InFocus: Interview with Dr. Mathew McDougall

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Today, we are interviewing CEO Dr. Mathew McDougall from Digital Jungle. digital marketing Agency, boasting 120+ staff in China and teams in Australia and Japan. Their primary focus is to work with Western organizations to deepen their relationships between their brand and Chinese consumers; through quality content and strategic thinking, to drive consumer action, and to deliver value and measurable results for our clients.


Can you tell us a little about the history of Digital Jungle?

Over the past 10 years or so, I have lived in Beijing and continually heard about the difficulties of Western companies marketing specifically to a Chinese audience. I was sure that these difficulties could be bridged with a niche digital marketing agency that could work with Western companies to help them navigate the Chinese market and contextualize their approaches and strategies. Hence, Digital Jungle was born. Now after almost 3 years, Digital Jungle is China’s largest independent content focused, digital marketing Agency, boasting 120+ staff in China and around the region. Our primary mission has not strayed too far from our initial vision and has remained focused on working with Western organizations to deepen their relationships between their brand and Chinese consumers, to create quality content and embrace strategic thinking, to drive consumer action, and to deliver value and measurable results for our clients.


You have been working in digital marketing for many years; what are some of the shifts you have seen in digital marketing over the last 5 years and how will these shifts affect the future in China?

5 years ago is like a lifetime in China. We have seen some fairly dramatic shifts, from mass broadcasting of advertising towards more personalized push/pull of social media platforms, the adoption of mobile/smartphone technologies and even at the macro level the general move towards data/analytics and measurement –a recent development which continues to evolve.

Over the past decade and also in more recently history is the fact that Digital Marketers in China had to, in many cases; establish for the first time many of the practices and standards that have become common over time.  I remember running a large Baidu Ad Union and seeing how this style of business morphed into an affiliate network, and how this model then changed because it was hard for advertisers to incent large Chinese media platforms to provide quality ad inventory with CPA offers.  Lots of issues that ran the gambit from the technical to the commercial had to be overcome to produce the digital media space you see today. Today, China has an innovative, thriving digital landscape that has many unique and wholly Chinese practices.


What advice would you give a client based on these observed shifts in digital marketing?

Be flexible, stay open to non-intuitive ideas and test, test, test.

Digital Marketing is about combining the best-learnt practices to create a complete user experience with minimal intrusion. I generally think marketers have looked at the marketing in the wrong way for many years and need to remember that people are social beings that communicate with stories and commentary. Digital marketing needs to take this notion and adopt its programs to reflect this. Humans generally will not accept intrusion, so you need to have your brand integrated into your target audiences’ life by offering content of value.   Once you have achieved this objective, a relationship between your brand and consumers will evolve. You have to build (and re-enforce) a relationship before expecting trust and acceptance. Much like real life.


What are the biggest mistakes companies make when they engage in digital marketing in China and how would you help a prospective client who has made these mistakes already?

Most common problem: Taking the same digital program from the West and dropping it into China. It is completely naïve to think Twitter = Weibo, Facebook = Renren etc. Many Chinese Agencies have created this misconception with an over simplification of the digital landscape but it has really done a disservice to Western digital marketers.

Another common issue is around data and information. The types of data and data sources pulled from analytics cannot be compared given the way tagging, filtering and fraud has skewed information sets.

There are a lot of common mistakes but these two mistakes account for most of the issues.


How do you think the digital marketing in China will change over the next year and over the next 5 years?

Like I mentioned before, 5 years is a lifetime, so it’s very difficult to predict what may happen, but certainly the shift away from desktop PCs (and traditional mediums) to mobile devices will continue and have a major impact for marketers. According to research, mobiles could soon become the main vehicle for accessing the Internet, with 70 percent of China’s new web users accessing the Internet via their phones.

Additionally, big data will become more relevant to marketers for their campaign/program analysis and execution.

Further, marketers will become less concerned about impressions and traffic views as the business pushes for more sales-and conversion-related outcomes.

Lastly, the brand will become the media. Although this has been predicted now for the last few years it is only now that content marketing has started to gain favor and the benefits of such approaches have started to become recognized.


How will Digital Jungle prepare to address these changes in the coming years?

One word: Evolution

All agencies need to evolve and change. In 2013, we developed a content studio to focus our core thinking around the development and research of content focused digital marketing. This will further evolve in 2014 to prepare for the shift to mobile distribution channels. New platforms will continue to enter and leave the Chinese landscape, new forms of content will come and go; Digital Jungle needs to be an active contributor in this ecosystem.


What is the first thing you tell prospective clients before working together?

First off, I would say, Digital Jungle is a partner not a supplier. We are committed to their business and outcomes; we are professional, dedicated and focused on your success. This is not just rhetoric but something our team believes and stands behind.

Second to that, forget everything you have learned about digital marketing in your home country. Unless, you are a Chinese marketer or you have sent years learning and understanding the Chinese digital media landscape, then forget many of the assumptions. Although, the basic ideas still hold true, the Chinese marketing landscape is vastly different and often misunderstood/underestimated. Many companies have grand ideas about digital marketing in China based on viral campaigns created by other companies. Some believe that all it takes is a Weibo account and a few posts and they’re on their way to 100 million views. But this is not the case, Chinese consumers, just like other sophisticated consumers around the world want quality information. The content that is going viral is often well crafted and ‘agency baked’. Although, many videos seem homemade or user generated this is not always the case. It is important to have an agency with a strong history in China help you enter the Chinese market.


What do you think is more important campaign results or fulfilling the clients’ needs/wants?

At the end of the day we need to have alignment on the outcomes of our work, so unless this is done we don’t start. This may take some education or discussions related to expectations with our client but Digital Jungle always wants a successful campaign, evidenced by campaign performance and client feedback.

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