Hong Kong remains an ideal and convenient pathway to accessing both mainland China as well as the rapidly prospering South-East Asian (ASEAN) countries, and it still serves for many as the ideal pivot point for reaching out across both these highly disparate markets.

But Hong Kong is increasingly coming under pressure by companies that are shifting their headquarters directly into the heart of China itself (usually locating themselves in either Shanghai or Beijing), and others that are heading closer into South East Asia to base themselves in the Republic of Singapore (especially with the emergence of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, being based in Singapore is proving increasingly popular).

Despite ongoing background shifts in terms of where companies prefer to base their regional head offices these day (and their marketing departments), Hong Kong continues to remain a hugely popular regional point of focus for many of the well-known multinational corporations (MNCs).

These still see it as their ideal location to manage business interests across these varied markets, and a fitting home for their senior management who enjoy living in this popular ex-British colony that exudes so much wealth, character and charm.

Hong Kong continues to enjoy having one of the best talent pools of both local and international marketing experts to be found anywhere in Asia Pacific, and it also hosts a plethora of innovative and technical support businesses that are explicitly set up to serve marketers in the region.

It’s not surprising therefore that our first Digital Cream event quite readily found a new home here in Hong Kong, and we certainly look forward to running many more over the years ahead.

[NOTE: if you or a colleague are based in Shanghai or Singapore, we’re running two Digital Cream events in October and November respectively.]

Digital Cream Hong Kong 2013

Below are some of the insights shared by attendees, based on notes and commentary provided by moderators:

Cross-channel marketing strives, but marketers fail to give credit where it’s due

Measurement was a key discussion topic: some marketers already have it well under control, but the rest have adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards it. Cross-channel marketing appears to be fast changing in the region, but it also depends a lot on the structure of a business as to how complex this is to take on.

A particular challenge identified by delegates is connecting all the pieces together to build up an attribution model, and whether this is actually possible or not to do. Of particular interest was the diveristy of channels consumers are using.

Some of the conversations focused on multivariate and A/B testing, with the majority of attendees agreeing that optimisation is a significant challenge going ahead.

Despite monetisation difficulties, social media is (still) a hot topic

The vast majority of marketers agreed that social media (and particularly monetisation) is still a tough nut to crack. Questions brought up included:

  • What is the role of social media? Is it about driving awareness, consideration, sales, reputation? There was some consensus that it’s actually best to identify its key role as being around consideration.
  • How do you get senior management to invest? One of the methods highlighted by participants was reassuring them that you know how to handle the risk, especially reputational risk. Then there’s a good chance that senior management will put some bucks behind. Another way is to go small, show some tangible progress and then build it up from there.
  • What types of organisation are best suited to social media? It’s difficult to understand how to use social media unless you first understand what kind of organisation you are in. Flat and agile organisations tend to be quicker in decision making and are often the best at handling social media, whereas more traditional hierarchical organisations, where the management is removed from the day-to-day running of the business, makes social media a lot more difficult to implement.

Most companies focus on acquiring customers (and rarely on actually converting them)

Key discussion points included channel explosion, integrating channels effectively, channel conflict, finding ways to measure and track social and search, managing retention and preventing cart abandonment.

The most significant challenges highlighted by attendees included tracking customers, driving them to the online channel, measuring impact, and moving from achieving branding to sales. A lot of retailers have more assets for their brand experience than for their sales. One has to invest a lot in creating great content, but how do content and social conversations help generate actual sales and how do you measure their impact?

Most marketeres in the region don’t use sophisticated optimisation techniques: segmentation and A/B testing are typically used, but few organisations have started to delve into usability and multivariate testing.

Multivariate testing is considered to be fraught with the diversity of languages, cultures and segments. A big challenge highlighted by delegates, particularly in the luxury sector, was around using personalisation to get closer to customers.

Customer experience is about measuring value as well as collecting useful feedback

With CRM, big data, and a lot of segmentation being carried out, plus a lot of business-to-business surveys being undertaken, understanding the lifecycle of the product, and how this fits in with your customer is currently being done fairly well in Hong Kong.

It’s in delivering customers’ needs that there remains a great opportunity for companies operating in Hong Kong and the Asia region more broadly. Overall, there is a lot of opportunity in delivering more on what customers are really looking for.

Marketers are starting to look a lot more closely at technologies – apps and mobile are growing rapidly and there’s an urgent need to develop better mobile skills.

The consensus was that it’s ultimately about measuring value and collecting feedback, it’s not just about generating revenue over time. Few companies know how to build and measure advocacy, and herein lies a great opportunity for companies in the region.

Will real-time bidding deliver on its promise?

Real-time bidding is growing rapidly, but is also leading to an increased concern among companies in the region: is it smoke and mirrors, or is there any substance to it? Some marketers said that a lot of local agencies are still experimenting and learning how various technologies work, so progress is quite slow.

The cost of display is very likely to go up, therefore an important consideration is how does one still get value with display advertising in the future? Looking at microsites with good quality content or advertising on your own site was highlighted as a way to keep advertising without incurring additional costs.

The consensus was that “we’re the cheapest, we’re the best” may not really be the optimal approach, and as costs are continually rising, it won’t be a winning formula for the future.

Few companies are strategic about content planning and development

Everyone knows and has a basic understanding of how to make use of content, but very few companies in the region are creating or curating content in a scientific way, and using keywords research methodology.

It takes time to develop a content marketing strategy, and one company took a whole year to put it together. Delegates also agreed that user experience is actually very important, and keeping people involved in social is something that needs more attention. An example was highlighted where a brand created a Weibo app so that users could sign into their email account without ever leaving Weibo.

There was significant discussion around localised and adaptive content, with the vast majority saying that content created in the US or at a head office somewhere far away simply doesn’t work.

Resourcing is a major issue in the region: who is going to plug in the mobile content for your mobile sites? In-house or third-party options? Some delegates emphasised that agencies don’t have the dedicated resources to fully understand the brand angle, content and offering, and how to bring it all together. One attendee spent six months looking for a content strategy agency, and still had no luck. Getting the right resources is a major challenge, but most companies understand the importance of having a dedicated content team.

Measurement is also in a fairly infant stage, and nobody appears to have a systematic process of linking content to the bottom line. Multivariate testing is pretty much non-existent, A/B testing isn’t that developed either and attribution modelling isn’t too prevalent in the region.

Digital Cream Hong Kong 2013

Mobile is big, but brands are slow in grasping the opportunity

Technology is rapidly driving changes in the marketplace, and where it is going is often quite unpredictable. Speed of change is putting a strain on mobile investment, and the days of just doing something to show off an impressive mobile app appear to be fading.

Budgets are generally very modest in mobile these days, and there is a lot to do in order to have a strong mobile offering, including dealing with language issues.

Many organisations at Digital Cream felt that it is important to have a simple design in mobile, and not to over-complicate things (particularly avoiding long forms). There was also a discussion around what is good mobile content and how it differs from creating web content. Location-based marketing is creating quite a lot of buzz in Hong Kong.

Marketing automation significantly lags the West

There still remains some confusion about what marketing automation is exactly, with many participants saying it’s mainly about customising the brand’s content and messaging. However, the adage that if you get garbage in, you will pretty much get garbage out was unanimously agreed on, especially by those who considered that their databases are pretty bad to begin with.

When asked whether one could name some of the key players in the marketing automation space, most participants simply couldn’t. There was a feeling of not knowing enough, and not having enough information being made available in this area.

Big data and actionable insights – the gap between hype and reality

Most companies in the region agree they find it extremely difficult to handle scattered data sources. Marketing and sales data often belong to different owners and some participants suggested it’s more likely to be due to legacy issues rather than technical feasibility. Additionally, few of the praticipating companies said they have access to CRM data to aid their retention efforts.

Overall, there was a strong belief in actively leveraging data as intelligence in future marketing campaigns, but few currently know how to approach this.

Econsultancy would like to thank and acknowledge the following moderators for their contributions to both the Digital Cream Hong Kong event and to this blog post:

  • Ged Carroll, Director, Digital, Social and Interactive, Burson-Marsteller
  • Charlie Pownall, Communications Consultant/Trainer, Advisor to WATATAWA
  • Matt Dooley, Founder, Connected Thinking
  • Peter Dingle, Interactive Marketing Head for Mobile Experiences and Marketing Analytics in APAC, Intel
  • Max Sim, Regional Head of Marketing (Digital), JobsDB
  • Eddie Choi, Executive Director, Milton Exhibits Group
  • Eu Gene Ang, Principal Trainer, eAcademy Asia (Econsultancy public course partner for Asia)
  • Joni Ngai, Econsultancy trainer, lecturer and China Vice Chair for I-COM
  • Janis Wong, Digital Manager APAC, Mattel East Asia Ltd