Robert Clark
Apr 19, 2016

Digital China Report: New digital role-playing

Waves of digital disruption have flattened the old structure of the advertising industry, eliminating some roles and skillsets, and making way for new ones in demand.

Digital China Report: New digital role-playing

Experts say the in-demand skills and disciplines in digital-obsessed China are either those that deal directly with digital technology or that are applied to ways of taking advantage of it. 

The underlying shift is the swiftly-changing media and technology context. As Paul Hu, the chief marketing officer at Volkswagen China, puts it, “advertising is no longer advertising—it is content. There are new approaches and new technologies, and you have to fit into the new environment.”  

Both brand owners and marketing service companies have to rethink “what we can do and how we should organise ourselves,” he says. “It’s no longer enough to hire an agency to create a 30-second commercial. That still works, but it’s no longer enough to just do traditional media.”

Now it is all about the real-time interactions, where consumers expect responses within hours or even minutes. 

Christine Wright, Asia managing director of recruitment firm Hays, says that digital marketing and social media hiring will “grow by leaps and bounds” this year. 

Employers are looking to hire and retain talent as they seek ways of supporting the government’s Internet Plus strategy, announced last year, which is aimed at applying cloud and internet technologies to revitalise the economy.

Tune in all this week for an in-depth look at the state of mainland digital marketing.

Wright says that the most in-demand titles are digital manager, digital marketing manager and online marketing manager. These positions perform functions such as establishing digital objectives and strategies, managing CRM and creating social media strategies.

Roles such as online media planning, CRM and social media planning are emerging as important new specialisations, Wright says. Others include those responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of online advertising and data-driven targeting.

Dirk Eschenbacher, a founding partner at luxury travel firm Zanadu, says that he sees two critical roles starting to be filled in China digital marketing.

One is product manager with responsibility across the entire product. “It’s more than a project manager. It’s someone who combines business knowledge; consumer knowledge; and technical knowledge,” Eschenbacher elaborates.

A big firm like Baidu would have hundreds of product managers, along with teams of designers and experience architects, coders, etc. But it requires someone to have a holistic approach to the product and the user experience. 

“The product manager is a very difficult person to find,” he says. “There are not that many out there who can really understand user habits and user insights, and translate those into user experience ... I think agencies are kind of missing people who do this kind of thing, who potentially create a more seamless experience that will go from marketing, and messaging down to ecommerce.” 

The other role is what Eschenbacher calls the ‘growth hacker’. “It’s someone who is really in charge of getting numbers up: unique visitors, sales, more registrations, etc—whatever the key metrics are for an organisation.”

This person can deploy strategies to drive those numbers, working closely with sales and product teams. Uber runs a growth management team of 300, ensuring that “everything that the company does is optimised,” he observes.

It’s not just for startups, Eschenbacher stresses. The big brands, with multiple products and categories, also need a growth champion. “They have new products to launch, and they need to grow their market share,” he says. 

For Volkswagen China, many of the new functions are related to data. “We need data scientists, programmers, people who can invent new algorithms, people who can understand big data and put it to work,” Hu says. 

But brands also have strong content requirements—like storytellers. Hu likens their role to movie scriptwriters. “You have a crew and you have an idea, but you need someone who can turn it into a story. You need people who can do this in-house, rather than ask someone to do it for you.”

There’s no time to send the brief to the agency, partly because of the speed, partly because of the continuous nature of the content marketing and social media environment.

“Now you need a lot more daily content creation,” says Hu. “People who can constantly create stories, write about you and create news for you—not just press releases, but [content for] social media.”

The Hays China’s Quarterly Report for the first quarter of 2016 reflects this, showing high demand for social media planners. 

“Media content is a focus for many companies that are undergoing a digital makeover to improve their websites and their content for best SEO practice,” Wright says. “Organisations are increasingly realising that content is essential to engage customers across all digital platforms by sharing quality messaging and creating communities across social media channels.”

Identifying the need for a role is one thing; finding the talent is another. Wright says that the new functions are performed mainly by professionals from a marketing communications or PR background, who are able to develop and grow their digital knowledge and skills, and can shift their role to be more digitally focused. However, some companies are bringing digital talent from overseas to lead local teams.

There’s an organisational challenge as well. “In the digital era, you have to constantly evolve,” Hu points out. This means being able to identify and acquire resources as needed, rather than to create large permanent teams. “You need a flexible organisation that can handle multiple tasks and projects,” he says. 

This means using the HR team in a flexible way to put people together for projects: for example, finding an IT professional within the organisation who has the skills to support the current task.

However, HR challenges also arise just because of the emergence of digital marketing. Kenny Guo, head of digital marketing and ecommerce at Rémy Cointreau Shanghai, predicts some challenges in managing the convergence of traditional and digital marketing. “You have to have a digital component in every market—so inevitably there will be some overlap, depending on the products and categories,” he explains.

Wright points out that while digital marketing is often added as a parallel structure alongside traditional marketing activities, it’s “an incorrect assumption” that the two need separate approaches. Digital marketing and traditional marketing functions should coexist to work effectively, she says.



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