How One L.A. Agency Is Cracking Open a Window Into Chinese Consumer Data

Hylink’s Radix platform seeks greater transparency into the huge market

An ad for San Francisco's tourism board analyzed by Hylink's newest platform. Hylink

In digital marketing, when getting a view of even the most rudimentary audience figures, there is a relative amount of democratization in tools available. The smallest companies, with even a tiny amount of spend, have at least some level of third-party data access to understand consumer behaviors and campaign performance.

While these tools and data are readily available off the shelf in most places around the world, in China, it gets a bit more complicated. Data is more opaque, and there are no real unified platforms that can access some of the digital titans in the country like Baidu, Tencent,, WeChat and Alibaba.

“[Data partnerships] have been between an agency and client, client and publisher, and an agency and publisher,” said Humphrey Ho, managing director of North America for Hylink Digital, the largest independent digital agency in China. “It’s not readily available by simply registering for an ad account or platform. In China, it’s all about leverage and negotiation. The larger you are as an agency [or product] in terms of spend, the more access you have to data.”

One example is a partnership between Nielsen China and Alibaba’s Tmall announced last October that integrates data from the platform to provide insights into newly-launched products, especially in the FMCG category. IPG Mediabrands launched a similar program, to make better digital marketing decisions, in November 2018 on the heels of its Acxiom acquisition.

Sensing the need to democratize the data of 830 million Chinese internet users, Hylink launched Radix, a tool that analyzes post-campaign buy data and, specifically, social media analytics on popular platforms in the country, to help clients make more informed future advertising decisions. While reporting like this sounds familiar to most marketers in the west, it’s still an uphill climb for agencies and brands seeking insight from popular social platforms like WeChat and Weibo. Ho notes that the data marketers may expect in the west, doesn’t exist in China.

“Data like post-performance, performance in certain categories, or with images or keywords—things that one would expect as standard—doesn’t exist in general in China,” he said. “We now know what’s working from a content perspective and with content becoming increasingly more expensive and valuable, it’s good to know what types of content should be prioritized.”

“I’m able to get a look into all of our performance and branding campaigns in China,” said Dan Rosenbaum, global director of digital marketing for the San Francisco Travel Association, one of the many travel brands Hylink works with including Brand USA and Hawaiian Airlines as part of the agency’s travel subsidiary, launched last September.

Radix is not real-time—most of the time, the data delays are 72 hours—but it is a far cry from having to wait for a monthly or quarterly report. Additionally, Hylink clients can use a dedicated dashboard, a common practice with data analytics, to determine the effectiveness of campaigns.

“[The platform] allows us to feel more connected to China, our top overseas market,” added Rosenbaum.

As of now, Radix, and precisely, this kind of data for China is the only available platform aggregating and analyzing this kind of data. While there are plenty of other tools to help marketers in the vast Chinese market, because of Hylink’s scope and size, they can bring the data they’ve negotiated with platforms to their clients.

Moving forward, Ho and Hylink plan to exit beta phase (there is currently no branding or landing page) and white label the product to agency partners and clients in the form of a monthly subscription. At present, the agency is getting feedback from its current roster in exchange for the data.

“The insights that they have learned so far has been very valuable,” said Ho. “We don’t have an end date to our beta, but clients are taking advantage of this increased level of insight.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.