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Hong Kong’s marketing industry has identified the importance of data, but actually understanding how to use it is critical to success.  Simon Yuen  talks with marketers and IT experts on getting to grips with data literacy.

The need to know

While many a piece has been written on the importance of data, marketers are still trying to get their heads around using data to drive their businesses.

In the pre-internet age of traditional marketing – when direct mail, product samples, cold-calling, TV and publication ads ruled – marketers made decisions based on experience feedback as the ruling form of data. In modern marketing, though feedback remains important, other more impartial forms of raw data play a greater role as customer demand for customisation only increases.

“We need data to develop world-class products since we can understand people’s behaviour through it. A super close relationship with data helps us deliver the best products,” says Calvin French-Owen, co-founder and CTO of customer data infrastructure company Segment.

Calvin French-Owen

And, as the floodgates of information open for marketers, they now have to know what types of data they actually require for their needs.

“Marketers need to know what hard data and soft data are,” says Edmond Lai, chief digital officer of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.

“Email addresses, phone numbers, occupations and the amount of spending are some of the typical examples of hard data, while behavioural data is a prominent example of soft data.”

By combining both hard and soft data, marketers can find target audiences easier, enabling swift amendments to their marketing strategies. Conversion rates, download numbers, and the cost-per-click can all be figured out with deft use of data.

Yet, when it comes to data, the adage of having “too much of a good thing” often rings true. Though tempting, it is not a wise decision to collect mountains of data, when collecting a minimal, but relevant – and manageable – pool of data is good enough.

“For example, if I invited customers to join my chain restaurant’s loyalty programme, I would only need to know the month of his or her birthday because it’s a great opportunity to offer them a coupon,” says Ravel Lai, chief digital officer of Dah Chong Hong Holdings.

He says marketers need to know more about the nature of the data they have collected, and put it into context. Mindlessly hoarding data just because it’s there may only distract marketers from seeing the whole picture.

Ravel Lai

The need to learn

However, a data-driven marketing approach is no easy task, and one of the biggest challenges of using data in the industry is the potentially crippling lack of knowledge among marketers.

“Marketers may not be proficient in statistics, data modelling, and data cleansing, while they may also not know how to aggregate data. That’s why many brands are looking for data scientists and data analysts to gather and analyse a drop in the ocean,” Edmond Lai says.

Edmond Lai

While no platform can gather infinite data, if brands cannot collectively handle the data they have in a single platform, it increases the difficulty in using and exercising said data.

To better collect data, brands are also being advised to conduct social listening and competitor monitoring to get more insights from customers and the industry.

“But you need to know the goal of getting data. At Skyscanner, we aim to solve customers’ problems related to travel, and we work with companies sharing the same values with us,” says Fang Fang, growth marketing lead of APAC of Skyscanner.

Fang Fang

The higher the level of data literacy an organisation has, the better its effectiveness at marketing. But raising that knowledge bar is proving problematic.

“Limited budget is the major problem when hiring data scientists, but we are still looking for ways to enhance the level of data literacy,” Edmond Lai explains.

“Generally, the level of data literacy among marketers has increased significantly in recent years.”

Digital marketing and digital analysis are utterly reliant on each other. For marketers at agencies that are unable to fund courses, the prospect of stepping up to self-learn or pay their own way is becoming an unfortunate necessity to equip themselves with the tools to compete.

And while it is extremely difficult to hire a data scientist with the requisite experience, marketers also have the option of enlisting consultancy firms to gather insights into the industry and their customers.

But the major challenge of the day is the unwillingness of customers to disclose their personal information. A never-ending stream of high-profile privacy-related news coverages and data breaches has led to a heightened awareness of data protection. A reaction, that though understandable, poses new difficulties for marketers who need to understand consumer behaviour.

The need to safeguard

Protecting data is a chief concern – or at least it should be – for every marketer worth their salt. Data security revolves around a process of protecting accounts, databases, and files on a network by using a set of controls, applications, and other techniques.

This is followed by identifying the relative importance of the collections of data, their level of sensitivity, noting regulatory compliance requirements, and then applying appropriate protections to secure those resources.

“We need data to develop world-class products since we can understand people’s behaviour through it.”

Data security consists of three aspects: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Confidentiality ensures that data is only accessed by authorised individuals, while integrity is equivalent to being reliable and accurate. Availability ensures data is available and accessible to satisfy business needs.

As brands retain oceans of customer data, the importance of protecting that data cannot be underestimated. A single leak could spark a firestorm of a PR crisis. One year on and Hong Kong still remembers the prominent example of flag carrier Cathay Pacific.

In October 2018, Cathay Pacific revealed the data of 9.4 million passengers had been accessed illegally. The kicker being the breach had been detected months earlier in March and confirmed as early as May the same year.

The incident sparked a public outcry as about 245,000 Hong Kong identity cardholders and 55,000 passport holders in the city had been affected. The extent of the breach’s notoriety was so severe that it was commonplace to hear conversations of people comparing what data of theirs had been reported as compromised in the apologetic emails they received from Cathay.

Chairman John Slosar promised to improve IT security and training and stated that law enforcement authorities would be brought in earlier in the future.

earlier in the future. Though a data leak could damage a company’s reputation significantly, protecting data is not as difficult as one might think, since fatal mistakes often stem from simple negligence.

For example, employees may store data or sensitive files on an open platform which can be accessed by an entire network of users. Other than the obvious advice of paying closer attention, utilising security software that classifies and moves sensitive data to secure locations on a system is both an easier and safer solution to this problem.

More draconian, but effective methods include strictly limiting users’ access. To be blunt, not everyone in an organisation needs to see customers’ personal information.

To better protect data, it should not be overexposed to employees or other users. If they can’t access the data, they can’t be compromised, so stopping access to data beyond their needs simply makes sense.

Brands can also limit the use of outside computers and other equipment to avoid some of the more nefarious back door methods of entry.

Just as excessive data collection can be unwieldy, the more data that a brand collects, the higher the risk of it being leaked or hacked. Collecting excessive data is equivalent to wasting time and resources to handle it, so brands are advised to collect only data that is necessary.

Requesting unnecessary data from customers has another downside of note – that they become even more skittish about why brands need all the information in the first place, and how safely it will be stored. That, again reasonable fear, can drive them away.

A small, yet useful step is to enable customers to opt-out of submitting personal information. Other measures to enhance customer confidence include destroying data after brands have used it. This not only reduces the risk of hacking, but it also – if publicised – reinforces customer confidence about privacy measures and transparency.

But really, it is regular training for staff that is the most essential step for protecting data. Through comprehensive security programmes and policies, everyone in a company can understand the importance of data protection and adhere to the guidelines.

That doesn’t mean putting the onus on staff and letting organisations off the hook. They should adopt encryption technologies and update frequently – and regularly – to avoid attack from hackers. Installing the latest security software, browsers, and operating systems are the best ways to keep hackers and online threats at bay.

Because, at the end of the day, you don’t want your brand being the next one people chat about having lost their data with over a pint.

Hong Kong’s food and beverage scene is very diverse – from local restaurant meals to food deliveries to fine dining. Yet, consumers have become more demanding. With higher consumer expectations, how can brands shift to cash in on the Hong Kong foodie scene?

Dine out

Hong Kong is known as a food paradise with tuck shops, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars on every corner, offering varied cuisines from Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai, French, Spanish, Italian, to well … you name it. Hongkongers are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out. Businesses strive to stay on top of their game in the competitive food and beverage (F&B) industry.

According to a Nielsen report (December 2017), one-third of Hong Kong respondents said they dined out more frequently compared with a year ago, while over half said they spent more money eating out. About 40% of the respondents thought the cost was worth dining in at high-end restaurants.

Anita Wong, head of consumer insights at Nielsen, points out there are two groups of people who pursue premium dining out experiences – middle-aged sophisticated foodies who look for an experience and high-quality food; and young explorers who are interested in exploring new restaurants and new foods.  The top three priorities for foodies are the geographic location of the restaurants, taste of food and the dining environment.

She sees the trends of “shareable” dining experiences and “camera eats first” continuing, as people desire to share their experience with friends and family, especially via social media.

“Restaurants not only need to feed the customer well, they also need to create an emotional connection with the diners. It is no longer just about the presentation of the food, but the fun, exploratory and shareable experience to engage with diners.”

She adds that hospitality businesses are undertaking to provide unique dining experiences or unique ingredients to outdo competitors.

Dine high

As Hong Kong consumers have become more demanding, luxury dining has come into play. Marriott International is one example from Hong Kong’s hotel chains that has placed a greater focus of its branding and marketing strategies onto food and beverages.

“Food and beverage marketing is something you work on all the time in hotels. It is very competitive. It is a major part of our brand’s revenue,” says Bruce Ryde, vice-president of luxury brands and brand marketing at Marriott International.

The hotel group’s food and beverages aim to make Marriott a favourite destination where locals eat, meet and drink. Its strategy revolves around three main focuses: go local, artisan and F&B marketing.

Petr Raba, vice-president of food and beverage operations for Asia Pacific at Marriott International, says: “This will be achieved by having locally relevant food and beverage experiences with a clear focus and point of view, attracting and developing the best artisans in the industry as well as ensuring that all F&B venues have a unique point of view in design, guest experience and cuisine.”

Lauren Bonds, director of food and beverage marketing at Marriott International, adds that more than 25 food and beverage marketing campaigns were launched across Asia-Pacific last year, with the aim to promote its portfolio of restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, the group will also begin making efforts to market unique concepts that resonate locally.

Ryde sees there is a stronger F&B dining culture in Asia-Pacific compared with the US. “The biggest challenge is making sure that Hong Kong residents will want to go to the restaurant in one of our hotels in Hong Kong,” he says.

“Hong Kong is such a great restaurant city. There are a number of companies in Hong Kong that own multiple restaurants. There are a number of restaurants that do excellent concepts. The competition for the Hong Kong diners’ dollar is intense."

"So you have to create experiences that are either differentiated or as we are doing with the Ritz-Carlton they create an experience like no other, at a level that they are exclusive, desired and celebratory.”

Last year, the Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel under Marriott International, launched the Stellar Dining Series, where Michelin-star chefs, chocolatiers, mixologists and patissiers served exclusive fine dining creations across four Asia Pacific destinations: Singapore, Osaka, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Marriott International has nine Michelin-star chefs in several restaurants across Asia-Pacific. Ryde says the campaign leverages the advantage of having in-house Michelin-star chefs. “We are so focused on delivering what the most demanding diners would appreciate at the Ritz-Carlton. There is no measurement of dining experiences that can compete with Michelin.”

The chefs were able to showcase their own culinary skill sets. They also worked together to create menus that were interplayed with different elements to celebrate the varied cultures of each city.

“One of the trends that we have noticed in F&B is the change of what consumers look for when they are dining – they want authentic experiences that reflect the culture represented in the dish itself. Although they do have a flair for exciting F&B fads, the most noticeable trend is they are ‘going local’ – enjoying food that is the essence of its culture,” Raba says.

“Although consumers appreciate innovation and interesting concepts, they seem to be steering themselves away from food and beverage concepts that may seem abstract and going back to foods they are comfortable with.” The campaign not only served guests lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, it also included cocktails and chocolate master classes. Ryde says it aims to create experiences for customers in the hotel.

“People want transformative experiences. They don’t want to just go in and order the most expensive thing on the menu."

“When you look at the menu, you learn about the matching of the wine, and you learn about the ingredients of the desserts and how they have been put together. When they go away they have learned, transformed and developed through the experiences they’ve had in the restaurants,” he says.

He further explains the overall brand is about creating indelible memories. “Imagine when you are having dinner at Tosca, here at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, with that view, and amazing Italian food.” It was one of the first things he did when he moved to Hong Kong, which became one of his indelible memories.

While activating fine dining experiences, the hotel has been selling tables through its loyalty programme, which is one of the key strategies for the hotel group. “Loyalty members are critical for Ritz-Carlton as much as they are for Marriott itself as an organisation,” he says.

“So a lot of it has been marketed through the loyalty programme. We are using this opportunity to drive new loyalty members as well. Our key strategy for Marriott is to drive membership and celebrate the experience you can have within Marriott as a loyalty customer.”

In addition to keeping up with the trends, the Stellar Dining Series was also a digital marketing campaign. The hotel launched a pre-event teaser video, leveraging social media with key opinion leaders to amplify buzz in the city.

Dine more

There is more to consider than just taste, however. According to the same Nielsen report (December 2017), people who are health conscious are the least attracted to fine dining. Food and health are undeniably connected. Wong sees an overlooked opportunity for restaurants to recruit these customers. “In Hong Kong, eating out is often considered as an unhealthy diet. Being able to convert eating out into a healthy diet is a big opportunity for fine dining,” she says.

Green diets are one of the growing food trends. People are opting for healthier diets. How about adding a green and healthy perspective to the menu?

Wong explains that while many restaurants provide vegan dishes along with other protein dishes, for fear of excluding diners, they never position themselves as vegetarian restaurants. “I think it is a matter of how you reposition yourself and realign your menu, so that your customers may know you are a ‘vegetarian-friendly’ restaurant.”

The Nielsen report also shows that Hongkongers eat out for eight meals per week on average. That’s not even including the rising use of food delivery services. Consumers will eat out for practical and basic needs on weekdays when fast-food chains and quick-service restaurants meet their needs, while they desire an experiential dining experience over the weekend, when they care more about quality cuisine and ambience.

Wong suggests high-end F&B marketers may consider how to leverage CRM programmes to drive the weekday traffic of loyalty customers, such as promotions related to celebrating with friends and family, and big group discounts.

She also points out the importance of launching cashless payments. The consumer journey starts when hungry consumers make their way to the restaurant and ends when they pay the bill for their meal. Why not make that last moment more convenient for them?

“It is really about making sure your dining experiences are keeping up with the trends, so that you are not creating menus and items on them that are dated. Whether it is sustainable produce, a vegetarian menu, quality of the products, it is wherever you want to focus your food and beverage strategy, but be focused,” Ryde says.

This article was produced for the February issue of esb电竞数据投注电脑版 Magazine . For more features, and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your print copy here or can read our digital version in its entirety  here .

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