“I know it’s an old rule, but most just don’t practice it. They talk about it, but they don’t ingrain it into their companies, down to management style and training,” said Leung.
As vice-president of marketing for Epsilon International Asia-Pacific, Leung is responsible for the data-driven multichannel marketing service organisation’s marketing and PR programmes throughout the region, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Singapore. As a “marketer to marketers” she has had to cultivate a degree of insight into the consumers targeted by Epsilon’s clients.
“Although we’re essentially B2B, in pitching to marketers, I’ve had to be fluent in B2C as well. My client’s bottom line is important to me and there’s no other way to communicate value to them,” Leung told Campaign in an interview on November 18.
The rift that can develop between the brand and its consumer was driven home to Leung 19 years ago during her first job in Hong Kong. “I was working in hospitality at a luxury hotel. Although the staff were trained to offer five-star service to our frequent flyer and diamond members, the interaction was often less than positive for these members. This was because although the staff were following instructions to the letter, they never made these members feel special. To the service staff, these diamond-class members were just one of hundreds they saw everyday and represented more work. As a result these members weren’t receiving that extra-warm smile or delight in serving the consumer that they expected in response to their status,” observed Leung.
The problem, she said, lay in the management being overly focused on efficiency in the running of the hotel, and not communicating the value these customers brought to the establishment. “There was also a lack of incentives for staff members to treat these consumers better. They weren’t rewarded for the extra service they had to deliver,” said Leung.
If the management had experienced the hotel’s service from the customer’s side, she added, they would have seen that what the customer really desired was to feel special and appreciated – not so much the letter of the privileges they were entitled to.
“I wasn’t even in a marketing role back then, but it’s a lesson that has stuck with me ever since,” said Leung.
Her role in hospitality did lead to a role in event management which kickstarted her marketing career. Since then, Leung has worked client-side with The Economist and Euromoney Institutional Investor as well as in media-planning and ad network business development with 24/7 Media, a digital media division of Chinadotcom. Despite her immersion in the cutting-edge of media technology and database development, Leung doesn’t see technology as the solution to all marketing problems. In fact, she finds it’s often an impediment to marketers seeing the real solution.
“One of the biggest challenges I have as a marketing consultant is the marketer’s belief that tech can solve everything," she says. "Often, people are so hyped up on the technology that they are blinded to the essentials of marketing – going for cheap and fast execution.”
One example, said Leung, is the difference that email-marketing has made to direct marketing. “Before emails were the norm, companies would have to send out flyers, catalogues and notices via post. There is a cost to this method, a substantial one, so companies did their best to target only consumers who truly wanted to receive their mail. Companies that sent out too much junk mail often suffered huge losses."
But now, with email being cheap and fast, some brands think they don’t need to target anymore. After all, emails are free, right? "Wrong," says Leung. "Every unwanted email is spam, enough spam will not only damage your brand reputation with consumers – which in email marketing can number in the tens of thousands – it may get you backlisted by an IP as a spammer. After which, its all over for you.”
As marketers start to realise that technology doesn’t allow them to sidestep the basics, Leung has noticed a shift away from clients demanding the latest technological toys and towards integrated marketing where data from multiple touchpoints are used to make each campaign more targeted and effective. “Also, CRM, CRM CRM,” she added. “Sure it’s been around forever, but it needs to be updated constantly to meet growing customer expectations.”
In the age of personal, customers have less and less patience with marketing and advertising that is irrelevant to them. But catering to the customer’s expectations is only possible if you know what they are.
“It comes back once again to listening to your customer. Sometimes, they have solutions you’ve never even thought of. Here’s another story, I was part of a customer focus group with a major airline. They wanted to roadtest their business and first-class entertainment systems. As soon as the customers sat down, they immediately started to touch the non-responsive screens – because everything’s touch screen now, they don’t expect to have to deal with consoles. But the airline industry, which has been using consoles for so long, never anticipated that,” she laughed.
This, said Leung, is why a marketer’s job doesn’t end when she or he leaves the office. “Creativity and insight isn’t nine to five. When you leave the office you’re a consumer, one who has the chance to listen to other consumers – in the train, in supermarket aisles – it never stops.”