The Inside Story of Marketing & Digital in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong’s marketing industry, at times, feels like it is trapped in the recent past, focused almost entirely on the traditional areas of TV and print media. Despite the global recognition of the rapid – and perhaps terminal – decline of these outlets, there is still a distinct feeling that digital marketing in Hong Kong remains a ‘poor cousin’ to the establishment.

This feeling is backed up by an admanGo report which showed that, although digital marketing made year on year growth, it was the six per cent third quarter advertising spend shift into television that took the headlines and drew an impassioned Facebook rebuttal from Pixels CEO Kevin Huang.

However, due to the relative youth of the digital industry, it is perhaps understandable that businesses show it little reverence. Hong Kong’s companies are very much married to traditional mind sets, with a WL Media HK studyshowing that Hong Kong’s businesses are three times less likely to have adopted internet marketing than their rivals in Singapore.

On the face of it, Hong Kong’s digital marketing industry could be facing a dilemma, and yet there are distinct signs of positivity.

As a region, Hong Kong is growing and changing. There is a generation discovering new art forms and indulging in alternative, diverse life styles. If advertisers want to engage with this new Hong Kong and its consumer needs, then they will need to adapt to more innovative forms of marketing approaches.

In fact, there is evidence that they may already have.

As pointed out by campaignasia, the admanGo report did not paint a full picture as it “fails to monitor the majority of digital ad spend, especially in paid search, paid social and programmatic advertising.” This year has seen unprecedented confidence from advertisers, as well as a PwC report predicting digital to reach US$6.6 billion in revenue in 2021.

Some of this improvement may have been affected by a new direction taken by the Hong Kong government. While in the past it had been slow to encourage the digital marketing industry, this year’s change in leadership has led to a change of direction, bringing promises to invest more in FinTech and technology through its Innovation and Technology Venture Fund of HK$2 billion(US$ 256 million), a portion of which is set aside for marketing.

This investment boom is leading to various industries developing greater interest in digital marketing strategies, whether they be innovative creative startups, FSCG (fast selling consumer goods) companies or traditional financial institutions. This means that there is an increase in opportunities for candidates wanting to break into the digital marketing sector.

The areas of social media and content are particularly important in the coming months as companies increase investment in their own branding. Part of this, where there is a candidate shortage, is in customer experience. Previously this specialty may have been listed under the operations sector, but as it increasingly involves looking into customer behaviour, marketing departments are on the lookout for data analysts who are able to tailor social media content and strategies to reflect what their consumers are doing online.

As an extension of this, some companies are recognising content marketing as an important function in driving incremental sales through thought leadership. It is currently proving difficult to source talent in these areas and in the past, companies may have recruited freelance copywriters to provide content. However, a recognition that freelancers often struggle to understand corporate ideologies has seen this moving in-house in the last 12 months. This is particularly prevalent in the growing travel and hospitality sectors.

Being such a new industry, and one that is growing at speed, there are obviously difficulties in sourcing ideal candidates. Taking a positive stance, companies are more and more open to candidates from a variety of industry backgrounds, understanding that they may not necessarily tick all boxes required. This means that companies are developing workforces with a diversity in outlooks and thinking that encourages innovation and creativity. However, this does mean that there has to be some level of expectation management as candidates from differing backgrounds with varying working practices may need to alter their professional practices in the way they work.

Another way of tackling this shallow talent pool is by looking outside of Hong Kong. As local language skills are not a primary concern in Hong Kong, looking abroad poses few problems, however Asian countries with close cultural ties – Singapore, Korea and Mainland China in particular – are preferred as marketing strategies will need to be culturally relevant.

For candidates looking towards a move, now is a good time for considering options and beginning proactive steps into the job market. Due to shortages, some companies are open to approach, and it may be enough for candidates to meet with hiring managers, demonstrate their thought processes, experiences and impart their ideas of how they are able to impact the company’s future direction.

Yet some companies continue to be selective. While candidate requirements may have broadened in the last 12 months, there is an increasing importancebeing placed on an ability to fit a company’s culture and its vision for the future.

Because companies know that it is imperative that, as Hong Kong’s marketing industry shifts away from dying media towards digital and reflects the transforming needs of a diversifying region, it is time to make an impact.

There is a growing feeling that if businesses do not change now, then they never will, leaving them unable to catch up. There may be nothing worse than having eschewed the ‘poor cousin’ to find him become the market leader after all.

Originally produced for Hays Recruitment Asia