The Promise of Mobile Technology

It’s 2016. Have we figured out mobile yet?

Mobile has been all the rage as far as I can remember. I’m an avid mobile user, getting my first phone as a 12-year-old living in Asia. Back then, it was a convenient tool for communication, but the mobile industry has since exploded with the invention of the iPhone, creating an unprecedented number of people around the world who are now connected via mobile connectivity.

When I started working in agency land, I began to grasp how much of a game changer it has become. It is now an avenue to consume content, effectively becoming a media vehicle, and an impactful one at that – it has the ability to connect directly and personally with the consumer. The way we treat our phones is an extension of our body, and with this deeply personal relationship with a device, it opens a new wave of opportunities for content creators, brands, marketers, people to connect with each other.

As previously unconnected people adopt mobile rapidly, and as mobile users deepen their knowledge and interaction with their device– constantly updating apps and upgrading to new phones– mobile is here to stay. We’ve established that it has changed the way we communicate. But now it is also changing the way we interact with the world: it helps us locate where things, places and people are; it helps us participate with a wide network of connected users through the web; and it is changing the way we make purchases as consumers.

Mobile technology has brought about new industries and companies that didn’t exist before: mobile app startups, fintech, mobile media buying, to name a few.

What new applications of mobile phones can be discovered? What other uses of mobile phones can be uncovered?

When we think about innovation, we tend to begin our forward outlook from the most technologically advanced application to what the future could potentially bring. But we also need to be reminded of how technology looks in a different environment.

It looks very different in other contexts. For example, in emerging countries, mobile phone usage is high, but most of those who own mobile phones have feature phones and not smart phones. Smartphones are still cost-prohibitive, but this is changing as less expensive models are introduced. Not to mention the even bigger issue: there’s still a lot of people who are unconnected.

So, as professionals in highly advanced industries who think about technology innovation, we should also think about the impact of mobile technology on society as a whole–across different places and socioeconomic backgrounds– and perhaps it is not only in the most advanced places nor among the most sophisticated users can we innovate. But also nurture hope in surfacing a niche right under our noses that could potentially change lives.

 

What Makes a Good Strategist?

Having been in the professional world for 7 years, I’ve encountered so many bright minds in business strategy and experienced my fair share of missteps common among those in early career stages. Working in media kept me challenged because we operated as consulting partners with our clients, advising them how to best plan their marketing budgets and maximize their presence in the eyes of their customers.

Now, my current role puts me right in the heart of strategy, working on initiatives supported by a corporate strategy office. My media experience is somewhat of an outlier compared to my peers; there is an outdated notion in business circles outside of marketing that our field is more fluff than science. Whereas my former peer group of marketing professionals would vehemently disagree, since most of them have technical, if not scientific, backgrounds.

So having been part of teams responsible for developing marketing strategy for growing brand portfolios valued in the multibillions, and seeing how strategy is developed in a corporate strategy office, here are my thoughts on what makes a good strategist.

Good strategists are…

  • able to translate complex strategy into a simple business objective
  • those who focus on a (most often, singular) business objective
  • those who are able to provide a roadmap from strategy to tactics, guiding the team toward execution
  • able to deal with ambiguity because they know they have it in them to course correct
  • those who never let the competition out of his mind
  • decisive, but also looks for flexible avenues if made necessary
  • those who are open to unexpected outcomes
  • those who possess a compass in his mind, not a GPS, since strategy is rarely prescriptive or repeatable (no two circumstances are ever identical)
  • those who can think 10 steps ahead
  • those who has a talent for engaging people and hiring them fast; operating in real time is critical
  • those who can draw up a map for others when most people only see a tangled web of barriers, process, and politics

What is Growth Hacking?

When I was doing the user experience design bootcamp, I came across a few people who mentioned the idea of “growth hacking.” I was introduced to this term in Manila (of all places!), and a coworker lent me a book about it. I decided to read it today.

Growth Hacking is the idea that startup folks can build a “self perpetuating marketing machine” amid zero to little marketing resources. Essentially, it’s how new companies in the digital age (social media, digital publications), promote their product or brand. By birthing the term “growth hacking,” it turns this low-strategy, high-tactic way of doing marketing into a method, a process, a repeatable endeavor.

In taking a broader perspective, I think creating a “self perpetuating marketing machine” ultimately involves user-centered design thinking, which is all about considering the needs of users whose needs you are trying to address with your product.

User Experience Design Strategy

I was at General Assembly Los Angeles yesterday where they had us go through a user experience bootcamp. I’ve heard about this field before, and know that there’s great demand for this skill among creative and technology professionals, but I was curious to learn more about it through classroom training. I met a lot of like minded people who are tech savvy, smart, hardworking millenials, a few of whom I will be keeping in touch with. The instructors are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but also casual and fun; the new type of professional borne out of startup culture, sporting a “cool geek” vibe and delivering the digital curriculum as if it’s a peer-to-peer type of discussion.

We covered the basics of user experience in an intensive 7-hour day. Throughout the class, I realized I was already exposed to the topic professionally in my previous jobs, and academically at Northwestern and IIT.

If I were to describe user experience, I would boil it down to this: it’s the intersection of sociology, technology and design– that covers both strategy and execution. The problems that a user experience professional tries to solve run the gamut from sociological questions (What consumer need can I address? Who are my target consumers?); to marketing questions (What are their points of contact with my product or brand? How can my brand establish affinity with consumers?) to industrial design questions (Is the product design appealing that they will continue using the product? Is the product solving a need and making their lives easy?)

In my experience in various functions in market research, consumer insights, marketing, and product management, I realize that I am already a user experience design professional. I’ve never had a job title that says so, because my previous jobs have always been focused on one role at a time, but learning more about user experience design as a field inspires me to work through user experience strategy as a process, one that integrates perspectives of human understanding, digital world to creativity. It opened my mind to my own growth possibilities as a professional and allowed me to better understand what careers would look like in the future: those that melds business and creativity to deliver delightful products and services to consumers.

Globalization and the Corporation

Royalty free photo by Fancycrave.com
Royalty free photo by Fancycrave.com

Globalization is a force whose effects continue to be felt across the world. Having studied this phenomena in an academic setting with UCLA International Institute, I would describe globalization as the flows of people, goods and organization from one country to another. The product of this is a wider encompassing exchange not just of tangible things, but also of language, cultures, values across markets and regions. While transportation and logistics is the very mechanism that enables the movement of people and goods, technology by way of internet connectivity and consumer devices, has also created a communication highway, enabling people to feel connected, if not be connected physically.

With this, distances shrink, time zones fade, and people are more connected than ever.

In the business setting, the MNC is a contributor to the increased globalization of the world. MNCs– with global operations that span countries, regions, people, language and cultures– contribute to much of the exchange that happens across places.

The Global Organization

What does it mean to be a true global organization? Does having multiple offices around the world enough? Is it about sending company officers in different regions?

Multinational companies (MNCs) can operate in different ways. From what I’ve seen in my experience with top global companies in consumer packaged goods, technology, consulting and telecommunications, companies can operate as a portfolio, with each region having autonomy and could be managing a handful of markets. For example, a technology giant client has Singapore as a regional center of excellence, and the Singapore team managed the output of the other Asian countries. This is what the company called a “regional/market” approach: a regional COE managing countries (referred to as “markets” in company lingo).

MNCs can also operate in a globally integrated way, such that the performance of an office in, say, Asia affects the rating of an office in North America. With my large consumer package goods client, when a new product is rolled out in Europe, the success of the product is attributed to both the European local team and the North American team that oversaw the overall brand.

My observation of the client in the first example (portfolio) proved that giving local heads autonomy may work well because of their local expertise, but sometimes initiatives are not aligned with other countries, or are separate strategically from HQ. Having a universal mindset across the management team in offices around the world, developed by giving responsibility to both the local team and the HQ management team, such as in the second example, prove to be beneficial for the organization. Teams are unified and act as part of one team, one company.

It seems easy to make these observations and start discussing a recommended approach based on experience, but in reality, to develop a collaborative and globally integrated team, is quite difficult and much more complex. Budgets, power, legacy technology and established processes could all be collaboration barriers.

The way the teams are incentivized also play a big role in the corporate mindset of those involved. During my time with the technology client, they admitted that their sales teams are not incentivized properly because they are so focused on closing the sale rather than aligning with the more strategic goal of the sales and marketing department, such as to reposition a product brand.

Many times, a major organizational change needs to come from a minor shift in corporate mindset, rather than an immediate restructuring of the whole organization.