If you run a B2B business in Hong Kong, these days your clients are making decisions about your offerings based on more than your price and specifications – they are evaluating your products or services in multiple dimensions. An increasing number of these are digital and in 2017, B2B businesses that neglect these digital dimensions are putting themselves in peril. Let’s start with social media marketing.
Using social media to foster relationships in Hong Kong's B2B marketing world is now a basic requirement, but it can be complicated and requires skill and finesse – regardless of whether these relationships are ‘one to all’ or deeper one-on-one relationships. Whilst knocking on doors, personal selling, and other face-to-face interactions remain important in the marketing mix, social media is now a mainstream method of lead generation and influencing purchases.
Social media's great strength for all marketers is that instead of being a one-way broadcast platform for messaging, it enables two-way conversations and on-going engagements. With B2B social marketing, these conversations take place between businesses, and if done right eventually become commitments.
Whilst B2B social marketing success requires reaching the right clients at the optimal time with the best possible content, a mature strategy requires more than just conversations geared towards selling. Monitoring your brand’s mentions and replying promptly when necessary are also vital. The impacts of slack monitoring are swift and severe: if complaints or questions are left unanswered, everyone on public channels becomes an eyewitness to your brand’s marketing failings. It’s worth keeping in mind that social media messages cannot be taken back: they will always be ‘out there in the world’ and will stay in circulation to be seen by millions of people.
These downside risks may be the reason why many B2B companies are keeping a comparatively low social media profile, operating in the rather static one-to-all mode instead of being more aggressive with their marketing; but the fact remains that social is now an essential part of the marketing mix for all companies.
In the China market, luxury brands are finding more effective growth in ecommerce than in retail stores. Meanwhile, mobile commerce is experiencing explosive growth, with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology expecting m-commerce to grow by 46% in 2017 and make up 61% of all ecommerce sales by yearend. In a time of global slow growth, no business can afford to ignore such promising channels.
Ecommerce and m-commerce are proving useful and profitable for all kinds of businesses. In 2017, Hong Kong is a place full of opportunity for brands that wish to increase their use of these channels, having some of the best Internet speeds and smartphone penetration rates in Asia. A full 96% of smartphone users browse the net on the move, whilst social media penetration rate is currently 64%, according to Go Globe.
As a B2B business in Hong Kong looking to expand the use of e- and m-commerce, you’ll need to set yourself apart from your competitors by taking a more assertive approach. Whilst it is comparatively easy to start by joining existing online platforms like Alibaba, in the longer term marketers should look into their own branded online platforms and seek to harness the commercial potential of social media channels like WeChat.
The more you want to reach above and beyond your competition, the more you need to manage the entire exposure process: from reaching out to clients, to engaging with them, to closing the sale and providing after-sales services. Your branded online stores and social media channels provide you with this control and the ability to interact with your clients.
One way for B2B companies without much high-tech experience to begin the work is by finding a digital partner. These partnerships are becoming increasingly more common: look at The Hong Kong Jockey Club and SmarTone-Vodafone’s joint mobile betting service; or the Fossil Group and Misfit, who have an on-going arrangement to incorporate wearable technology into Fossil watches; or Renault-Nissan who are working with Microsoft to develop next-generation mobile services for cars that will deliver incredible customer experiences like advanced navigation, remote monitoring of systems, and more.
If you are looking to grow your B2B business, then going digital is a highly recommended course of action. Going digital is neither a quick fix nor a low-cost solution, but it is certainly an investment that is worth making. The future is digital, and it is time for B2B businesses in Hong Kong to start moving in this direction.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Lawrence Chia is the Chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong-listed Pico Far East Holdings (Pico Group) (SEHK: 752).