In a fast-changing consumer market, the communications and marketing industry is constantly challenged with the need to stay agile and offer flexible solutions to meet the dynamic needs of our clients. Offering well-defined creative and innovative marketing strategies that are driven by tight budgets and high expectations is something that many have to work around with.
To find out more about how one digital marketing agency remains relevant in this cut-throat business, Marketing in Asia speaks to Daniël Heerkens, Partner & Regional Managing Director of 2Stallions. A Dutch-born award winning digital marketer, marketing trainer and General Assembly lecturer, Daniël is responsible for the business growth of 2Stallions across the Asian region. One of the most dynamic digital marketing companies in the region, Daniël shares his strategy in Growth for his agency and the importance of digital marketing for businesses.
Daniël, you wear many hats in your profession. Besides being the engine behind running of 2Stallions, you are also a lecturer and a trainer. Tell us who Daniël is and what prompted you to be in this industry.
I have come a long way, going from the Netherlands to South-East Asia, until finally settling down in amazing Singapore.
As a young man, I was always interested in how to sell and market products online & offline. During my bachelor studies, I decided to take a year and a half year to do an internship in Jakarta, working for a big Indonesian conglomerate. It changed my entire world view. After that, I spent several months travelling through South-East Asia and eventually decided to do a Bachelor’s exchange program in Osaka, Japan, focussing on Economics. I wrapped up that early time in Asia with a stimulating visit to China during the Beijing Olympics.
After my travels, I spent some time in Malaysia, where I worked for Dutch Lady in Kuala Lumpur on a very exciting project that explored why consumers up-traded from mainstream to premium products. All of this, the travel and the work, was life-changing; I was truly impressed and excited about Asia! In that one and a half years, I saw the growth of the region, and the potential that came with that growth.
I went back to the Netherlands and started working for the Danone Group, a fast-moving consumer multinational (FMCG), and after some time there was an opportunity to transfer to Singapore.
After many years in the corporate sector in Singapore, I joined my friend Razy Shah and, together with Dhawal Shah, we built 2Stallions into the entrepreneurial venture it is today.
In the last few years, I’ve learned that there is a significant gap in digital skills and understanding, specifically the benefits digital offers in enhancing customer engagement and sales.
Eventually, I was asked to join Lithan, one of Singapore’s most prominent digital skills accelerators, as a part-time lecturer. I’m very proud to have taught over 250 students digital marketing skills during that program. I believe that the transfer of knowledge is vital, allowing more companies and individuals to benefit from digital transformation and digital strategy skills.
In 2019, I started teaching part time at General Assembly, a key international tech education company. I teach many courses, from Digital Marketing Immerse, Go To Market Strategies, Digital Transformation, Content Marketing, Marketing Automation, B2B Digital Marketing Strategies, to name a few.
On your website danielheerkens.com you mentioned you have written a book. What is it about?
It’s about using digital strategies to future proof your business,Managing rapid digital disruption, and the impact of these elements on Asia’s consumer behavior.
In essence, the book aims to illustrate how digital trends disrupt the traditional consumer landscape, the changing omnichannel strategies, the creation of solid market strategies for the Asian consumer, how to adopt customer-centric approaches that make sense, and several other subjects that have rapidly evolved particularly now due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The bottom line of the book is that digital provides us with a great opportunity to make our jobs and lives easier – for example, automating leave administration or digital applications. Digital automation frees us up to focus on high-level aspects that have a bigger impact on our businesses, such as strategies or relationship management.
Since times are tough, I’m actually giving away the e-book at the moment. There have been 1000+ downloads since early 2020. You can find it here, if you would like to read it: https://danielheerkens.com/ebook/. I believe that it is an absolute must read for every digital marketing professional, and I hope others can benefit from my knowledge and experiences.
What are the solutions that 2Stallions offers and the suite of clients you support?
We are a full-service boutique digital marketing agency. This means we take care of clients’ needs from start to finish in an end-to-end service – from creating awareness online all the way to conversion of leads, sales, and even customer advocacy.
We create performance conversion-focused websites and applications. When those platforms are well-established, we turn to digital advertising strategies like search engine marketing, programmatic (AI) advertising, social media advertising, search engine optimization, and marketing automation to bring the customer to your digital doorstep.
This is all driven by a strong creative team that combines insights into actionable data for our clients. In a nutshell, we produce strong creative, data-driven, conversion strategies.
Our primary focus is ensuring that when clients engage us, they can feel the impact of our work on a marketing and business level.Generating brand awareness for products, services, or solutions attract more qualified leads, but in times like these, with a pandemic causing trouble, it is vital for businesses to generate increased revenue,and that is our number one priority for our clients. In the 5+ years 2Stallions has been around, we have – and continue to – support many MNC, SMEs, start-ups, and governments with their Asia Pacific performance strategies.
As the Regional MD for an international agency spanning different countries, what is your strategy in growing the business across Asia?
Singapore is a strong APAC and global hub for many businesses, which is why we are headquartered here. We also have a client service and sales office in Malaysia that serves the Malaysian market. One of the main reasons we have multiple offices throughout the region, like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India is to service those specific markets in their local language as well as having people on the ground that understand the customer’s local culture and needs.
Chemistry between client and agency is extremely important since you need to work closely together to achieve the best results. To this end, people skills combined with good regional and cultural exposure, will strengthen client relationships and benefit both parties. It also helps to work with the right type of clients, of course.
We always look at exciting and useful emerging technology and see if we can apply any of it for our clients, hoping to give them an edge over their competition. Internally, we also keep updating ourselves and our team members on digital trends in the industries our clients are active in.
In the end, everything boils down to the people and company culture, which means building a winning team. With the right people in the right roles, dreams can become reality. As long as we are all in a similar time-zone, fit in with our company culture, it doesn’t really matter where they are based.
With the pandemic, we hear of many businesses that had to cut their marketing budget. How did that affect your business and how did it play to your advantage, if any, for the last few months or so?
Unfortunately, I think everyone is affected one way or the other. We have seen some clients temporarily reduce their budgets or put things on hold. This is absolutely understandable. However, we see more businesses coming back. This is largely because there are new possibilities that have been made possible by the restrictions forced in us by COVID-19.
Being unable to host or attend events, lack of business travel, and default working from home have certainly made it more challenging to engage with customers. For instance,of home advertising is possible but since foot traffic is limited and people are spending more time online, it is not as successful compared to the precision targeting you get with digital marketing strategies
What we are now witnessing is a clear increase in marketing budgets being allocated to website development and digital marketing in order to engage with customers. We absolutely believe the future is going to be very bright, afterall, what we now know is that there is really only one way: Engage Asia, go Digital!
In your opinion, what are the differences or similarities SMEs across Asia experience in riding the digital transformation wave?
Based on my experience there are a lot of similarities between different Asian SMEs.Many of them are family-owned and are prudent when it comes to spending money. They also rely heavily on traditional ways of building their business, meaning they often have multiple parties in their supply chain. Since the Asian consumer landscape and the array of online sale methodology is changing so quickly, supply chains can change and businesses have to adapt.
Digital marketing, whether B2B or B2C, allows you to reach customers directly so that can increase your profit margin significantly.Sales and marketing operations can be run more flexibly as well as it will be data-driven rather than based on a ‘gut feeling’.
It is important for Asian SMEs to transform digitally and focus on all their customers-base .SMEs are usually very much focused on their home or regional market, but with the digital transformation the world is their oyster, opening opportunities to reach a greater global clientbase.
SMEs need to realize that primary data is the new gold, and properly integrating its use throughout an entire business – from sales, marketing, finance, to operations – will help grow the business. By streamlining integrated data use, you can potentially work a leaner and more agile team that steadily increases your revenue.
As a marketer, we understand the importance of aligning PR, advertising and marketing on brand building. Why do you think this is crucial in ensuring an organisation’s agility in this age of digital transformation?
I think it is crucial to understand agility in terms of digital transformation. Accelerating digital transformation can bring key products and solutions to the market in such a way that businesses gain market shares and stay relevant.
Agile companies are adaptable, innovative, and bring about change more quickly than their competitors. In an agile environment, however, and so in digital transformation, failure is an essential part of the process – but during a digital transformation we call it ‘test and learn’.
Agility really means doing something new, discovering how well it works, and assessing whether it achieves the desired results. This approach is hugely valuable for companies today that are seeking to innovate and find new ways of doing things.
To be truly agile, businesses need to develop an in-depth understanding of the customer experience (CX) to have a competitive advantage. If they don’t, they might find themselves on the wrong end of market disruption, as we have seen happen to previously-strong companies like Kodak, Nokia, and many more.
Today, marketers have a whole suite of digital and technology solutions, applications, vast choice of social media platforms and artificial intelligence to utilise in their campaign. What are your strategic marketing advice for MNC & SMEs who are planning to upscale their brand and the types of solutions that works best for them?
The strategic marketing advice I would offer to MNCs and SMEs is actually quite straightforward:
Potential customers need to know that you exist. There needs to be a physical and mental distribution of your presence. Customers need to see your products either online, in person, or being used by others. On the other hand, you need to have earned real estate in their minds – mental distribution – so when they think about buying a product or service you offer, they think of you..
Additionally, since the customer journey has changed a fair bit over the last years due to digital, you need to make sure you have an omnichannel strategy in place, as well as ample budget to keep reinforcing your brand value propositioning .
As a brand you need to be relevant at every touchpoint in the digital arena, whether in a search engine, on social media, website, app, online publication (like the Straits Times, for example), in emails, or third platforms (think Shopee and Lazada). You need to impress your customer wherever and whenever you have a chance to interact with them.
Usually this is where differences between SMEs & MNCs become obvious. It is important to have company organized and centralized content and branding. Years of consistent branding and messaging tend to pay off by delivering greater brand awareness, increased mental distribution, better brand recall, and result in improved sales.
Can you share with us in brief, a case study of how 2Stallions have helped an MNC & SMEs implement an effective and successful digital campaign?
We have many great case studies from our MNC & SME clients. We find that we always achieve increased awareness for the client’s brand, more potential leads to their online assets that result in conversions. These conversions turn into sales, which, of course, help the business grow. We are always focused on getting results that matter to our clients. When they engage us, clients see a double-digit growth in revenue, leads, and conversions. As a result, we’re very proud that most of our clients stay with us for many years.
Client U: a B2B APAC based Software company
Client U engaged 2Stallions to improve the number of qualified leads that they get from their website as well as increase the overall organic traffic from the targeted countries Singapore, Australia & Malaysia.
2Stallions created a three-prong approach to run display ads, search ads and create an SEO approach that complements the paid efforts in order to bring in more qualified leads.
Increasing sales pipeline growth
Growth on marketing qualified leads (MQL)
Client S: A Consumer Goods APAC based company
Client S engaged 2Stallions to develop a campaign that would increase their social media presence in the region as well as drive online sales in this complex market
2Stallions ran separate campaigns on Facebook & Instagram and created different target audiences for the various brands under the S umbrella as well as optimized the campaigns A/B testing ad copies, bids and t Visuals
40% More leads than initial objective
Where do you see your agency heading to in the next five years?
I see 2Stallions expanding even further into the region. Currently, we have offices in Singapore (our HQ), Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, but we don’t want it to stop there. We would like to expand our footprint even further into those countries and their neighbours, potentially opening up in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and even China.
Daniël, thank you for these valuable insights. For our readers who wish to get in touch with you, how can they reach you?
They can connect with me on LinkedIn, by email or via my personal website.