Despite what the retail sector may say about the encouraging prospects for 2006, many local consumers still think twice about spending their hard-earned dollars, particularly on luxury items or brand-name products. "After experiencing deflation and negative equity, and coming through the Asian financial crisis and the SARS epidemic, consumer behaviour has changed," notes K M Yim, chairman of the 3,000-member Hong Kong Institute of Marketing (HKIM). "They no longer blindly follow fashion or market trends, but think hard before buying."
That means the competition to sustain sales is as tough as ever and that the pressure on marketing professionals to come up with eye-catching and effective promotional campaigns has in no way lessened. These are needed to create new interest and attract repeat buyers for everything from fast-moving consumer goods and toiletries to food products, perfumes, fashion garments and property. In each case, the packaging, perceived value and overall marketing strategy can have a major impact on sales.
Mr Yim explains that the property sector has seen many successful marketing campaigns, greatly helped by careful timing and the release of a limited number of flats for sale at any one time. "In the past, no one would have believed that a private residential estate in dilapidated districts like Sham Shui Po could sell well, but brilliant marketing has performed magic," he says.
The key elements of any successful campaign are commonly known as the 4Ps - product, price, place and promotion. However, Mr Yim emphasises that an operation does not necessarily have to be perfect in every area in order to succeed. He cites search engine Yahoo as an example of a company which has achieved popularity largely because of the convenience of its product. The other factors have been of less account.
Mr Yim notes that the retail industry relies on sales services, but says that marketing professionals are as important as ever. "The roles are closely linked, since marketers plan how to sell and salespeople must then implement the strategy and close the deal." He adds that it is vital for marketers to have a long-term perspective, especially when engaged in brand building. Each project must be carefully researched, extensively mapped out, and must be geared to more than short-term returns.
Nowadays, it is relatively common to use celebrities or actresses to promote a product and gain more immediate recognition. Nevertheless, Mr Yim warns that there are potential risks involved. A celebrity may quickly fall from public favour for completely unforeseeable reasons. The attention they then attract may be largely negative and end up adversely affecting sales.
Small and medium-sized enterprises may not have the budget to operate their own marketing team, but can always turn to outside experts on a project basis when advice is needed. This arrangement provides specialist knowledge, flexibility and an external point of view, all of which can prove to be invaluable. Usually, a retainer or scale of fees can be negotiated without too much trouble.
According to Mr Yim, the demand for good marketing professionals is increasing and the current challenge is to attract more talent into the sector. Traditionally, those taking on marketing roles in Hong Kong would have graduated in other subjects and picked up the relevant skills on the job. Now, though, marketing is well established as a recognised university degree and graduates in the discipline are expected to bring some of the latest thinking to any company they join.
"Successful marketers must be flexible, open-minded and able to respond quickly to change," Mr Yim says. "They must also be sensitive to possible competition and aware of what is going on in the wider world. A graduate in marketing has a good foundation, but also needs exposure and practical experience to become an expert."
HKIM's mission is to promote the practice of the highest standards of marketing and to advance Hong Kong as a leading centre of excellence in the Asia-Pacific region. Members are required to have a marketing-related degree and at least three years' relevant experience. The institute helps members to further their postgraduate education by supporting those studying for an MA, MSc or PhD awarded by a recognised university. It also encourages members to complete 35 hours of continuing professional development activities annually to qualify as Certified Professional Marketers under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Marketing Federation.
People who have associate degrees or are secondary school graduates can take the institute's certificate and diploma courses, which pave the way to university-level courses and open up the chance of a career in the profession. Generally, those who specialise in marketing can reach managerial grade in three to six years and could be directors within around 10 years. Salaries vary greatly and depend on the employer and the industry. However, Mr Yim reveals that some marketing executives who reach the top can earn as much as HK$2 million annually.
- Marketing campaigns raise public awareness and sustain
- Each project requires detailed research and a long-term
- SMEs can benefit by appointing marketing consultants on
a project basis
- Finding sufficient new talent is one of the major challenges
for the profession