An interview with Damien Cummings – Global Head of Digital Marketing at Standard Chartered Bank


Damien Cummings has been able to build quite a reputation for himself in the 8 years he has been active in marketing in Singapore. This may have something to do with the five positions he had in quick succession at an equal number of well known corporates. He has developed a consistent presence on LinkedIn, where he posts about the stuff that he is reading to keep abreast with the developments in marketing. Time for an interview with the man who built a Marketing Command Centre at Philips and is now Global Head of Digital Marketing at Standard Chartered Bank.


From Oz to Sing
Damien explains jokingly that he got into marketing because he wanted to meet girls. It started with his first position as a junior at McKinsey. He quickly became known as the internet guy. He was able to develop this reputation because of a flatmate who was at the time building the first website for a telco in Australia.

These were the crazy early days of website development where his flatmate was able to make a 90% margin on a 500k project. With the profit of this project they started a company specialised in building websites. The company evolved into eCRM and Damien emerged as the Managing Director.

“At some point in time we employed 20 people and things went well, until the company rolled over, when the internet bubble bursted around 2000.”

From here on in he went from one role to another, starting at a mining company. In every one of these roles he was the first digital lead in the companies he works for. With every job he moved up in the hierarchy as well.

“What I noticed over time is that marketing is first and foremost about change and change management. As change is constant, specifically today, you cannot be a marketer who is oblivious to change management. Also digital has become synonymous to marketing. I am also convinced that ads are the hammer for campaigns, for marketing technology is the hammer.”


As indicated before Damien has had 4 before positions in Singapore, before joining Standard Chartered. What is the reason behind this?

“In the last 3 positions before Standard Chartered, the companies re-organised or split up. In each case my role was redefined or split up as well, which made me decide to move on. Joining Standard Chartered I thought that things would remain somewhat more stable. But a few weeks into the job the new CEO, Bill Winters, announced a round of lay-offs and a re-organisation. This time around my role did not change, because digital is such an essential part of Standard Chartered’s current business strategy. The C-level fully supports it. Yet, re-organisations are not unusual in the financial sector where more than 500,000 people lost their jobs in recent years.”

“Talking about change, the payment space is changing rapidly. Things like peer-to-peer lending are taking flight and that also changes the nature of the finance business. I believe there is more a sense of humility emerging in the banking world. We are learning the hard way that the customer is in control and that we should quickly adapt to this new powerplay.”


The role of marketing
Standard Chartered makes a distinction between the user experience and marketing. Service design e.g. is managed by a separate team. IT-innovation is handled by another team. The role of marketing is to communicate the new services, engagement models and innovation we’re driving to the customers.

The KPIs for these departments are clearly focused on providing an amazing experience but also on saving costs.

“To me marketing is about 4Cs; Campaigns, Conversations, Conversion and Capabilities. We work with our agencies to develop best in class campaigns. For these campaigns we spend 50% of our budget on digital and that will only increase. We drive conversations through the development of content. Then we focus on conversion. We need to get more online customers to join us. Finally we focus on lifting up the capabilities of our marketers around the world.”

“Against this background, technology is fundamental for our marketing framework. Experts in marketing that have sufficiently deep knowledge of marketing and combine this with the classic 4Ps as I just mentioned, are rare. But since we are in a sector that is going to be hit very hard by disruption very very soon, we need to find these experts and get them on board.”


Highlights & the role of martech
Damien has delivered quite a few projects and campaigns in his various roles. Which ones does he consider to stand out?

“I personally think that the Philips Asia Digital Command Centre is one of the most important achievements in my career. This centre combines agency and internal resources at Philips that transformed the way they work together and produce content. The team puts analytics at its core and through the onsite content creation Philips saved up to 40% on production costs. They produce videos and product shots in-house that are then directly used in the conversations and campaigns they develop. The centre also increased sales lead generation by 80-85% and has resulted in incremental B2B sales. The centre is important to them. In the new building it will occupy a space that is 3 times as large as the current one.”

“It is certainly a great achievement, because it was the biggest in its class at the time of introduction, globally. Another platform that I was involved in at Dell is Dell SWARM, a platform to sell old inventory. SWARM addressed the issue caused by price reductions on products that are replaced by ones with better specifications, yet they look the same. Customers don’t understand this and this leads to an overall downgrade in brand perception. By making these products available on a separate platform the expired products did no longer spoil the value of the new ones.”

“Today Dell has less retail focus so this platform is no longer available.”


1 and a Million
What is according to Damien the importance of marketing technology, specifically when it comes on using the powerful personalisation features it has on offer today, against the background of an organisation?

“The paradox today is that we have the technology to deliver highly personalised messages, even down to a 1:1 level. Yet, with 11M customers, we don’t have enough people to have a 1:1 dialogue with our customers. Maybe you can automate the dialogue in the future, using AI but since that is a machine, is that conversation then still personal?”

“You see also that consumers have ways to ‘vote’ against too much information, content and touch points. Ad-blockers are a great example. Customers hate them so when they’re offered a way to get rid of them a number of them will install the necessary tools. It is only when you’re truly relevant and amazing, that customers will allow you into their personal space.”


So how is Standard Chartered addressing this?
“Staying relevant and offering an amazing UX with similar digital marketing to help enabling this is a top priority for the executives. This is e.g. applicable to the branches with the role of mobile being increasingly important too.”

“One of the ways of keeping a bank and the branches important in a market that is clearly commoditised, is to offer choice to customers. They should be able to seamlessly decide how and where they want to do a transaction and what kind of value add advice they would like to have with that. The role of digital in this case is clearly to extend services, enhance the customer experience and introduce different usage of the branches.”

“This is also driven by the fact that loyalty in banking is virtually non-existent. We have to accept that as a bank but also turn it around and wonder how we can stay relevant.”


Measurement is an important topic, something you would expect in the financial sectors that is numbers and analytics based by the nature of the business. Damien has a very specific opinion about this.

“If I were to become the CMO of a global player, the first thing I would do is to get a bunch of PhDs in to get an answer to the question: how can we once and for all establish a measurement framework that will allow marketing to take a seat in the board room and present indisputable numbers that prove how relevant they are to the business. In other words, today we still struggle to provide the board with hard facts and numbers that they can understand and accept in total confidence. HR, finance, operations and even sales, have a much easier task than marketers, where things like brand perception and overall tangible conversions that include all campaign tactics are much harder to quantify, leave alone report on. In fact we need a moonshot for marketing, i.e. get a similar effect as to what space technology experienced once they accepted the challenge to put a man on the moon.”


But what is he changing at Standard Chartered at this moment?
“What we are doing is to enhance the KPI framework is to be enhanced with ROMI. We will use this to analyse and optimise the media mix.”

He continues to explain that Dell had a great KPI framework that was used quarterly, monthly and weekly. This meant that they could really focus on campaign and marketing outcomes.


Marketing in reality
So how does Damien approach marketing today?

“Standard Chartered is chasing where the customers are. We leverage the Liverpool football team and we sponsor marathons, something we have done for a long time. We also have a deal with Singapore Airlines for media placement on inflight systems. If you fly SIA you probably have noticed the ad when you start up your inflight system.”

“We also work closely with Facebook, Google and LinkedIn because they have so much data. To make use of that we started using Atlas. They cross tabulate online insights with Facebook data and through that we can optimise targeting of campaigns even better than when we just do Facebook.”


How to stay informed as a marketer?
“I read a lot of magazines and tech publications and I enrolled in a course at Hyper Island to get training in Digital Media Management and Business Transformation. I also post on LinkedIn about the stuff that I read. It does help my personal branding, but that is not the primary reason why I am doing this. I publish regularly on LinkedIn to keep understand what is relevant through feedback I get.”


What is the CMOs biggest challenge today?
“To me the biggest challenge of any CMO is how to make the customer care about your brand. This means that your products and service should be relevant and ideally ubiquitous and they are delivered with a great user experience. Ideally marketing should have a board room seat and a say in product and service development.”

“We will apply some of that approach in the next iteration of the ‘Here for Good’ campaigns. We will try to make the essence of this message more tangible. It is marketing’s role is to help explaining this value proposition.”


Does he have advice for young and coming marketers?
“Marketing is a fantastic career. Customers have taken over control, this should be top of mind for young marketers. It is about passion for a certain industry or product, combining that with a network and applying your passion in that setting. When you start, do everything in the beginning that you can get your hands on in a company and then specialise.”


And agencies?
“Advertising agencies should realise that businesses change and that marketing is about change management. It is about managing stakeholders and driving sales. I meet too many agencies that claim to have the next big thing up their sleeves but that don’t understand the client-side challenges well enough to be able to deliver them. They are also very often struggling with technology . Without technology as an integral part of strategy and creativity, great ideas tend to fall flat on their face. There is an opportunity in the martech area, specifically because most tech-vendors are not marketing savvy enough to develop and deliver great strategy and creative ideas.”

“There is an opportunity for agencies that master tech, strategy and creativity and that respect the change management part plus the ROI part through driving sales results.”

“Agencies should meet the marketers in the middle and understand that strategy and creativity should be combined with tech.”

Editor: Matthieu Vermeulen


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One thought on “Why Marketing needs a moonshot

  1. Oh come on lah! Across the financial business ppl look at StanChart and ask where it all went wrong in digital. This is the bank which only a couple of years ago was one of the BEST banks in Asia for social media with ideas like the Breeze bloggers meet and a transaction from the top of Everest.

    What is SCB doing now? In this long long interview he can’t come up with anything.. Working with Facebook? That must be very interesting work as their FB page hasn’t been posted on since October 2015!!! Campaigns? No-one’s seen any. The brilliant team which did great work on Breeze and such have all gone…. their website is a mess….. and they don’t even post on social media anymore. So what have they got to set KPIs for?

    I expected more than a puff piece for this man’s career and ego from Ad Asia….!!

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