Emily Tan
Jun 11, 2014

How an office-space startup overtook Hong Kong's top dogs in five years

HONG KONG – Tired of the hidden costs of the city's top serviced-office companies, Andrew Chung decided to offer the market a better option with the founding of Compass Offices in 2009.

How an office-space startup overtook Hong Kong's top dogs in five years

Five years later, Compass has overtaken former market leaders Regus, The Executive Centre and ServCorp as Hong Kong’s largest serviced-office provider (in terms of square footage)and is Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing provider to boot.

“Andrew Chung, our CEO, was a client at Regus, and he got really fed up with his monthly bill,” said Harriet Pearson, marketing communications manager at Compass Offices. “It would sometimes be double the price he expected because they would charge for things like coffee, pantry access… just things they would forget to mention. The competitors all compete on the premium look of their offices, price and location, but those prices just weren’t upfront.

As a result Compass’ USP is that its prices are completely transparent with no additional charges. Great idea. Only problem was getting the word out.  Serviced offices have to walk a fine line between promotion and obscurity. The trick is to get the word out about your offering to people who need you but not to be so well known as to have everyone know your clients are working out of serviced offices.

“When I first joined in July last year, we were doing what everyone else was—blasting an offer for one month of free serviced office space on every site,” said Pearson. “It’s only in the last year that we started looking at it more strategically by pinning down our customer base and our target audience.”

Compass Offices decided to try a few approaches. First, launch a branding campaign using its USP of transparent pricing. The company set up services that it felt would make a real difference to the working-happiness of its clients and played those up in marketing messages. Some of the ideas it has implemented include on-call IT and professional solutions, customer relationship managers, and helping clients set up their own HR teams.

As its client base was largely entrepreneurial, Compass also started organising networking events so clients could meet other entrepreneurs and successful business owners in Hong Kong, swap war stories and often, team up to build better companies.

“It was about tapping into subconscious nigglings, things you don’t really believe you need but that take us from just an office to a nice place to work,” said Pearson (pictured).

The marketing team also looked into content marketing and social marketing, looking to build a strong online network. “We started using our blog and social media sites to get people engaged," Pearson said. "We’re still working on it. Some things have worked, but a few things we thought would be fantastic flopped. Still, we have noticed that the traffic we’re getting has been getting a lot better with increased dwell times."

Gradually Compass built up its leads, largely through word of mouth and via its sales team. “We also get a lot of good leads from referrals," she said. "We have had a dedicated corporate partnership manager for the last six months, and we’re starting to get online leads too. We’re doing pretty well with search and have started to invest a lot more.”

With an eye on expansion, the marketing team has started digging into its web analytics to look for online opportunities. “Using the location of our website visitors and the type of search terms they used to find us, we were able to launch highly targeted search campaigns in these cities,” explained Nicky Chua, online marketing executive at Compass. “For example, ads in India targeted searches for serviced-office offerings in Singapore.”

The campaign, which launched in the third quarter of last year, immediately started paying off, and the strategy now contributes around 10 per cent of the company’s total leads online.

“Keyword data also tells us a story in terms of our brand efficacy," Chua added. "For example, a lot of our Chinese visitors were coming to our website via branded keywords which are geo-targeted to HK, while our Thai visitors are coming through branded terms. These were countries we didn’t have operations in yet, but it didn’t stop our audience from reaching out to us.”

Compass has expanded to have a presence in six countries with its marketing efforts managed mostly by its in-house team.

“We’re still at the start of our branding journey and we’re still evolving," Pearson said. "Our next project is revamping the site—it’s starting to look a bit dated."


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