Interview with Alibaba CMO Chris Tung

“China’s 350 million middle-class consumers are looking for high-quality products around the world.”

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Chris Tung joined Alibaba Group in January 2016 as Chief Marketing Officer. Since November 2017 he has also been President of Alimama, the Alibaba Group's digital marketing platform.
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Chris Tung joined Alibaba Group in January 2016 as Chief Marketing Officer. Since November 2017 he has also been President of Alimama, the Alibaba Group's digital marketing platform.
Alibaba is the dimension of 74.1 billion dollars turnover, achieved in 11 Global Shopping Festival days in the midst of a growing 350 million consumers with high purchasing power. Alibaba's Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tung advises ergo, especially SMEs from all over the world, to adopt an independent China strategy. In the detailed HORIZONT Swiss interview with Chris Tung more about this and other exciting topics.
Chris Tung was today guest at the webInAAr of IAA Switzerland, IAA UK and IAA Austria. This interview was arranged by IAA Switzerland and was conducted in advance. Asked during today's webInAAr what skills a CMO needs to have in today's world, Tung answered with a sports analogy. Athletes would know what to do to win and they would know that you can never do enough to win. One example of this in marketing is real-time feedback. Everything you do provides immediate feedback on effectiveness. This would enable us to learn very quickly and improve as a result, provided we were prepared to do the much work that is necessary. Perhaps one can put Tung's words in a nutshell: Marketers need athlete hearts.

Mr. Tung, you studied at the University of Michigan, have a Master's Degree in Industrial Engineering and eventually found your way to Alibaba. Is there a history, a personal event perhaps, that has been crucial in making you CMO of one of the world's most successful companies today? After managing some of the world’s top brands for years, I was inspired by Alibaba’s mission and vision and I wanted to play my part in sharing this with the world. At Alibaba, we believe that digitalization is the biggest opportunity of our time. And I personally have always believed in the power of creativity and innovation to convey the opportunities technology brings for our merchants both big and small, and to our consumers. This is what continues to drive and inspire me every day.

The world is going through one of its greatest crises of modern times. What gives you personal hope in this time? It’s a very challenging time for the world, but what gives me hope is that we have never been better equipped to handle it thanks to technology. It’s true, the pandemic has fundamentally changed our everyday life but also accelerated digital adoption and transformation. We are seeing several trends:

  • First, we are seeing a significant change in people’s consumption habits. During the pandemic, almost everyone has become an online consumer, no matter how digitally savvy they had been. We also saw rapid growth of many new consumption categories that previously have had relatively low online penetration, such as daily necessities and groceries. Even as lockdown measures eased in China starting in April, the demand and popularity of these new categories remained strong.
  • Second, we have observed a fundamental change in how people work. Technology has enabled people to work remotely without losing productivity. For example, DingTalk is our digital collaboration platform that offers new ways of working for modern enterprises and organizations. Millions of enterprises in China are now using DingTalk to collaborate and run their day-to-day operations.
  • Third, beyond work collaboration, digitalization is transforming entire enterprise operations, both within organizations and across industry value chains. We have seen accelerating demand for our cloud infrastructure and services. Customers are not only demanding IT infrastructure, but also industry-specific solutions that address real-world business problems.
A conclusion? I believe seizing new opportunities brought about by the pandemic is key to overcoming the challenges it has brought to all of us.

Back to Alibaba. What drives Alibaba and its employees? Our mission is to ‘make it easy to do business anywhere’ in the digital era, and our vision is to be a ‘good company that will last for 102 years’.

Chris Tung, Alibaba CMO, German Version
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Interview mit Alibaba CMO Chris Tung

«Chinas 350 Millionen Konsumenten aus der Mittelschicht sind weltweit auf der Suche nach hochwertigen Produkten.»

Alibaba ist die Dimension von 74,1 Milliarden Dollar Umsatz, erzielt in 11 Global-Shopping-Festival-Tagen, inmitten einer wachsenden, besonders kaufkräftigen 350-Millionen-Konsumentenschaft Chinas. Alibabas CMO Chris Tung rät ergo, insbesondere KMUs aus aller Welt, zu einer eigenständigen China-Strategie. Im ausführlichen HORIZONT Swiss Interview mehr dazu und zu anderen spannenden Themen.

Can you specify this? With pleasure! One example of seeing this ethos in action is that we constantly create value through our platforms for our customers – from SMEs to global brands to consumers.  ‘Customer First’ is one of our core values,  and it incorporates our belief that only by creating sustained customer value can our employees grow and shareholders achieve long-term benefit.

An example of this? Let’s take the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival for instance. It’s the biggest shopping event in the world,  created by Alibaba, and it brings huge value to businesses of all sizes from all over the world. We just announced the results of this year’s festival – a record-breaking  $74.1 billion in gross merchandise volume, achieved over eleven days. But what’s really interesting about this year’s Global Shopping Festival was our focus on global brand recovery and supporting SMEs.

And how specifically do brands and SMEs from all over the world benefit from Alibaba? With much of the world still feeling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, 11.11 offered international brands a welcome opportunity to sell into China, the world’s second-largest economy. We extended the length of the festival, allowing more merchants representing new exciting brands and small businesses the opportunity to participate in the festival.

Where does this passion for SMEs come from? Supporting small and medium-sized businesses is in our DNA and our aim is to help them digitize and  succeed in the global marketplace. We believe that technology can level the playing field, and that even small companies have the opportunity to be global companies.  Alibaba’s culture is grounded in our core values, and these have led us from being just a dream, to where we are today.

What fascinates you about marketing? What keeps me fascinated are the endless possibilities marketing offers to make the world a little bit better - through a creative idea, through innovation, and by providing new experiences to our audiences. And I love being able to inspire others by what we do – brands, partners, consumers and team members.

Forgive this stereotype question: Your most important advice for marketing 2021? 
  • The epidemic has made us reconsider our values and reassess the importance of our intimate relationships. In terms of marketing, it’s now more important than ever to build a brand with purpose.
  • A marketing strategy in today’s environment needs to look closely at people’s needs, what is important to them and be in tune with those. For example, being closer with their family and friends – many of us can only now appreciate how important this is.
  • Consumers have become more sensitive to the prices and quality of products and they are more rational when they purchase. This makes the value of the products that we deliver more important than ever.
What should companies take to heart in their marketing now, in the middle of the crisis? A China strategy – and a digital strategy – are going to be absolutely critical for success in the future.

What do you mean by "China strategy"? As China came out of the pandemic, consumption levels have recovered rapidly as evidenced by our 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. China’s 350 million middle-class consumers have experienced significant real wage growth over the past decade, and are looking for high-quality products around the world. Furthermore, the Chinese economy is undergoing a shift from investment and export to consumption, import and services. The number of Chinese consumers as well as their purchasing power are set to grow well into the future.

And what is your advice to companies? My advice to companies of all sizes, and particularly SMEs is to take action now and develop different channels to strengthen your resilience to disruptions in demand. The climate of uncertainty will continue for some time as COVID-19 continues to disrupt economies worldwide. Companies should take this opportunity to go all-in on digital to develop new customers and markets.

You were head of marketing at PepsiCo China from 2004 to 2010. What is the biggest challenge for a Western brand to be successful in China? It’s essential to be very agile to succeed in this market, and adapt to new trends and consumer habits quickly and efficiently. This can be challenging especially for larger companies but this is a fast-changing market and an agile mindset is key.

A final thought that you would like to share with us? Alibaba was founded with the mission to champion small businesses and make it easy to do business anywhere in the digital era. Together we will be able to turn the current crisis into an opportunity and prepare for the future through digital transformation.

Mr. Tung, thank you very much for this interview.

Chris Tung
Chris Tung joined Alibaba Group in January 2016 as Chief Marketing Officer. Since November 2017 he has also been President of Alimama, the Alibaba Group's digital marketing platform. Prior to his current position, Chris Tung was Chief Executive Officer of VML China marketing agency from October 2010 to January 2016. Prior to joining VML, he was with PepsiCo China from October 2004 to October 2010, where he served as Vice President of Marketing. Prior to that, Chris worked for Procter & Gamble from 1995 to 1998, Gigamedia from 1998 to 2001 and L'Oréal from 2001 to 2003 in various senior management positions. Chris received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from National Taiwan University and a master's degree in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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