Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Customer engagement is about creating an emotional connection. Whether it's a clever tag line like "Let's Gap Together" or images of alluring models, the idea is to create a rapport and convert it into business transactions.
Traditionally, that emotional connection was built through 2D graphics or videos. But new communication-vectors--the Internet, mobile connectivity and social media--are changing how people make purchase decisions. The shifting landscape is driving many Hong Kong marketers towards technologies that will transform the way they build rapport with their customers.
Stay connected and relevant
One example is Sun Hung Kai Financial (SHKF). The consumer financial services company launched its iOS-based mobile trading app--eMO--in 2011, then rolled out an Android version earlier this year.
"Mobility used to be an offensive strategy, but these days, it is a defensive strategy," said Mun-Shing Cheong, head of e-business at SHKF. "It's reached the point where you're lagging behind dangerously without a mobile strategy--you need one to stay relevant," she said.
As part of SHKF's five-year blueprint for technology enhancement, eMO allows its customers to trade Hong Kong shares and access financial analysis reports. The app also allows potential customers to access market news and create a virtual or "dummy" stock portfolio.
"My favorite part of the apps is the dummy portfolio," said Cheong. "It allows anyone to create their own investment portfolio without actually investing money." She said that features like these enable the company to engage with potential customers and enhance businesses.
Besides customer-engagement, SHKF also enhances its brand through eMO. "The biggest impact and business benefit for SHKF are in the form of industry recognition," Cheong added.
The apps has brought SHKF multiple awards. It won the Best Financial Services mobile app at the 2012 Internet Advertising Competition organized by the Web Marketing Association, the Silver Award for Integrated Marketing, and the Bronze Award for Mobile Apps in the 2012 Horizon Interactive Awards.
"These awards resulted in greater visibility and brand exposure for us," said Cheong, "leading to more new business." She added that over 10% of her firm's online trading customers are currently trading via eMO--that's double the expected initial adoption rate.
SHKF is not the only business tapping the vibrant mobile market to expand their market-reach. More marketing executives are expected to leverage different technologies to create next-generation customer experiences.
IBM's "State of Marketing 2012" survey indicated that close to 80% of companies are using some form of mobile marketing tools, like apps, mobile messaging, location-based messaging or mobile ads. The study, released in June 2012, surveyed 350 marketing professionals.
A world with two views Gartner also predicted that, by 2017, chief marketing officers (CMOs) will be spending more on IT than CIOs. But until then, many businesses still struggle with implementations of comprehensive digital marketing strategies. And many in marketing blame the CIOs.
The same IBM study showed 60% of marketers cite a lack of alignment with IT as the biggest obstacle to reach today's consumers, and 46% said their CIOs don't understand marketing objectives.
"There are fundamental differences on how people in these respective disciplines view the world," said Timothy Adams, former regional director of customer marketing and intelligence at Prudential Assurance. "It's a typical 'left-brain vs right-brain' situation."
Adams has a background in marketing and analytics in the insurance industry. He said IT has historically been able to successfully implement strict processes and bring efficiency, while marketing projects tends to be creativity-led, fluid processes.
"Different world-views usually create a barrier to collaborate, because of the language-differences," he said. "A common IT mindset: you need to make sure the system availability is 99.999%, it has to work. But when a marketing campaign delivers 60-70%, that's a good return. These different perspectives lead to fundamentally different mindsets."
Conflict of interest Such differences often create conflicts on project development schedules. Adams said it's not uncommon for marketers to keep IT out from their digital marketing projects, as the involvement might delay the projected delivery time.
"It's not that the marketing guys want to be reckless," he said. "It's because that's what the customers want. Customer-demand changes rapidly--if you waited six months, the request might not be relevant anymore."
Meanwhile, from the IT side, governance and processes are fundamental. Processes and documentation, which are required to ensure security and reliability, often create a longer time-to-deliver for the project.
"But the IT side can diversify their processes on IT projects," said Adams. "A multi-million dollar infrastructure project is fundamentally different from a simple app that takes a couple months to develop and has a lifespan of only six to nine months. It's helpful to bring in a process that's more appropriate for the needs of the business users."
Bridging the gap To bridge the gap between IT and marketing, communication is essential. According to SHKF's Cheong, the success of eMO is due to communication among the design team.
"Early on, we conducted a vision-sharing session with our IT team," she said. "We continue to foster a culture of open communication and sharing through the use of collaboration tools."
With a team of young IT and marketing professionals, who are more used to instant-messaging than meetings, the collaboration tools created a better platform for sharing new trends discovered or cool feature ideas, said Cheong.
The head of e-business began her career as a web developer and later moved into marketing and general management roles. "As an IT executive, learning to understand the bigger picture and thinking ahead is key," she said. "You can achieve this by asking simple but intelligent questions."
Business executives may demand adoption of specific technologies, but, without the requisite technical knowledge, this demand may not necessarily be helpful. She said that business-savvy IT executives should proactively ask questions to better understand the ultimate goal or purpose of the project, instead of interpreting the requests as orders.
"Marketing and business executives are good at telling the IT department what they want, but sometimes what they want may not necessarily be what they need," she said. "If you can deliver what they need rather than what they want, that's how you add value."
Digital marketing strategy Apart from helping CMOs to engage with customers, the partnership between marketing and IT can also add value in understanding customer-needs.
Newer customer-engagement channels provided by mobile and social media platforms have exponentially increased the opportunities to connect with customers. "Customers now connect with your brand 24/7," said Adams. "Marketing needs tools to manage this extended relationship."
This is when partnership with IT becomes critical. Giuseppe Bruni, lead strategy and transformation, IBM ASEAN, agreed that CIOs can help their marketing colleagues to achieve more comprehensive digital marketing strategies.
"One reason most organizations struggle to get the customer insight they need is that they still focus on understanding markets rather than individuals," said Bruni. "Traditional sources of information are important. However they can only show customers in aggregate, offering little insight into what individual customers need or desire."
From connection to transaction The next-generation customer engagement goes beyond building an emotional connection to extend that connection and provide personalized offerings. Citibank Hong Kong, a customer of the Tibco Loyalty Lab, is doing just that.
The bank developed a real-time marketing and customer-acquisition engine to evaluate transaction-events like credit card purchases--to further offer personalized and relevant promotions for customers. This project won a Bank Innovation Award for its groundbreaking use of real-time software.
Nevertheless, many organizations, unlike SHKF or Citibank, are just beginning their journey of customer-engagement transformation. Adams suggested that these organizations should start with their strengths. "Look at your organization's core strengths," he said. "How can technology help improve them?"
For example, financial services companies must provide various types of information to their customers, and Adams suggests that simply providing that information via a mobile app can be the genesis of a successful campaign. From the organization's standpoint, a well written app can reduce workloads and cut down on paper waste, but for consumers, it's all about convenience, as they no longer need to go to a branch or ATM machine.
"So rather than looking [at the campaign] from the organization's perspective, put that filter on the customers' perspective," he said.' "Leveraging technology to serve them better is a formula for success."
- Additional reporting by Chee-Sing Chan and Emily Chia.
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