Review: SES Shanghai 2012

The second SES Shanghai was held in April this year. My feeling for the conference is a mix of excitement and disappointment that I would like to share with you.

As usual, Avinash’s opening keynote rocked! He not only challenged the status quo and brought the audience to a new marketing horizon, but also led the audience to think beyond those repetitive low-value metrics in analytics such as page view and visits.

Bill Hunt has always been my favorite. He literally is a database for marketing science. I moderated a CMS and SEO panel with Bill and Brent Deverman. In my opinion, it was the best panel in the show. Brent built using an open source CMS—Drupal—with bilingual content for multiple regions. is nearly a perfect example of web build developed for both the audience and search engines. And then we had Bill Hunt offer Brent some edgy SEO advice such as link strategy, domain strategy, concern for CDN, etc.

At the panel, I brought up Baidu’s crawl latency issue for foreign IP addresses. Bill further confirmed my understanding and set the record straight: “If you want Baidu to crawl your website, get a Chinese IP address for the web server.”

For Chinese speakers, frankly speaking, there is more good marketing practice to be done, and more room to improve. In fact, many of them seem to depend on “feel good” evaluation to support their marketing spend rather than pursuing metrics that enhance marketing achievements and valuate business results.

Take PepsiCo China as an example. It has abandoned its official website and redirected all the traffic to a Taobao’s TMall co-branded website. I have no idea how Pepsi is going to manage issues such as who is responsible for analytics, measure attribution and demographics, and who could possibly be the future media partner of PepsiCo China other than It all looks very bizarre to me.

Although social marketing continuously receives a lot of hype in China, it remains an unsolved mystery. In fact, I have never come across any tool that can precisely measure the effectiveness of social marketing. At SES Shanghai, almost all the social marketing case studies put brand awareness before all other metrics. Some advertisers who used to believe Weibo magic are now feeling skeptical toward the measurement of performance.

To reject the notion of branding as the sole metric for social marketing, I quote Avinash’s keynote:

…For the longest time we’ve practiced “shout marketing”… we “shout” as loudly as we can and as frequently as we can hoping that someone will hear us and be influenced.

Social media is very different. It works on the model of “conversational marketing.”…Marketers who just gather a huge number of followers, but don’t practice conversational marketing, do not accomplish anything in terms of short and long term business value.

To summarize my key takeaways of SES Shanghai 2012, I would say the China market still lags behind the U.S. market in analytics practice. Despite search being the largest platform in digital marketing, I don’t see much emphasis on attribution, keyword analysis, and content strategy. In my SES workshop, I asked a question about analytics practice. Almost all the audience was fond of the click stream and had no clue about attribution. What a heartbreaking truth!

Apparently it takes time for China’s digital market to grow itself into a data-driven scientific model. Nonetheless, it also means China is a land of opportunity for you if you practice scientific marketing.

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