Profile: StarHub's Oliver Chong
StarHub's Oliver Chong, AVP of brand and marketing communications, has an alternative view on talent churn in the industry and tells Rayana Pandey it can actually be a good thing.
One doesn't have to go far to gauge the level of competition in the info communications space in Singapore. A quick look through the weekend papers and a count of the number of red and green coloured ad pages easily reflects the forever growing "war" between SingTel and StarHub.
In this highly competitive space, StarHub hangs its hat on its Hub proposition, and developing it to what it is today is in part due to Oliver Chong's efforts, although the 39-year-old unassuming assistant vice-president of brand and marketing communications, promptly cuts you short, to mention it's his team of dedicated members that has made this possible.
The Hub proposition is as old as the StarHub-Singapore Cable Vision (SCV) merger which happened in 2002. (SCV was the sole cable television operator in Singapore back then).
Through the merger it added SCV's cable television as well as broadband internet access to its mobile services and that's how the Hub proposition came into being, to offer a one-stop shop for consumers' mobile, pay TV and broadband needs.
The proposition has evolved over the years and in 2006, StarHub defined the Hub as a type of person - an individual who receives, consumes and shares all the things he or she loves. StarHub as a brand then positioned itself as the social catalyst to what it calls "seamless enjoyment".
Chong has been at the heart of this evolution, having joined the company in the SCV days, and seen the industry evolve from analogue TV, to cable to digital and now internet TV and from traditional feature phones to smartphones.
"This industry has been very fluid. The evolution of the product suite is what has kept me motivated all these years," he says.
A key objective in his role is to increase brand affinity of StarHub, and Chong has been pushing the boundaries, making technology work in ways that simplifies engagement for consumers.
"What worked in marketing yesterday might not necessarily work in today's environment. Grab mind-share, grab heart-share by continuously stimulating consumers' minds with innovative and meaningful experiences," is what Chong believes in.
As a result, the number of marketing campaigns he and his team created, played a key role in StarHub seeing a 14% hike in triple-product sales last year. Added to that, was the multiple awards it won for innovative campaigns.
For the greater good
What works in StarHub's favour is the long-standing relationship it has had with its agency DDB. Drawing an analogy, Chong says it's like a marriage where after a few years the partners know each other very well.
"You don't need to articulate a lot of details. But if you tell me your marriage has no problems, it's tough to believe." According to Chong there will be hiccups along the way. But how you manage them is what a good relationship is all about.
Chong has a fourfold mantra when it comes to client-agency relationships - and trust comes first. Trust that everyone believes every other person is giving 100%, to hand over assets of the company such as research findings and access to information to the agency, and so on.
He also applauds openness about problems each other are facing and to be able to talk through them; a willingness to invest time in building talent, both in the agency as well as the client-side and lastly, perhaps most importantly, commitment to not only deliver what is promised but doing so on time.
"And this applies to both client and the agency."
Despite all of that there is one issue which has the capacity to rock client-agency ties - the high attrition rate in the agency world. How does Chong tackle such a situation?
It's all about people
Chong looks at it the other way around. When the old boys go and fresh blood comes in there are new ideas which may be good for the brand.
"If the same team works on my TVC for years, chances are we might see repetitive work. There are two sides to the coin."
But he adds the risk one runs in having a new team very often is that its lack of experience of working on the particular brand may disrupt the brand's journey towards its goal.
While having fresh ideas is good, Chong says it's very important to have a stable top management which understands the client's business.
"In any relationship the honeymoon period will be over and there will be a phase when differences will crop up, in which case, a senior person on the agency side who understands the pain-points of the clients and the little things that affect business is important."
In StarHub's case, in its seven years with DDB, the key members of the top management have remained constant, "so I have a senior team that understands the business and the direction in which we are headed".
And an important focus for StarHub, like any other brand in today's business environment, is digital.
Its digital ad spend has risen to double-digit figures from single digit figures a few years ago, but Chong says it's not about percentages and numbers.
"Spending is one thing, what's important is a strong foundation before you commit any amount to digital," Chong says.
"Doing digital marketing blindly is nothing but throwing money down the drain."
How he got it right
One of the many and probably the most recognised campaigns Chong led was the Hub It! brand campaign as part of which StarHub launched Singapore's first interactive TVC. It also won Marketing's MARKies at the annual Agency of Year Awards 2012 for Best use of Apps and Best use of Mobile.
It was hard to miss the Love Tail TVC starring Sparky - Singapore's most famous and much-loved Jack Russell. Using StarHub's newly launched free Hub It! app for iPhone and Android, viewers could interact with the characters and the scenes on TV with their mobiles, much like role-playing computer games.
All they needed to do was start up the Fetch-A-Reward camera and align it with the commercial on TV or YouTube to kick-start the interactive experience and grab goodies from a massive prize pool.
"It was a challenge for me to not have a feel-good TVC as part of the campaign, but then this campaign blurred the lines between viewers' mobiles, TVs and computers, bringing the StarHub promise of seamless excitement to life," Chong says.
What made the campaign even more pervasive was its continuation to the offline space. StarHub gave clues and hints on the app and its Facebook page to help the public locate hidden scenes, tasks, videos, games and more within the Love Tail commercial that may have possibly led them to other StarHub platforms. Each clue enabled the public to unlock a map that eventually led them to Sparky's dream girl.
In addition, a total of 600 bus stop shelters across Singapore hid instant gifts, including Golden Village movie vouchers, StarHub Music Store goodies, StarHub Game Store credits and limited edition premiums for consumers, all of which could be decoded with the Hub It! mobile app or other QR code readers.
But this was not the only campaign that captured the attention of consumers. Chong also led the "Musical Fitting Room" campaign which leveraged radio frequency identification technology to connect its young customers with the kind of music they preferred.
"It's not about pushing your message through to the customer. It's about engaging them wherever they are."
Given the wide range of campaigns it ran last year, my next natural question was how many of those ideas came from his team and how many from the agency? Chong is quick to credit his agencies.
"Our job as a client was to give a precise brief, detailing our objective as much as we could," he says adding it was DDB who shared the idea and Mindshare which came in with a media support role.
"There are lots of media firsts in these campaigns. We wanted the idea to be innovative both on the creative as well as the media front."
And that's where its agency partners play a vital role. "Clients will never be able to have all digital and data mining capabilities in-house," he says, also adding it's not the sole onus of its agencies to have all the capabilities within them, but they should have resources, in terms of other partners, to get the work done.
"We prefer working with one agency that offers us a complete solution, even when they may not be the ones executing it. Both agency and we have partners. It's about working together with all of them."
And that's his idea of success - building a "hub" filled with dedicated team members, trusted partners and motivated suppliers to make any campaign a success.
The happiest moment for him, he says, is when the whole ecosystem moves like clockwork and every part is oiled for a smooth operation. "That's when I am able to inspire others and draw out their talents."
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