Former Starwood Hotels and American Express executive Joanna Catalano who stepped in as CEO -APAC, iProspect in November brings a wealth of experience in business development across the performance marketing ecosystem. She has also driven data and insight-led sales and marketing solutions to grow businesses. In a conversation with exchange4media, Catalano opens up on her first impression of the company, the trends she has witnessed in the Asia-Pacific market and more…
How is iProspect evolving in these rapidly changing times?
As you know, we have been in the performance space. Performance has evolved faster than any other type of advertising. We had to start with thinking about what performance means, where does it possibly come to play and also about being different. It is our USP that our performance hasn’t changed in years. Our global brand proposition is about driving business and performance. For us, e-commerce is now big because anybody who is looking to sell is there. So, it’s e-commerce, digital assistance and digital transformation that we are looking at from a performance perspective.
You have taken over at iProspect APAC in November. Can you give us an idea about your first impression of the company? Also, what direction do you see iProspect taking on going forward?
I have worked with several big brands, which were majorly about brand marketing, so I learnt a lot about the role of the brand and how important it is. My first impression revolved around what our brand stands for and if I am sitting down with the CMO and if he says I know what that means, I think we were clear but we are a little bit outdated and a bit too much.
My first observation was how do we talk in the language of our clients; my second observation was how do we do everything that our consumer likes. So everything needs to be from a perspective of what the consumer is doing, what the consumer is experiencing and what does the consumer want. My first two observations were working on the brand and working on the positioning. From an organisation perspective, we didn’t operate as a region. There could be changes that are happening in India that may not be happening in Australia and if our Australia team was to hear about them so they could generate business. One of the big initiatives I thought of taking on was raising awareness around what’s happening in the local markets and how we can make Asia function more as a team. Externally, it is a lot on the client, on where is this business today, where is it going and whom are we serving? Our metrics indicate whether we helped this hotel company open five new hotels and are they driving the level of occupancy that they wanted to. So it’s moving away from media metrics to business metrics.
Has the concept of performance marketing evolved? Where does it go from here?
When I took up this job, my son asked me ‘why do you want to go and sell something that no one likes?’ I told him that we need to make these ads better. We are really dealing with a very different communication message now; it has to be hyper-targeted, and to get that level of targeting in a non-intrusive way requires tons of work. It looks really simple until you have to sit with the client and talk about data. At times, they are not quite organised with the data. This notion of segmentation in its traditional sense is gone so you have to be relevant, you have to give the right time and have the right message. You need to know that your audience is very fluid and might like one thing one day and another thing the next day. This is how we are seeing performance marketing right now. At the end of the day, you need to tell me why I must choose you. Another aspect is creative agility which no one is getting right now and then there has to be data that drives action.
How can brands utilise content marketing more effectively? What are iProspect's plans for the same?
I don’t like SEO and I told my team not to use it. Now, performance is not just about search; it is about how the consumer engages with the brand and it is about intelligent content. I am in-charge of social and when I put my social proposition together, I was struggling with it. I asked my boss ‘what is social, what does it even mean, what is the difference between social and content’. I think you need to leverage the data you get with the content. The relevance and ability of the content to stay powerful is also imperative. I worked with Facebook and Google and everyone talks about the role of new creative and that is just content.
What are your thoughts about the digital agencies of the future? What are the key elements that define a successful digital agency?
I don’t believe in the digital agency of the future. I believe that there is an agency of the future. I think it needs to have an unbelievable team of specialists and you need to be extremely strategic. I think agencies today are using a very outdated model. There are so many start-ups today making money of versioning but I ask—is it versioning that excites?
Can you tell me about your plans for the India business and how do you see India developing as a market?
India is a very vibrant and ever-changing market. It will be one of the top markets so all eyes are on it. In India, we have demographics that are changing and technology that is driving out. We are looking to have some evolution of our business offering, what space we plan and our desired goals. We are having conversations on how we can use the team here to build new applications.
What are the general trends that you notice in the APAC market in the next few years?
Asia is fascinating because you have ends like the really matured markets of Australia and Japan. On social, there is a 25% year-on-year increase in social interactions which is about 300 million people that are active on social. The payments ecosystem in Asia is really big; that is one thing which is really unique and fragmented. The Asian consumer we know has a higher level of expectations so we have to build on that as well.