you are trying to achieve. Grounding your discussions and keeping it simple, though not simplistic. When you speak with your stakeholders talk about strategies, growth opportunities and the innovations you want to look at.

Be sure that you remain curious and understand everything new that is out there, but always think about how these things apply to what you do. This is what I have applied for myself.

Join us in Singapore, August 17th, for ‘Digital Divas‘ with Connie Chan and others. Request your seat here.

Read the other interviews in this series.