Industry profiles: The iClick Interactive Q&A – ‘Understanding the Chinese consumer’

Now celebrating 10 years in business, digital marketing technology player iClick has developed a reputation for enabling businesses like Puma, Audi and Cartier to crack the lucrative consumer market in China – in this Q&A interview, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder Sammy Hsieh talks about that journey and provides commentary on where the industry will go next

How and why is your company different from all the others out there, what is unique about what you do and your approach?

“The main reason that clients keep coming to us is our level of access and understanding of the Chinese consumer. Much has been written about the size and growth of the Chinese shoppers and none of it is understated.

“Brands have seen this for a number of years but the market is increasing in complexity and companies want trusted partners to help them understand this. iClick is celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, and we have built up the experience and a level of analytics that give us a real edge.

“Through our iAudience platform we have over 750 million anonymous profiles of consumers for clients to access in their campaigns. Our reach is 98% of the internet users in China boosted by our partnerships with Tencent, Baidu, Ctrip and millions of other websites and mobile apps. We can identify the highest potential customers for brands and can help them reach target wherever they are and whatever device they are using.

“We haven’t stood still either, and our product range has moved to provide more relevant solutions. Our foundations were built in programmatic and this evolved into marketing tech, and now we are discovering how this experience can add real value to enterprise solutions.

“We have transformed how digital marketing is conducted and built a reputation as a trusted partner for brands around the globe who are keen to expand their businesses in China. In 10 years, we have gone from start-up to being listed and this growth has been in parallel with customers and partners. iClick is now China’s largest independent online marketing technology platform in China in terms of gross billing in Q3 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan.”

Who are your clients?

“We are very proud of the work that we have done for international consumer brands and that includes 150 Fortune 500 clients and more than 2,500 medium-sized clients, bringing their marketing campaigns to the Chinese audience.

“Names such as Puma, Audi, Armani Hotel Dubai, Cartier and Suntory just to highlight a few and give a flavour of the cross industry spread.

“Increasingly our clients include more enterprises, and we have recently announced partnerships and solutions in online education, smart government, hospitality and new retail among others. This is part of our evolution as we use our capabilities to tackle increasingly complex scenarios and business challenges across multiple sectors.”

Which countries do you operate in?

“Our physical footprint in nine locations reflects our ability to act as a bridge between international firms and China. iClick is headquartered in Hong Kong with operations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and London. We will also be expanding into South East Asia in the near future.”

Can you outline the services you provide?

“Our core products include iAudience, which is a one-stop market intelligence platform that provides unparalleled insights into segmenting the Chinese online consumers and driving the targeting of marketing teams. iAudience helps provide landscape, positioning and competitor comparisons as well as allowing audience identification by demographics, geographics and even behaviours.

“The other flagship solution is iAccess which dovetails by providing a single point of access to transparent Chinese media inventory, having particular strength in impressions on mobile apps, and then transparent data and tracking on the campaigns. We have also started rolling out BI Solutions to Enterprises that use analytics and data insights to power enhanced services in a range of industries.”

How is the industry changing?

“Enterprise CRM and marketing cloud solutions are still in their infancy. They are a perfect development of data, using new layers of analysis on the data to solve different challenges. In the cases that we have worked on we have already seen tangible results and the industry mix convinces us that there is road ahead for this type of solution.

“An obvious sector that this will benefit is new retail, which has attracted attention and the consensus seems to be that this area is set to grow at around 30% per annum.

“The leading players in the industry have the opportunity to move up the value chain for partners beyond pure marketing campaign delivery. For iClick, we are well placed and expect to see this become an increasingly large revenue contributor in the periods ahead.”

What is the next big thing coming down the line for your industry?

“We believe that personalisation will continue to play a big role in our industry because everyone benefits – the online users, publishers and brands. Due to advancements in technology, brands are only becoming more efficient at cutting through the noise to reach their customers.

“Industries such as travel and online retail, have now very good at it and in the not too distant future we can expect industries like auto to create cars that come loaded with their drivers’ profiles.”

If you had to pick one thing that has damaged the industry as a whole, what would it be?

“When digital and data are at the heart of your business, then cybercrime is a great threat. Not only is there an astronomical cost attached to it, but it will also risk the incentives for innovation and investment.   

“There are of course issues with data transparency and privacy in some markets. This is a question of trust which is why we work hard with clients and engage a number of third-party solutions to build this over time. No business can survive without being able to generate trust.”

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the rise of artificial intelligence and its effect upon your industry?

“AI technology application in digital marketing is not new in China. If you consider our own marketing technology platform, its core capabilities – including audience tracking, audience profiling, contextual data analytics– are all driven by various AI technologies like deep learning, predictive analytics and real-time matching.

“Due to AI technological capabilities, effective applications won’t be possible without the multi-dimensional, attribute-rich data from our platform, the size of which is growing every millisecond.

“With the rapid progress that is happening in AI technologies for China’s marketing technology industry AI-driven marketing solution will become more customer friendly and available for marketers who don’t necessarily have the expert knowledge or skill set in that field.

“With the ever-increasing demand for personalisation from customers, weaving AI technology into marketing strategies will be the only way forward for brands.”

Finally, which international market will lead the way for your industry over the next 50 years and why?

“The growth potential in the China market is still very much there and international brands will certainly continue to reach this lucrative audience. We are still learning more about the segmentation across the country. Previously there had been an assumption that the consumers had a certain degree of homogeneity but this is far from the truth.

“There are differences emerging in buying behaviour between cities and in a recent study on outbound travellers we identified three specific sets of those taking trips overseas. There is still a lot for brands to learn about the Chinese consumer but abundant opportunity to go with it.”

Sammy Hsieh is iClick Interactive chief executive officer and co-founder


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