Marketing and China: how brands are changing their approach to creativity
Marketing and China: how brands are changing their approach to creativity
A view from SY Lau, president Tencent Online Media Group and senior executive VP Tencent

Marketing and China: how brands are changing their approach to creativity

SY Lau, senior executive VP at Chinese internet giant Tencent, which owns messaging app WeChat, explains why the smartest marketers take a collaborative approach with Chinese consumers.

During a recent round-table event, Philip Kotler went through how some of the traditional skills and approaches to marketing are being updated to remain relevant in the modern world. For companies that want to perform well in China, marketers will have to develop their skills in general.

This will involve looking beyond the scope and duty of the marketing department, and into the company’s wider performance. For Chinese CMOs, the emphasis should be on moving from marketing that focuses on the transactional and into campaigns that enhance the long-term customer experience around brands and companies. 

Part of this is cultural: the market economy in China has been developing over the past 35 years, but it is still fairly new. Marketing as a discipline has also been a secondary consideration so far. The word marketing in Chinese, when translated literally, has a stronger connotation towards pushing products into the market place. This misses the whole value-centric approach marketing can provide. 

This is changing rapidly, as marketers have had to be more sophisticated in their approaches. Chinese customers have become increasingly empowered with access to new information sources, while the growth of online services and mobile Internet access across the country is also having a great impact on how consumers interact with brands. 

Think business, not marketing

The first step to take is to measure the business value created by marketing over time. This goes beyond looking at marketing-only metrics like lead generation or click-through rates and into the impact that marketing has had on sales and business performance more generally.

In China, Coca Cola improved its response to consumer preferences by looking for insights locally using all sorts of ideas.

Being able to demonstrate that marketing is meeting business requirements as a whole, rather than just the needs of the marketing team, will be an essential area for development. This is also a prime example where marketing professionals will require new skills around quantitative analytics and understanding the finance side of the business. 

The second step is around customer insight and the user experience. For many marketing teams locally, the use of focus groups and customer research comes before a launch. However, this misses out on the potential to get data from customers over time around how they are responding to the brand.

By continuously testing and researching customer experiences, organisations can get more useful information for their business strategies and performance, rather than concentrating on individual projects. In China, Coca Cola has continually improved its response to consumer preferences by consistently looking for actionable insights locally using all sorts of unconventional ideas.

Part of this is also a company culture requirement. At Tencent, the company did not have a CMO or equivalent position. This was because the whole organisation was set up with this customer-led approach from the start.

Without us really knowing it, the customer-led philosophy of marketing was installed at the company through the use of key ideas like market segmentation, benchmarking of user experiences and putting a focus on customer needs across the business, rather than just within those teams that are customer-facing. 

For marketing professionals where this customer-centric approach is not embedded in their companies, there will be a requirement for internal communications as well as external. 

Applying technology

The third major challenge for marketers comes around technology. There are so many opportunities for digital and online campaigns, backed up by greater analytics and evaluation.

According to Gartner last year, CMOs will soon be spending more on technology than their CIO counterparts. Even if this increase in budgets and responsibility may be a long way off for most companies, the opportunities are there for CMOs to build a real leadership role based on customer understanding.

In China, we are already seeing major brands like Burberry embrace digital capabilities (see above) as a way to lead their marketing campaigns. The ability to be creative and work across multiple online channels has to be based on understanding how customers want to interact across all of those channels – from mobile and video through to apps and social.

China has seen fast growth in its economy over the past 35 years; marketers in the country have gone through an accelerated maturity.

Southern Airline, one of the most successful airline operators in China, has embarked on a partnership with WeChat to improve the passenger experience as well as acting as a commercial channel.

Using WeChat, the passengers of Southern Airline can use online boarding services as well as interacting with the company. The important thing here is that the Southern Airline team accomplished this within five days of the public API for Wechat being opened. This therefore meant that the airline could deliver more useful services to customers as well as creating a competitive advantage around the quality of user experience.

Alongside this, there is huge interest from marketers in China around big data. This is not just about the technologies involved, but how they can genuinely apply the ideas in reality. Big data has huge potential and can provide insights that lead to more product innovation and real business value. However, using big data in the right way depends on being able to understand how data and statisitics are created and used.

China has seen fast growth in its economy over the past 35 years; at the same time, marketers in the country have gone through an accelerated maturity. We have gone from looking solely at transaction based activities and focusing on how to close sales through to being more relationship oriented, with the whole idea of keeping consumers coming back and buying more. Going forward, marketers will involve consumers in their company’s development around products and communications.

This requires a more long-term mindset, and one that understands the role of marketing and customer experience in how a company develops itself. At the heart of this is the ability to join creativity and business savvy, so that the company and its customers will all ultimately benefit.