Out to lunch with: Jackson Kwok, CEO of X Social Group

Venue: Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse

Main: Steak and Salmon salad

Service: Friendly and fast

Jackson Kwok is the newly appointed CEO of Hong Kong’s own X Social Group – a digital agency specialising in social media marketing with huge ambitions to expand their services substantially – and an agency veteran, with a track record of leading positions at some of the region’s most notable firms. Marketing’s Carlos Bruinsma sat down for an Argentinian steak lunch to pick his brain on how the industry has changed, and where it’s headed.

In the past two decades, Kwok has held various leading positions – starting with his appointment as general manager of Zenith Media, on to managing director of OMD, after which he went on to become Omnicom Media Group’s CEO, to finally his current position. Throughout his long tenure, he has led large and small teams and oversaw the disruptive transition from traditional to digital marketing.

When I started, digital media was non-existent, and the MTR was considered innovative media at the time!

He recalls with a smile. But things have changed, and Kwok is keen to be at the forefront of the transformations sweeping through the industry.

“In the present, we have media agencies, creative agencies, digital agencies et cetera, but that probably won’t be the right way to define the scope of business for an agency anymore,” he said. “Clients ought to think like marketers rather than advertisers. And agencies need to match that mindset, and they have to be in line with the client’s KPIs. At the end of the day, the client just wants one thing – growth, so you have to be a ‘growth’ agency, no matter if it’s related to search, programmatic, social media, content or even loyalty marketing discipline, and so a growth agency should have the vision to provide the right mix of communication solutions that help grow the client’s brands and business in the turbulent business and media environments – and that’s what we are working towards.”

While his company is Hong Kong-based, they have a growing presence in China and pride themselves on their expertise on China, especially when it comes to Weibo and WeChat marketing – the giant Chinese market has very advanced players and a rich social media ecosystem, making social media an important gateway for brands to interact with Chinese consumers. Driven by his data-driven marketing vision, Kwok has big ambitions in the cross-border advertising space, and his company is now building a full-stack programmatic platform integrating ad-tech and mar-tech that will not only take the market by storm, but also transform his company into a full-fledged digital marketing agency specialising in driving data-driven business growth in the cross-border frontier.

Besides, Kwok has identified a blue ocean space in content marketing. “There is so much content being created – by consumers, by brands, by publishers, whatever,” he explains. “But consumers’ content consumption level is a scarcity and will hit a plateau eventually. While brands are investing a lot in content creation, it’s not driving more consumer engagement. There’s research that indicates that only 5% of brand content accounts for 90% of engagement. That’s why, as a smart marketer or even publisher, you have to ask yourself, how can I create winning content to engage the consumer, using actionable data-driven insights?”

“You have to understand consumer interest, intent and even micro moments, what engages them, what doesn’t engage them – only then can you choose and produce the right content, and distribute it to the consumers in the right context, at the right time. Data-driven marketing is not just about programmatic advertising; the same principle also applies to data-driven content marketing which is actually a blend of creativity and data, and while brands are now creating content, they’re often doing it the wrong way. Customer-centricity is the key to content success.”

The problem, he says, is that while all marketing will be data-driven in the nearest future, the real challenge is getting the right insights from the giant mire of data at our fingertips.

Recognising that marketers in Hong Kong often do not have huge budgets, due to a small population and small economies of scale, most of them can’t afford to build their own data management platform (DMP) that can enable them to consolidate first, second and third-party data for driving a holistic view of customers and omnichannel marketing. He challenged Hong Kong marketers to be bolder and more offensive to aggressively expand their business beyond just Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is only a small and mature market with very limited room for growth.

“Yet Guangdong province alone has over 100 million population where people share similar brand preferences with Hong Kong and can frequently visit here for shopping owing to geographic proximity. Setting aside the issue of inter-market conflicts, if Hong Kong marketers can expand their target market to Southern China, they will figure out a way to justify an investment in marketing technology (particularly enterprise DMP) and thereby fully utilising data to deliver better advertising efficiency, return on marketing investment, personalised experiences, customer loyalty and advocacy, so on and so forth. In the meantime, agencies should demonstrate their strong commitment by investing in building their own ad-tech stack that can be integrated with client’s DMP for activating programmatic buying and one-on-one interactions for them.”

“In my opinion, other than investing in new technologies, agencies have to stop taking an ‘instant noodle’ approach in poaching staff from rival agencies and start attracting and nurturing a diverse group of talents from different backgrounds or other industries,” he added. “More importantly, they need to build a data-driven culture that can permeate into all facets of business, and will be accepted and fostered by the entire agency at all levels including C suites. And with the right mix of technology, talent and culture, they can stand a chance to elevate their role to become a data-driven marketing consultant of their clients and then take a bigger seat at the trust table in the big data era.”

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