Hot Pot China: My Reflections on 2019

By Founder and CEO Jonathan Smith.

While I have always been excited and energised by the day to day of running a business, 2019 was an exceptional year at Hot Pot.

Revenue growth was solid, stemming from a set of exciting new client wins, making for a good year. However, what factors make for an exceptional one?

In a word – transformation. China’s shifting consumer landscape is great at keeping you on your toes and hence creativity, innovation and adaptability are at the heart of success. In January 2019 I worked with our leadership team to take a deep look at the business and ask a set of searching questions. Top of the list was how could Hot Pot deliver more closely on our vision – to be the first choice for forward-thinking brands looking to deliver long-term value in China?

Over the last year we uncovered, mapped out, and implemented a series of changes that helped us get ever closer to this goal. As we head into 2020 I have rarely been more energised and excited about the 12 months ahead. Below is a short summary of what we changed and why.

1. Hot Pot China took a holistic approach

Digital, social, e-commerce and m-commerce are that the heart of everything Hot Pot does. Working in China’s ever-changing landscape it is vital to have best-in-class fluency in digital trends for planning and execution purposes.

Coupled with the compelling trends around digital, our experience to date has been that far too many brands take an “arms-length” approach to China, hoping that a simple Tmall store managed from outside of China will lead to long term success. While this can be a quick route to start selling, brands that don’t build value beyond ecommerce typically find that sales grind to a halt in year 2 and beyond.

Increasingly we do valuable work with clients, planning and setting up online and offline initiatives in harmony and under a cohesive creative concept, designed to deliver tangible long-term value. Brands need to grow not only awareness, but also affinity. Chinese consumers need to see and touch products and feel part of a meaningful and memorable brand experience, something which ecommerce, social posts or paid ads alone simple cannot deliver.

As a result we have built an exceptional team of adaptable digital-first (but not digital-only) China specialists, with the ability to adapt and integrate based on the needs of a campaign or business initiative.

2. We stopped being an “agency” and doubled down on delivering value for clients

I believe Hot Pot’s greatest value has always been in leading clients through strategy, planning and execution in China. With China already a complex and challenging market there is a clear need for brands to find a genuine partner that not only understands the China landscape, but who can also work cooperatively with senior teams in globally diverse locations.

This year we have strengthened our strategy team and reorganised our execution teams to deliver on a wide range of marketing challenges. Building a longer term strategic view with clients allows us to do this. Rather than simply taking on a brief, campaign by campaign, we build in greater continuity in marketing activity, and create series of initiatives that move the needle on major business goals over time.

As a result we’ve been able to drive meaningful growth, traffic, footfall and sales with Chinese audiences for our clients. The growth comes not only in terms of number, but importantly in terms of quality. This has added up to a marked increase in our clients’ customer LTV as we see repeat interaction and purchase by engaged brand advocates.

The traditional agency model of “get brief > deliver brief > repeat” chiefly delivers on hollow vanity metrics with little link back to meaningful ROI/ROAS, sales, footfall. Which is why Hot Pot is not an agency – we are a team of specialists that deliver concrete value with China.

3. We productised and became more effective for our clients

After many years of working with China we know the commonalities in client needs – from new market entrants right through to well-established players. As a result we developed a menu of options for that can be tailored to suit our clients’ needs. The menu takes care of the core commonalities, which leaves headspace, talent and ability to focus on highly personalised solutions that work with the detailed nuances of each business we partner with.

This model empowers us to dig deep into the specific elements that really deliver impact in China – namely the nuanced understanding of a brand, its target audience in China and the individualised strategic initiatives that will deliver quality engaged customers across all channels. All this while respecting the brand’s core DNA in global markets.

This also means we are able to staff initiatives with the best skills in the industry – digital-first, bi-cultural China specialists with deep experience where it counts. I strongly believe all of this makes Hot Pot simpler to work with in a landscape that is typically complex, opaque and where the route to success is unclear.

4. We reinforced our culture and built a rock solid team

Perhaps most rewardingly as a founder, all of the above has allowed us to have a tighter focus on our most important asset, the Hot Pot team. This year we re-explored and reinforced the values that bind us together and have hired based on our commitment to these values. Yes, we’ve also made tough decisions and fired based on the same – a necessity if values are to have any meaning or resonance at all.

As a result we have an even stronger set of people in both London and Shanghai with a shared sense of purpose and shared values. This has not been a simple task when factoring in a distance of 9,000 km, 13 hour overnight flights and an 8 hour time difference. Our team fully share in the ups and downs of client projects, plus all have stepped up and taken ownership of key actions that move the whole business forward. It’s been an exciting, rewarding and ultimately humbling experience and the Hot Pot team has emerged as an even stronger force this year.

Channelling the Rat …?

So, we head into a new year and decade in 2020. We also enter the year of the Rat, marking a brand new round of the 12-sign cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Now, for a western audience it might be hard to surface the positive traits of a lowly rodent, however in China there is always something to be admired in each of the 12 signs, the Rat included.

As we take our clients through China’s ever-shifting consumer landscape, we’ll all be aiming to learn from the Rat’s ingenuity, creativity and adaptability. Hardy creatures that learn quickly, adapt and proliferate – perhaps a fitting analogy for our client’s China success strategies in 2020.

Wishing everyone a prosperous new year from myself and the team at Hot Pot China.

Jonathan

 


 

At Hot Pot China we partner with forward-thinking brands on their China activity. We guide our clients in maximising ROI from their short, medium and long-term marketing activity in China, as well as executing the same in-market.

Contact Hot Pot China here to discuss how our team of China specialists can help realise greater value in your brand, digital and eCommerce initiatives.