There’s never been a better time for Hong Kong businesses, big and small, to harness the power of online marketing.
With more than three billion searches on Google and two billion views on YouTube each day, it’s inevitable that businesses, including SMEs, need to set up a credible online presence that offers convenient e-payment solutions and reliable delivery service.
“The total e-commerce business on a global basis in 2014 is US$1.5 trillion. That’s the size of some countries’ entire GDP,” said Todd Rowe, Google’s Global Channel Sales Managing Director, at an August HKTDC seminar discussing e-commerce opportunities. “From 2013 to 2016, the e-commerce business has grown 33 per cent to US$2 trillion; that’s four to five times faster than China’s GDP growth rate now.”
ONE TRILLION AND COUNTING
By 2017, Asia is expected to reach the landmark of US$1 trillion in e-commerce sales, outpacing, by US$340 billion, North America, where some of the biggest sites, such as Amazon are based. “The rise of e-commerce excites and worries me,” said Mr Rowe. “In the past, your competition is another company in Hong Kong and or the Chinese mainland. Now the biggest challenge is to create awareness globally – letting people in Europe, the US, and elsewhere in Asia know about your products. In that respect, your competition is now global.”
Mr Rowe cited a study commissioned by New York-based market research company eMarketer, which found that about 90 per cent of survey respondents use search engines as their main source of information to explore B2B opportunities. Traders also read online reviews and video-sharing sites to research brands or products. Only 26 per cent of interviewees use print publications as their research vehicle. Mr Rowe advised companies to re-organise their marketing budget by allocating more to Internet marketing.
DO OR DIE
Despite its great market potential, many Hong Kong traders remain wary of running online businesses, according to HKTDC Research Economist Wenda Ma. “E-commerce removes intermediaries along the value chain – the importers, wholesalers and retailers – and connects brand owners directly with customers,” she said. “The disruptive force of e-commerce is so strong that many Hong Kong businesses will eventually be forced to exit the market if they cannot make the digital transition.”
Ms Ma said big data is among the biggest draw for e-tailers. “Similar to setting up a booth at exhibitions, you would want to know who dropped by and you would ask them to leave their business cards,” said Ms Ma. “A website can easily track traffic by tracing computer IPs and gather visitors’ information, such as their country of origin and the search engine used.”
Echoing that point, Mr Rowe added that measuring the return on investment online is easier than traditional marketing, such as placing ads in newspapers and magazines. “The return is easily quantified with Internet marketing,” he said. “You can see the number of clicks and impressions you achieved with reference to the amount of investment you’ve made.”
DEMOCRATISING INTERNET MARKETING
The HKTDC, last April, partnered with Google to help Hong Kong suppliers listed on the HKTDC’s online marketplace, hktdc.com, to achieve higher rankings on Google search Under the scheme, when overseas buyers search on Google, suppliers’ keyword advertisements will appear at the top of related search-result pages. Interested buyers clicking on the advertisements will then be directed to suppliers’ webpages on hktdc.com to learn more about the companies and their products. Mr Rowe said this scheme will help democratise Internet marketing for SMEs. “Based on search volumes, we could narrow down a more targeted region where people are actually searching for your products,” said Mr Rowe. “Based on data we gathered on search engines, we will tell you which of these prospective customers are most ready for your products, which country and region is most applicable to you.
“We want to create a customised market strategy for free,” said Mr Rowe. “Our role, along with the HKTDC, is to help you expand your business online. If we could do that, we have succeeded.”