Digital dinosaurs

Why Hong Kong corporates must adapt to a new world of communication.

Why is online stakeholder engagement such a low priority for Hong Kong corporates? And why does it need to start picking up the pace?

“The most frequently used and most trusted source of information on a company is its official website.”

This is one of the key findings of a survey conducted recently by Brunswick Insight, involving 900 business elites, to establish the role of digital media in corporate storytelling across Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China.

75% said that their perception of the quality of a business is impacted by the company’s official website.

When searching for information about a company, a company’s corporate website is the first port of call for opinion elites in Hong Kong, ahead of search engine results and news outlets.
Astonishingly, 60% of site visitors will watch a video before reading any text. And separate research from Cisco estimates that by 2020, video will account for a staggering 82% of consumer web traffic.

These findings highlight the fact that reputations are now shaped online, and that a company’s own content is central to how perceptions are formed. To see how companies in Hong Kong are responding to this shift and seizing the opportunity to tell their story online, we undertook our own research to review the digital assets of Hong Kong’s Top 50 corporates by market cap. Our analysis focused on three key areas:

  1. Website quality, in particular content, experience design and mobile responsiveness
  2. The format and disclosure of the company’s annual report – content that is seen as a proxy for the investment quality of a company
  3. The use of film – an engaging and sharable centrepiece for any communications strategy that must be embraced to keep up with the demands of today’s online audiences.

What we found was a digital landscape that is a very poor representation of the quality and sophistication of the businesses that we looked at. A massive 56% do not have a mobile-responsive corporate website, 86% don’t make their annual report available other than as a simple PDF, 50% aren’t using film in any form, and 50% of those that do, make it hard to find. User interfaces are, variously, plagued with bugs, grammatical errors and provide an experience designed for a bygone era.

These findings are indicators of a bigger issue – Hong Kong’s leading businesses are well behind the curve when it comes to their digital transformation journey. Similar frustrations are shared across other consumer sectors – personal finance, public services and e-commerce to name a few.

Why is this? In a region with low corporation tax and a privileged position as a meeting point between Mainland China and the West, why aren’t the benefits of digital innovation being felt by companies and consumers alike?

Take one look at the private sector and you will find that over 60% of Hong Kong Corporates are controlled by family-owned entities. In the past many of these companies have chosen a route of “no comment” and there has been limited incentive to proactively engage audiences, so adoption of a more dialogue-based digital approach to corporate communications has been limited. The result is a pace of innovation that feels more akin to a gentle stroll than the fast-paced hustle and bustle that we are used to in this dynamic city. However these companies are increasingly aware that in a more complex and hyper-connected environment where they are directly impacted by a range of stakeholders they need to change their approach to better manage their reputation.

A stark contrast

If we step away from the corporate experience for a second and turn to the consumer world, we see a dramatic shift at the rate at which digital innovation is happening – especially in Mainland China. While China has for decades taken inspiration from established western brands, it has swiftly shed the reputation as the world’s copycat and is now the tech leader in many areas. Mobile payment is just one sector where Chinese companies now cut the path for others to follow.

Today, Ant Financial (Alipay’s parent company) is gripped in the ‘Trillion Dollar Payment War’ with its bitter rival, Tencent. These two companies are rapidly developing platforms that redefine how consumers and businesses interact. And the penetration of these tailored financial services through China’s provinces and social strata means the connection of citizens and small businesses to new economic opportunities is unprecedented.

Over the border in Hong Kong, we find nearly 7 in 10 Hong Kongers own a smartphone, making it one of the most smartphone-friendly markets in the world. A recent survey by Nielsen shows that in Hong Kong, spend on digital advertising surpassed that of traditional media in 2018 – clear evidence that the market has already shifted in response.

The fact is that corporate users (analysts, employees, regulators etc) have their expectations for corporate experiences set by their experiences as consumers. Audience behaviours are changing, new communications tools are becoming available, and standards of digital experiences are improving.

Hong Kong companies are well behind and look dramatically out of touch with the changing world around them. They must move quickly to respond to the wave of innovation sweeping the region and adapt their communications strategies accordingly or risk their reputation.

For more information, please contact Patrick Eastwood, Partner, Hong Kong.

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