HONG KONG—The modern CMO needs to be “fluent in business, fluent in technology, fluent in analytics, fluent in ecommerce,” Darren Burns, president of China and chair of creativity and innovation in the Asia Pacific region for Weber Shandwick told the In2 Innovation Summit in Hong Kong this morning. To help those CMOs, communicators need to “move from storytelling to shaping the future of business,“ with a focus on using communications to drive business value.
Summarizing the changes roiling the business and marketing landscape, Burns pointed to the rise of CEO activism: “they have gone from being on the receiving end of activism to being activists themselves, and purchasing decisions—particularly among Millennials—are increasingly determined by CEO activism.” At the same time, companies are thinking through the impact of AI and other new technologies. And startups are disrupting traditional markets 

Leading off a discussion on “Adjacent Possibilities: How brands are building their future business,” Burns said adjacent thinking was a way of understanding how companies move into new markets related to their existing business—an idea he applied to both marketing and communications departments and the agencies serving them.

He said that Weber Shandwick had been going through a process—including a client satisfaction study in China—and was now focused on four things.

“The first thing clients are looking for is passionate curiosity,” he said. “The number one thing clients want from us in our China survey is passion every day. 

“You also have to prepare to pivot. Every organization is going through a fundamental shift in how they deliver their business,” he said, suggesting that the need to improvise is critical in such an environment. “We also have to be able to provoke innovation in our organization.” To accomplish this, he said, Weber Shandwick has reorganized around the delivery of insights, content, client experience and integrated media—while maintaining some of its traditional practice area focus.

And finally, “Keep it simple. We have a tendency to over-intellectualize. But the campaigns that succeed are based on a simple insight.”

Speaking in a panel discussion moderated by The Holmes Report’s Arun Sudhaman, Helen Zhou, VP of Greater China marketing and ecommerce at Tiffany, agreed with Burns on the importance of passion.

“We are looking for people who are passionate, who have the curiosity to equip themselves with the skills they need,” she said. “At the same time, we need people who are authentic, who are connected to how our customers think and feel about our products and about their lives.”