The Bottom Line.
In this Asia-Pacific business Insight, Hong Kong Visa Geeza expert and Intelligent Content Marketing advocate Stephen Barnes discusses the complexity of creating a sustainable business brand in the region. “Asia is a race”, he says. Hence, considering the current connection economy, “you need a monopoly business strategy” if you want to maximize your odds of succeeding. With the increasing importance of the connection economy, indeed, the role of information is shifting. And you definitely want to be on the right side of the digital transformation.
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Stephen Barnes: “Asia is a race, you need a monopoly business strategy”.
Stephen, if you had to pick one significant trend in the Asia-Pacific region, which one would that be?
Stephen Barnes: Without a doubt, I see a very significant shift from an industrial economy model towards a connection economy mindset.
Under the industrial model, the main preoccupation was to identify, manage and exploit scarce resources to generate a profit. This has led to abundance – and abundance management – which in turn has created competition and less contact between people.
Considering the number of new technologies available, however, the region is now increasingly shifting to a new approach to business based on connections. That’s the connection economy, and it means that businesses will have no choice but to get back to the basics of business.
What business basics are you referring to?
SB: Trust, for starters. And the ability to give away something without an immediate return.
You see, for a long time, everything has been about selling, selling and selling. Information and knowledge have become power, and information is a real business. If you want to know something, you have to pay a dear price for it.
Nowadays, however, blogs and new sources of information have emerged. Paper is disappearing as an information model and the community is increasingly moving to freemium-based business models. You get some information for free, and then, if you need more, you can become a paying customer.
Long things short, relationship-building and trust-building have become the basics again, and you cannot conduct a successful business without them.
Interestingly, we recently talked about how technology was becoming a key asset in this new model with Ashley Galina Dudarenok…
SB: Yes, Ashley is an expert on the marketing side of digital transformation and we talk about the same thing. Trends in the region go towards more connectivity, and one of the reasons for this is that they help to build trust before selling.
>> Related reading: Ashley Galina Dudarenok says that “China is the future of technology”.
How did you implement this model in your own business line?
Stephen Barnes: I run a visa services business in Hong Kong and our whole model is based on this idea of sharing information to create a trusted relationship with future clients.
The business is very successful these days, but I started the adventure from nothing. Imagine a broke Britishman living in Australia, with an extensive Asia-focused experience, particularly in relation to the Hong Kong visa market. No cash, no way to invest, no consumers either. The only thing I had was my expertise, and I decided to share it for free.
Content marketing, then?
SB: Intelligent Content Marketing, actually. The reality is simple. I had nothing but my expertise and competitors – who had their own expertise, plus clients and a reputation. The only way up was twofold. One, identify a niche they wouldn’t be present in. Two, getting some visibility and becoming relevant to the community who needed my expertise in order to build a monopoly on that niche.
Starting a monopoly from scratch, in short.
Stephen Barnes: Yes, exactly. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore or Bali. Asia is a business race and if you want to settle in there, somewhere, you need a monopoly business strategy with a unique business plan.
The monopoly business strategy helps you to channel prospects in a natural way, and the intelligent content marketing strategy helps to get there efficiently. At the end of the day, my expertise got me to Hong Kong, but the idea works everywhere.
To what extent does your approach differ from classical content marketing?
SB: Content marketing is an incomplete concept in my opinion because in most cases it is about focusing on the business, about writing on the business and serving the business.
Considering how the connection economy works, the only way to create a regional reputation is to create value for the clients, wherever they are.
Often, clients look for peace of mind. This is the reason why they look for information, however in practice there is a huge information vacuum. Often, the information is not available, and when it is available it is either not provided in plain English (overly technical information is useless) or you need to pay for it.
The goal is simple: fill the information vacuum. Give people the information they want, and let them spread your ideas through word of mouth – digital or not. This is why I keep talking about ‘intelligent content marketing’ as the best way to build a monopoly business strategy. I did that through The Hong Kong Visa Geeza platform, where people can find all the information and guidance they need. And I’m there if they need backup.
What is your opinion on disruption?
SB: Disruption is a big trendy word these days but I don’t think that’s the recipe, really.
Businesses bring forward their ability to disrupt the markets as a way to be relevant but in my opinion, being relevant does not mean disrupting at all. Read Zero to One by Peter Thiel (from Paypal), it will tell you that the best way to succeed is not to reinvent the wheel. The goal is to see what people do and what they don’t do. What they do suggests that there is a market, and what they leave aside is possibly a niche to invest in.
If you think about it, there is so much going on in Asia at the moment that reinventing the wheel all the time is not possible. What you can do, however, is spot opportunities by improving something that people do not exploit. This is the best way to create your own monopoly.
Do you see this approach as a trend in your industry?
SB: My ‘industry’ is not really relevant here, because I created a monopoly on visa services in Hong Kong. The amount of competitors is very limited and therefore talking about an ‘industry’ is far-stretched.
Other than that, I think most people do not realize the significance of the connection economy yet. Even in Asia where it is developing particularly fast.
Businesses do not focus on creating information, they want to do business, this is it. But that’s a shame because the approach works and really helps building economic monopolies. I think you guys at the Asia-Pacific Circle know what I mean because your model is very similar to mine at the end of the day.
Would you share a couple of success and failure tips when it comes to doing business in the region?
Stephen Barnes: Excessive trust is probably the biggest source of failure. Stepping into Asian and Chinese markets is a big challenge when you don’t live here and if you don’t have a strong network to start with, so the temptation to lean on others is very strong. The question is, can you trust people? In many cases, my take is that you can’t, so placing your trust in the right people is essential.
Regarding success, my opinion is that you should find one thing you are good at doing, and then stick with it. If you have an expertise, chances are that you know more about your topic than most people. The challenge will be to adapt this knowledge and your approach to match market habits and needs. Otherwise, documenting this knowledge and making it available to those who need it is the best way to build relationships. Asia is a business race, so your expertise is your best asset.
Stephen Barnes | Hong Kong Visa Expert
Stephen Barnes is the Co-Founder of the Hong Kong Visa Centre, an agency specialized in visa management for the Hong Kong market, where he has been working for the past 25 years. In line with his Intelligent Content Marketing concept, he runs various content-rich websites such as the Hong Kong Visa Geeza.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of their author(s) only and do not reflect those of The Asia-Pacific Circle or of its editors unless otherwise stated.
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