Monica Chan will remain in her role as overall group managing director of Datatrade, but will add special focus on the Clix business during the initial transition period.
King Leung, previously managing director of Datatrade, will lead the newly spun-off entity. He first joined the 31-year old firm in 2003 when his database marketing startup, Datrix, merged with Datatrade.
"Doing big data in Hong Kong back in 2003 was way too early—it was like pulling teeth," recalled Leung. "Clients did not see the value and were not bothered to take the time to understand. They also could not see the value in paying for something that wouldn't turn an immediate profit."
Now however, particularly in Hong Kong, the industry noise around Big Data has clients nervous that if they don't do something they will be left behind. "Market forces are making them listen more intently," said King.
Even so, he continued, clients in China are far braver and more likely to embrace new ideas. "Of course, this is with good reason. The market in China is big and growing, so they have bigger budgets. It's also faster moving and has been evolving rapidly so they have learnt to be willing to listen and try."
Even in China, while the clients are asking about capabilities such as online-to-offline, the real need for these firms is to get their fragmented customer data in order.
"We have a large client in China, one that's very active in ecommerce," Leung said. "Naturally they have a lot of data, but the operating motto for this company seems to be, 'shoot before aiming'. They're actually proud of this, proud of their impulsive speed. But they're starting to reach market saturation and with the rising cost of advertising, it's becoming clear they can't afford to do this anymore. They need a unified profile of their customer. So, the truth is, we're still doing a lot of grunt work in this space."
There's also a lot of confusion on the client side about firms that claim to offer big data-driven CRM and loyalty-marketing services. "After a while, the CMOs, CTOs and CIOs of companies find that much of the martech firms in this space all seem to promise the same thing and look rather similar," explained Leung. "Software sellers just don't know how to sell to CMOs."
This, he said, is where Clix has an edge over the competition. With a heritage in CRM and direct marketing, the firm understands how to use data and technology for marketing. "It's a lot easier for us to talk to clients and get their understanding. We're perceived as a marketing company that also happens to understand big data and technology."
Since Datatrade started using the Clix name for its data-driven customer loyalty functions in 2013, the division has managed to grow its topline by about 40 per cent, said Leung. "It's not enormous growth, yet, because of the long-selling cycle, but it's been steady and in the past year there's been a real uptick in interest from clients. The market's exploding. We've never been so busy meeting with clients to help them figure all this out."
The company decided to spin off Clix partly to market better during the rush to big data, and partly for recruitment purposes. "From a branding standpoint, we like the client to remember us. The Clix name is actually an acronym of four words—customer, loyalty, intelligence, expert—it makes it easier to tell a story."
In terms of recruitment, Leung has found that the division needs to hire open-minded and tech-savvy people in larger numbers. The problem he's faced is that Datatrade's name has been around for too long as a direct-marketing firm—a category that struggles to attract this type of talent.
Going independent will provide Clix with the agility and focus it needs, said Leung. "We need to be one foot wide and a mile deep in our expertise to truly understand how best to not only deliver value to our clients' customers, but also create sustainable competitive advantage for our clients."
Clix is already working with a portfolio of more than 50 blue-chip clients, ranging across health, beauty, fashion, hospitality and other B2C and B2B sectors. These include Abbott, Clinique, Estee Lauder, Eu Yang Sang, Friso, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Lenovo and Mannings. Its immediate focus will be accelerating its growth in China.