Digital360Festival is Campaign Asia-Pacific's flagship event in China, hosting senior decision makers from leading brands and agencies and discussing all the latest news and ideas affecting digital performance in the market.
Our editors covered the 26 April event liveblog style (the coverage begins at the bottom of this page, with newer updates as you move up). Please also see the winners of the 2018 Digital Media Awards and our coverage of DigitalWorks, held the day before Digital360Festival.
Blockchain & You
The final panel at Digital360 on how blockchain can help brand marketing was highly concerned with not losing the audience on technicalities.
“First there was AI technology which is confusing enough to us marketers. And now we’re adding blockchain on top of that” joked moderator Alvin Foo, managing director at IPG Reprise Media China. The simplest explanation came from Miranda Tan, CEO of KOL profiling firm Robin8 who described blockchain as a public ledger like an Excel sheet, but with multiple copies to all contributors to the chain for full transparency.
“The reason why it’s so cool is because in China everything is fake,” said Tan, soliciting a minor uproar as she quickly corrected and qualified what she meant. Her KOL profiling firm has brands that are constantly asking whether an influencer’s 10 million fans are real.
Connor Doyle, marketing technologist at decentralized ad network Noiz, explained a blockchain project to stop click farm spam from corrupting real data by verifying customers.
The challenge is in first verifying customers to participate. This can be done through various means like taking selfies with ID in the photo, Doyle explained, which bots can’t do.
But getting verified users into the chain at scale is difficult. Robin8’s Tan said she uses a reward system, a “profile utility token” to incentivise participation.
Tan also raised the IP copyright ownership application of blockchain to prevent competitors from stealing a brand’s designs or content. Likewise media could resolve disputes over content ownership like the one between Weibo and Toutiao last year, Tan said.
Joe Wong, general manager of integrated marketing services at George P. Johnson Greater China urged everyone to imagine the “Airbnb of media” that could include all content – large and small, from KOLs to advertisers, all listed with a price that anyone could bid on alongside a reputation listing that would punish those publishing false information. “All these are things that blockchain can do.”
Decentralising media could mean that adtech DSPs and black box providers could have a fight on their hands in future the panelists noted though this might still be a long time away.
With so many potential influences on marketing and advertising, Foo wrapped up by suggesting everyone had better get up to speed on blockchain’s potential and do it soon.
— Robert Sawatzky
How offline retail can survive in the digital age
There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about online-to-offline retail (O2O) successes and failures but as more purchases are made online, some retail sectors are showing more signs of struggle. How to help them is the quandary and was the subject of discussion for this panel moderated by Campaign deputy editor Olivia Parker.
While luxury brands have not been idle in the online retail space, they’re one sector that enjoys some protection. “Online is convenient and low involvement,” noted Christian Solomon, chief digital officer at MediaCom China. “But with bigger ticket items, there’s a difference.” So naturally, luxury retailers have been doubling down on exclusive in-store experiences, like Richemont’s private car service, Solomon referenced, that will plan out a full shopping experience for you.
But what about fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) that don't have such ‘luxury’? Jerman Zhang, managing director of ecommerce at GroupM noted that FMCG is seeing fastest growth online compared to offline.
Online sales can be great for brands, but not if it comes at the expense of offline stores, noted Zoe Zhao, digital innovation center partnership manager at Mars China. ‘Mom and Pop’ stores are suffering, losing ground to online services, she said, yet these stores are critical for the sale and distribution of products like gum. Zhao notes Mars is looking at ways of helping ‘Mom and Pops’ with instant local neighbourhood delivery services, just as Alibaba and Jingdong are already working to bring them online with digital ordering and delivery services. Zhang noted Alibaba and JD to plan to integrate a million of these stores.
Most other moves to improve offline retail involve bringing in more technology for further personalization and convenience. Alibaba’s ‘new retail’ experiments at Hema supermarkets and with cashier-less Tao Café stores can rely on facial recognition technology either for payment or to determine who’s in their store and what they’re buying. But it can also extract data on what products and displays in-store each consumer is even looking at or considering, for future retargeting, noted Zhang.
But rolling out such stores on a wider scale are a huge investment, said Solomon. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
There’s also the issue of personal consumer privacy and data safety to consider. Largely overlooked in China, it’s now getting more attention and could slow down the collection of offline consumer data and location-based services.
While Zhang suggested consumers in China “have no choice” but to have their data collected, Solomon insisted that privacy concerns were just as important to Chinese consumers as anywhere else.
“It’s a hot topic,” Zhao added. “Maybe the government will lead this and form set industry standards so we can all play in the same yard.”
— Robert Sawatzky
Don’t put your marketing eggs in one basket
Liana Yu, associate digital transformation director at Mead Johnson tackled the problem of how to break through the media clutter, noting that so many marketers are competing for attention on the five major music and video platforms in China.
“How can we do it?” Yu asks. “We’re diversifying our channels.” She notes that many traditional advertising routes to speak to consumers through viral videos and celebrities don’t always translate into retention or sales.
Yu described how Mead Johnson instead is aiming to provide personalized services through a multitude of avenues. Among the online platform initiatives Mead uses is Tencent Finance, Alibaba Unimarketing, JD We-Store and Tencent Qzone where consumers can set up a family baby album. Plus, Mead is using WeChat for a personalized menu of services that includes lectures and Q&A sessions with experts on early child care.
Mead offers offline courses as well in brick-and-mortar locations in 100 cities across China and sends its own registered users timely content and offers around key dates in child development or during allergy seasons for doctor check-ups to keep up consumer interaction.
Think that’s enough consumer outreach? Not broad enough for Mead. “Baidu is very important because mothers do a lot of searches,” Yu says. So Mead watches searches by new mothers carefully for trending topics to pair with content. They also combine social listening with their KOL – or rather KOM (Key Opinion Mom) - programs to influence others.
Then there are the We-Chat mini-programs that are more accessible for delivering specific content to mothers around their daily questions. More specific questions are addressed through chatbots.
So what platforms are out of bounds? Not many. Yu says Mead has noticed the rising popularity of food delivery and transport platforms like Meituan and Didi and aren’t forgetting about them either.
So while few brands will expect to be able to reach their target audience is all places at once, Mead Johnson’s approach appears to do just that. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg in communicating with consumers,” Yu said. “There’s a lot more under the water.”
— Robert Sawatzky
5:00: MMA to change the world
“I believe in the power of martial arts to make this world a better place.”
Directly playing to the audience’s emotions, the dynamic CEO of One Championship said he wants the company he has built into a US$1billion powerhouse over the last seven years to create heroes whose pictures he’d be proud for his nine-year-old daughter to display in her bedroom.
One Championship has enormous potential in China, stated Victor Cui, even though it is still early days for the company here and it has got “a lot of things wrong” on the way. “People outside China don’t understand how different this market is to the rest of the world,” he emphasized.
He has high hopes for the growth of MMA (mixed martial arts) here, however: One Championship’s Weibo fan base is already larger than that of competitor UFC. His confidence stems from the fact that MMA is one of the only sports that is truly a “cultural treasure” in China, while all the other sports that have grown big in this part of the world over the last few decades have been imported from the West, he said.
The reason parents the country over still enroll their children in MMA classes, said Cui, is not because they want them to become fighters but because MMA encompasses the kinds of values parents want their children to grow up with, like courage, discipline and respect.
One point Cui is “maniacal” on, he said, is making sure every single person in the company – which includes 300 staff in offices across Singapore, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Shanghai – is a social media expert. “Each one of us has been given the power to vote with our feet on our mobiles, so if [your staff] understands what your company is trying to build, they all become your KOLs and your ambassadors.”
— Olivia Parker
3:53pm: Is there such a thing as thoughtful automation?
Hesitation and confusion floated around in this panel, while speakers pondered about the exact definition of AI and its productive applications in digital marketing.
AI is very difficult to define, that’s for sure. But here are things that it is not. It’s not automation. It’s not traditional machine learning, clarifies Ming Liao, adjunct professor of business and economics, NYU Shanghai.
“We use AI for very small tasks currently,” says Eve Lo, chief data officer, Dentsu Aegis Network China, whose team utilises AI to help ‘quantify’ imagery on social media. “A post that contains ‘this tastes good’ is no good if the machine doesn’t see what the attached image looks like,” she says.
"You have to assign AI a specific goal," agrees James Lee, integrated media director, Kraft Heinz China. If you narrow the scope of work for AI, it will do a better job. On the flip side, the sandbox that AI can play in is limited to tactical moves, for example in the programmatic trading space. Lee’s frustration is also echoed in the lack of access to basic reporting when assessing programmatic success. “Reports vary so much by publisher in China. Without access to actual data, AI cannot function properly,” he adds.
Machines are good for certain things that require scale and that needs aggregation, but what humans can do better is to understand context, draw insights and make strategic decisions, continues Liao.
However, computers need a way to interact with their human environment, and the best way is through data signals. But translating that into real life is like grasping at straws. If there was a way for machines to attribute data tags into emotions, states Lee, that would be more than useful.
— Jenny Chan
12:49pm: Is it A, B, or C? Nope, it's A x B + C.
People problems. Talent issues. These are complex enough in normal business operations, let alone during the massive task of digital transformation for both brands and agencies.
How does a business leader go about digital transformation? Is it about picking among A, B, and C options? Well, that is what vertical thinkers, who analyse based on knowledge and expertise, will do, states Jane Lin-Baden, CEO of Isobar APAC. But what the industry really lacks are horizontal, or lateral, thinkers who can connect entirely different things and join the dots. Lateral thinking is really a concept proposed in the 1960s, and is much needed for digital transformation. Such lateral thinkers will instead multiply A by B and add C to the result.
But many companies are neither talking about this nor training their staff in it, Lin-Baden points out. There shouldn’t be hierarchies, rankings, or a cascading waterfall method when undergoing digital transformation. Design thinking is a more meaningful way, she suggests.
Uniqlo has been working on its own digital transformation efforts since 2014. The biggest challenge, reflects Jalin Wu, CMO of Uniqlo China, is how most industry practitioners see themselves as ‘marketing professionals’ but not ‘business owners’. “Consider yourself as the boss of the company, and think about what concrete return any marketing activity will bring,” she says.
Wu sees herself as Uniqlo’s most critical customer both internally and externally. A good team must talk to all strategic parties and partners in all the links of the digital supply chain, she posits. This is what Wu calls the integration of capabilities, otherwise there is no transformation to be had. The main difficulty is how to establish bridges between all the seemingly separate silos, while holding a practical, long-term view.
Many people are obsessed with what they can do right now, counters Lin-Baden. The onus is on the business leader to invest in team-building and to benchmark the company against the best competitors, Wu summarises.
— Jenny Chan
12:40pm: Ensuring the authenticity of KOL data is a "big issue"
Bonnie Chan Woo, CEO of Icicle Group, told the audience about the AI technology her company uses from Amazon Iris, an image recognition system. The technology collects 10,000 data points from each post and video made by an influencer and can then contextually analyse it to work out what style of post would maximize engagement rates and interaction with users, she explained.
Icicle worked with a big US shoe brand to launch a seasonal collection in 23 countries, including six in Asia, she went on. The software helped Icicle produce very different guidelines for choosing KOLs in each country – sometimes top tier celebrities were the best choice, sometimes longtail influencers with fewer followers were more appropriate, she said. “This helped the brand over-achieve on targets and unify their way of budgeting a global campaign.”
Chan acknowledged that Icicle’s system doesn’t yet apply to Weibo and WeChat KOLs, but says her company is looking to help Chinese brands with ambitions to go global. “We see a lot of Chinese brands doing great things on Instagram, like DJI, which has almost 4 million followers and is very smart at user generated content.” In the future, many Chinese brands will have the same ambition, she predicted.
Her fellow panelists were Allen Chen, head of insight products at Miaozhen, and Jing Hsiang Chang, COO & GM in China at Wavenet, and the panel was hosted by Michael Tang, President of HDTMedia. Chen raised the perennial issue of ensuring the authenticity of data – like follower numbers and page views - when selecting KOLs, saying this is a “big issue”. Chang said brands didn’t need to worry too much about the authenticity of data from platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter because they are constantly being supervised by 3rd parties. Woo also said fake accounts are a global issue but that AI can help here too, if it focuses on the analysis of the content itself, not on the KOL being a carrier of that content.
— Olivia Parker
12:30pm: I share your data pain
Jimmy Liang, vice-president of business development for AddNewer admitted not everyone in the audience may have heard of his company. The firm’s flagship product is a data serving engine, along with a campaign management platform.
But he stressed that he shared their pain when it comes to data headaches like data fragmentation, unstable flows, and application to different channels, problems which Liang wants to help them sort through.
One of the more daunting challenges, he cited, however was the dearth of open data, with most of it stored within the big walled gardens. Outside of the big platforms there is other data but right now advertisers have to wait too long to painstakingly integrate many varied sources. “Nobody can afford to wait that long,” Liang said.
Still more flexible and open data streams are the future, he insisted. “A walled garden is beautiful but you can’t see beyond it.”
— Robert Sawatzky
12:00pm: Xiaomi, the marketing solutions company?
Q. Chen, general manager of advertising sales at Xiaomi started off his presentation on the Internet of Things with a series of ads showing off Xiaomi’s dazzling array of IoT hardware. The gadgets are impressive: smart scooters, rice cookers, air and water purifiers, security cameras, wristband phones for kids, blood pressure monitors, voice assistants, you name it.
“IoT is a very big concept but the future is here”, Chen said. The goal, of course is to connect all of Xiaomi’s products to a consumer’s life, from morning until night and they’re close to doing it.
So no wonder advertisers are interested in tapping into that IoT network to speak to those consumers directly. As a young company, Xiaomi is still working out what services exactly they will provide for advertisers in future, Chen says, but the company is fully aware of the potential. He referenced Xiaomi's recent move to limit the margins on hardware products to five percent, which could suggest services may play a larger role in the business.
Already, Xiaomi is working with brands, such as water companies to remind you to drink water on sports wearables. It’s partnered with stores and with restaurants like KFC to respond to messages from your fridge to order food for dinner. And it’s working with Pepsi on intelligent interactions using OTT.
But Chen says Xiaomi will be careful not to overdo it and burn the trust of consumers with the data they’re getting. Marketing is not our primary concern but protecting privacy of consumers, Chen said. “If we can better protect the privacy of consumers it will bode better for the future.”
— Robert Sawatzky
11 am: Nielsen presents its 'robust, scientific' profiling method
Chinese consumers want to see content anywhere, at any time, regardless of whether it's on big screens, small screens or social media, said Linda Chang, Greater China Watch leader from Nielsen’s media department, during her talk on new media marketing.
Ad budgets are following consumer preferences, said Chang, which means they’re increasingly in mobile. But in reality, a huge amount of the efforts and costs that go into campaigns are still being wasted. Nielsen can help boost precision marketing by dividing the marketing process into three steps: planning, activation and measuring, which together make up Nielsen’s Total Audience Solution, she said.
To illustrate the ‘activation’ element of this package, Chang outlined the launch of the Nielsen Marketing Cloud with TVB last week in Hong Kong. This involved feeding all TVB’s first-party data, plus second- and third-party data, into one big data infrastructure where it could be analysed, including profiling and segmenting audiences.
Many practitioners in China say they know how to do profiling, but when you look closer, they are using a very universal standard for this, said Chang. Nielsen offers a much more robust, scientific method of profiling that allows campaigns to be optimized as they are pushed out to the audience. Where previously TVB’s data was very scattered, now it is completely integrated, she said.
— Olivia Parker
9:28 am: KFC China’s digital vision is to turn pain points into ‘happy points’
“Our logic is very much the same as [that of] internet companies,” says Steven Li, CMO of Yum China, parent company of KFC. The fried chicken chain is building a consumer journey and closing the loop with various consumer touchpoints in China. Technology can address pain points in the journey, and turn them into ‘happy points’, he says. “This is not easy. You can do a lot of consumer research, but how do you have the whole organisation embrace changes needed after assessing the research findings?”
Well, KFC China has tried. The dine-in experience has been made as digital as possible, from mobile ordering to e-payments, after radically transforming marketing operations internally (see "KFC's modern marketing for an original, old recipe"). “Critics say this is not a big deal since Alipay and WeChat Pay are aides, but when you are doing this at a scale of more than 5400 stories in 100 cities with a menu of more than 600 different food items, a very robust system is critical.”
"A friend of mine complained recently about the poor acoustics of our stores," Li continues. "We didn’t try to fix the ‘hard’ aspects like loudspeakers in stores, but thought more deeply of the reasons behind the complaints." Would the grumbles cease when their favourite music is playing inside stores? K-Music BGM Jukebox was developed. There is even potential for this to become the number-one offline music billboard, with so many as 570,000 song dedications per month on the jukebox app, he says.
All these ventures to create ‘happy points’ are part of KFC’s effort to speak the same language as youngsters in China. ‘Kiri’ is the food brand’s latest innovation. Sounds familiar? That’s KFC’s version of Siri—voice-controlled intelligent ordering on mobile. “We are, in fact, turning our 5400 restaurants into a huge experimental lab", which is battling even abominable weather conditions with what the company calls 'dynamic delivery'.
"We don’t know what we don’t know yet, but the future is in our hands,” Li says.
— Jenny Chan
As the conference delegates arrive and we prepare to start the day's content, we would invite you to catch up on all the updates from yesterday's DigitalWorks, an all-day interactive Chinese-language workshop for rising stars in the media industry. We'll be revealing the winner later today.