Hylink Digital at Cannes Lions 2017


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Hylink's Delia Liu Speaks on Solving Problems That Really Matter

The world of marketing is full of buzzwords that give the impression that important, successful work is being done. But amongst all the jargon, it is all too easy for marketers to lose sight of what's really important - their end consumers.

Hylink is a prime example of a firm that takes an innovative, people-centric approach to turn traditional marketing on its head. As China's largest independent digital advertising agency, Hylink is at the forefront of the world’s largest and most complex marketing landscapes.

While the company has a raft of technology and expertise at its disposal – including data analytics, interactive creative, programmatic, SEM, EPR/social – Hylink has gained its leading position through placing people at the center of its work.

"What we do is not about advertising, but about things that truly matter to consumers in their real lives, such as food, housing and relationships," says Delia Liu, Head of Strategic Planning at Hylink, who has 18 years of experience in key strategic roles at global creative agencies in China and has served on the jury for previous Cannes Lion Festival awards.

Hylink is bringing its fresh approach across the world, as the company extends its footprint globally. Headquartered in Beijing, the company has 20 offices across many major Chinese cities including Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as key international markets such as the US, the UK, and South Korea.

Giving consumers what they want and need

"One thing that links consumers across the world is that no one goes online to watch adverts or learn about brands," Ms Liu says. "We go online to look for answers to questions or to find exciting, new opportunities. So instead of using 'insights' to tailor messages that shoehorn brands into conversations, we focus on solving problems that really matter."

Ms Liu presented the Hylink approach at this year's Cannes Lions 64th International Festival of Creativity. The festival brings together 15,000 people from the fields of communications, marketing, entertainment, design and tech to share insights and recognize stand-out creative accomplishments. Speakers at this year's event include Dame Helen Mirren, Jessica Alba, Ron Howard, Alexander Wang and Alicia Silverstone.

Joining Ms Liu at Hylink's Creativity in Focus Forum was world-renowned chef, TV celebrity and restaurateur Marco Pierre White, known as "the godfather of modern cooking." As someone whose work has become a valued part of the lives of millions across the world, he offered his own perspectives on Ms Liu's points.

"The theme of food is an inclusive, fun and cross-cultural topic that is all about human interaction," Ms Liu says of Marco Pierre White's contribution. "It was my honor to invite him to share his opinions and experiences on how food brings people and cultures together."

Finding the humanity at the heart of marketing

Hylink's people-centric approach comes against the backdrop of an advertising industry that is obsessed with leveraging data and technology to determine the direction of its campaigns. According to Liu, this can all too often mean that advertisers fail to engage with their intended audience.

According to Hylink Founder and CEO Mr. Su Tong, this falls within the firm's broader marketing philosophy. "Taking a purely transactional approach can only end badly, as it fails to engage with consumers in a meaningful way," Mr Su says. "Instead, we need to identify how we can engage with people on a personal level that will be of lasting value to all parties.”

“Only by better understanding end-consumers’ needs can we provide exactly the right mix of product and services that place the customer experience at the core,” he adds.

Hylink has been achieving this through its Life Ideas Studio, an initiative that seeks to work with consumers to identify issues they feel need to be addressed, and come up with attractive solutions.

"There is an underlying phenomenon marketers easily neglect that, while technology empowers consumers to feel like superhumans, it can also turn them into helpless people as well," says Ms Liu.

In a campaign back in 2015, brand Hylink helped launch crowdfunding projects for better life inspiration for TLS, the high-end milk brand in China. Problems identified ranged from "how to deal with smoggy days" to "how to keep tabs on the location of young children."

"This way, we start from the consumers' point of view rather than from that of a brand or particular sector," says Ms. Liu. "We explore topics around what’s most important and what needs to be addressed by people at various stages in their lives."

A problem shared is a problem solved

During her presentation, Ms. Liu gave three examples of issues identified through the Life Ideas Studio and the solutions created to resolve these issues.

The first of these centered around the high rate of divorce seen in China and other societies, such as the US and Russia. In China alone, 40 percent of marriages fail in their first three years. Hylink conducted numerous interviews with people and found that, while marriages are entered into based on love, they are often scorned by increasing conflicts that lead to mounting resentment in the relationship.

In response to the idea, Hylink developed a number of solutions to help increase open communication and understanding in relationships, thereby defusing tension between partners.

One example was a De’Longhi coffee machine with a built-in voice recorder on which couples could record messages expressing their love. If the machine detected raised voices that implied an argument, the machine could automatically replay the previously recorded messages and invite couples to take time out to discuss their issues over a cup of coffee.

In response to the idea, Marco Pierre White expressed that he believes firmly in the power of cuisine to strengthen family bonds. "Passion for food plays a key role in strengthening relationships between family members," he says. "If family members take preparing food as a task to be collectively fulfilled, it becomes not work but something to enjoy, and adds a lot to the well-being of the whole family."

Empowering consumers to take the lead

The second example project that Ms Liu presented was an investigation into the phenomenon of China's aging population who, unexpectedly, turn out to be heavy mobile internet users. The group is also one in which loneliness and isolation can be a problematic issue.

Realizing that this group could provide a vast bank of knowledge to younger generations, Hylink came up with the idea of connecting elderly mobile internet users with tourists to act as tour guides, thereby addressing the issue of loneliness, and providing a much-appreciated service to travelers.

Food is another realm that brings generations together, according to Marco Pierre White. "'Taste memory' is a significant part of the heritage that older generations pass on. This can include everything from recipes to dining habits, and these all help enrich a family."

The third example that Ms Liu presented was an exploration of the issues facing young people looking for housemates. Among the group, about 70% report being dissatisfied with their current living situations, with many saying that finding suitable housemates is difficult. The solution Hylink came up with was a platform that used artificial intelligence to match prospective housemates based on their interests and other criteria.

"Our hope is to be the ‘brand-enabler’ - joining with more and more marketers to offer creative solutions that benefit consumers in their real lives, and showing that it’s important to win consumers’ hearts rather than merely their attention,” Ms Liu says.

Indeed, the Hylink example is part of a proactive mindset that is essential to long-term success for marketers, according to Mr Su. "Industry leaders always need to ask themselves some fundamental questions, such as what the industry landscape will be like over the next decade, and how they can provide the best innovations possible to their partnering brands. Without this proactive mindset, it’s all too easy to get lost in the shuffle.”

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