Global Players: A Conversation with Jean Lin

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As Global CEO of Isobar, one of the most prominent full-service digital agency networks in the world, Jean oversees more than 6,000 digital marketing professionals across 70+ locations in over 45 markets around the world. Advertising Week spoke with Jean to get an insider’s look at the digital market today, and what it takes to lead the “Digital Network of the Year.”

Advertising Week: As digital technology continues to transform businesses and brands, what do you anticipate will be the new set of challenges marketers and advertisers will have to face in the coming years?

Jean Lin: The world will continue to be disrupted by new evolving technologies, experiences and services. Technology enables the interconnection of utility, content and entertainment and has created a complex landscape for brands, whilst people’s expectation of simplicity has increased. The challenge for brands is to deliver personalized, seamless experiences at scale that both excite and add value for people. Fundamental to this is leveraging the right combination of technologies to build invisible and non-intrusive experiences.

To achieve this goal, brands need to co-create experiences with a diverse group of channels, platforms, and talent.  The real challenge for marketers for the next decade is how to embrace, inspire, and lead multidisciplinary talent. This includes hiring people who work within the organizations, and engaging partners who work with the businesses.

This requires an organization with higher digital maturity culture that can move with agility and at scale. The model of managing partners and procurement processes needs to be refreshed, and the old mindset of managing “vendors” needs to be replaced.

AW: What do you anticipate the digital landscape will look like on a global scale in the next decade or so?

JL: Global digital advertising spend will continue to soar, with the latest predictions from Juniper Research estimating a $285bn spend by 2020 and digital will overtake the total spend of TV advertising as soon as this year. This shift will be fronted by several consumer facing technological advancements, namely the rise of AR, VR and AI.

While we begin to see how AR and VR may be able to improve and create new experiences, or transforming home TV viewing experiences, AI will be the key driver for fundamental change in the marketing and creative industry. AI will initially add incremental value to marketing ecosystems by driving efficiency and relevancy, and but it will provide a transformative impact over time by enabling creativity and better ideas.

AW: What are some trends in digital that you hope to see more of in the future?

JL: Digital has moved far beyond a communication channel. Digital is now a fundamental part of almost every business ­­– from commerce and providing the internal structure through to delivering organizational transformation. Brands are moving beyond one directional story-telling, by using technology to co-create compelling narratives that empower individual users and elevate the human experience.

I hope we see more people realise the vital role agility, collaboration and partnerships play in powering creativity. From Isobar’s perspective, co-creating digital centric products and services with our global media partners and our clients is an amazing opportunity – it’s what a digital business partner should be doing. Agency models will need to evolve from an asymmetric distribution model into co-creation in order to keep up with technological and creative advancements.

I also hope to see more organizations understand the digital divide that data and technology is creating, and that they will work towards harmonizing the invisible divide.

AW: How can brands stay ahead of the “digital curve” today as more and more business go toward a digital economy?

JL: Cultivate healthy working cultures. Embrace Diversity, and grab on the opportunity it brings to businesses and society. Business thrives on this. In our industry, creativity and innovation is the engine for what we do – and what we offer our clients – and a diverse workforce is necessary to drive that. To achieve this, we need an operational and systematic way of creating that environment in which we tolerate a healthy sense of disagreement, and for disagreement to generate productive outcomes. It is also critical to create learning platforms – enabling collective learning, and making self-learning everyone’s top priority.

AW: Isobar APAC recently won Digital Network of the Year for the fifth time in six years – what’s the secret to that success? What has Isobar APAC been doing that has set it apart as a clear winner in the agency space?

JL: This was a huge achievement for Isobar APAC and our teams there – with that win and more than 18 awards from the Campaign Asia Pacific awards. To be recognized five times in six years is a great honor. I believe at the end it all goes back to Isobar’s culture. We have a culture that respects each other’s differences, and we want to share everyone’s ideas. This respect for diversity and support of a collaborative culture has enabled us to work across borders and accelerate our own growth and innovation.

As a digital agency, one of the key drivers for success is the discipline to evolve and innovate our offering – for our clients, but also for ourselves, as otherwise we could be complacent about where we are, and not proactively seek modification and improvement. Our innovation accelerator enables us to take the best out of local market for others to tap into and improve.

Asia Pacific is also amongst the fastest growing digital markets in the world. Lots of new economy innovation and ideas are coming from East to West. We have two global growth hubs in Asia Pacific, China and Australia, creating globally significant work and working as our centres of excellence for AR/VR, and big data. We are looking at Japan and India being the next growth hubs for us globally, so watch this space!

AW: What are a few of the most exciting, emerging opportunities coming out of the Asia Pacific market today?

JL: Asia Pacific has a huge millennial population who are fluent in digital, and who are increasing the demand for digital experiences. Just imagine, over one million Indians will turn 18 every month across the next few years. Brands who do not understand how to deliver on their expectations will not cut through or survive.

We are effectively seeing the whole relationship with consumers changing from supply led to demand led in every area of manufacturing supply chain, marketing and engagement. This transformation is highly significant for creative businesses and offers the opportunity to be truly culturally relevant within society.

The other clear opportunity in Asia Pacific that we are seeing is the need to close the gap between brand inspiration and transaction, regardless of channel, device, and location. Young consumers want everything happening now, or just one click away. Marketers who are not able to provide meaningful experiences that are simple and transaction enabled, will have many of the young consumers walking away from them.

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