Launching a successful campaign in the midst of a pandemic

Leonie Valentine / September 2020

Welcome to the first of our Lessons of Resilience from Hong Kong Businesses series, where we speak to top executives to discover the secret to how businesses are adapting to the new normal of post-pandemic Hong Kong.

In this pilot dialogue, we speak to Bruce Lam, managing director and CMO of CSL, one of Hong Kong’s leading telco network providers. CSL shocked the market by launching a marketing initiative at the height of global uncertainty. Leonie Valentine, Google’s managing director of sales and operations in Hong Kong, digs deeper to uncover the thoughts behind the company’s unexpected marketing strategy in an uncertain economy.

Leonie: CSL was the first to launch 5G internet in Hong Kong, and even then, at an unprecedented moment, the height of the outbreak. What emboldened CSL to take such a daring approach?

Bruce: Well, to us, it wasn’t unprecedented at all! We had been planning the campaign for a year, working with the Android team to create the first device that’s 5G ready for when we launched the network. The outbreak happened at an unfortunate moment, but we had to find a way to make the campaign happen so we decided to go digital.

We worked a lot with Google, actually, to get guidance on moving most of our media plan to digital, in exchange for our original plan which featured a lot of offline touchpoints such as roadshows, demos, and launch parties. We wanted to be known as the pioneers of 5G, and despite the economic outlook, we believe all the more that people will need 5G internet.

With more people now at home consuming content online like news, videos and games, they crave and require a strong and reliable network.

Many thought that launching at the height of a pandemic was foolish, but we think otherwise. For the telco industry, especially, the business opportunity was there.

And since we had been planning for it, we thought we might as well go with it.

So, we revamped our entire digital marketing strategy. We partnered with local VR providers to showcase innovative tech like 24bit music and a 4K multi-angle video capability that enables viewers to watch the Euro games from multiple angles. Fortunately for us, our CEO was very involved in the process, so we were able to move quickly and iterate, an important aspect of digital marketing.

Leonie: I agree. Iteration is such an important benefit of digital marketing. Another big advantage is reach. How did CSL manage to reach a large audience, and importantly, drive conversion?

Bruce: Digital allows us to be in control of our audience through target segmentation. That was really how we managed to get great results with our Blast campaign.

With our user data, we targeted early adopters of technology, people who consume a lot of data, people who are willing to spend on the latest tech gadgets.

By understanding customers’ behavioral patterns, we could target specific times and channels they were most likely to see our ads.

We partnered with Google to enhance the accuracy of our data. We needed to make sure we weren’t pumping money into the wrong leads.

Leonie: Your Blast campaign launched at the height of a pandemic. Did CSL have risk management solutions in place, in case of backlash?

Bruce: In general, people in Hong Kong love technology. New devices, new networks, new solutions — we love them. Plus, we believe in the power of targeting in digital marketing.

If we target the right consumers, those looking to buy a new phone, we are providing them a service they need. So it wasn’t a backlash we were afraid of. It was more of a fear that there will be a lack of conversion.

We know that while everyone may love technology, not everyone will be sales qualified leads.

Leonie: Maybe you can share with us your marketing strategy for the Blast campaign?

Bruce: We started with a bang. We planned a Google takeover for three days, across all channels— display, YouTube in-stream, Home Feed, so there’s no chance people on these platforms will miss our ads. Plus, we made it super targeted and chose a unique audience of Hong Kong technophiles. Who knew, it actually reached over five million people over the course of three days.

Our main differentiator, of course, was our willingness to test our creative visuals.

We ran 57 different videos, each of them edited to reach a specific audience, including gamers, football fans, fashion lovers, and more. The launch was so successful our conversion rate for 5G internet is a lot higher in Hong Kong than in China and South Korea.

Leonie: That’s truly impressive! Throughout this campaign, were there any lessons CSL have learned about digital marketing that you’d like to share with businesses who are struggling in these times?

Bruce: For those who are facing tough times, it’s time to look inwards into your processes, and outwards to seize any opportunity that may come your way. Yes, times are bad, but bad times also provide ample business opportunities if you know where to look. It’s important to push ahead because these opportunities will not wait for you.

For us in the telco industry, first to market actually means a lot to our brand reputation. It signifies that we are future-ready and driven by innovation. It also implies that our people are visionaries and that we are the best company to work at. It goes full circle. You’ll then attract the best talent, who will give you the best ideas, that will make you the best company.

My advice to other businesses is to start small and learn who your customers are, learn what they like, and what they do.

There’s a wealth of data available to marketers now on consumer trends and behavior. Once you know your customers, you can create targeted services especially for them, and gain trust and loyalty.

Insights and learnings from Hong Kong’s business leaders