Friday, May 24, 2013, 09:23
Fast and furious
By Lin Jing

Fast and furious

Andy is perturbed while looking for a digital marketer in Hong Kong. His company spends HK$1 million ($128,800) annually on marketing activities, but at this moment, he can’t find a digital marketing supremo for love, nor money.

“Digital marketing has developed so fast and its platforms so many, with Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and WeChat emerging one-by-one. We don’t have experts that know all the sources. Some of them know more about Facebook, but less about Weibo and even less about WeChat,” says Andy Ann, chief executive and director of Darizi Ltd.

Darizi is an online wedding platform, offering services and products from business partners to facilitate nuptial users’ wedding planning. Launched in September 2007, it is also active in mobile application development and social media campaigning.

The company launched its mobile site m.darizi.com in November 2008, and has since conducted marketing campaigns via major SNS platforms such as Facebook, Weibo, and most recently, WeChat.

“Facebook and Weibo are different,” says Ann, contrasting the target market of each. Darizi uses Weibo more when collaborating with celebrities and the general public, and Facebook more for Darizi members, or ready-to-wed couples.

“We are always seeking young and energetic talents that are in all these platforms and know them inside out.”

Ann is not alone in his demand for digital marketers. With increased marketing budgets and relentless development of new marketing platforms, there is a significant gap in qualified digital marketing talents with up-to-the-minute skills.

According to an HKAIM Mobile Marketing Survey 2012, although 25 percent of Hong Kong’s marketers know of digital/interactive agencies that can create effective mobile marketing campaigns, 43 percent don’t believe there are enough digital agencies to assist them in the city.

“Currently, just on JobsDB, there are 1,700 active vacancies, in the advertising and media fields,” says Karin Clark, regional director with Font, a recruitment company specialized in the digital marketing sector.

“And over 25 percent of those are for digital. And if you take into account companies that do not advertise on JobsDB, you probably have to double that figure.

Clark says that major demand is for media planners, analytic experts, web developers, and online marketers in retail industries.

Algar Yeung, operations director with Deals Hong Kong, is also facing the similar problem.

“I have been trying to find local talent who can think outside of the box, bringing new strategy for our digital marketing campaign,” says Yeung.

“For Hong Kong, I do not see a lot of these services offered, and it is not easy to find,” he says.

Deals Hong Kong is a group buying deals aggregator website both in Chinese and English. It brings together over more than deals from 14 daily deal sites and presents the newest, most popular deals with the ability to review, resell, and research them.

The company, launched in July 2012, has completed transactions valued at HK$120,000.

Yeung says that digital marketing is extremely important, especially for online businesses like Deals Hong Kong. “Of our costs, we spent most on digital marketing,” says Yeung. “That is where our target audiences are.”

The company spends HK$100,000 on digital marketing, which comprises search engine marketing, Google and Yahoo ad words, and social campaigns on Facebook.

Right now the company outsources marketing to overseas experts in North America or India, where digital marketing talents are easier to find.

But Yeung still prefers local marketers, because they can communicate face to face. “Ideally, we would want local talent for our marketing, but it is hard to find even potential candidates, when we are ready to spend.”

Investment in marketing, especially via digital and e-commerce platforms, in Hong Kong’s retail, fashion, and luxury goods markets has created the surge in demand, says Clark.

“Retail and luxury companies have increased their marketing expenses to enhance their connection online with consumers, in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.”

She says this trend is due to the high rental costs in Hong Kong, which drive local companies to place higher importance on connecting with their customers.

Jonathan Shea, chief executive of Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation Ltd, says digital marketing can help companies reach clients in other areas, and provide efficient services and effective promotional channels. But the method should be different.

“Marketing on official websites is more about information delivery, or one-way communication, focusing on factual announcements. But SNS is a more informal way of building relationships between brands and clients. Users don’t expect hard sales, but interesting topics and in an indirect way,” says Shea.

Clark says the level of expertise and demand outstrips the current supply of skilled marketers and that companies are experiencing long “time to fill” for critical roles as they struggle to attract the new level of skill sets required.

Sanjana Chappalli, director for digital marketing with Lewis PR in APAC, echoes this opinion.

“Marketing talent in the Asia-Pacific region is what we struggle with. We find that problem in Hong Kong, Singapore and other regions,” she says.

Lewis PR has six people on its digital marketing team and, globally, the company has spent £500,000 ($770,000) on digital talent alone in the past year.

Chappalli says demand for digital marketing talent is changing. Each year, there are new tools and new technologies, and they need people curious enough to keep up with the changing communication landscape.

She notes that though many fresh graduates are better equipped with social media skills, the true reason for lack of talent is the shortage of middle-to-senior level.

“Middle-to-senior level refers to specialists with six years or more experience, who can lead the team in a communication landscape but also approach communication campaigns from an integrated perspective,” says Chappalli. “The ability to think in an integrated manner is something critical for a social manager.”

Yeung says the major difficulty with digital marketing is that the industry is changing, “(it is) basically wild, like a black box, nobody really knows the exact methodology and operation inside.”

He says a qualified digital marketer should be up to date, “because some of the latest marketing methods may prove to be low cost and high return. He/she should be able to think outside the box, and measure the best way to do marketing with the least cost.”

The robust growth of the Internet and mobile economy in the region has led to an upsurge for digital advertising and marketing services as well.

Chappalli says the big trend in digital marketing is visual and mobile penetration.

“There is no way to avoid digital marketing nowadays, as more companies have begun to understand it’s not nice to have, but a must-have.”

With the popularity of smartphones and tablets, the most dominant devices, Paypal estimates that seven in 10 people in Hong Kong have already embraced online buying and mobile applications, bill payment, banking, and shopping, says Clark.

“That is why it is in great shortage, because it is growing at a fast pace.”

Universities and colleges cannot produce graduates fast enough to keep up with the changing arena, so local companies have to search for talent overseas.

Some companies are resorting to more global searches and attracting talent from Australia and the UK — countries that are more advanced in their development of digital and e-commerce marketing strategies and execution, says Clark.

Ann says that Darizi also once tried to hire a marketer from France, only to find the outcome unsatisfactory.

“The language, business mind and culture does not fit in,” says Ann, adding that they still want more Chinese-speaking talents, since their primary market is the mainland.

Apart from culture barriers, Clark says administratively it is a much longer and more costly process to hire staff from other regions.

“Where Hong Kong has quite a big gap, is in what I call, the middle level gap, which is very hard to bring into, since it is quite costly. Local companies have to pay more for bringing foreign talent than local ones,” says Clark.

To cope with this problem, Darizi has already worked with some local universities, such as Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and collaborated with some 4A agencies, to recruit new graduates.

“When we look into digital marketing talents, they are mostly quite traditional, possibly because of the schools, which do not teach digital marketing, social media, online and mobile platforms,” says Ann.

“Instead of finding the appropriate people, we are trying to cultivate young and passionate graduates by ourselves,” he adds.

They will also hire some interns soon and provide on-job training for their general marketing skills, PR communication skills and editorial.

Chappalli says the best procedure is not just to post a job advert when a vacancy arises, but to keep eyes and ears open, and talk to people when possible.

She suggests local companies have more interaction with local universities to solve this problem.

“After all, local marketers are more familiar with local markets,” she says.

“Companies have the responsibility to go out and engage with students from an industrial perspective, before they graduate and enter the job market.”

Never has a lack of professional experience looked so full of social media opportunity.

Fast and furious