Telum Talks To... Lawrence Chau, Head of Marketing Communications Department, Midland Holdings

Telum Talks To... Lawrence Chau, Head of Marketing Communications Department, Midland Holdings

Telum caught up with Lawrence Chau, who was promoted to Head of Marketing Communications Department at Midland Holdings earlier this year, as he discusses the latest trends in real estate and how brands should market their digital messages. The Founder of Come Hong Kong Football also comments on the local football landscape.

This is actually your first role in communications. How are you finding everything so far?
It sounds like an unusual path to have 'double changes' in a career - from finance to the property industry, from a digital development role to a marketing communication role. However, there are a lot of similarities between them. For example, one of my current job duties is to allocate the marketing budget across different channels, which is similar to managing an investment portfolio, and bidding for online ads is like trading an equity option.

On the other side, there are a lot of new challenges and new things for me to learn in this job. For example, I have to quickly pick up on designing different ads, organising press events as well as learning a lot of industry knowledge. Luckily, my supervisor, my team and other teams offered me a lot of assistance to adapt to the company within two months' time. I am enjoying this journey a lot this year!

Can you share any surprising insights of marketing and communications in the real estate space?
Some people may think real estate in Hong Kong is still a very traditional and agent-based industry. However, our latest data show that more than 70 per cent of house searches begin online, and the figure is even higher during COVID-19. There are nearly three million visits and 15 million page views on Midland's website and app in May. Also, a lot of PropTech are adopted by the leading market platforms, such as VR, digital forms and AI recommendation.

The adoption of big data and technology in Hong Kong somewhat lags behind other markets. There is so much raw data we can utilise. Apart from marketing, we also make use of the data to enhance our communication to customers. For example, we used website and property traction data to compile and launch the Midland Confidence Index earlier this year.

You co-founded financial comparison site in 2014. What were a few things you learned during your time there that you found indispensable to your current role?
Speed! One good thing about digital development is that a lot of data about customer behaviour can be gathered and we can enhance our platform based on these data analytics and via A/B Testing. It changes the ways we should launch a new product. We should launch the basic version of a product as soon as possible and then add and enhance its functions based on user feedback, instead of taking a long time to build an unproven perfect product and launch it when it is already too late.

Be customer driven! Not IT driven or sales driven. Some startups tend to create products that only founders or staff like, but not the customers. We have to be very clear about what customers really want in the market. And we have to create a seamless experience on the platforms through good user experience (UX) / user interface (UI), short loading time and convenience.

What are some trends in finance and real estate that you are keeping an eye on at the moment?
The US and a lot of countries are implementing an expansionary monetary policy. Interest rates are kept at a super low level for the foreseeable future and monetary supply is increasing quickly. Also, the future supply of new houses is dropping in Hong Kong. Thus, I believe real estate in Hong Kong is still a good choice of investment amid the huge rise in property price in the past few years and the current challenges Hong Kong is facing. Also, COVID-19 has sped up the digital adoption of the traditional industry, and to this I think e-commerce companies will outperform traditional companies.

In this digital age, how can brands effectively get their messages across to customers?
The attention of people is very short in the digital world. Most customers do not tolerate more than three seconds to wait for a page to load, and they will swipe through an ad in two seconds if it doesn't draw their attention. As a result, it’s even more challenging to catch eyeballs in digital marketing than traditional marketing. The key message in an ad that we would like to communicate has to be direct, specific and creative, and it should clearly state the benefit for the user. Also, instead of universal ads with a single template like those in traditional TV and outdoor ads, we are now able to create different styles of ads to target different segments of audience, which means we have to know each of our target segments well.

As an avid fan of local football, you also launched online portal Come Hong Kong Football. Can you tell us a bit more about it and what comms strategies you have taken to engage your audience?
Connection via social media elements is the key to promote local football. Before we set up Come Hong Kong Football's Facebook page in 2012, the communication between football clubs and fans was mainly one-way, i.e. football fans can just read the news from the football clubs and newspaper. Since we launched the portal, followed by several other platforms and official Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) social platforms, fans can discuss the matches and other local football news with each other and even with the players. It is like integrating football life into their daily lives.

We also used data to tell stories. There were a lot of scattered statistics about teams and players, and we made use of these data as support to write stories to get the public's attention. For example, we published a post about Yapp Hung Fai, the Hong Kong national football team's goalkeeper, who did not concede a goal for more than 700 consecutive minutes in 2015, including two clean sheets against China. This post received more than 4,500 shares and 5,000 comments on Facebook within a week.

Last but not the least, where do you see the future of Hong Kong football?
I am not optimistic. Clubs in Hong Kong heavily depend on the sponsorship of club owners because running a football business in Hong Kong is not profitable. Due to the economic downturn and political uncertainty this year, some bosses have reduced or even retreated their investment and clubs are facing financial difficulties. Tai Po FC, the champion of the 2018-19 season, for example, did not have enough funding and is going to withdraw from playing the next Hong Kong Premier League season. 

The management of the HKFA has also remained bureaucratic and lacked transparency over the past three decades, and different clubs have their own interests and are not unified to develop a healthy environment for professional football in Hong Kong.

To improve the situation, I think the Hong Kong government should introduce a tax-refund policy to the investors or companies that invest or sponsor in these clubs and construct more football fields for the clubs and the national team to train on. Also, the HKFA should learn from England and set up an independent company to run the Hong Kong Premier League in order to enhance commercialisation and modern elements. Football clubs themselves should focus on fan-building and youth development.

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