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In the era of rapid technological advancements, marketing automation has become a fundamental asset to any business. It has the potential to not only streamline operations, but to significantly boost team efficiencies. To explore its various applications, we’re asking CMOs, VPs and other marketing executives how it can transform day-to-day tasks, foster innovation, and enhance performance. As a part of this series, we're interviewing Humphrey Ho.

Humphrey Ho

Humphrey Ho

Humphrey, a recipient of Forbes’ “Top 30 under 30” award in 2009, has since lectured at global business schools. He’s now focused on creating a global advertising agency with expertise in the APAC and American markets. With extensive experience in various sectors, including automotive, agriculture, technology, and travel, Humphrey’s leadership at Hylink Group has consistently garnered awards for the agency.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your personal backstory and how you got started? 

I've served as the managing partner of Hylink Group for the last eight years. Hylink Group is the largest independent advertising agency in the Asia-Pacific region. My journey began in Los Angeles, where I came to establish a scalable bridge for marketing communications between Asia and the Americas.

Hylink Group is an international organization with offices in key global cities such as Paris, Munich, Milan, Bogota, and Los Angeles. My focus has always been on pushing brands beyond their limits, particularly in terms of global scalability and strategy. My professional background includes significant experience at Google, Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), and in management consulting, which has equipped me with the tools to succeed in this space.

My main goal is to explore how marketing communications can transform a business across various dimensions, including creative media, branding, technology, and communications. Over the past eight years, I've been dedicated to building an integrated function within Hylink Group to address this fundamental question. Our success in this endeavor has led to Hylink Group becoming a $2 billion organization.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you’re grateful for?

Success is often a collaborative effort, and there are multiple people I'm grateful for in my journey. I had the privilege of learning and working under the guidance of advertising legends with over 50 years of experience in the industry, which left me with a treasure trove of wisdom and professional guidance that were possible through late nights of preparing pitches and debating ideas. During these moments, I truly appreciated the mentorship and guidance I received. These people shared their wisdom and instilled in me a sense of dedication and perseverance.

In our industry, success is undoubtedly a team effort, and I'm grateful for those I've had the opportunity to work with. I am fortunate to have learned from others and continue working alongside talented professionals who make our industry continue to thrive.

What are three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves? 

One crucial trait that has been instrumental in my journey is perseverance. It's about consistently pushing forward, even with the natural inclination to seek comfort. Perseverance means doing the opposite of what your body and mind often urge you to do, whether enduring long hours or navigating through setbacks and challenges. This dedication isn't merely hard work; it's a commitment to practice and accepting both failure and success as transient outcomes. Looking back, it's clear that this perseverance has led to the creation of unique solutions and driven transformative value for my clients. 

Perseverance is like refining a golf swing; it's not just about hitting the ball but carrying it to new horizons. Embracing perseverance means constantly striving for improvement and doing what's best, as good enough today may not be sufficient for the future—a valuable characteristic to cultivate in one's professional journey.

Which skills are you still trying to grow now?

The skills I am currently focusing on growing revolve around deepening my ability to adapt and connect with individuals locally. Throughout my professional journey, which has taken me from living in Shanghai to growing up in Hong Kong and working in the United States, I've come to appreciate the immense significance of comprehending local cultures and behaviors. Effective communication transcends mere language proficiency in my current role, where I collaborate with professionals from diverse regions like Singapore and overseas offices in locations as varied as Colombia and Europe. It necessitates a profound understanding of how people think and behave.

For instance, fluency in English alone is often insufficient. To thrive in different regions, it's essential to be open to acquiring new languages, such as Spanish or understanding local dialects like Shanghainese. Additionally, the concept of universal human truths holds great importance in my approach. Whether I'm tackling complex business challenges for clients, devising creative or digital solutions, or working on projects outside my geographical comfort zone, recognizing and leveraging the shared motivators that drive people—whether it's a desire for convenience or connection—is fundamental. This insight not only fuels the success of our campaigns but also fosters professional growth for myself and my team.

Over the past seven years, my career has undergone a remarkable transformation. I've shifted from client-focused work in the United States to leading an independent company with a global footprint—a rarity in the marketing and communications industry. This evolution has entailed the implementation of efficient processes and strategic management practices to navigate a range of crises, including those stemming from the pandemic and economic downturns. A significant aspect of this journey has involved gaining a deeper understanding of our team's unique motivations, tailoring opportunities to their individual aspirations, and ultimately aligning these with the overarching goals of our organization.

What impact has marketing automation had on streamlining and enhancing your team's operations, KPIs, and overall efficiency?

Hylink has taken proactive steps to embrace marketing automation software and leverage AI tools on a global scale. This strategic move has facilitated the seamless integration of AI and LLM technology into various roles within the company, resulting in exceptional performance improvements and enhanced team efficiency. Notably, this transformation has led to a substantial increase in productivity, ranging from 30% to 50%, across multiple roles, including developers, media buyers, graphic designers, and creative directors.

This upward trend in productivity is expected to continue. While the impact of automation and AI adoption may vary across roles, functions such as copywriting, illustration, front-end development, quality assurance (QA), and storyboarding have all experienced significant transformations. These transformations are a direct result of proactive upskilling efforts, which empower creative and strategic professionals to harness technology for their optimal performance.

In practice, the adoption of marketing automation has yielded tangible benefits. For instance, graphic designers who once manually handled the creation of thousands of banner adaptations now primarily oversee the process, ensuring accuracy and quality. Copywriters, previously tasked with generating ideas and content in isolation, now benefit from AI-powered co-pilots that assist in brainstorming and ideation. Coders, particularly those less experienced in specific coding languages, have found support in co-pilots that help reduce errors, automate quality checks, and improve coding practices.

What makes automation particularly intriguing is its ability to elevate Hylink's role as a strategic partner. With marketing automation, the company is positioned to offer valuable insights and strategic guidance to clients, moving beyond mere execution. This shift empowers Hylink to become a true thought partner, aligning with clients' objectives and goals.

What’s your favorite marketing automation tool and way in which to use it?

I don't have a specific preference. I appreciate any tool that incorporates recursive learning capabilities, as this feature enhances the adaptability and effectiveness of marketing automation efforts.

As far as the marketing tools we use, when it comes to managing new leads and inbound leads, our preferred tool of choice is HubSpot. HubSpot streamlines our lead management process by automating tasks related to leads, contacts, interaction tracking, and even calendar scheduling. It also provides valuable features for setting reminders and follow-ups, ensuring we stay organized and responsive.

For efficient productivity tracking, we rely on two key tools: insightful.io and Timecamp. These tools automate timesheet management and time tracking, allowing us to monitor and optimize our team's productivity effectively.

To maintain control over project costs and timelines, ClickUp plays a crucial role in our toolkit. ClickUp assists us in tracking project progress and expenses, ensuring that we stay within budget and meet project deadlines.

In the creative realm, we have a set of tools that inspire and support our teams. Bard and ChatGPT are invaluable resources for generating copy ideas and content inspiration. Meanwhile, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion serve as sources of inspiration for everyone, from graphic designers to client services, helping us create compelling PowerPoint presentations and engaging storytelling.

Ensuring a personalized customer experience is crucial in today's marketing landscape. How do you balance automation while maintaining a human touch?

HubSpot serves as our central contact point and marketing customer relationship management (CRM) system. However, we maintain a deliberate approach by limiting automated touchpoints with prospects or clients to a maximum of one. This strategy ensures that our conversations retain a natural, human-like flow and remain easily distinguishable as genuine interactions.

Data plays a fundamental role in our marketing automation efforts. We rely on data-driven insights to continuously refine and optimize our automated campaigns. Our approach involves collaboration with both third-party and first-party data providers, and we incorporate identity solutions into all our media activities. In line with Hylink Media's motto, "Media With Purpose," our campaigns are founded on data-driven decision-making.

As AI and machine learning technologies gain prominence, we have actively integrated these advancements into our operations. Our staff members are required to use a minimum of two AI tools daily as part of their routine, which is essential for career advancement within Hylink. This commitment extends to utilizing tools such as Github Copilot, ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Photoshop AI, collectively forming a sort of co-pilot or "cyber skeleton suit." This integration enhances not only task automation but also our ability to provide predictive insights, elevating the quality and impact of our work.

What strategies have you found most effective in integrating marketing automation with other departments, such as sales or customer service, to create a cohesive and efficient end-to-end customer experience?

ClickUp serves as a vital connector across all our departments, facilitating effective communication through email and chat. This enables some team members to actively utilize the platform, while others can simply monitor progress. The result is a unified source of truth that harmonizes execution, sales, and optimization efforts.

When it comes to implementing new marketing automation tools or processes within a pre-existing team, we follow a structured approach. We mandate annual tool reviews, ensuring that we continuously assess and enhance our technology stack. As part of our corporate culture, we pilot new tools with senior leadership first. If the tool proves effective and aligns with our requirements, we decide to scale up its usage.

We embrace change as an integral part of our operations, and our teams view annual upgrades as an expected and welcomed practice. This proactive approach allows us to stay at the forefront of technology and ensures that our tools align with our evolving needs. With the exception of Google Workspace, most of our technologies are regularly upgraded to keep pace with our demands and ambitions.

Based on your experience and success, what are five ways to use marketing automation to improve team efficiencies? 

Project Management: We rely on ClickUp as a pivotal tool in our project management solutions. It empowers our teams to maintain an organized record of communications, ensuring that we can easily trace "who said what" beyond the confines of email chains. Additionally, it simplifies the process of handing off responsibilities when team members are on vacation or out of the office.

Sales Automation: HubSpot CRM plays a central role in automating our sales lead generation efforts. This tool enables us to track inbound leads and manage conversations with prospective clients effectively. For new business prospects, our search campaigns lead to the generation of forms or whitepaper downloads, which subsequently transform into potential leads. With HubSpot CRM, we gain insights into critical metrics such as time to close deals and manage interactions with multiple stakeholders.

Productivity Tracking: Incorporating productivity tracking tools empowers high-performing team members to achieve an optimal work-life balance while maintaining control over their careers. Rather than being physically tied to an office, our globally distributed teams can have their time and productivity monitored, generating over 100 relevant metrics. This data not only supports HR initiatives but also transforms supervisors into productivity coaches rather than mere enforcers.

Delivery Enhancement: Coding tools such as Github and Jenkins play a pivotal role in automating code creation and suggesting optimal packages for implementation. This automation significantly boosts code delivery, often improving efficiency by up to 40%. This level of automation empowers developers, whether they are learning new languages or addressing unique challenges in their coding journey.

Error Reduction: Our automation tools are instrumental in reducing errors across various aspects, including spelling, calendaring, meeting scheduling, and the quality of graphics, text, and code outputs. By automating these processes, we ensure a higher degree of precision and consistency in our work, ultimately enhancing the quality of our deliverables.

Can you share a story about a challenge you faced with marketing automation, and how you overcame it? 

Marketing automation becomes significantly challenging when the chosen automation vendor or provider lacks proper support. Fortunately, in our experience, we've consistently prioritized selecting partners who offer excellent account services and management. This approach ensures we receive robust support throughout the implementation of any marketing automation tool.

As a result, we don't have any specific instances where we faced challenges due to inadequate support during the adoption of such tools. Our commitment to partnering with providers that emphasize robust account services has been a cornerstone of our successful automation initiatives.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be? 

Achieving daily continuous improvement is a fundamental aspect of my approach. While many leadership books emphasize practices such as self-reflection and high-performance management strategies, our focus is on avoiding potential bottlenecks in management and leadership. To accomplish this, we prioritize incremental enhancements in various facets of our work. Inspiring individuals to embrace continuous improvement in their lives and work is something I aim for.

Each day presents an opportunity to refine a specific aspect, whether it's enhancing storytelling skills, streamlining communication with partners and clients to minimize emails, or establishing more efficient team processes to boost productivity and reduce errors.

Our daily continuous improvement routine begins with an early start, followed by a reflection on the previous day's challenges or shortcomings. We take note of any areas that need refinement, treating them as opportunities for improvement rather than problems to be solved. This approach encourages us to proactively seek solutions and continually elevate our performance.

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Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.