Bravery - Hong Kong Braver Conference 2018


Bravery. It’s not a word you typically associate with Hong Kong. Our city is one of hand sanitisers, climate-controlled shopping malls and first-world familiarity. Apart from the odd minibus thrill-ride or Chungking Mansion curry, we don’t tend to take too many risks.

As with life, the world of Hong Kong marketing can also feel a little sanitised or controlled. Convention and conformity too often win over calculated risk and brave ideas. So, the overarching message of the Marketing Society’s 2018 “Braver” conference was welcome and refreshing. 

In their own unique way, each speaker gave an impassioned plea to break the shackles of our respective worlds and enter – either literally or figuratively – the world of another. As an audience we collectively swallowed the red pill and what followed was a fascinating, moving and inspiring look at what the fruits of braver thinking can deliver. 

Dane Fisher, Infiniti’s GM of Transformation and Brand, kicked-off proceedings and demonstrated that even a business that shifts 10 million cars a year can enter a different world. In his case it was the move-fast-and-break-things world of technology start-ups. 

The shiny new Infiniti Lab in which we found ourselves acted as both conference venue and brand proof point. 

Despite brand purpose being marketing’s term du jour, I don’t think many in the audience were fully prepared when confronted with the truly authentic humanitarian bravery of the next speaker. Dr. Joyce Samoutou-Wong, founding Director of New Sight Eye Care, a not-for-profit organisation that transforms lives through the provision of sight, gave us a powerful insight into her work in Gabon. Along with her husband, Henri, she swapped the comfort of life in the UK for a world of tarantulas and Ebola, deep in the West-African rainforest. 
A lot can be drawn from her story, but eating, in her words, “a diet of humble pie” sums-up the key to her bravery much better than anything I could say.  

So HSBC’s Head of Marketing, Suresh Balaji, had an incredibly tough act to follow. But with three slides and an infectious charm, he did so with aplomb. Balaji’s simple message was one of empathy.
How can we enter our customer’s world in order to better understand and serve them? He brought this to life with a simple, three-stage framework that we would all do well to follow:

Firstly: don’t be a douche. In banking terms, this means removing all those little annoyances that plague the typical banking experience.
Secondly: understand me. Use data to engage people with the things that they find engaging.
Finally: surprise and delight. Create little moments magic that leave an indelible impression on the customers perception of the brand. 

To the annoyance of penny-pinching Account Directors, agency planners such as myself often bleat on about the need to escape our desks and enter the world of our customers. It’s refreshing to see an organisation with the complexity of HSBC actually doing so and seeing such incredible results. 

The final speaker was the musician, composer and creative director, Jane Engelmann. Her story took her out of Discovery Bay and into the hearts and lives of Hong Kong’s domestic workers. Recognising the sacrifice, they make on a daily basis, she wrote the song, “I Wish I Could Kiss You Goodnight” as a way of saying thank you. From a humble start, her bravery led her to the mainstage at rock festivals and TED talks. Moreover, it provided a traditionally marginalised group with "status, dignity and the opportunity to be more than just helpers". 

The panel discussion that ended the conference represented a fitting conclusion to the day’s theme. Audience members and speakers alike made an offer of assistance to aid both New Sight Eye Care and The Unsung Heroes, demonstrating that an effective way to enter the life of another is collaboration. 

Written by David Atkins, Head of Strategy at Digitas Hong Kong