Claudia Choi is the Head of Brand Management at HKR International, a Hong Kong based property developer with a diverse business portfolio covering real estate development and investment, property management, luxury hotels, healthcare services etc in Hong Kong, mainland China and across Asia. 
 
Claudia has been in the communication industry for 30 years, starting as an account executive before working her way up to group managing director at a successful and highly regarded agency. 
 
We talked to Claudia to discuss her career, building a strong brand image, creating successful customer engagement campaigns and much more.
 
Could you tell us about your role at HKR International?
 
I’m currently head of brand management at HKR International Limited (HKRI) – a Hong Kong-based property developer, with 40 years of history. Although our flagship project is the well-known Discovery Bay development in Hong Kong, HKRI itself has kept a relatively low profile. 
 
When I joined the company in July 2017, the timing was perfect. My job was to set up the new brand management department and formulate an overall strategy to rejuvenate the corporate brand. That included building the brand architecture, raising brand awareness and fostering HKRI’s reputation. Lucky for me, we had a great story to tell. 2017 really was a milestone year for HKRI, marking our 40th anniversary in the property market, as well as major breakthroughs for the business.
 
Today, the company is much more than a residential property developer in Hong Kong. Under the umbrella theme of “We Create a Style,” the business has diversified tremendously.
 
Our geographical coverage has also extended into mainland China and other Asian markets. For example, the company has a joint venture with Swire Properties. And I have been heavily involved in the grand opening of a 320,000 sqm mixed-use commercial property in a prime location in Shanghai – HKRI Taikoo Hui. 
 
I took full advantage of this talk-of-the-town event – using it as a starting point to introduce the HKRI brand in mainland China. I worked out the brand positioning and the messages to promote to our stakeholders. A holistic communication campaign was created and successfully implemented. And, I am pleased to say it has achieved great results during the last year or so. 
 
However, I think it is important to understand that we are not simply mapping the focus from China onto the whole group. Instead, I am reviewing the group-level brand equity across different business units and geographical markets. 
 
What makes a strong brand image?
 
To put it simply, the best way to build a strong brand image is to connect a company’s project brands to its corporate brand – and connect that to its stakeholders. Doing this successfully requires a consistent brand identity, with a clear vision, mission and corporate values that resonate with stakeholders. We need to understand our audience’s preferences and pain points, as well as anticipating their unarticulated aspirations. Emotional bonding is key to establishing a strong brand image. Then, of course, we need to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk to demonstrate our brand promises in action.  
 
How is the audience in mainland China different from a Western audience in terms of digital marketing?
 
The obvious answer is that China uses its own, home-grown social media channels. That is largely because most of the popular social media platforms in the Western world are banned. However, I think the biggest difference is probably “trust”. What I mean is that Western audiences are very conscious of personal privacy and data protection. The China audience is different. It has leap-frogged legacy communication tools, and people have very quickly come to depend on digital devices and applications.
 
In practice, that means Chinese people tend to worry less about the potential risks behind digital solutions. Instead, they “trust” them, and focus on the convenience they offer in daily life. With this open-minded attitude towards embracing digital applications, the China audience is more receptive when it comes to digital marketing than Western audiences.
 
How do you see digital marketing evolving over the next five years?
 
Digital technologies are evolving so quickly and changing so fast. It is hard to predict what will happen next month or next year, let alone in the next five years. However, there are a few things that I definitely think will have an impact on digital marketing. For instance, with the growth of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, speech/facial recognition and wearable devices, consumers will become much more dependent on digital technologies. At the same time, this explosion in data means that their lives will become much more transparent to digital marketing professionals. Accordingly, digital marketing will inevitably penetrate into most, if not all, touchpoints in the shopping experience and purchasing decisions. 
 
How do you build successful customer­ engagement campaigns? 
 
Engagement is a two-way communication. In other words, it is a conversation. There is a lot of talk in the industry about interaction and incentives. And they are important. But, we should also think out-of-the-box for ways to put campaigns into context.
 
Firstly, we need to find the right audience – who and where they are, and what “clicks” with them. Then deliver the content that will resonate with them, in the places they search or frequently visit. You could say that just means giving people what they want. But, there is more to it than that. Creating the feeling that they have “found” something themselves, instead of having it spoon-fed to them can make a tremendous difference – especially to targets with a genuine interest in the subject matter. 
 
Secondly, we need to get them to feel they are a key part of the campaign, either by driving it or contributing to it. In this way, customers and organisations are co-creating something. When you combine this with regular dialogue throughout the customer journey, the result is enhanced stickiness and prompt interactions. More importantly, the audience will be more inclined to share their experience with their online communities, which is the essence of viral marketing.
 
Thirdly, we need to let customers feel proud of taking part in the campaign – working together for something mutually beneficial. Or, even go a step farther, and bring in a CSR element that is respected by consumers and reflects the organisation’s core values, such as building better lives.
 
How are you approaching the challenges and opportunities that AI technologies brings to digital marketing?
 
We should always embrace promising new technologies. That includes AI, as well as any other technologies that come along. Marketers are always at the forefront in creating trends and adopting new ideas. It means we need to catch up with technologies and deploy them in our jobs. 
 
With the rapid evolution of AI technology, the challenge for digital marketers is to keep learning. Frankly, we know too little of how AI can be wisely used. We need to learn faster than the machines, otherwise we will be left behind.
The beauty of AI in digital marketing is personalisation, reach and real-time experience. Personalisation and mass marketing have always been somewhat contradictory. But, with AI, we can personalise our communications to a big pool of customers around the globe and around the clock. More than that, AI has the ability to learn in a dynamic manner, so it is easy to adjust an ongoing marketing programme based on the actions and reactions of customers. 
 
Personalisation and target marketing will greatly eliminate the problems of wastage and information overflow. This brings a better experience to customers and higher success rates to digital marketers. Marketers are already using AI to make informed decisions about data-driven, programmable media buys. And conducting predictive analysis to find the most profitable customers at the lowest cost with the highest conversation rate. 
 
On the other side of the fence, customers are also deploying AI in their purchasing decisions, by looking up product information, comparing prices, and searching for deals and promotions.
 
However, at the end of the day, there is nothing more important for marketers than building a strong brand that appeals to customers. Emotional bonding, brand loyalty and affection can complement AI and any other digital marketing tools, and greatly reinforce the brand.
 
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