News & Views

It doesn’t pay to be too precious about language. What thought leadership requires is prose that is concise and clear, and which conveys points with originality and impact.

Not too much originality, perhaps. Neologisms, unless done exceptionally well, are liable to be off-putting, even ridiculous (see “creovation”). And there’s nothing wrong with using the odd stock phrase or dead metaphor to ring the bells you want rung in the minds of your readers. (Now including “thought leadership”, a phrase that would doubtless make Orwell wince. But he never had SEO to contend with: so many potential clients are looking precisely for that term, it’s a commercial necessity to include it.)

But there are some usages that I still think miss the point completely. “Revert” to mean “respond”, “reply”, or “answer” – all perfectly fine substitutes – is one such. It’s not as if “revert”, meaning “return to an earlier state”, doesn’t have its own specialised work to do. Still, I’ve noticed that some dictionary definitions now include the new meaning and, if it becomes common enough, I’ll have no choice but to accept it.

But a misuse I’m less inclined to accept is of “editorial”.

To me (a biased source, I admit), the adjective “editorial” connotes an ability to highlight the pertinent, excise the superfluous and create narratives that inform and engage. In other words, laudable qualities that anyone should want applied to their content. In fact, I have often described New Narrative as an “editorial consultancy”, with that in mind.

However, at a recent conference I noticed a lot of people bandying “editorial” about as an uncountable noun to connote quotidian chunks of written text, as an alternative to the duller-sounding “copy”, “text” or just simply “words” – e.g. “we need a thousand words of editorial.” There was no trace of the more commendable implications of the word.

Contrast this abused adjective with another: “creative”. To a lot of people there is no higher praise, whether the word is applied as a modifier or a pseudo job title, though to my mind (even ignoring the questionable grammar of the latter) it is so approaching the limits of overuse as to be almost meaningless.

Maybe I am fighting against the tide here, but I think it’s time to ditch “creative” and resurrect “editorial” to its rightful place. There is no doubt that “editorial” qualities are precisely what many enterprises are looking for when they talk about creativity, even if they don’t use the term.

I know this because at the same conference where I heard “editorial” being tossed around so carelessly, attendees kept talking of the need to “cut through” the mountains of me-too content, zero in on relevant trends, and craft narratives to reach hard-to-impress audiences – all valuable editorial skillsets. And, crucially, applicable not just to prose but to any creative endeavour.

So I’ll continue to promote our “editorial” acumen. Unless, of course, the dictionary changes.

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With banks in a headlong dash to digitalise, accelerators, hackathons, demo days and tech challenges – not to mention investments and acquisitions – have become standard tools in an effort to imbibe  the spirit and the know-how of fintechs.

According to a recent poll from The Asian Banker, 82% of regional banks now have a firm ‘fintech strategy’ in place.

But, even with broad consensus on the direction of travel, the best route to take is less agreed upon.

On this point, last month’s Seamless summit in Singapore, offered a welcome dose of clarity.

From the panel discussion – The omni-channel journey – four distinct approaches emerged, as articulated by Shahzad Isahaq, Head of Consumer Finance at Bank Alfalah in Pakistan.

Butterfly effect

First, the ‘chrysalis’ model, a top-down, inside-out, approach that strives toward wholesale, seamless transformation of the bank into an organisation boasting the technological potential of a fintech with the financial capacity of a bank.

This model is underpinned by serious R&D investment and patenting as banks seek to carve out niches of market control.

It is an approach not without its disadvantages. How easy is it, you might wonder, to fundamentally change a corporate culture, to incorporate new fields of digital expertise, or adapt the layers of legacy systems, from IT to treasury, built over decades?

Integration headaches

But then each route seems to possess its own unique challenges. The ‘collaborate/partnership’ and ‘acquisition’ models are built by banks seeking to partner with, and acquire, fintech operators. Partnering and investment is a path favoured by two-thirds (66%) of regional banks.

Plugging in the specialist ready-made platform of a fintech can be an alluring option for banks seeking to quickly build out their digital solutions. But, challenges may arise in the efforts to integrate new technology. Shareholders will be seeking assurance that long-term value can be assured, and unless exclusivity clauses are agreed upon with the fintech, any gain in value may soon begin to dissipate.

Finally, the ‘incubator method’ is a model where banks foster fintech talent from within, bringing it to a point of market readiness. Its value lies not just in the full ownership of new innovative platforms, but also in cultivating a set of internal skills and culture honed around innovation, which can offer long-term rewards beyond the horizon of a single product launch.

Like each of the three options above, though, there are risks attached. Nurturing new and unproven businesses can be a lengthy process exposed to the risks of loss as well as financial gain.

Shared priorities

In spite of the different approaches, there are shared priorities most banks recognise, according to the panel.

First off, the importance of getting advice. A union of any sorts is a challenge. Combining together two businesses of such different sizes as a bank and a fintech with their different infrastructures and work cultures can only benefit from the input and experience of advisers who have overseen such corporate partnering before, in banking or other sectors.

Secondly, changes which do occur should be driven from the top. Wholesale reform such as that described by the ‘chrysalis’ approach, or indeed by the three other routes, demand direction and exemplary action from the C-Suite. Only this can give the level of persuasion needed to make the systemic adjustments required.

Lastly, the focus for banks and their fintech partners must be on prioritising the customer. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that may slide in importance as the new efficiencies and cost-savings of, say, replacing humans with chatbots or robo-advisory, become apparent.

The future of finance is clearly digital. But, by whatever means a bank and a fintech join forces, it is worth remembering that customer value, as the panel roundly agreed, is what sustains a business over the long term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HONG KONG, July 26, 2019 – New Narrative, Asia’s leading content consultancy, today announced the opening of its Singapore office and the appointment of Edward Butler as Managing Director.

New Narrative’s client base is expanding quickly in Singapore, as it delivers content strategies and ambitious thought leadership campaigns for financial institutions and technology firms aiming to capitalise on ASEAN’s rapid development.

Butler will be based in Singapore, where he will help leading companies seize upon opportunities in the city-state’s asset management industry, contribute to smart-city initiatives, and raise their profiles in ASEAN’s leading investment destination.

He joins New Narrative from UK-based content agency, Editions Financial, where he served as Senior Content Strategist, and devised campaigns and advised on customer engagement strategies for leading multinational corporations and financial institutions.

Before working at Editions Financial, Butler held a variety of senior strategic and management roles with global media businesses, including Informa, Clarion and Communisis. He holds a BA from King’s College London and a master’s degree from the London School of Oriental and African Studies and is fluent in Spanish.

“Singapore is leading development across the key ASEAN markets, not only as an innovator and investment destination, but also as the standard bearer for regulatory stability,” said Butler. “Leading corporations, both global and local, will need to position themselves to play a significant role in ASEAN’s future – and I’m delighted New Narrative will be there to help them tell their stories and win new business via compelling thought leadership campaigns.”

Press enquiries:

David Line, Partner
david.line@new-narrative.com
+852 8192 7768

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China’s internet population now stands at 829 million, about as many people as there are in the US and EU combined. And, if you are a B2B marketer looking to launch or grow your business in China you have to go online too, or risk missing out. In China, this usually means building a presence on WeChat, Weibo and Baidu.

It is well-known that China’s policy to keep out foreign social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, has helped the growth of these homegrown social networking tools, which have since become household names in the country.

While most people will have heard of these channels using them effectively as a marketing tool is a different question altogether. So here we explain to our readers their unique characteristics and explain the contexts in which they work well.

WeChat

This application has come a long way since starting out as a chatting app eight years ago. Its various functions make it an essential tool for marketers in China, especially given that it boasts an average daily active user base of one billion, including among businesses. And its versatility means it can be (and usually is) also used as a branding and CRM tool, a replacement for email and even as a recruitment platform.

You can choose from three types of official accounts: Service Account, Subscription Account and WeChat Work. The first two types are designed to bolster customer service capabilities, while WeChat Work, which is similar to Slack, is an internal communication tool.

Here are some ways you can maximise the effectiveness of your WeChat profile.

Display WeChat QR codes prominently: Make your WeChat QR codes as noticeable as possible by placing them on your website, email newsletters, marketing flyers, and even business cards. This will direct customers to your official account and increase traffic.

Message settings: Set up the system so users can instantly receive acknowledgments and updates once they follow your account, or when they send you a message. Updates will depend on the account type.

Post appealing content: The average user spends 66 minutes every day on WeChat. Make sure that your content is engaging and informative and makes the most of this screen time by regularly promoting your content in short, social media-friendly posts.

Here is an example of how Sany Heavy Industry, the first Chinese construction machinery company to enter the FT Global 500, uses its Service Account:

  • Featured content of varying lengths and formats, ranging from news snippets to case studies, to serve a range of preferences
  • E-commerce interface (just like B2C brands) providing full descriptions and a 360-degree view of its products
  • CRM feature that allows clients to schedule meetings with sales representatives

 

Weibo

The microblogging service is known for its focus on trending topics, celebrity news and brand promotions. Nearly every industry in China, including financial services, healthcare, construction, manufacturing, food and beverage, luxury goods – uses it to engage their customers.

In order to do that, it’s crucial to establish the legitimacy of your business on the platform by acquiring the verification badge – much like Twitter’s check mark. Orange is for individuals while blue is reserved for companies.

Here is one example: American software company Citrix’s Weibo page, which currently has more than 1.4 million followers, features a wide array of content, including articles, photos, videos, graphics and memes in relation to its services, to appeal to decision makers. It also advertises special offers and hosts webinars to keep followers engaged on the platform.

You can find more information about account verification here.

 

What’s the difference

Choosing between WeChat and Weibo is a difficult decision. They differ from each other mostly in terms of privacy settings and distribution formats. But, on balance, Weibo may be a better option to gain exposure for brands that are just starting out in China.

Baidu

In China where Google’s reach is limited, Baidu is widely considered the go-to search engine. Baidu Tuiguang, the giant’s Pay-per-click (PPC) platform, much like Google Ads, puts ads alongside its search results and is a good bet for B2B marketers to attract attention and generate leads.

To ensure that your efforts are paying off, you should keep refining your content strategy with the help of tools like Baidu Keyword Planner and Baidu Analytics. Baidu’s Keyword Planner is similar to Google Ads Keyword Planner, in analysing search traffic trends. Baidu Analytics, also known as Baidu Tongji, keeps track of online statistics, including the number of visitors to your website, their activities and duration of visit, and provides tips on search engine optimisation (SEO).

 

Hearts and minds

As competition for the Chinese consumer’s attention continues to heat up, those who want a piece of market share in the world’s second-largest economy should begin thinking about the tools that can help them build and solidify their brand identity in China. And, these three tools are good places to start.

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May was an eventful month for democracy. Three of the largest Asia Pacific economies, with a cumulative population of 1.6 billion people and a combined GDP of over USD5 trillion, went to the polls.

The elections were gargantuan exercises. India’s lasted more than a month, drawing tourists keen to witness the world’s largest democracy in action. Indonesia’s massive but quick-fire polling effort reportedly claimed the lives of several election workers and continued to exact a human toll as supporters of the losing candidate protested the outcome. Australia’s elections, which featured officials and ballot boxes dispatched to remote outposts, including Antarctica, delivered an outcome that confounded most predictions, including from a crystal-gazing croc.

All of which brings us to the main point. Our clients often seek guidance on themes worth exploring through research and thought leadership. And the prospects of Australia, India and Indonesia fresh after the elections should be fertile ground for enterprises active in these markets. That’s why we’ll highlight here some of the key issues these countries will confront in the months and years ahead as their new (or not so new) governments embark on the next phase of their respective growth stories.

Staying successful

Australia is notably amongst the most successful developed economies in the world, having sidestepped past economic crises that afflicted other countries and, even now, with the US-China trade war threatening to hamper global growth, is expected to be dealt only a glancing blow.

Instead, the country’s problems are seen to be stemming from its all-important housing sector, which has suffered months of decline. While demand for housing is expected to endure, the key challenge may lie in the creation of enough affordable options, which requires the passage of key reforms – a promise made by the vanquished Labor Party. Other issues include reining in household debt while ensuring growth does not flag in the retail sector.

The victorious Liberal-National Coalition government, with its focus on enhanced spending on sectors such as infrastructure and lending to small and mid-sized businesses, will have its work cut out in keeping Australia on its historic growth track.

In search of good times

​Ideally, economic growth should help job creation and vice versa, rounding out a virtuous cycle. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case in India, which recently lost its claim to the title of the world’s fastest-growing economy.

The unemployment rate among urban youth has risen to over 20% and this is a problem in a country set to become the world’s youngest by 2020. With a million youth believed to enter the workforce every month the government has struggled to emulate China’s success in creating an industrial sector capable of absorbing this massive workforce and elevating millions out of poverty. A key challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in its second term would be creating enough jobs after the vaunted ‘Make in India’ program failed to take off.

To be sure, the country has seen some key reforms – but the pace has left local businesses, foreign investors and markets underwhelmed. Other challenges include the ailing health of the country’s state-owned banks, and slow progress in the government’s efforts to divest its stake in loss-making public sector corporations across sectors such as telecom, transport and utilities.

The coming months should set the tone for the BJP government’s second stint and determine if Modi is able to deliver the ‘achche din’, or good times, his party promised on the campaign trail, and help the country achieve his stated goal of becoming the world’s third-largest economy by 2030.

Road to everywhere

​Recently a country expert told us infrastructure is the issue that will dominate all others in Indonesia. Surely this is no exaggeration in an archipelago nation made up of about 17,000 islands, where transportation links are mostly conspicuous by their absence. The World Bank estimates that the country needs to invest USD1.5 trillion to fill these gaps, which means the sector will form a significant part of the country’s growth story in the years ahead.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy chose incumbent Joko Widodo to lead the country in an election seen as a referendum on his performance on key issues such as infrastructure development and labour market reforms, and growth in the country’s manufacturing sector.

Alongside other infrastructure projects, Jokowi’s government is also toying with a plan to shift the nation’s capital from Jakarta in a move that could cost about USD33 billion and take as much as 10 years to complete. It is hoped that the relocation will create more opportunities for infrastructure spending, and help develop other sectors such as real estate and retail as the population and markets adjust to accommodate the new capital, which is expected to house as many as 1.5 million people.

Indonesia will also have to tackle socioeconomic challenges such as improving access to public services, and reducing the widening income gap – a key requirement if the country is to reduce reliance on its exports and achieve its vision of becoming a USD2 trillion economy in the next five years.

Regardless of the market under consideration, the coming months will be anything but dull and present an ideal opportunity to address the global knowledge gap about the future direction of some of the region’s most promising economies.

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HONG KONG, June 4, 2019 — New Narrative Ltd., Asia’s leading content consultancy, today announced that Sara Hemrajani joins the company as Senior Content Executive.

Hemrajani will help the fast-growing Hong Kong-based firm with the production of engaging multimedia content and in-depth research for leading financial institutions and corporations in Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

With more than eight years’ experience at some of the world’s top news organisations, Hemrajani brings unique insights into video production, managing live television programming, writing features for global audiences and interviewing high-profile personalities.

Formerly a senior producer and reporter at Thomson Reuters, both in London and Hong Kong, she was responsible for creating bespoke video content for select clients, as well as arranging shoots and editing footage for major broadcasters, and writing and contributing to articles that were picked up by various news outlets. Her beats included business, entertainment and lifestyle, and current affairs.

Hemrajani started her career as an Assistant Producer at Bloomberg TV in London. She was also a regular freelancer at DMA Media and CNN where her projects ranged from covering the Cannes Film Festival to helping with the launch of an international English-language news channel in Istanbul.

She has a Masters in International Journalism from City University London and an undergraduate degree in Politics with Economics from the University of Bath.

About New Narrative

Founded in 2013 by former financial journalists, New Narrative works with leading professional and financial services companies to give them and their executives a distinctive voice. New Narrative helps them communicate their views to clients, employees, investors, governments and regulators through sustained, compelling content campaigns in a variety of written and visual media.

Press enquiries:

Joseph Chaney, Partner:

joseph.chaney@new-narrative.com

+852 9411 7441

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Beyond dashing a lot of plans to retire early or buy that Bay Area mansion, could Uber’s IPO debacle signal something more serious – the decline of a business model that’s dominated the tech (and, increasingly, non-tech) industry for a decade?

Even before the disappointing debut, some voices were warning that Uber-variety platform businesses – basically, any enterprise that creates a digital environment for different parties like buyers and sellers to interact – carry elevated risks of failure.

Views like these are especially notable because of the torrent of hype that preceded them. By some estimates platform businesses now account for seven of the top 10 biggest companies globally. Studies show an overwhelming majority of firms across a wide range of sectors now see digital platforms as an integral part of business strategy. Companies as august as GE and BNY Mellon have got into the business of platform-building. For some time the default message has been: platform or die.

Less talked about (at least until now) is that for every Lyft or Airbnb, there’s a Homejoy, and high-profile, supposedly transformational platform initiatives sometimes end badly. The Uber IPO will no doubt prompt more critical analysis of the platform model, and those previously isolated platform cynics may feel a  little less lonely. But – as with so many other technologies that have generated excitement – the real issue may be less a fundamental problem with platforms, than misconceptions about what they are, and what they should be used for.

Beyond ‘build it and they will come’ 

There’s a lot that’s appealing about the idea of creating a great platform for people and/or enterprises to connect with each other and (paid) services; letting the network effect take hold; and watching the revenue roll in. Sometimes, that’s exactly the way it works. But there’s a few inherent vulnerabilities in this model too. First, as CB Insights has so aptly noted, is the persistent tension of trying to keep both sides of an equation happy – perhaps Uber’s biggest struggle is making drivers feel fairly compensated and riders feel like they’re getting a good deal at the same time.

Another is that network effect. Often to attract the kind of critical mass that makes a platform viable, companies try to either offer something that appeals to a broad range of users and throw the gates wide open; or constantly tack on new offerings or features to cultivate different user groups. The former (as Uber certainly knows) usually entails a low barrier to entry for competitors, particularly since the core technologies that enable platforms (like cloud computing) are rarely unique. With the latter comes expensive proposition of constantly innovating and expanding your technology infrastructure – and probably drifting away from whatever your core business was in the first place.

And that might just be the most dangerous misconception about platforms – that they should be designed exclusively to make users happy. They have to do that, of course, but as some experts have pointed out, platforms need internal purpose. In thinking about becoming more ‘digital’ and building a big user base, it’s easy for organisations to lose sight of the fact that platforms should also connect directly to their own goals, and help them do whatever it is they do better. If those connections are hard to draw, the enterprise is probably better off without one. The verdict on Uber might still be out, but if the IPO prompts a few organisations to reconsider platforms for platforms’ sake, it may have already created some value.

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Well, it’s that time again. Another Star Wars film is only months away, and this is a big one: the conclusion of the original Skywalker Saga that began way back in 1977. As expected, the blogosphere is buzzing with commentary. Millions are ecstatic, savouring every detail in the new trailer. Many others are (still) wondering what the fuss is all about.

So what, you say. What does this have to do with corporate thought leadership campaigns? Quite a bit, actually – especially in the area of audience development.

Let me explain.

At n/n we spend our time advising large companies on their B2B content campaigns. A lot of this work begins with defining a campaign’s audience personas.  These personas are best described as investor, professional or stakeholder groups, i.e. This campaign on treasury trends and hedging strategies is targeting Asia-based CFOs. Or, this video series on ASEAN capital markets reform is addressing CEOs of international asset management firms.

Obviously B2C marketing of the Star Wars variety is a different animal. Disney’s goal is to target consumers as individuals. Professional status isn’t a consideration. Come one, come all.  They aren’t selling professional expertise or insight like B2B marketers; they’re selling emotional connections.  They want not only to sell movie tickets, but also merchandising rights to toy and costume companies, and candy and stationery suppliers.

But in order to do that, or at least to do it on a large enough scale, the films need to connect with audiences in authentic ways that don’t feel cheap or forced. If there’s no meaningful connection to Chewbacca, few kids will beg their parents to buy Chewbacca action figures.

The reality is that the same principle holds for the content you produce under the banner of executive thought leadership. If you fail to connect with your audience in an authentic manner, you just might lose that next M&A advisory mandate. This is often forgotten when B2B marketers are devising campaigns. Worse, some B2B marketers may think that the act of presenting oneself as an expert (but not actually speaking or writing like one) is enough. It’s not.

Let’s dig deeper and analyse the parallels between B2C and B2B marketing. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve divided these into three categories.

First, the believers. These people will see the film just because it’s called Star Wars. The brand alone is enough to secure the ticket sale. (Full confession: your author falls into this category as far as Star Wars is concerned). If the film is good, it’s money and time well spent. If not? No big deal. Little follow-up action will come either way.

In the B2B context, these are the readers who will consume your company’s campaigns no matter what.  They are already convinced of your right to speak with authority. They are unlikely to pass harsh judgments about the campaign’s quality; and, they are also unlikely to rave about its value. Easy come, easy go.

Second, the cynics. These consumers have either never seen a Star Wars film, or have maybe watched a few passively, perhaps while sitting on an airplane. They don’t understand what the fuss is about. The most vocal among them might even take pride in not seeing the movies, and brag about that.

In B2B, these are (potential) readers that – even if presented with the most ground-breaking white paper on China’s Belt and Road Initiative – may shrug it off as just another puff piece and never give it a chance. Perhaps as a general rule they think corporations don’t have anything interesting to say; or they’re jaded from reading too many mediocre research reports. It’s a tough crowd.

And finally, the connoisseurs. This is where things get far more interesting. Perhaps the best way to describe the temperament of these consumers is: I’m a big fan so I’ll see the movie, but IT BETTER BE GOOD. These are people who may have seen every film in the series, and who know about most plot twists and character arcs. They may also be film buffs in general, and so will compare the movie – its tone, its structure, its flow – to others in the sci-fi space. In other words, regardless of the hype or cultural pressure to go along, they can’t be fooled.  They’ll notice half-baked dialogue and bad narrative flow. They won’t accept mediocrity.

It’s this last group that is often the most valuable audience for many corporate B2B content campaigns. The reason is simple: they hold the magic seeds that will help you grow your influence.

Why? Because these are the readers that are fully invested in the material and are thus likely to be the most vocal about their appreciation of its quality. That gives them the power to convert a few cynics into new readers. You know, something like this: I heard you were sceptical about Bank X’s expertise in regards to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. But trust me, this latest paper of theirs puts it all in perspective – both the opportunities and the risks on the execution side. It’s well-researched and chock full of interesting data. Did you know the sovereign debt of 20-plus BRI countries is rated ‘junk’ by the top agencies? Fascinating stuff.

On the downside, the high expectations held by these readers means they are also likely to voice disappointment with the campaign if it’s of poor quality; and they will back up their criticism with real knowledge. That gives them the power to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of your believers – or, the loyal readers you’ve already captured. You can hear it now: That Belt and Road paper that Bank X published was full of holes. They didn’t even address the issue of failed investments or the impact of the trade war. Or the fact that many BRI countries have ‘junk’ ratings. Not much useful data, and it wasn’t balanced.

It might sound strange that your toughest critics can also serve as your most valuable audience. But in the end, it is precisely this double-edged sword – the ability to either boost your profile or inflict damage – that makes this group so valuable.

Of course, it’s impossible for B2B marketers to make guesses about, or precisely quantify and measure, the individual temperaments of readers in its targeted persona group. John Doe asset manager may be a believer while Jane Doe asset manager is a cynic. Nobody knows.

That means the smartest thing you can do is create thought leadership campaigns with your critics in mind. Yes, they will scoff at mediocrity. But if sufficiently impressed, they might just spread the word and expand your sphere of influence in ways you never anticipated, if only because they are the ones that grasp the full value of your effort.

May the force be with you.

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[Currents in Financial Services Thought Leadership #1]

That question is likely to elicit the response, “no thanks”, and perhaps also bring to mind the image of a door closing on a briefcase-wielding gentleman in an ill-fitting suit. Actually, though, if you’re not interested in what’s happening in insurance then you’re unlikely to be up to speed with crucial trends informing the best financial-services thought leadership around nowadays.

Thinking about it, insurance has always had a bit of an image problem despite the risk-sharing wizardry of what it accomplishes (and notwithstanding some of Hollywood’s best efforts). Actuaries performed big data analysis long before consultants came up with the phrase and told everyone they need to be doing it.

Now, insurtech innovators are pioneering the application of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain, quantum computing and others, while also grappling with some of the most crucial concerns underlying these technologies, from data security to the ethics of AI profiling and decision-making to the ever-growing demand for greater product personalisation. These topics cut across all sectors; moreover, all the biggest trends set to impact our lives and businesses in the coming years, from self-driving vehicles to population ageing to climate change, have a crucial insurance component.

Where Asia leads – and lags

Asia is simultaneously at the cutting edge and behind the curve when it comes to these trends. One of the world’s biggest online-only insurers, Zhong An, was among the first to use AI to price risk more finely and distribute differentiated products on the internet. Launched in China in 2013, the company serviced over 150m clients in its first year of operation; its IPO in 2017 arguably introduced insurtech to global investors as an asset to watch. Across the region, there is no shortage of insurtech talent (and capital).

At the same time, though, APAC is among the world’s most underpenetrated insurance markets, holding just 13% of global premiums, according to UBS, despite having around half the world’s population. Innovation is stymied to some degree by the preponderance of old-fashioned distribution channels: life policies are still often sold through banks, for instance, with distributors and underwriters facing little incentive to offer bespoke pricing or coverage. No one ever got excited about bancassurance.

And, if you care to click on any of the barrage of links included above, you’ll be lucky to hit on anything directly from an insurer. Thought leadership produced by the giants in the sector is often pretty dry, with many of the biggest (in APAC, at least) basing campaigns around topics such as the problems of financing ever-longer retirements, or trends in employer-funded healthcare coverage.

These are important, to be sure, but part of the image problem insurers face is that the most inspirational thought leadership about their sector is being done either by consultants looking to help them realise the potential of new tech, or analysts seeking to educate investors. (Since nothing beats a good case study, they are also in effect doing a lot of the upstart insurtech firms’ marketing for them.)

This actually gives forward-looking insurance companies the opportunity to start owning more of the dialogue about the future of their sector in Asia. They can emphasise both the potential of revolutionary technology to meet their customers’ changing needs, and the importance of managing the risks around the megatrends shaping people’s lives in the region. With thought leadership like that, no one should ever think of insurance as boring again.

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At New Narrative we’re increasingly being asked to write about sustainability as businesses improve their efforts in the area and recognise the importance of sharing best practices. But even though the concept has been around for some time, the ideas and objectives are constantly evolving as governments, NGOs, companies and consumers become better educated on the issues and demand more action. We take an in-depth look at some of the newer ideas that are at the forefront of conversations.

Circular economy

It’s well known that many of the manufacturing processes we rely on today create a lot of waste, generate high carbon emissions and are dependent on resources that will one day run out. This traditional approach to manufacturing –  ‘make, use, dispose’ –  is what is now coined the linear economy. In contrast, the circular economy is an attempt to cut waste, reduce carbon footprint and better manage the resources linked to manufacturing.

The idea of the circular economy goes much further than recycling products at the end of their life. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization says the circular economy “works by extending product lifespan through improved design and servicing, and relocating waste from the end of the supply chain to the beginning—in effect, using resources more efficiently by using them over and over, not only once.”

It’s worth noting that the language around the circular economy does not tend to focus on less consumption. It recognises that modern innovations have given people access to goods at affordable prices and that it will be difficult to ask consumers to give up innovations that improve lives. Instead, the circular economy is about getting companies to rethink the way products are designed and created so that any waste can re-enter the value chain and be used as a raw material for the next product cycle.

As well as the environmental benefits of reducing waste and reusing materials, the new system is expected to support economic growth and help governments tackle many of the social and health issues they are facing. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the circular economy will produce a 48% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030 and deliver a 47% reduction in traffic congestion in Chinese cities, among other benefits. And with the world facing a shortage of resources, companies that rely heavily on raw materials will eventually need to look for alternatives whether they subscribe to the idea of the circular economy or not.

 

Diagram on the key stages in the sustainable circular economy

 

Blue economy

The blue economy is about using oceans in a more sustainable way that supports economic growth and social development, and also protects their delicate ecosystem. The health of the ocean is closely related to efforts to stop climate change given that the ocean supplies around 50% of the planet’s oxygen and absorbs about 30% of the world’s carbon dioxide. At the same time, the ocean also plays a key role in the world’s economic growth: it is a source of transport for 80% of global trade, and by 2030 the ocean economy is expected to employ around 40 million people and add some US$3 trillion in value to the global economy.

Part of the reason the health of the ocean has come into sharp focus recently is because of the BBC documentary Blue Planet II which showed the impact that plastic is having on oceans and marine life. According to some estimates, each year at least eight tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean — equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean per minute — with Asia responsible for 80% of that leakage. The so-called ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has seen a number of countries and corporations commit to taking action. For example, in February 2019, Taiwan announced that it will ban all single-use plastics such as straws and utensils by 2030, and in April this year the 28-country European Union voted to ban plastic consumer items by 2021.

Picture of how the blue economy supports trade, employment and helps prevent climate change

 

Science-based targets

The Paris Agreement was seen as a landmark event in the effort to tackle the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Some 195 countries, including China, the European Union and the United States (though the US has since withdrawn) agreed to limit the rise in average global temperatures this century to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.” However, despite the intentions, scientific evidence from the United Nations makes clear that countries are not yet doing enough to reach that goal.

Science-based targets are an attempt to close that ‘emissions gap’. Focusing on the corporate sector rather than governments under the scheme companies set targets that can be shown to be in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase below the 2°C threshold based on the latest climate science.

The Science Based Targets Initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). According to the Initiative’s latest statistics, more than 500 companies have committed to or implemented science-based targets. The arguments in favour of companies adopting science-based targets include increased regulatory resistance as governments increasingly look to regulate for climate change policies, strengthened investor confidence, and improved competitiveness and profitability.

The world with a thermometer showing the 2 degrees Celsius target for global warming

 

Impact investing

Although the term was coined in 2007 (and this method of putting capital to work has been around for much longer), it’s only in the last few years that the concept of impact investing has come to wider prominence. Put simply, impact investing is providing capital to businesses that have a measurable social or environmental impact.

In its early stages impact investing was largely the preserve of private equity funds given that it requires direct investment and the ability to accurately assess companies and measure their outcomes. But in the last few years it has started to attract the attention of a broader set of investors such as hedge funds and asset managers. In part this broader interest has been driven by the launch in 2016 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which clearly set out 17 areas of focus to end poverty and protect the planet.

In addition, investors are recognising that impact investing does not necessarily mean sacrificing returns. Indeed, many funds are ‘return-first’ – they are driven by generating a competitive financial return by investing in companies that create an impact. In contrast ‘impact-first’ funds will accept below-market returns.

The volume of impact investing assets under management, which the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimates was USD502 billion at the end of 2018, has also led to an effort to create a commonly accepted definition. Efforts in this area include the International Finance Corporation’s set of principles for impact investing which were published at the end of 2018. These were followed in April 2019 by GIIN’s Core Characteristics of Impact Investing.

The spectrum of ESG, sustainability and impact investing

 

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As New Narrative’s Head of Digital, part of my job involves scouring the internet to find out the latest trends and developments in digital marketing. Having read hundreds of blogs, listened to numerous podcasts and signed up for dozens of free trials, there is certainly plenty of information out there.

But for my first blog post I thought it was worth going back to the basics. My goal is to walk you through what I consider to be the core components of B2B digital marketing.

1. Strategy

i. Content Strategy

Creating content is no easy task but whatever your end goal, you need to start with a content marketing strategy. A good content strategy will set out how you intend to use various types of content, media and distribution channels so that they deliver your desired outcome.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 63% of B2B marketers don’t have a documented content strategy. This is surprising as a documented strategy not only avoids duplication and wasted resources, but will ensure that all stakeholders are aligned on objectives, responsibilities and accountability.

Understanding that a lead generation campaign requires a different content strategy than one focused on content amplification is why you should always start by identifying your commercial goals first and work backwards. Meanwhile, a competitive content analysis, also known as a content audit, can help you discover what your competitors are talking about (too much or too little), their tone and approach, as well as how and where they’re promoting their content.

With your content strategy in place, your next step should be an editorial calendar.  Calendars are extremely useful to get you thinking ahead, staying on track and mapping out topics, dates, formats and channels.

Check out our previous post on a content strategy in 5 steps for a more in-depth look at this topic.

 

ii. Digital Strategy

Likewise, having a digital marketing strategy will help you meet your objectives through using online marketing techniques such as SEO, content and social media.

The strategy should start with an analysis of your current capabilities (a SWOT or SOSTAC analysis is ideal), setting out your goals and KPI’s. Next, using the SMART objective technique will help ensure you have clear, defined and measurable objectives. Then you need to think about how your value proposition, audience personas and content can all work together in relation to your strategic goals.

Personally, I find the digital capability framework an excellent starting point when planning a B2B digital marketing strategy:

Once you’ve gone through and applied the framework to your organisation, you might want to repeat the exercise again on a micro-level, applying the framework to the individual components such as: social media, content and measurement.

For a step-by-step guide to the digital capability framework, check out Target Internet, an online learning portal on digital marketing.

 

2. Measurement & Analytics:

Once you have put your strategy in place, you’ll need to know if it’s working. The only guaranteed way to measure success is to look at the numbers: good data will help you understand where you started, where you are, and where you’re heading.

For most content marketing and thought leadership campaigns, one of the primary objectives is to create ongoing engagement with your audience and have them come back when new content is published. A metric like “New vs. Returning Users” tracks if it’s a user’s first time on your website or if they’ve visited before. Alternatively, a lead generation campaign should focus on the number of leads generated and converted. This can be measured by tracking the number of contact forms completed, free trial registrations and of course revenue generated.

Below I’ve listed some metrics and what they track to get you started.

 

Once you have your data, then comes the fun part – the analytics. The real value of marketing analytics is uncovering what’s behind the numbers: how your content, SEO and even offline events contributed to that spike or drop in pageviews and click-through-rates. For example, are you getting an increasing number of hits from your Japan-based readers? If so, this could be an opportunity to produce more Japan focused content and grow that segment.

i. Tools

There is no shortage of tools out there. For instance, I googled “marketing analytics tools” and I got 398,000,000 search results. So, before you drown in the endless lists, reviews and free trials, here are my suggestions for some core tools that I have tried and tested, and should be your first port of call:

    • Web Analytics Tools: Full suite marketing analytics tools link to your website via a code, tracking metrics such as pageviews (a user visiting a page on a website), acquisition channels (where your visitors are coming from i.e. social media or organic traffic). Among the most popular tools are Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics.
    • Social Media Analytics Tools: If you’re using social media, such as YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter you must always keep your eye on your engagement rates, and how different posts, content formats (video vs. text) perform. Luckily these tools are built into the platform and are generally easy to use. For the advanced user, tools such as Sprout Social, Buffer and Hootsuite can integrate all your social channels into one combined dashboard.

 

3. Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short, is the practice of optimizing your website for search platforms such as Google, Bing or Baidu to allow them to better understand your website and match it to the relevant online search queries. The goal of SEO is to generate more organic traffic to your website. Organic traffic is when a user finds your website as a result of an online search for a product or service that you offer, or a topic mentioned in your content. Among the benefits of organic traffic, is creating more awareness of your brand, your products or services. Ultimately, it can become a lead generation mechanism for potential clients.

With ever-changing algorithm updates — Google for example has 200+ ranking signals  — it has become a complex and full-time job to optimise your pages and content for maximum results. However, the beauty of SEO is how it now requires a holistic approach rather than a check-list of to-dos. While there still are must-do optimization techniques, the emphasis is now on the quality of content and how useful, original and most importantly how well it satisfies the reader’s intent. The more your content fulfils the reader’s question and informational need, the more useful it is deemed by the search engine and the higher it will rank.

i. SEO Tools & Techniques

Some of the well-known techniques of SEO include a keyword strategy (keywords your target audience uses to search online), optimizing your website for speed and acquiring backlinks. A backlink, the digital equivalent of a literature citation, is when an external website links to one of your pages either as a reference or a resource. The more backlinks you acquire from a selection of high-ranking websites the more likely you’ll benefit from an SEO perspective.

There are various ways to approach keyword research, some of the most popular tools include SEMRush and Ahrefs both with large keyword databases. You can supplement your research with  Google Trends or Answer The Public to find out what topics and queries are trending and how people are searching for them.

Acquiring backlinks is longer-term process, that usually centres on outreach efforts to site owners:  building a rapport, introducing your content and the value it brings to their site. Other techniques include getting links from online directories and resource pages. Backlinko, a popular digital marketing website has updated their definitive link-building guide, which is packed with ideas, data-backed insights and case studies.

It’s important to remember that if your content doesn’t provide any value, you are limiting your chances of getting backlinks. So, focus on your content!

 

4. Social Media

With everyone (even pets!) on social media, it needs to be part of any content strategy. The most important thing to understand is that different social media channels cater to different audiences. It may seem easier to create an account on every social media platform, however it’s much more effective to do some research into which one fits with your brand and objectives.

For example, B2B businesses in the finance industry will typically focus on a professional network like LinkedIn as that is where their audience expects to engage with industry news and content. While a technology business might want to opt for visual content, targeting a channel like YouTube that can provide them the space to discuss at length their product capabilities and features.

Popular B2B Social Media Channels:

    1. LinkedIn
    2. Twitter
    3. YouTube
    4. WeChat & Weibo (China focused)
    5. Medium

 

i. Social Media Strategy

Part of a successful social media strategy is understanding where your audience is, how they use the network and what you want to accomplish. Research and a social media audit can help you answer these questions. A social media strategy should be part of your content strategy.

ii. Social Media Policy

A well-defined and documented social media policy is critical for any B2B organisation, although often overlooked. The policy serves as an operational framework, governing behaviour, delegating responsibilities and outlining an escalation process in the case of social media emergencies. This database of social media policies compiled by SocialMediaGovernance.com allows you to explore how organisations in different sectors guide and govern their social media usage. Waiting for a social media crisis to happen to draw up a policy can cost you your business, just as these brands found out the hard way. Having one in place early on, will most likely minimize the risk of a crisis and if it does occur, you’ll know how to react and who to turn to for support.

iii. Social Listening & Media Monitoring

Social media listening and monitoring, is a technique employed by both B2C and B2B organisations. Tools such as BrandWatch and Mention allow you to create and track triggers for brand mentions, keywords or hashtags (or a mixture of all) on different social media channels, online forums, blogs and news sites etc. Tracking this information will make you better informed of how your audience perceives your business or service.

For B2B businesses, it can be a great resource to conduct market research on what their industry and customers are discussing, identifying perceptions, both positive and negative that can be used to inform a content marketing strategy. Although I must warn you, that you will need to spend a decent amount of time extracting these insights and the work will involve wading through spreadsheets!

 

5. Paid and Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is an online advertising technique that allows marketers to bid on selected keywords and have their website listed in the search results, when one or more keyword is part of a search queries. The example below shows paid ads for a search for “Hong Kong apartments to rent”.

 

For a B2B organization, search engine marketing (SEM), is best used for brand awareness and content reach amplification.

Brand awareness is all about creating familiarity and a visual connection, triggering an association with a product, a service or even certain values. Display network campaigns are usually a good fit for this purpose, just avoid pop-ups at all cost!

To help maximise your content’s exposure and online reach, you can launch a paid search campaign that targets keywords that are relevant to your content. Alternatively, you can opt for social media marketing, using promoted tweets on Twitter and on LinkedIn, that can help you target the right audience based on geography, industry and expertise.

 

Wrap Up

I hope you find this guide useful. There’s a lot to consider but if you do your research, have the courage to experiment and of course use data to guide your decisions you should soon find the right mix to suit your organization’s culture and goals. Good luck!

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After our fifth-year anniversary event in our hometown of Hong Kong, we thought it was about time to celebrate in another place that’s very important to us – so we rang in New Narrative’s sixth year with cocktails and canapes on the breezy rooftop of the Scarlet hotel in Singapore’s historic Chinatown district. Many thanks to the clients and friends who came out to celebrate with us, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Lion City in the very near future.

 

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Whether you call it the new oil or the new gold, since the The Economist declared data the world’s most valuable resource way back in 2017, its value only seems to have risen. Like most of our peers in marketing and the media it’s certainly become more integral to what we do as an organisation. Virtually every project we take on now involves an element of data measurement and analysis. At the same time the near-perpetual excitement surrounding data and the emerging technologies it fuels, like artificial intelligence, has caused even its biggest advocates to warn we’re in a time of “data gluttony.”

I wouldn’t dare claim to be a data scientist, but it’s quickly become clear to me that both the skeptics and the data champions are right. In many fields, including marketing, data can be an immensely powerful tool for targeting audiences and measuring outcomes – one global study from consultancy Bain, for example, shows leading marketers are more likely to refresh the data they use and consistently factor it into decisions. But there’s also plenty of evidence of data failing to deliver the desired results, or steering companies in the wrong direction.

What it comes down is that getting data is no generally longer a problem; extracting meaning from it is. With so many data sources and metrics at our disposal, trying to process information into something that can be acted on is often the mental equivalent of trying to drink from a firehose. In this kind of environment it’s no wonder people crave simplicity and jump at any clear conclusion they can get – which can fuel some pretty questionable decisions.

Bigger isn’t always better

As an example one recent project had us delving into the Twitter traffic on a certain topic to see who was effectively leading the conversation on it. One organisation seemed to be clearly in the forefront with almost everything they posted garnering a truly exceptional number of retweets – surely a sign they were doing something right? Until we dug a little deeper and noticed the vast majority of these retweets were from just one or two sources. Their closest competitor may have been a distant second in terms of sheer numbers, but its shares came from a far more diverse base – a much stronger indicator of credibility in our view.

In addition to the obsession with volume, data analytics (as many marketers practice it) is excessively retroactive. AI-powered predictive analytics is starting to make some impressive inroads into marketing, but in general the majority of analysis concentrates on results.

The fact is, by the time the data tells you conclusively something isn’t working, it’s too late – whereas a degree of analysis before a campaign is launched might prevent you from going down an unproductive path in the first place. Applying the right tools, there’s an incredible amount you can learn from what (and where, and how frequently) peers or competitors are publishing on a subject that can then be factored into your plans – whether on the themes that strike a chord with professional networks or what phrases risk putting you in the jargon danger zone. Our head of digital will be sharing more on those possibilities in the weeks to come.

Whatever light it sheds on audience engagement or the topics of the day, to me it’s only become clearer that data needs to be examined from a number of angles, and filtered through the lens of good old-fashioned human inquiry and cynicism. That’s why even as our practice becomes more ‘digital,’ I’d prefer to call it data informed, rather than ‘data-driven’ – no offense to our future robot overlords intended.

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It’s no secret that large corporations have a tough time recruiting for internal editorial positions. And even if they get lucky and find the right candidate, retaining the newcomer for the long haul is often even more of a challenge.

In fact, some of n/n’s clients readily admit that they first approach us simply because they are unable to build an internal editorial team of their own.

Why is this the case? After all, some estimates proclaim content marketing will become a US$400+ billion industry by 2021, up from US$195 billion in 2016. If ‘content’ is now so important, and consuming ever larger chunks of marketing budgets, why is the discipline so hard to hire for?

Here’s our two cents on this issue, given what we’ve seen over the years from our perch as one of Asia’s largest specialist content agencies. Every situation is different, or course. But according to what our clients tell us, the following patterns have emerged as relatively consistent across a number of organisations.

1. RESOURCES

Content creation is hard – and takes more than one person
Editorial production is a team effort, and very time consuming. That’s why top newsrooms are staffed by numerous specialist journalists and editors.  But in corporate life, the ‘content team’ is sometimes a team of one reporting into a larger marketing department — which is also responsible for many non-editorial initiatives, such as event planning and sponsorships.  Problems quickly arise when business leaders make competing content demands on one content executive. For example, the Head of Greater China wants a 5,000-word overview of Belt and Road investment opportunities, while the Head of Debt Capital Markets wants an op-ed series on the evolution of risk pricing in China. Both business heads want the work finished in just two weeks.

The result? Frustration all around. The content executive throws his or her hands up and says it can’t be done – the deadlines are unrealistic.  The business heads are frustrated that their requests are denied; and the marketing team wonders if they’ve wasted their money hiring the content executive in the first place.

2.TALENT

Top editorial talent is often in the newsroom — or working at an agency
Often times those who have dedicated their lives to content want to be in the centre of the action – and that means they want to work for the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, whether that’s the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. They dream of Pulitzer prizes, shaping WTO policies with brilliant analyses, and taking down corrupt politicians with hard-hitting investigations. The corporate life simply can’t offer the buzz of a newsroom – or even the workflow variety offered by a top agency, for that matter.

The result? Corporate hiring managers are often left with slim pickings, as they are unwilling to pay enough to attract senior editorial professionals. Those willing to take the internal corporate job often don’t have the skills or experience to shape editorial strategies and marshal sufficient resources from the ground up.

3. WORKFLOW

Lack of diversity (and controversy) in the work itself
Corporate content managers are required to think about the same entity everyday: his or her employer. The topics may change, but the end product is always the same – i.e. this is my company’s views on X and this is my company’s views on Y. Just compare that to life in a newsroom, where there is a never-ending buffet – refreshed daily — of projects on offer. On Monday you’re covering a shareholder scandal in a technology company; and on Tuesday breaking news on an industry changing M&A deal.

The result? Boredom sets in. The corporate content executive feels underutilised. S/he struggles to exercise news judgement because that judgment is always constrained by other corporate priorities and plans. Meanwhile, a range of internal actors – from business heads to compliance officers – seek control over the editorial agenda to manage legal risks and protect commercial interests, exacerbating the content executive’s feelings of powerlessness.

4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE

Writers and other ‘content creators’ need ample amounts of alone time 
Although editorial planning and production requires a team, getting down to work on a white paper or infographic or video script is often a solo affair. Door shut, phone off, and headphones on. The problem is corporate life doesn’t really support such solitude. Executives at every level are often required to join teleconferences and group meetings – and those that refuse risk being branded a stubborn outsider.

The result? The content executive grows tired of asking to be left alone; while his or her colleagues wonder what the big deal is and why they can’t join the team lunch like everyone else.

—–

So, what to do? Give up and stop searching? Not necessarily. But at n/n we think it’s best to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. RESOURCES
    Allocate enough budget so the editorial leader can hire a small team for support – either internal employees or an external content agency. Explain to business leaders very clearly and without apology that quality editorial production is hard and time consuming: a tiny team simply can’t produce the volumes produced by large newsrooms.
  2. TALENT
    Accept that you pay for what you get. If you want the Wall Street Journal’s former Beijing Bureau Chief, you must entice him or her away from that exciting life with substantial incentives and rewards.
  3. WORKFLOW
    Allow the editorial executive to utilise his or her core competency – news judgement. That means they get to significantly influence the editorial agenda. Also, accept that they’ll likely recommend topics that are ‘controversial.’  While you can tone down these topics to suit your corporate strategy, the fact remains that asking editorial professionals to churn out corporate pablum won’t work if you want them to stick around.
  4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE
    This one is self-explanatory: let the content executive get on with it — and accept that they aren’t likely to have the time to participate in every teleconference or team building event and exercise. If they absolutely must join each of those activities, ensure they have external resources on call to produce the work while they are pulled away from their desks.

That’s it for now – I’ll leave you with the Content Marketing Institute’s guide to building a content team, which includes far more tips than those outlined above. Happy CNY to all, and best of luck building your content teams in 2019 and beyond.

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If you’re anything like n/n’s editorial team, by the end of the calendar or lunar year you will have had a mental list of the most well-used thought leadership topics in your field. For core B2B sectors like financial and professional services, this list might include AI, cyber-security, sustainability, and, inevitably, digital transformation (again).

With many firms in the region still firming up content calendars for the new year, the temptation is to stick to these safe fields, especially given the anxiety over geopolitical and macroeconomic risk. (Indeed, saying anything about China is proving a real challenge, now references to the macroeconomy, trade, or outbound investment are often deemed too controversial for many compliance teams to approve. This is arguably the first time in a generation that the underlying narrative to China’s macroeconomy hasn’t been that the country is getting richer, fast.)

Yet the trick to effective thought leadership is the second word of that somewhat overused phrase: leading the pack by coming up with something novel. It’s not “thought followership”. Of course, we know that coming up with entirely new umbrella topics is not always realistic. The fact that the year is porcine rather than canine has no bearing on what matters to our clients (or, more crucially, their clients), or on what it makes sound editorial and commercial sense to discuss.

What is required is a new take on an underexplored or emerging sub-issue that will pique readers’ interest. The greater focus in 2018 on AI, for instance, was an evolution of the overarching fintech theme that has been running for some years, gaining mainstream relevance as once-limited technologies found broader commercial application. (Consultancies like McKinsey, as might be expected, were ahead of the curve here: ideally the topics you highlight today you’d like everyone to be talking about tomorrow.)

With that in mind I canvassed our team to find some B2B angles that we thought were underexplored (at least in the Asia-Pacific context) and ripe to feature more in the Year of the Pig. Consider them n/n’s thought leadership thought starters, perhaps…

  1. The ethics of AI: the dominant narrative last year was about how AI could help companies cut costs and deliver better service to their clients. The hot debate now is about its governance and ethical application – in everything from loan applications to help-request chatbots. Can we be sure that AI won’t incorporate the biases of its programmers, leading to problems down the road? Most B2B businesses that want to use AI (i.e. all of them) will also want to know how to protect themselves against making AI mistakes.
  2. Cross border data ownership and governance: Banks in the UK and EU are opening up their data up to third parties, creating “ecosystems” of service providers; the same is happening (with regulatory encouragement rather than coercion) in plenty of Asia-Pacific markets. Not enough analysis has been done on what this means for cross-border businesses in one of the world’s most fragmented regions. How can firms be prepared to be responsible data managers (and what commercial impact will initiatives like Australia’s Consumer Data Right have if adopted more widely)?
  3. A corollary of this is What will B2B tech ecosystems look like? Thanks to China’s digital behemoths you don’t need much imagination to see how consumer-focused tech platforms in the region can evolve. But what about the prospects for B2B ecosystems, involving fintech, insurtech and a whole raft of professional services? Sure, there are plenty of discrete innovations in the region, from trade and SME finance to new approaches to professional services, but who will bring them together? Speaking from painful experience, a one-stop shop for SME professional services would be a major boon…
  4. How will an ageing workforce affect APAC’s B2B companies? To date most commentary on ageing (in APAC at least) has been by hand-wringing actuaries or wealth managers warning about insufficient pensions. But actually ageing will affect every sector, and B2B employers are in prime position to lead on the issue of how workforces can make best use of their experienced, knowledgeable and not-ready-to-retire experts. Who’s ready to make ageing a bigger diversity & inclusion issue?

Naturally the more you drill down into different B2B sectors the more ideas bubble to the surface, but in the interests of brevity I’ll leave it there for now. Here’s hoping we see some ambitious firms ready to lead thinking on these issues in the Year of the Pig. In the meantime, Kung Hei Fat Choi!

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Not a week goes by when some of the New Narrative content team isn’t writing about fintech. So we know how tricky it can be to keep up with all the lingo and understand what new terms mean. With that in mind we’ve put together a fintech jargon buster that explains some of the ideas that are most discussed but often least well understood — such as blockchain, opening banking and initial coin offerings — while also examining some of the current discussions and developments around each topic.

Sandbox

This may seem a strange term to use about regulation, but it’s actually a helpful metaphor. A child’s sandbox creates a defined, safe space to play in, while a fintech sandbox provides allows companies to test out new technology and services under a controlled but more relaxed regulatory environment. Regulators have been keen to set up fintech sandboxes to promote innovation in financial services while also giving innovators the chance to figure out any regulatory issues that might arise. It’s also a way for regulators to ensure that they keep-up-to-date with the technological changes which are likely to affect future rules.

For firms, the advantage is usually that they get a chance to test their services using real market data and information, while being in dialogue with the regulator. It should mean their service is quicker to market and has a better chance of success. In Asia-Pacific, countries with a fintech sandbox include Australia, Japan, Hong Kong Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

fintech regulatory sandbox
Regulatory sandboxes provide a controlled environment for fintech innovation

Open banking

Open banking describes the process by which banks share data with third parties with the aim of improving the financial services and products available to customers. In many countries, such as Australia, Hong Kong and UK, banking services are dominated by a few major institutions which can limit choice and competition. The idea is that open banking solves this problem by getting banks to share their data with non-banks, which are then in a stronger position to launch new products.

Many banks are embracing open banking and creating platforms for third-party developers to offer new innovations to their existing customer base. In that way a bank can be seen to be offering the best range of products and services while also retaining the customer relationship. For customers — business and retail — some of the oft-discussed benefits include having a single application that contains information from multiple bank accounts in one place, easier switching between bank providers, and quicker payment methods.

It’s not always up to the banks, though. Many countries have created open banking regulation that compels them to share data with other regulated providers, as the authorities seek to encourage competition and innovation. Key regulatory initiatives include PSD2 in the European Union, CMA Open Banking in the UK, Open API Framework in Hong Kong and Open Banking in Australia.

The sharing of data is usually achieved through an application programme interface (API), essentially a way for two systems to communicate with each other and share data. In some publications the term API is used interchangeably with open banking, even though this is not strictly correct. APIs are also not a new technology — well-known examples include Google giving access to its Maps data to use in the Uber app, or a flight search website communicating with airline websites to provide a list of flight options — but the term has come to greater public prominence with the push towards open banking.

Robo-advisors

This has been one of the most discussed themes in wealth management over the last few years. While the name conjures images of androids telling people which funds to buy, it is probably more accurate to speak of greater automation of wealth advisory services. In most cases this means using algorithms and artificial intelligence to guide clients to the best investments through a series of questions and options (a process that also in theory makes it easier to work backwards from desired outcome to optimal investment strategy). For now, it is rare for robo-advisors not to be used in conjunction with some level of human input.

The advantages for both the wealth manager and the client are that robo-advisors are more cost-effective than humans alone, and can often provide better outcomes as they are capable of crunching more data. But like any automation technology, it is only as good as the information that supports it, and the algorithms that provide potential solutions.

robo-advisors
Robo-advisors are more cost effective

Blockchain

It can be easy to get terms Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) confused as they are often used interchangeably. Blockchain is the most well-known example of a type of DLT. Part of the reason it is so high profile is because it is the technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain works by allowing users to enter information — a stock trade for example — into encrypted electronic blocks known as ledgers, with everybody in the chain receiving updated information at the same time, which speeds up transaction processing. This means there is no central database or record, and once information is entered it is immutable. This is why is it often viewed as a way to reduce fraud and prevent cyberattacks in financial transactions — you will often hear people talk about ‘a single source of truth’.

In financial services, most of the focus has been on so-called private or enterprise blockchains. These are blockchains that are only open to participants that are invited to be part of the platform. The underlying technology remains the same but they tend to be limited to regulated institutions and be more structured than public blockchains.

blockchain how it works

Initial Coin Offerings (ICO)

ICOs are a way for companies to raise funds for projects. They are often likened to initial public offerings (IPOs) and while they do have some similarities, there are some key differences including the fact that ICOs are not issued on a regulated exchange and do not have the same investor protections. ICOs can also be sold directly to investors without the requirement to go through a licenced intermediary.

So how does an ICO work? A company that wants to launch a new product or service will publish a whitepaper that explains the project and how it plans to use the funds from the ICO. The company will then issue and sell a set amount of crypto-tokens to investors, much like the shares a company issues during an IPO. The capital raised is used to fund the new product or service, and investors look to make returns from the rise in the value of the token. Like shares, the value of tokens can fall as well as rise.

In most countries, ICOs operate in a regulatory grey area. The sharp growth in ICOs (see chart), means regulators are taking a closer look at the instrument. Some countries, including South Korea and China, have banned ICOs, and the sector is likely to face stricter oversight in major markets in the future. The crypto-industry is also trying to meet the challenge presented by greater regulatory oversight by evolving the product. One potential answer is Security Token Offerings (see below).

For more on ICOs, check out the excellent Investopedia page.

initial coin offering volumes

Security Token Offerings (STO)

Security Token Offerings are a response from the crypto-industry to the need for a better regulated method of fundraising. Unlike ICOs, STOS are classified as securities (at least by the US Securities and Exchange Commission; China has already banned the instrument) and so must adhere to securities regulations. This means they offer more investor protection but correspondingly are more expensive for companies wishing to issue them.

As well as being regulated, STOs can be and are often backed by a tangible asset such as bonds, stocks or property. By ‘tokenizing’ these assets, they can be traded using distributed ledger technology (see blockchain section above). 

 

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