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Hong Kong’s marketing industry has identified the importance of data, but actually understanding how to use it is critical to success. Simon Yuen talks with marketers and IT experts on getting to grips with data literacy.

The need to know

While many a piece has been written on the importance of data, marketers are still trying to get their heads around using data to drive their businesses.

In the pre-internet age of traditional marketing – when direct mail, product samples, cold-calling, TV and publication ads ruled – marketers made decisions based on experience feedback as the ruling form of data. In modern marketing, though feedback remains important, other more impartial forms of raw data play a greater role as customer demand for customisation only increases.

“We need data to develop world-class products since we can understand people’s behaviour through it. A super close relationship with data helps us deliver the best products,” says Calvin French-Owen, co-founder and CTO of customer data infrastructure company Segment.

Calvin French-Owen

And, as the floodgates of information open for marketers, they now have to know what types of data they actually require for their needs.

“Marketers need to know what hard data and soft data are,” says Edmond Lai, chief digital officer of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.

“Email addresses, phone numbers, occupations and the amount of spending are some of the typical examples of hard data, while behavioural data is a prominent example of soft data.”

By combining both hard and soft data, marketers can find target audiences easier, enabling swift amendments to their marketing strategies. Conversion rates, download numbers, and the cost-per-click can all be figured out with deft use of data.

Yet, when it comes to data, the adage of having “too much of a good thing” often rings true. Though tempting, it is not a wise decision to collect mountains of data, when collecting a minimal, but relevant – and manageable – pool of data is good enough.

“For example, if I invited customers to join my chain restaurant’s loyalty programme, I would only need to know the month of his or her birthday because it’s a great opportunity to offer them a coupon,” says Ravel Lai, chief digital officer of Dah Chong Hong Holdings.

He says marketers need to know more about the nature of the data they have collected, and put it into context. Mindlessly hoarding data just because it’s there may only distract marketers from seeing the whole picture.

Ravel Lai

The need to learn

However, a data-driven marketing approach is no easy task, and one of the biggest challenges of using data in the industry is the potentially crippling lack of knowledge among marketers.

“Marketers may not be proficient in statistics, data modelling, and data cleansing, while they may also not know how to aggregate data. That’s why many brands are looking for data scientists and data analysts to gather and analyse a drop in the ocean,” Edmond Lai says.

Edmond Lai

While no platform can gather infinite data, if brands cannot collectively handle the data they have in a single platform, it increases the difficulty in using and exercising said data.

To better collect data, brands are also being advised to conduct social listening and competitor monitoring to get more insights from customers and the industry.

“But you need to know the goal of getting data. At Skyscanner, we aim to solve customers’ problems related to travel, and we work with companies sharing the same values with us,” says Fang Fang, growth marketing lead of APAC of Skyscanner.

Fang Fang

The higher the level of data literacy an organisation has, the better its effectiveness at marketing. But raising that knowledge bar is proving problematic.

“Limited budget is the major problem when hiring data scientists, but we are still looking for ways to enhance the level of data literacy,” Edmond Lai explains.

“Generally, the level of data literacy among marketers has increased significantly in recent years.”

Digital marketing and digital analysis are utterly reliant on each other. For marketers at agencies that are unable to fund courses, the prospect of stepping up to self-learn or pay their own way is becoming an unfortunate necessity to equip themselves with the tools to compete.

And while it is extremely difficult to hire a data scientist with the requisite experience, marketers also have the option of enlisting consultancy firms to gather insights into the industry and their customers.

But the major challenge of the day is the unwillingness of customers to disclose their personal information. A never-ending stream of high-profile privacy-related news coverages and data breaches has led to a heightened awareness of data protection. A reaction, that though understandable, poses new difficulties for marketers who need to understand consumer behaviour.

The need to safeguard

Protecting data is a chief concern – or at least it should be – for every marketer worth their salt. Data security revolves around a process of protecting accounts, databases, and files on a network by using a set of controls, applications, and other techniques.

This is followed by identifying the relative importance of the collections of data, their level of sensitivity, noting regulatory compliance requirements, and then applying appropriate protections to secure those resources.

“We need data to develop world-class products since we can understand people’s behaviour through it.”

Data security consists of three aspects: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Confidentiality ensures that data is only accessed by authorised individuals, while integrity is equivalent to being reliable and accurate. Availability ensures data is available and accessible to satisfy business needs.

As brands retain oceans of customer data, the importance of protecting that data cannot be underestimated. A single leak could spark a firestorm of a PR crisis. One year on and Hong Kong still remembers the prominent example of flag carrier Cathay Pacific.

In October 2018, Cathay Pacific revealed the data of 9.4 million passengers had been accessed illegally. The kicker being the breach had been detected months earlier in March and confirmed as early as May the same year.

The incident sparked a public outcry as about 245,000 Hong Kong identity cardholders and 55,000 passport holders in the city had been affected. The extent of the breach’s notoriety was so severe that it was commonplace to hear conversations of people comparing what data of theirs had been reported as compromised in the apologetic emails they received from Cathay.

Chairman John Slosar promised to improve IT security and training and stated that law enforcement authorities would be brought in earlier in the future.

earlier in the future. Though a data leak could damage a company’s reputation significantly, protecting data is not as difficult as one might think, since fatal mistakes often stem from simple negligence.

For example, employees may store data or sensitive files on an open platform which can be accessed by an entire network of users. Other than the obvious advice of paying closer attention, utilising security software that classifies and moves sensitive data to secure locations on a system is both an easier and safer solution to this problem.

More draconian, but effective methods include strictly limiting users’ access. To be blunt, not everyone in an organisation needs to see customers’ personal information.

To better protect data, it should not be overexposed to employees or other users. If they can’t access the data, they can’t be compromised, so stopping access to data beyond their needs simply makes sense.

Brands can also limit the use of outside computers and other equipment to avoid some of the more nefarious back door methods of entry.

Just as excessive data collection can be unwieldy, the more data that a brand collects, the higher the risk of it being leaked or hacked. Collecting excessive data is equivalent to wasting time and resources to handle it, so brands are advised to collect only data that is necessary.

Requesting unnecessary data from customers has another downside of note – that they become even more skittish about why brands need all the information in the first place, and how safely it will be stored. That, again reasonable fear, can drive them away.

A small, yet useful step is to enable customers to opt-out of submitting personal information. Other measures to enhance customer confidence include destroying data after brands have used it. This not only reduces the risk of hacking, but it also – if publicised – reinforces customer confidence about privacy measures and transparency.

But really, it is regular training for staff that is the most essential step for protecting data. Through comprehensive security programmes and policies, everyone in a company can understand the importance of data protection and adhere to the guidelines.

That doesn’t mean putting the onus on staff and letting organisations off the hook. They should adopt encryption technologies and update frequently – and regularly – to avoid attack from hackers. Installing the latest security software, browsers, and operating systems are the best ways to keep hackers and online threats at bay.

Because, at the end of the day, you don’t want your brand being the next one people chat about having lost their data with over a pint.

Hong Kong’s food and beverage scene is very diverse – from local restaurant meals to food deliveries to fine dining. Yet, consumers have become more demanding. With higher consumer expectations, how can brands shift to cash in on the Hong Kong foodie scene?

Dine out

Hong Kong is known as a food paradise with tuck shops, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars on every corner, offering varied cuisines from Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai, French, Spanish, Italian, to well … you name it. Hongkongers are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out. Businesses strive to stay on top of their game in the competitive food and beverage (F&B) industry.

According to a Nielsen report (December 2017), one-third of Hong Kong respondents said they dined out more frequently compared with a year ago, while over half said they spent more money eating out. About 40% of the respondents thought the cost was worth dining in at high-end restaurants.

Anita Wong, head of consumer insights at Nielsen, points out there are two groups of people who pursue premium dining out experiences – middle-aged sophisticated foodies who look for an experience and high-quality food; and young explorers who are interested in exploring new restaurants and new foods.  The top three priorities for foodies are the geographic location of the restaurants, taste of food and the dining environment.

She sees the trends of “shareable” dining experiences and “camera eats first” continuing, as people desire to share their experience with friends and family, especially via social media.

“Restaurants not only need to feed the customer well, they also need to create an emotional connection with the diners. It is no longer just about the presentation of the food, but the fun, exploratory and shareable experience to engage with diners.”

She adds that hospitality businesses are undertaking to provide unique dining experiences or unique ingredients to outdo competitors.

Dine high

As Hong Kong consumers have become more demanding, luxury dining has come into play. Marriott International is one example from Hong Kong’s hotel chains that has placed a greater focus of its branding and marketing strategies onto food and beverages.

“Food and beverage marketing is something you work on all the time in hotels. It is very competitive. It is a major part of our brand’s revenue,” says Bruce Ryde, vice-president of luxury brands and brand marketing at Marriott International.

The hotel group’s food and beverages aim to make Marriott a favourite destination where locals eat, meet and drink. Its strategy revolves around three main focuses: go local, artisan and F&B marketing.

Petr Raba, vice-president of food and beverage operations for Asia Pacific at Marriott International, says: “This will be achieved by having locally relevant food and beverage experiences with a clear focus and point of view, attracting and developing the best artisans in the industry as well as ensuring that all F&B venues have a unique point of view in design, guest experience and cuisine.”

Lauren Bonds, director of food and beverage marketing at Marriott International, adds that more than 25 food and beverage marketing campaigns were launched across Asia-Pacific last year, with the aim to promote its portfolio of restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, the group will also begin making efforts to market unique concepts that resonate locally.

Ryde sees there is a stronger F&B dining culture in Asia-Pacific compared with the US. “The biggest challenge is making sure that Hong Kong residents will want to go to the restaurant in one of our hotels in Hong Kong,” he says.

“Hong Kong is such a great restaurant city. There are a number of companies in Hong Kong that own multiple restaurants. There are a number of restaurants that do excellent concepts. The competition for the Hong Kong diners’ dollar is intense."

"So you have to create experiences that are either differentiated or as we are doing with the Ritz-Carlton they create an experience like no other, at a level that they are exclusive, desired and celebratory.”

Last year, the Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel under Marriott International, launched the Stellar Dining Series, where Michelin-star chefs, chocolatiers, mixologists and patissiers served exclusive fine dining creations across four Asia Pacific destinations: Singapore, Osaka, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Marriott International has nine Michelin-star chefs in several restaurants across Asia-Pacific. Ryde says the campaign leverages the advantage of having in-house Michelin-star chefs. “We are so focused on delivering what the most demanding diners would appreciate at the Ritz-Carlton. There is no measurement of dining experiences that can compete with Michelin.”

The chefs were able to showcase their own culinary skill sets. They also worked together to create menus that were interplayed with different elements to celebrate the varied cultures of each city.

“One of the trends that we have noticed in F&B is the change of what consumers look for when they are dining – they want authentic experiences that reflect the culture represented in the dish itself. Although they do have a flair for exciting F&B fads, the most noticeable trend is they are ‘going local’ – enjoying food that is the essence of its culture,” Raba says.

“Although consumers appreciate innovation and interesting concepts, they seem to be steering themselves away from food and beverage concepts that may seem abstract and going back to foods they are comfortable with.” The campaign not only served guests lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, it also included cocktails and chocolate master classes. Ryde says it aims to create experiences for customers in the hotel.

“People want transformative experiences. They don’t want to just go in and order the most expensive thing on the menu."

“When you look at the menu, you learn about the matching of the wine, and you learn about the ingredients of the desserts and how they have been put together. When they go away they have learned, transformed and developed through the experiences they’ve had in the restaurants,” he says.

He further explains the overall brand is about creating indelible memories. “Imagine when you are having dinner at Tosca, here at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, with that view, and amazing Italian food.” It was one of the first things he did when he moved to Hong Kong, which became one of his indelible memories.

While activating fine dining experiences, the hotel has been selling tables through its loyalty programme, which is one of the key strategies for the hotel group. “Loyalty members are critical for Ritz-Carlton as much as they are for Marriott itself as an organisation,” he says.

“So a lot of it has been marketed through the loyalty programme. We are using this opportunity to drive new loyalty members as well. Our key strategy for Marriott is to drive membership and celebrate the experience you can have within Marriott as a loyalty customer.”

In addition to keeping up with the trends, the Stellar Dining Series was also a digital marketing campaign. The hotel launched a pre-event teaser video, leveraging social media with key opinion leaders to amplify buzz in the city.

Dine more

There is more to consider than just taste, however. According to the same Nielsen report (December 2017), people who are health conscious are the least attracted to fine dining. Food and health are undeniably connected. Wong sees an overlooked opportunity for restaurants to recruit these customers. “In Hong Kong, eating out is often considered as an unhealthy diet. Being able to convert eating out into a healthy diet is a big opportunity for fine dining,” she says.

Green diets are one of the growing food trends. People are opting for healthier diets. How about adding a green and healthy perspective to the menu?

Wong explains that while many restaurants provide vegan dishes along with other protein dishes, for fear of excluding diners, they never position themselves as vegetarian restaurants. “I think it is a matter of how you reposition yourself and realign your menu, so that your customers may know you are a ‘vegetarian-friendly’ restaurant.”

The Nielsen report also shows that Hongkongers eat out for eight meals per week on average. That’s not even including the rising use of food delivery services. Consumers will eat out for practical and basic needs on weekdays when fast-food chains and quick-service restaurants meet their needs, while they desire an experiential dining experience over the weekend, when they care more about quality cuisine and ambience.

Wong suggests high-end F&B marketers may consider how to leverage CRM programmes to drive the weekday traffic of loyalty customers, such as promotions related to celebrating with friends and family, and big group discounts.

She also points out the importance of launching cashless payments. The consumer journey starts when hungry consumers make their way to the restaurant and ends when they pay the bill for their meal. Why not make that last moment more convenient for them?

“It is really about making sure your dining experiences are keeping up with the trends, so that you are not creating menus and items on them that are dated. Whether it is sustainable produce, a vegetarian menu, quality of the products, it is wherever you want to focus your food and beverage strategy, but be focused,” Ryde says.

This article was produced for the February issue of Marketing Magazine. For more features, and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your print copy here or can read our digital version in its entirety here.

Malaysia recently showcased export-ready halal products and services by Malaysian SMEs for the Japanese market ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo at the Malaysia Halal Expo 2019. The halal sector has no doubt been a fast growing one, with companies not only looking to export their halal products but also attempting to attract Muslim travellers worldwide.

With the global Muslim traveller expenditure is projected to reach US$220 billion in 2020, here are some main trends that marketers should know about the halal travel sector to stay ahead of the curve.

1. The growing importance of AR

The integration of AR to give Muslim travellers crucial cultural insights, including halal-certified eateries will be one of the trends that shape the next phase of development in the fast growing halal travel sector.

According to the Mastercard-CrescentRating Halal Travel Frontier 2019 report, more travellers will continue to take ownership of determining the level of Muslim friendliness/halalness of products and services. AR and AI technologies will be used to ascertain the halal status of ingredients, products or restaurants. Through AR, digital information on the halal status can be layered into the users’ environment in real time.

This also allows restaurants in non-Muslim majority destinations to communicate the halal status of their foods in a more targeted manner to Muslim travelers without requiring the explicit display of halal certificates in their premises.

2. AI to further empower Muslim travellers

The proliferation of chatbots custom-designed to satisfy the cultural and religious needs of a Muslim traveller has also been listed as one of the top trends. With machine and deep learning, AI will be able to collect and understand information on consumer preferences. This will enable AI to provide more personalised recommendations based on the traveller’s past trips, selections and enquiries. The report stated that this will significantly reduce the time and resources needed to research and plan travel itineraries.

3. Rise of female voice in trip planning

Heightened awareness on social causes and the rising authority of female influencers when planning trips, are also expected to result in changes in the way that Muslims travel. More Muslim females today are gaining access to tertiary education and entering the workforce. Also, majority of social media influencers in the Muslim travel and lifestyle space are female. According to the report, these complementary drivers will allow Muslim females to have a stronger influence when planning trips on their own, with their friends or even with family. As a result, more destinations will need to offer Muslim-friendly services which take into account the sensitivities of Muslim female travellers.

4. More "Instant Noodle Trips"

Driven by the demand for more authentic, affordable and accessible experiences, more Millennials and Gen Z travelers will book “Instant Noodle Trips” - affordable, impromptu short trips. These two groups are usually prompted by promotional sales for airfares, travel discounts during off peak seasons, an increasing number of regional routes by budget airlines and busier work schedules all year round. With the increasing need for these trips, the report said that travel solutions will be redesigned and offered through more mobile friendly applications. These plans will have shorter lead times and are able to provide travelers with instant booking and confirmation of all aspects of travel services.

5. Mergers and acquisitions in the Muslim travel space

The report also foresees the consolidation of Muslim travel service providers in 2019. An increase in venture capital funding for this segment, coupled with more start-ups and risk capital flows, will result in stronger brands capable of competing in the overall travel segment. More investments will be channeled to actualise and deliver better solutions to Muslim travelers. According to Mastercard's report, this will result in the emergence of companies which will be on track to become unicorns in the next coming years.

6. Rise of non-traditional travel destinations

Non-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) destinations, such as South Africa, Japan and Taiwan, will dramatically change the Muslim-friendly narrative, the report stated. Competition and dynamism are expected lead to innovations and developments that will benefit both, destinations, as well as Muslim travelers. In particular, the report predicts that destination leaders in OIC regions such as Malaysia and non-OIC regions such as Singapore will face stiff competition.

7. A streamlined visa approval process

Muslims travelling to Mecca to perform Umrah can expect a streamlined visa approval process, as changes in the Umrah Visa process and the rise of new interactive technology will mean that traditional Hajj and Umrah service providers will face disruption in their business models. Young Millennial Muslim travelers will now also be able to book their own do-it-yourself Umrah. This means that existing players will need to re-invent themselves and re-imagine the services they offer to stay relevant.

“The Halal Travel Frontier 2019 Report gives businesses, governments and other stakeholders in the travel sector an overview of the trends sweeping the fast growing Halal travel industry and how they can maximize opportunities in this fast growing travel sector,” said Safdar Khan, division president, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, Mastercard.

The report analyses changes in the halal travel space, and provides insights on how these trends will impact and influence the Muslim traveler. It predicts how technology, the environment and social activism will bring about major changes in all aspects of the halal travel industry and make it easier for Muslim travelers to explore the world.

After celebrating the Lunar New Year, Valentine's Day is fast approaching and it's time for marketers to head down to the romantic promotional games. When it comes to seeking Valentine's Day gift ideas, search queries for “gifts for boyfriend” are three times higher than “gifts for girlfriend” in Hong Kong, according to Google's insights of 2015.

It's Valentine's Day this Sunday and marketers have pounced on the theme to persuade consumers to buy their wares. Which items are at the top of the lists for this important day?

Looking at Google Trends insights in Hong Kong in 2015, Valentine’s Day related searches increased by 34% between 2014-15 with mobile as a driving force behind the growth. Search results for jewellery, lingerie and wine begin earlier, whereas cards, chocolate and flowers are more of the last minute gifts.

It might not be surprised to learn - search queries for “gifts for boyfriend” are three times higher than “gifts for girlfriend”, meaning women are likely to do more research than their partners before purchase, or they are just the more search-savvy consumers.

The search giant suggested Hong Kong businesses should focus on search to boost and capitalise the V-day sales.

When it comes to how much research people do before making a purchase decision, 62% Hongkongers researched locally a day or less before visiting. And 83% only consider one to three brands before making a purchase, according to Consumer Barometer 2015.

Meanwhile, here is a Valentine gift poll, by Lightspeed and a clear look at what consumers across Hong Kong and China want this Valentine’s Day.


Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

Insurance companies arguably have some of the most abstract products to sell - products which need plenty of explaining - and which are hard to market through simple adverts.

Perhaps that's why they have begun sponsoring events, a medium that offers the prospective customer more tangible experiences compared to print, TV or digital.

“Insurance is no longer just a trade where customers are motivated solely by price and product," Rob Leonardi, regional chief health and marketing officer at AXA Asia, said.

"We believe customers will best engage with a brand that shows a sense of purpose to provide protection of assets and health against unforeseen events, going beyond a functional or transactional relationship to show insights into and understanding of their real needs. This includes more tangible engagement in issues and aspects of their life that matter to them."

Examples of events sponsored by AXA is AXA Hong Kong Streetathon and Hacking Health hackathon, which are both related to health.

The insurance company has also sponsored art events such as the 25th Biennale of the International Institute for Conservation and Art Basel in Hong Kong, which are about art conservation and preservation, according to Leonardi.

Another prominent example of an event sponsored by an insurance company is the AIA Great European Festival, which ran until late last month.

"Our sponsorship of music events, community fun runs and festivals, such as the AIA Great European Carnival in Hong Kong, allows us to engage with audiences in an exciting and compelling way, creating buzz and ideally increasing brand consideration," Catherine Gibbs, head of sponsorship at AIA Group, said.

She added this softer approach to marketing is effective in helping build a brand identity, even though the events sponsored appear to have nothing to do with financial products offered by insurance companies.

"Sponsorship, be it an event, a sponsorship of an artist or talent, or one that adheres to a particular theme such as sports or music, allows brands to engage audiences with new and interesting conversations which don’t necessarily focus on the industry itself or a product or service," Gibbs said.

"This soft marketing approach allows brands to communicate their key messages and values and helps express a personality that might not otherwise be conveyed through typical marketing channels."

AIA is also involved in sports sponsorship through its partnership with English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur FC.

Apart from helping build brand equity, sponsored events are also good for business because campaigns related to sponsored events can be used to drive sales.

"On the business side, sponsorship events offer a unique suite of assets that are often focused around exclusive hospitality and access as well as experiences you can't buy," Gibbs said.

"This creates a compelling opportunity for AIA business units to incentivise our agents and partners to drive sales through campaigns linked to these rewards."

For example, AIA agents offered customers exclusive pass-through benefits and VIP experiences for Tottenham Hotspur matches in London.

Meanwhile, music is the main theme identified by FWD for activities engaging current and prospective customers, particularly the younger generation, in line with FWD's recent brand-building activities around the theme of living your life with passion.

On the events front, the company sponsored local indie band Chochukmo's anniversary party that also featured bands from China, Hong Kong and Japan and a classical music and stand-up comedy crossover show.

The company also created a FWD Hong Kong Spotify channel.

"We identified music as the vehicle to engage people, particularly the next generation, as it is a common language of our community that can help us connect and engage with one another," Albert Chan, chief marketing officer at FWD Hong Kong and Macau, said.

According to Chan, the company's criteria for designing events includes ensuring the event matches the company's strategic objectives, brand values and image, that it reaches its target audience in a sustainable way, is cost-effective and creates a positive impact on the brand and that the organiser is reputable.

Gibbs agrees that being selective about what the company sponsors is important for maintaining consistency within the brand and helps companies properly evaluate sponsorship proposals.

"The key to ensuring you target the right sponsorship property is to identify clearly what your objectives are and specifically how a sponsorship needs to deliver against brand versus business objectives," she said.

"AIA’s sponsorship framework focuses on football, music and community engagement events as the core pillars that best reach our target audience and help us drive both brand and business initiatives."

Marketing sponsored events

FWD has taken an integrated approach to marketing sponsored events.

"We made use of offline, online, and social media platforms to boost awareness. Leveraging publicity and owned media to create word-of-mouth also played a vital role in our communications plan," Chan said.

"We continually evaluated the participation rates of each campaign and fine-tuned our tactics."

At AIA, coming up with a marketing strategy is also part and parcel of planning of sponsored events.

"We strategise upfront an integrated activation programme which consists of different media platforms and activation tactics that will bring optimal leverage to reach a broad spectrum within the target audience," Gibbs said.

"A key target segment for AIA is the Gen-Y audience so many of our campaigns are built around social and digital media, which has become an integral part of the Gen-Y’s daily life."