The continuing rapid growth of manufacturing and consumption in China is now creating numerous opportunities for businesses operating in the logistics sector. As import and export trade volumes increase, the industry has moved with the times to introduce cutting-edge technology, and the key players have adopted strategies aimed at achieving aggressive expansion in the Asia-Pacific region. Central to this has been the role of marketing professionals with expertise in logistics, whose jobs have come to include challenges of a diversity seldom found in other industries.
Besides the more usual duties related to promotional activities and public relations, anyone handling marketing for a logistics company can expect close involvement with the IT services which have done much to transform the sector in recent years.
According to Ava Ho, senior marketing supervisor for UPS in Hong Kong and Macau, her team has been actively participating in the development of the company's IT products. As an industry leader in technology, UPS has invested over US$15 billion in IT over the last 16 years so that it now powers every service the company offers.
"Online order status tracking is a good example," says Ms Ho. "Although it strictly belongs to the operational side of logistics, we have taken part in the testing to understand how it works before we can recommend it to customers." Revenue management has become another crucial task for the marketing team. It now involves decisions not only about pricing, but also about positioning the company's products and creating tailor-made solutions involving IT applications for each customer.
The impact of IT on all aspects of customer service has led to increasing demand for recruits with a marketing background and a sound knowledge of systems. This has to be combined with a dynamic personality and a willingness to learn, in order to keep up with the introduction of new products and advances in technology. It is also essential to be familiar with every stage of the supply chain process which manages the flow of goods, cargo, data and funds, and to understand the details and complexity of how everything is linked together.
"We have to recommend the right products for each customer and be ready to answer any questions they may raise," Ms Ho emphasises. "Good interpersonal skills are a must, since logistics is, after all, a people industry." Demonstrating this, Ms Ho coordinates with the operations department and frontline staff on a regular basis, so as to be aware of market trends and able to plan ahead for future customer requirements.
This attention to detail is typical of the UPS approach to marketing. With a view to keeping a step ahead of the competition, they often collaborate with high-tech e-commerce companies to ensure that no important IT-related development is being missed. The intention is to spot applications which could improve service efficiency and be of use to clients. Therefore, close collaboration is maintained not only with businesses in the field of supply chain management, but also with banks, various government bodies and the Airport Authority.
In preparation for this range of responsibilities, marketing staff receive comprehensive training which includes initial orientation, on-the-job attachments with different departments and working alongside the company's frontline staff. Ideas and information about the market and the industry as a whole are regularly exchanged in inter-departmental meetings.
With the company's philosophy of promoting from within, staff have every chance for career advancement. This is important considering that marketing skills in logistics tend to be specific to the industry and may not be immediately transferable to other sectors. "It is an ideal option to be promoted within UPS," Ms Ho stresses. "The prospect of that provides a great deal of motivation in our work."
Moving to China
Since the advent of CEPA and China's accession to the WTO, many new opportunities have opened up for marketing personnel. As long as China's external trade remains strong, this is likely to continue, and logistics businesses will benefit by expanding their mainland operations. In the past few months, UPS has taken direct control of its international express operations in China, begun six new flights and reported growth of 125 percent in export volumes. They plan to inaugurate non-stop flights between the US and Guangzhou in April 2005 and to build an air hub in Shanghai in 2007. Marketing positions with a large IT component and jobs in customer retention management are becoming available.
According to Ms Ho, the gradual integration of the logistics industry in Hong Kong and South China also has the potential to create unlimited new opportunities. "Many mainland logistics companies are looking to expand and are searching for experienced marketing professionals from Hong Kong, who have the right expertise to offer," she notes.
However, these encouraging prospects bring with them a new set of challenges. On her frequent visits to China to acquire information about market developments, Ms Ho has noticed how fast things are changing. "We have to be sure to make the right recommendations about what products and services to promote," she says. "That is no easy task when every player in our field is trying to get ahead of the competition."
Linking the supply chain
- Advances in IT have significantly changed the logistics
industry in recent years
- China's trade is expected to sustain steady future growth
Marketing staff in logistics companies can have very diverse
- Good interpersonal skills are essential in what is still
a people industry
- Integration of the Hong Kong and South China markets will
create new openings