Sylvain Lierre
Oct 20, 2015

Hong Kong, Chinese gardens and omnichannel marketing

Hong Kong has everything it takes to become the world’s beacon for omnichannel. But the city’s marketers will need a shift in mindset to re-examine how they handle the digital journey and connect it to their unique retail landscape.

Sylvain Lierre
Sylvain Lierre

Hong Kong is bursting with energy around digital. It’s got a hyper connected population and a vivid startup scene. And I haven't had a single conversation since I arrived that did not stress the importance of digital in propelling Hong Kong’s economy forward.

Yet I am also hearing lots of brand CMOs and agency CEOs tell me that this market is still immature when it comes to digital marketing.

E-commerce obsession

Unsurprisingly for a major harbor, Hong Kong’s business culture is very transactional and focuses on the short-term gain. No wonder 80 per cent of the digital marketing job offers here have 'e-commerce' in their title.

Despite this, Hong Kong’s performance in e-commerce is somewhat disappointing: in 2014, it only represented 2.4 per cent of the total retail sales value. As a percentage, this is four times less than the USA, five times less than China and seven times less than South Korea. Worse, while the rest of ASEAN will see its e-commerce sales value grow 23 per cent by 2019, Hong Kong’s will lag behind with only 6 per cent predicted growth over the same period.

It’s unlikely that these numbers will change by merely putting more emphasis on e-commerce.

The digital consumer journey is like a Chinese garden

Surprisingly, the answer to this problem may hide deep in Chinese culture, in an art form that has been perfected over the course of 3,000 years: the Chinese garden. Inspired by the Tao, it celebrates the harmony and balance between humans and all the elements of nature. Chinese gardens are composed of a succession of idealized landscapes connected together by winding paths and bridges, which lead the viewer from one garden scene to another. They embody what a Chinese proverb says: "By detours, access to secrets".

In the age of the digital consumer journey, Hong Kong brands should re-learn the art of Chinese gardens, as there’s no direct way to the cash register. Shoppers take their time, wander around, explore alternative paths on and offline. They refuse to be bullied into buying. 

The brands that manage to deliver on this shopper behavior by building an engaging digital journey, similar to our Chinese garden, are best positioned.

This digital journey is a combination of several elements which, if tightly connected together, will deliver high growth: how search helps your brand be found, how social and CRM help your brand be preferred, how e-trade helps your brand be chosen and finally how the combination of e-commerce and retail helps convert digital shoppers into consumers.

This last point is very important as Hong Kong has a unique opportunity to truly deliver on the next revolution in digital: omnichannel.

Why Hong Kong can become the world's beacon for omnichannel 

Look around, this city has all the ingredients to become an omnichannel sensation: a hyperconnected mobile consumer (the mobile penetration reaches an insane 2.5 devices/person!), sky-high household broadband (83.4 per cent) as well as an incredibly dense and high-quality retail landscape, accessible from anywhere in a matter of minutes thanks to a world-class transportation system.

There is a big prize waiting for the brands who can harness this unique mix and grow the right digital ‘garden’ around it.

The current Chinese financial crisis, far from being a problem, is the perfect opportunity to trigger a much more efficient business model, where both digital journey and offline retail landscape seamlessly connect to drive higher footfall and conversion for Hong Kong’s businesses.

What Hong Kong's CMOs must do

Now there’s one challenge: to build this digital landscape, Hong Kong will need to tear down the organizational siloes that still paralyze a lot of its companies, big and small, and which prevent them from building a seamless journey.

That’s what CMOs and digital leaders’ No. 1 focus must be: creating a culture of partnership and co-ownership in their teams. Specifically:

  1. Make the board embrace and advocate the change: Embedding digital into an organization starts from the top.
  2. Redefine the org charts around the user experience, not the touchpoints: In 2015, keeping the marketing communications department, which produces the content, the digital team and the shopper marketing team separate from each other is not only archaic, it is counterproductive.
  3. Foster a culture of experimentation and systematic measurement of success to learn and improve.
  4. Embrace training: Change is fundamentally a human challenge; therefore it requires a close partnership with the HR department.

So, Hong Kong, are you ready? Making your 'gardeners' work together will ensure that omnichannel becomes not only a reality, but a success and an example for the rest of the world.


Sylvain Lierre is senior director and global head of brands and digital at Gibson Innovations in Hong Kong. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer. 


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