Most agencies today claim to be digital experts, and Jane Lin-Baden, Isobar China Group's CEO, stays ahead of rivals by positioning the expertise of the digital specialist division of Dentsu Aegis Network far beyond online brand-building services.
"Digital is now the most important channel in China so it's not whether to use it, but how, what approach to take and how to deliver results," said Ms. Lin-Baden, one of Ad Age's 2015 Women to Watch China honorees. "We need to integrate brand consulting, media, technology and creativity, and to embed mobile commerce, shopping intelligence and media content innovation."
It's a tall order based on fast-changing retail behavior. Many Chinese have quickly become avid online shoppers, with e-commerce often providing their first exposure to foreign brands, especially in lower tier cities, or to niche brands just entering the market.
"E-commerce is now the entry point, the gateway to experience the brand," Ms. Lin-Baden said, so Isobar "helps clients design their whole business and sales structure around the e-commerce market."
Ms. Lin-Baden has been among the early digital pioneers in China. With an MBA from Wharton Business School and an MA in History of Contemporary Art from University of London, her combined background in art, technology, marketing and entrepreneurship—she founded an internet technology agency in 2000—gives her an edge in understanding how all those areas converge for brands.
Isobar also works with companies creating new products, such as stickers and clothing that include wearable technology. Last year, for instance, the agency designed a cup for Abbott, a milk powder brand that develops nutritional products for older consumers, on which messages appear when hot water is added. The messages are customized, usually by family members, which Ms. Lin-Baden said creates "very moving stories" while promoting consumption.
The agency's other clients in China include Coca-Cola, Adidas, Bacardi, Huawei, KFC, Mondelez, Volkswagen, Procter & Gamble and KFC.
Before Ms. Lin-Baden became Isobar's China CEO two years ago, she ran the agency network's customer relationship management practice for Asia. Before that, she and her husband took a year off in 2010 to research and find ways to help non-profit groups grappling with issues such as the sex trade and children living in poverty. They are currently helping people find opportunities for farming and roasting fair trade coffee.
With China such a key market for Isobar and its clients, Ms. Lin-Baden has a high-profile role that can be a stepping stone to even bigger things. Jean Lin, a digital entrepreneur who held top Chinese and international roles at Isobar, became the network's global CEO last year. Ms. Lin, who is also a former Women to Watch honoree and was a jury president at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year, continues to be based in China as she runs the world for Isobar.
The Women to Watch China questionnaire:
Home city: Taipei, Taiwan.
Hobbies: Thai boxing, Watching people..
Ever lived abroad: In Germany, the U.K., India, and the U.S.
Best advice you've ever gotten: Failing forward.
Biggest change in the industry since you started: Technology's role in creativity.