The Connected CEO 2012
Top executives are taking up digital technology, but the extent of the embrace appears to be tempered by their need to remain in control of their business ecosystem, according to new research commissioned by MEC and CNBC and conducted by Added Value Saffron Hill. The research surveyed 32 leaders in multi-national companies across Singapore, Hong Kong and India.
Digital technology adoption by Asia CEOs mainly limited to device ubiquity; more contactable than ever through digital devices and channels
Added Value Saffron Hill, working with MEC and CNBC announce the results of a regional study into this highly sought after yet often un-researched niche segment
Adoption of digital technology is currently limited to new devices (smartphone, tablet, etc.), being used for information aggregation and synchronization.
Attitudinally, top leaders in Asia acknowledge the positive benefits of using digital technology in the work place, citing upturns in growth and productivity, a leveling of the playing field and changing business formats. They believe that digital technology will change the way they work in the future.
Behaviourally, Asia CEOs consider themselves “fast followers” and claim to be undaunted by the proliferation of new gadgets – they remain in control over how and when these devices are to be used. A CEO in Singapore said he does not “want to be controlled by anyone or a piece of machinery”. An example of this is how mobile phones are often switched off and handed over to secretaries during meetings, for undivided attention.
These executives believe that digital technologies are not the “be all and end all” of everything. The same expectations in communications from the past applies in today’s digital age too, from “paying full attention when someone is talking” to having control of their time. As a CEO from a HK company said, “When I’m at home, it’s my time. Unless it’s very urgent, everything can wait till the next morning.”
In essence, CEOs continue to and expect to remain in control of their time and schedules. The top leaders in Asia tend to have well-established working behaviours, so technology and devices perform an efficiency or enhancing role, especially on a personal level. New technology has not intrinsically changed the way they behave; it is merely facilitating existing behaviors. “I want to be thoughtful, not just compelled to reply right away. I use these devices to add meaning,” explained a CEO from Singapore.
However, it is clear that CEOs recognize the benefits of technology and how it can revolutionise their business, but also recognise that they have a long way to go. iPad – the game changer?
Interestingly, the iPad is possibly the one gadget that has been observed to subtly alter the CEO behaviour. With the trend of consumerisation of technology and more companies embracing the BYOD (bring your own device) policy, the iPad has quickly become a business as well as a personal device.
The iPad is a perfect fit for the needs of this niche target audience. They have expressed a fondness for it especially for browsing and presenting. This CEO from Singapore likes the iPad:
“When the opportunity arises, I take out my iPad and present rather than use my laptop which makes me look like a salesman.” It is slowly replacing the laptop for short trips and they express a certain liberation that comes with doing that. “I started taking my iPad for short trips and now I find the laptop is becoming desk bound. It feels heavy and un-necessary for some trips.”
“Given that they need to manage complexity, tablets satisfy a specific need from CEOs – simplicity. CEOs are highly selective with their content and only consume what they perceive will add real value to their work and personal lives. Therefore, brands seeking to communicate with CEOs need to ensure that content is delivered in a concise manner and optimised to be viewed and interacted with on these devices,” said Junji Sumitani, Vice President, Advertising Sales, CNBC in Asia Pacific.Selective levels of engagement with social media
Asia CEOs acknowledge that the social media bandwagon is a wave they have yet to, or are hesitant to ride on, either for themselves or for their companies. Personally, these CEOs cite valuing their privacy as the reason they are at best passive observers of social networks. Due to the inherent social nature of these networks, there seems to be a fear of opening up access to themselves and not having the bandwidth to deal with it. This CEO from Hong Kong described it as “There are all these requests I need to accept and I just don’t want to get started on dialogues.”
The innate need to remain in control would clearly be at risk.
However, they do realise the potential of using it for their businesses. Internally, there is some but limited use of social networks for internal communications, stemming from a need to provide a platform for employees to air their opinions rather than as a way to connect and engage with them. “Clearly young people today feel they have a right to question and understand why something is working the way it is and if you don’t provide a mechanism for them to ask that questions and express themselves, they will go outside. So it is better for us to provide that space within the organization.” said a CEO from India.
Externally, CEOs are starting to explore the benefits of what these networks can do. “Therefore, it becomes a very interesting B2B tool. So that’s something we are experimenting within the office – how to use social networking for marketing and promotion and positioning for the company.”
Social networks are not the way to best communicate with CEOs since they are reluctant to lose control of their communication structures. However, they seek recommendations as much as anyone else, often through respected media brands. Hence B2B brands have an opportunity to partner with these media brands to provide valuable, timely content. CEOs have never been more accessible
It is clear that Asian CEOs do not conform to the stereotype of being unreachable; having all contact screened by the ubiquitous personal assistant. With the volume and accessibility of information, today CEOs are gladly taking direct control of their own access to communications, business performance and industry news. This stems partly from being competitive, partly from a fear of missing out and partly due to an inclination to learn and develop.
Smartphones are almost an extension of their arm and always-on, emails are personally dealt with necessary efficiency. Tablets (usually iPads) have rapidly been adopted, often for both work and play to share information in meetings, monitor business performance and catching up on news and reports.
For this reason, CEOs are now far more open to receiving brand communications, provided they make every effort to be relevant.
For CEOs, relevance means to provide something they didn’t already know, that they act on, with a clear message and delivered at an appropriate time and channel. Email is stated as the preferred method of contact, since it can be left and dealt with at a convenient time. It also appeals to their desire to share relevant information with their networks. Far from rejecting brand communications, CEOs are very pragmatic about it, but expect brands to respect who they are –
“As long as it’s done sens ibly – like SMS with ADV at the beginning of the message – I appreciate the honesty”. CEOs are brand conscious – they just don’t like to admit it
Another popular myth is that consumer or B2B brands struggle to cut through with CEOs since either they already have their established favourite brands, or that that they are simply too pragmatic to be ‘seduced’ by brands. Not true – CEOs are very tuned in to brands and what they stand for – from hotels, airlines, apparel, luxury and technology. Apple is a regular favourite, where CEOs not only appreciate the products, but respect the company ethos, the history and what the late Steve Jobs achieved. The travel corridor is still work – but a different kind of work
In most cases business travel is still work time, but considerably more lean back for CEOs. It is a time to reflect, perhaps on recent meetings, initiatives, or the longer term direction or vision of their business. It is a time to be inspired, through consumption of business publications, latest trends, experiences of other business leaders, or companies in other industries or countries.
Tablets have become critical on business travel, as CEOs will strive to simplify everything around them, including the amount of physical paper / books they may carry. Jon Wright, Head of Analytics and Insight, MEC Asia Pacific said, “We often forget that CEOs are human beings too – they are not a completely different breed. In many ways technology has made them more similar to the everyday person, where they constantly access information on the go to remain informed and be inspired. Brands need to ensure that valuable content is provided that fits in with the CEOs’ requirements, and it needs to be effectively ‘liquid’ in order to be accessible via any device.”