Google feted 10 top marcomms professionals in Shanghai last month for an intense and wide-ranging discussion on the challenges for tech-driven marketing in China. In a specially furbished room decked out with the internet giant's latest innovations and VR gadgets, the panel tackled a range of thorny issues including the quality of data, fragmentation, efficiency levels in programmatic and how to combat fraudulent traffic.
Here are Campaign Asia-Pacific's main takeaways from the private roundtable event:
Define customer journey early but don’t rely only on it
Vivien Yeh, digital transformation director at Mead Johnson Nutrition China, said she had mapped out a typical three-year customer journey and built a corresponding marketing strategy in the hope of achieving customer acquisition targets more effectively.
However, Eleen Xiong, strategy and development director at Baozun, said what customers purchase offline is instead “always their real behaviour”. Most importantly, the offline decision-making process was not the same as online, she noted.
Third-party data firms in China have conflicting roles
There are “too many times” when third-party data tracking companies hold conflicting roles—as both player and referee—in the ad business, said Yeh. These companies monitor media vendors that isolate data within their organisations, but at the same time will not share their own data with clients.
“Everyone is doing their own thing, with no industry standards in place,” said Kenny Guo, head of digital marketing and ecommerce at Rémy Cointreau China. However, he said the data exchange centre, established in April by the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology, was an attempt to “slowly pull together some standards”.
Programmatic in China is inefficient
Attendees said they were backing away from investing in programmatic buying because the whole process is entrenched in fragmentation and fraud.
“The results were far from ideal,” said Lawrence Wang, social media and digital director at AIG. “The bounce rate is too high, conversion rate too low and attrition very serious. We must get better before we push programmatic on a larger scale.”
Data inaccuracy is the crux issue here as it remains difficult to distinguish whether programmatic impressions are being served to humans or zombie users.
“It is always a battle of wits,” said Diageo China’s digital head Eric Chen.
Fengqu’s COO Sophie Tsuei said this battle, coupled with aggressive persuasion from programmatic vendors that this needs to be a long-term investment with much testing before real business results, is a source of frustration. “It sounds quite logical in theory, but also makes us very sceptical. Why can’t our expectations be matched with actual performance?”
Data overlap is part of the problem
Kevin Guo, general manager of strategic cooperation and marketing innovation at Ctrip, said there was only a “very small amount of data” that aided promotional activity. Even the online travel agency’s total app user base of 250 million had repeated data points; the actual number of unique users should be around 100 million. Multiscreen users also meant isolated data had little to no practical effect on marketing: a brand could send a text message to a consumer, but it still had no way of knowing how the phone’s owner behaved online, Guo said.
Marketers should be leveraging dynamic, not static, data
Diageo’s Chen said that marketers were spending energy on capturing detailed data when, in fact, where customers live, how old they are or whether they like alcohol “gives you just a superficial understanding of the customer because such data is static”.
The case for dynamic data was strong due to people going through different life stages at different times, he said. Even within any one-year period, consumers show different needs throughout the four seasons. Search volume and simple keyword analysis could help a brand figure out its position in the market. “Dynamic data translates into sustainable marketing operations,” he said.
Look for data trends across platforms
While the industry has spent the better part of 2015 talking about the growth of marketing data, much of these datasets are growing in isolation in Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Chen recommended ignoring the source of the data but focusing on trends exposed by the data in general. “Using such a method, even if data points are tagged and indexed differently, I look out for trends that are similar across platforms. Based on that, I can be more certain about the type and depth of data mining required next,” he advised.
However, Janet Chen, marketing vice-president of Greater China retail for Luxottica, warned that commercialisation at Baidu seemed to be “very serious”. Its ad-sales team subjected qualified clients to “a bunch of unnecessary requirements and documentation” to just buy a banner ad or a search keyword.
IT problems are easier to solve than communications
Data processing or information management is the least of Benelli’s senior marketing director Dante Bustos’ challenges. “We are trying hard to apply new technology to enhance a rider’s experience and to connect that with their social lives in real time,” he said. “Incorporating augmented-reality safety features, like rear-facing cameras, into a motorcycle helmet and broadcasting the rider’s journey to his or her friends, is one example.”
His main “problem”? Producing screeds of guidance for the brand’s agency partners ahead of launching models in new markets.
- Dante Bustos, senior marketing director for Americas, Asia and Africa regions, Benelli
- Eric Chen, digital head, Diageo China
- Janet Chen, marketing VP of Greater China retail, Luxottica
- Kenny Guo, head of digital marketing and ecommerce, Rémy Cointreau China
- Kevin Guo, general manager of strategic cooperation and marketing innovation department, Ctrip
- Benjamin Koh, marketing director, Aquaspace Group
- Sophie Tsuei, COO, Fengqu.com
- Lawrence Wang, social media and digital director, AIG China
- Eleen Xiong, strategy and development director, Baozun
- Vivien Yeh, digital transformation director, Mead Johnson Nutrition China