There has been a growing desire among brands to take a political or social stance in their campaigns.
Marketers feel that connecting the brand with relevant causes and messages not only is their duty, but as their product interacts with millions of people every day, they believe that they are in a great position and scale to positively change the world.
As creatives, our role is to help brands to identify the right and relevant connections and communicate that with authenticity, and in the right tone.
In fact, I have always made a point to dedicate a small portion of my time for any client I work with to help connecting them with meaningful messages that do good in the world.
But identifying the right connections between a specific purpose and the brand is not easy. Without a credible history of advocating a certain cause, brands will only appear as opportunists.
Another key issue is the choice of media. Message with a purpose do not always fit into the traditional media format where it’s more a one-sided communication and not a dialogue with consumers. With limited length, lack of context or limitations in square inches, traditional media also often force brands to over-simplify or over-generalise their messages.
Nevertheless, we should continue to encourage brands to have a purpose, and we should also help to make sure that it aligns with the brands’ values, with messages that have been carefully crafted so they appear in all the right tones and play the right role. We should remind brands that they need to remain humble and wise and encourage conversations and inspire people rather than adopting a didactic tone.
Last but not the least, be sure to make it a long-term commitment, and not just blindly following what’s been trending.
I have gathered below some of the examples of brands investing in a relevant cause that engages with consumers. Whether they have been executed well or not? I like to hear what you think.
I also like to hear if you have any examples from local brands that had successfully achieved similar goals.
Gillette “The Best Men Can Be”
The brand attempted to take an ancient and highly distinctive slogan “Gillette, the best a man can get” and revitalise it for a new era. The film calls on men to improve themselves by standing up against bullying, sexism and harassment.
Volvo “Defiant Pioneers”
In 2018, Volvo partnered with Sky to produce a short film series entitled “Defiant Pioneers”, exploring the remarkably resilient recesses of the human mind. Chapter 6 of the series is a film called “Unseen Ocean” in support of the fight against plastic pollution in our oceans. In 2019, Volvo sustained the message and released a children’s book of the same theme. The book is available on Amazon and all proceeds will go towards City Kids Surfing, the non-profit founded by primary school teacher Tom Franklin, who featured in Volvo’s “Unseen Ocean” videos.
Heineken “Open Your World
The Heineken’s “Open Your World” campaign challenges Brits to break down barriers and find common ground with others who have opposing views.
Nike “Dream Crazy”
Nike launched “Dream Crazy” campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary activity for the “Just Do It” campaign. The film features athletes including tennis star Serena Williams, American footballers Odell Beckham Jr and Shaquem Griffin, skateboarder Lacey Baker and the controversial Colin Kaepernick.
Nike “Dream Crazier”
Nike’s answer to the follow up on the “Dream Crazy” campaign. It features a voiceover by Serena Williams and celebrates female athletes who have broken barriers.
The Body Shop “In Our Hands”
At the start of 2019, The Body Shop is putting “activism at the heart of its brand strategy”and turn its stores into “activist hubs” and attract more visitors to its shops.
In 2018, Lush launched the campaign, promoted using the hashtag #spycops, with Lush storefronts decorated with fake police tape emblazoned with the slogan: “Police have crossed the line.” The brand claimed that the campaign had a specific aim to make changes to the undercover policing inquiry, and to address “a controversial branch of political undercover policing that ran for many years before being exposed.”
Dove’s launched “Crown” in partnership with Kelly Rowland, at the GRAMMY Awards in 2019. The music video centred around self-esteem and confidence.
Vivienne Westwood has long stood for what she believes in over the years, from green energy to freedom of speech to anti-fracking, and this was one of the many manifestations of the campaigns she involved in.
When it comes to building a global campaign, most people will naturally think of visual and copy content – expressing the universal truth with locally relevant images and articulating the global messages with copy that resonates with the local audiences. But telling the brand story isn’t just about what images and copy, an aspect of a global campaign that not many people invest in is how the brand “sounds”.
I am not referring to designing just a sonic element or trigger that appears in the campaign – the Intel’s “Bong”, the Nokia’s “Grade Vals”, or Motorola’s “Hello Moto”. These are valuable addition to the execution that could add memorability and longevity to a campaign, but they are not enough to help communicate the emotional side of the brand message. Consumers have also entered into a truly connected world where the use of sound cohesively across all touchpoints – online, offline, events and a diverse form of customer interactions. The sonic branding has to act as the glue for communications across time, territories and touchpoints, locally and globally.
The recent manifestation of the HSBC’s “Together We Thrive” global platform perhaps have done just that. A series of commercials have been launched communicating the message of “shared prosperity” (inspired by the Chinese name of HSBC 滙豐) and the diverse nature of the brand, building on the visual identity that the outdoor campaign kicked off last year. To allow the core brand message to be flexed in each local region, a bespoke piece of music has been composed, created by Jean-Michel Jarre, that allows endless local interpretations expressing intricate nuances.
Orchestrating a global campaign requires great leadership and vision from the top, and complete collaboration at the local level. Music can be a shared “language” that everyone can contribute and build on.
On an execution level, music, rather than just an add-on to an idea, can also become a platform to support multiple activation between customers and the brand. I am looking forward to seeing how this will develop in the coming months.
Advertising is a reflection of our times. It always has been.
Advertising of brands, like music and movies, can be a social message in itself. It influences how we look, what we eat and sometimes how we see ourselves.
So when brands join force with another global and cultural phenomenon, such as sports, it can be even more powerful.
Brands want to be more “human”, and are a lot more open-minded to have a point of view. They understand in order to do this genuinely they need to allow people to have a voice.
Athletes understand their roles in the society and are more authoritative than ever to choose what brand they like to use as a platform to allow them to have a voice, and represent their values.
But in a commercial world, brands have a lot to be accounted for.
Brands have every pressure from the shareholders to invest only in messages that guaranteed sales growth.
Brands have every right to avoid associating with sensitive political issues.
Brands have all the reasons to communicate a message that appeals to “everyone”.
Thank goodness Nike is not such a brand.
The recent Nike campaignmakes no direct reference to any political viewpoints, but by featuring Colin Kaepernick (among Lebron James, Serena Williams and a slew of other athletes), the association to his protest against racial injustice, and decided to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem before a 2016 National Football League preseason game is clear.
What’s so compelling about the Nike message is not because it’s charged with one of the most sensitive political messages at the moment, and confronting face to face with one of the most controversial leaders in American history, it’s the pure fact that this is so true to what we know about the brand – someone who has the courage to speak his/her mind, and giving people of any background the space to expression theirs.
Not every brand can do this though. Any brand who hasn’t got that long established history of credential and integrity, will come out feeling sheer opportunistic.
The clever approach of Nike is that it does not have to express a single point of view but just create a stage for the broad range of people to express the breadth of their standpoints. In the process, bring people of many different backgrounds together.
It makes the brand feels more human, an advocate of freedom of speech rather than siding with one point of view.
True, after the news went viral, it pulled waves of both support and backlash, even boycott. The brand’s shares dipped in reaction to the news. But on the other hand, the campaign also received millions of dollars of media exposure. Perhaps all these have fulfilled the brand’s calculated cost benefit analysis, in communicating the message of an inclusive world for all.
Even if some people don’t agree with what you are saying, they will appreciate that you have the courage to say it and speak up.
Perhaps it’s really time for brands to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.
When I started writing this blog I asked myself what it should focus on. Should it be about branding – adapting the brand identity, developing the Chinese brand name (from the legal entity name to the much more complex consumer- facing naming architecture)? Should it be about product development strategy – adapting the product from the ground up to fit the market, and consumers’ lifestyle and aspirations, as well as reflect the competition? Or should it be about making marketing content fit the unique media landscape with specific local brand messaging and content strategy? And what about the more operational side, like establishing local partnerships, sales channels and even recruiting local talent?
The truth is, when you’re marketing a brand outside its home country, you face all sorts of challenges – and they’re all intertwined with each other. And nowhere is that more true than China.
In all my experience of adapting global brands for Chinese consumers, I can’t think of a single example where it wasn’t necessary to change positioning and marketing mix in a big way. I’ve transformed product positioning of consumer products like Kit Kat from a self-indulgent treat to a sharing sensation among friends. I’ve searched far and wide to find spokespeople for global brands like Lux and American Express who can truly resonate with a local audience and still stay in sync with the essence of those brands.
Of course, none of this precludes the eternal debate about how feasible or desirable it is to be globally consistent. Or the need to remember that ‘consistency’ doesn’t equal a one-size-fits-all literal interpretation of a tagline. How should HSBC speak in the same tone as the rest of the world as ‘The World’s Local Bank 环球金融 地方智慧’ (HSBC had changed its global brand platform to ‘World’s Leading International Bank’ since 2011) but express consumer benefits in a really direct way? How should a fast-moving fashion brand like H&M stand out by toning down its price point and promoting its trend credentials instead? How do British brands like Pret A Manger find their purpose and emotional attachments in the context of the local culture, so they do more than just sell food?
To make brands relevant and trigger loyalty that adds up to a sustainable price premium, global brands have to get in step with local cultural imperatives and operational realities. At the risk of over-simplifying or making sweeping generalisations, here are some thoughts about the differences they can expect to find in China.
Are you talking to me?
Language is perhaps the most tangible. One of the first tasks of the marketing plan is to develop the brand name (an equivalent of the global brand identity). That’s before you even start to develop and adapt the brand proposition, key messaging and overall content. To succeed, you need to understand both global intent and local context. If you blindly follow the conventional idea of consistency and ignore local nuances, you’ll almost certainly fail.
When it comes to Chinese names for global brands, going for the safe option of the phonetic equivalent will end up sounding like everyone else. But over-rationalizing could leave you with a name that reflects the marketing brief rather than sounding like something born natively for the local market. In 2017, Airbnb relaunched in China with a new Chinese brand name 爱彼迎(pronounced ài bi yíng) that means ‘welcoming each other with love’. But reaction has been mixed, with many already comparing the company’s strategy with other brands who have failed in China. According to AdAge, Airbnb spent a year deciding on the Chinese characters that made up the name, with brand consultancy Labbrand consumer testing over 1,000 possibilities. Yet the result has been widely criticized in the press and on social media.
Airbnb’s launch campaign in China
Names can be very subjective. So use clear criteria to help you choose. Once you’re down to a shortlist, research can be useful. Carefully testing names with your target audience will help you gauge appeal and weed out any unanticipated negative reactions. Research can’t tell you everything, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you use . Nor should it stop you taking calculated risks or simply trusting your instinct. But it does help guide decision-making and build consensus among your stakeholders.
It’s not just what you say, but how you say it
Another big difference for brands in China is how to talk about benefits. They need to be prominent, but brands also need to talk about what they mean for the greater good, not just the individual. , The western idea of reinforcing ‘what I want, and how I feel’ irrespective of societal consequences doesn’t work. So the brand communications of Holiday Inn Express, an InterContinental Hotels Group brand, emphasize ‘smart choice’ rather than just ‘efficiency’. Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’ proposition that emphasizes endless striving for personal progression has to be ‘shared’ and ‘recognized’ among peers. Mercedes Benz, one of the best-selling brands in China, elegantly fused its global positioning with a Chinese declaration of ambition in a recent campaign, executed as a six-page gatefold ad with the headline ‘For the world, we open a new page’.
Mercedes Benz shows its presence in the Chinese market through heavy advertising spend, including this gatefold spread launched in January 2018.
It’s not just how you say it, but where
Comparisons between Western markets and China often focus on the difference in internet penetration and smartphone adoption. But the popularity of smartphones has increased dramatically in China. And digital platforms are evolving fast to become part of Chinese consumers’ daily lives.
China’s internet economy has now raced ahead of the West’s, making China a truly mobile-first market. Besides the sheer size that goes with a billion-plus population, it’s also ahead on features. Consumers in China can now use the internet, specifically WeChat 微信(Pronounced Weixin in Mandarin), to do an extraordinary number of things. Apart from messaging (the key feature when the brand launched in 2011), it’s evolved to include voice and video calls, integrated news and public service announcements, gifting, ride-hailing, food delivery, doctor/dentist bookings, and even visa applications. It integrates social media, search and e-commerce, all inside one walled garden. A recent official report estimates that, as of September 2017, an average 902 million users log in to WeChat daily, up 17% year-on-year, and send 38 billion messages.
WeChat’s reach is appealing for global brands. But it also makes it easier to do business in China by bypassing stringent licence requirements. On the other hand, its multi-disciplinary nature makes it incredibly challenging to create appropriate content fundamentally different to the fragmented content in the West.
As a start, an official presence on WeChat can help global brands control their marketing message in China, create personalised interactions with their audience and directly manage customer relationships through the app. All of that could have a huge impact on brand loyalty if they handle it with care. Chinese consumers can discover and find out about brands and their products, interact with trusted friends and buy items all through one platform. So content needs to fulfill long-term brand building objectives: bridging online and offline experiences, creating a distinctive tone of voice, acting as a customer service with social listening functions, and creating a seamless buying experience.
WeChat is extending its reach to a version for business communication called Enterprise WeChat. Among other things, it lets employees track their annual leave days and expenses, and clock in and out. To underline the scale of adoption, DiDi ChuXing, the latest brand success in China, has encouraged its 7,000 staff to communicate almost exclusively on Enterprise WeChat.
Don’t just spot differences, celebrate them
Chinese consumers are increasingly sensitive to how global brands behave in the market. Brands that celebrate local culture while skilfully infiltrating their global essence can win their hearts, especially if they bypass one-size-fits-all global consistency to craft a local tone of voice. Global brands need a ‘first follower’ in China to localize and lend authenticity to the brand. In 2017, Burberry chose China’s pop, movie and fashion sensation Kris Wu as their first local Key Opinion Leader (KOL). That opened up China’s millennial market, giving the brand social currency to let its message spread on the many social commerce platforms.
Another powerful tactic is to allow local interpretations of global ideas. In December 2017, Adidas re-imagined its ‘Original is never finished’ creative platform with a new set of creators from all over the world including Kendall Jenner, James Harden, 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Eason Chan. It proved that when you create freely, the outcome will always be original, globally.
The global edit:
The Hong Kong edit:
The Korean edit:
China is complicated. Economically, socially, culturally and demographically, not to mention politically – whichever way you look at China, it bears little resemblance to the West. And it keeps getting more and more complicated. So one blog will never cover all the golden rules on marketing there.
There’s no single route to success when launching your brand in China. But it’s safe to say you need a plan that works for your brand and product category, and your ambition in the market. There are also other issues, like product extension, local legislation, censorship, and product safety (especially for food brands). All these steps are essentials you’ll have to consider before developing any marketing strategy for China.
Note: I have contributed this blog to VengaGlobal and Gala. An edited version of it had appeared on my LinkedIn profile.
Coca-Cola recently announced their “One Brand” strategy. A series of changes affecting the advertising campaigns for the portfolio of brands, and the detail packaging design alignments were announced. This shift from brand-specific advertising will see the brand uniting all four distinct brands – classic Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life, logically under one master brand marketing banner: The Coca-Cola family. The objective is to drive synergy across the portfolio.
The overriding tactic is that Coca-Cola is the only thing the company will position and give meaning to, and underneath it will sit different product variants. Each variant will be equal in the overall portfolio but “won’t have a meaning attached to them.”
Coca-Cola continuously ranked at the top in the world’s global brand rankings over the years. In 2013, according to The Best Global Brand from Interbrand, it slipped from the top spot after 13 years to third place. Perhaps it was the “wake up call” for the brand. But was the dilution of brand strength really due to its diversification into campaigns for individual product variant?
The strategy was an outcome of recent consumer research, which revealed that 5 out of 10 of consumers don’t know what differentiates each product in its portfolio. For example, people don’t know that Coke Zero has no sugar and no calories. Consumers are also unclear about the different between Coke Zero and Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola considered the company’s efforts to build personality behind its individual brands has become an obstacle to consumers’ understanding of the products.
Building meaning in the communications will not affect consumers’ understanding of the product. A brand under the brand halo itself could become an identity in its own right, as opposed to just being seen as one of the variants. I believe the heart of the matter is when the “meaning” is not connecting with what the product represents, then it ends up a waste of effort.
Product differentiation is increasingly hard for brands operating under portfolio brand strategy. From FMCG brands to service brands, the fragmentation of brand messages often causes confusion in consumers’ mind. When HSBC launched the “Personal Economy” platform for their “Premier Account”, was it distinctive enough to help consumers to clearly differentiate among the “Premier”, “Advance” and “Business” accounts? Do consumers clearly recall the commercial starring Jude Law was for Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label? What about the differences among Red Label, Black Label, Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label? How does the whole range connect with the brand message of “Keep Walking”?
The list goes on.
In the case of Coca-Cola, should the “Open Happiness” platform be given an even bigger playground with universal appeal? Or should it be changed to a more rational statement such as “Choose Happiness”?
The “One Brand” strategy will be executed on campaign level and on product level, and will affect agencies working within the framework. Some of the changes can be summarised as:
The newly evolved brand tagline “Choose Happiness” will be launched in Great Britain before moving to the local markets globally. It will be hugely interesting to see how the tagline could be adapted.
New brand campaigns will focus on the brand idea of happiness and optimism and will roll out in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Nordics and Spain.
All advertising campaigns from May in Northern Europe will feature all four products, with the lower and no sugar Coca-Cola variants presented in the final frames of all Coca-Cola TV ads.
Although all four variants will feature in future campaigns, Coke will be able to spotlight or “hero” whichever variant is relevant to the campaign, through visual representation and strategic executions.
Individual campaigns for individual product variant will be scrapped. That includes some of the newly launched campaigns such as “Regret Nothing” for Diet Coke.
Brand message will suggest there is a “Coca-Cola to suit every taste” by more clearly communicating product differentiation rather than personality – to enable consumers to make informed choices.
On the product level, some of the strategic changes include:
New packaging will see each variant being given the “same design” and set of characteristics, such as the iconic Coca-Cola script, ribbon and layout.
The “Cola-Cola” trademark will be made larger and more visible, with more presence of the iconic red colour.
Text will also be added to the front of Coke Zero, Coke Life and Diet Coke to enable consumers to better understand the range of products and the distinctive attributes of each. On the front of Coke Zero cans, the descriptor “zero sugar – great Coke taste” will be strategically repositioned in the foreground.
There will be an introduction of colour coded front-of-pack labelling showing fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories.
All these design changes are aiming to create a more visual “common identity” across the brands. The more unifying set of characteristics that the brand shares.
We are already seeing some of the new ads hitting major touchpoints.
In brand advertising, the big change can be seen in the latest global print campaign starring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis in celebration of the 100 anniversary of the brand’s contour bottle.
In product-as-hero communications we see a deliberate attempt to present the range in equal light. But will the execution help the different product characteristics come to life when “product truth” are being communicated in a much more straightforward way? Or will the lack of “meaning” turn the ads into something better fit for corporate presentations? The result is yet to be discovered.
New strategy brings new collaborations
At the end of the day, any new strategy won’t succeed without collaboration across the board. Here are some of my predictions:
Communicating product truth for each product variant is important but cannot be done without the support of a meaningful brand message. Product message needs to be connected with the brand’s umbrella message.
It’s not a choice between logic and magic, but a balance.
On a positive side, I think the strategy will be instrumental in paving the way to a more efficient and single-minded global campaigns. But this will only be achieved through rethinking how the brand campaigns are created and implemented across each product in the portfolio.
Doing it well, it will allow the brand to innovate into the future with a single voice, and do it in a way that doesn’t require the brand to invest in creating a new entity every time – a much more flexible approach in accommodating product manifestations.
I can also see there will be a need for tighter collaborations among the creative agencies handling different channels. Leadership will probably be driven centrally, where collaborations among agencies are encouraged and well facilitated.
The lead creative agency, on the other hand, needs to spearhead the development of the big brand idea, and create a strong creative platform on which messages of individual brand in the portfolio can build on. More important, creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. Each agency needs to put their egos aside and completely understands the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.
For a global brand with local connections and meanings, any new creative platform needs to offer each country an opportunity to interpret its own “moments of happiness” and the brand’s role in those. The brand should tap into local talent to add to the effort to their marketing programs through joint global initiatives.
When developing a global campaign for a local market, the first thing many people might consider is how do we maintain the global idea and adapt it in a creative way so that it is relevant to the local market.
Or make sure we use local creative talent to craft the content, from copywriting, art direction down to every detail in the execution. Making sure that the advertising appears just like it was created with the local audience in mind in the first place.
Perhaps choosing the right media-mix with targeted consumer touchpoints that works best for the local consumers. Such as creating outdoor billboards for Latin America, or enhancing consumer engagement with a concerted social media initiative for China.
All of the above are true.
But one fundamental question we sometimes forget to consider is whether the product itself needs to be fine-tuned.
A mobile phone brand could be a business tool in one market but a fashion accessory and status symbol in another.
A hotel brand may appeal to leisure travellers in one country but has developed with a stronger business travellers focus in another.
The brand core values remain globally universal, but the way the product is “formulated” can be different. That goes beyond just crafting the global advertising and making it work, but take a step back and look at how the product can be localised and presented.
Sometimes it means getting out of the brand’s own comfort zone.
In China, Oreo has always been popular among kids. Their tagline “扭一扭，舔一舔，泡一泡” (roughly translated as “Twist it. Lick it. Dunk it.”) was established ever since the brand launched it back in 1996. The product is synonymous with the child-like style of fun. But they seem to have fallen into a victim of their success. Kids reaching a certain age have grown out of it, and stop finding it relevant to them.
So Oreo recently reinvented an extension of the product by introducing a “slim version” targeting to the trendy female adult audiences. Supported by a locally relevant multi-platform campaign and social media push. The brand personality of “fun” has been maintained, while attracting and retaining a new audience segment along the way.
Great global brands can be twisted, shaped and turned in all sorts of ways yet still remain recognisable. Different communication strategy needs to be considered at different stage of market development.
At the end, adapting a global campaign of a global brand is a marketing exercise, not just an executional exercise.
What are some of the other good examples that you have come across in your local market?
You can tell a lot about a person by the apps on the front screen of their phones. For Apple, you can tell a lot about a person by the front cover of their MacBook Air!
A new TVC for the latest generation of MacBook Air features over 100 customized front covers of the machine. The graphics all integrate perfectly with the Apple logo (complete with scratches and dents). It symbolizes the fact that consumers are now taking charge of any brand.
These days, for ideas to soar, we have to transfer ownership of the idea to people, so it can be integrated with local culture. Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign replacing the logo with thousands of people’s names has been a success all over the world. The recent Airbnb identity celebrates the “share economy” by allowing hosts to customize the Airbnb “Bélo” logo with their choice, turning the brand into something that people feel they belong to. A customizable idea is the secret of a global campaign.
The visual oriented execution of the new MacBook Air is a perfect example to demonstrate that ideas can naturally go global, without any worry about cultural differences. I can imagine that the execution could also be tailored-made with such accuracy and relevancy for each market, without losing the essence of the creative platform. The potential to allow the idea to flourish in different social media platforms, letting consumers to customize, tag, pin, share and follow, is enormous.
Airbnb had just unveiled their new identity as part of a brand overhaul. Many people would say that it’s time for the brand to think global. Afterall, in 2013, it was reported that more than 10 million guests stayed at an Airbnb rental. On a global scale, counting “beds on offer”, Airbnb is already the fifth-largest “hotelier” in the world, with unparalleled global reach. However, despite the scale of its success, what does the brand stands for?
Technology brands traditionally tend to believe that better products will win the market, therefore putting brand building as something of a luxury or an afterthought. They often also need to push to the market quickly and going global from day one, very little thoughts have been put in crafting something that works across different cultures.
So it is great to see that Airbnb starts to think more holistically. In 2013, their strategy was to build the company into one that delivers “a seamless end-to-end experience when its customers travel”. That’s a pretty transformational statement. Let’s take a look at some of the areas that the new identity will help to achieve this in the long run.
A meaningful story
For a brand to succeed, it has to mean something – something that matters to people they want to connect with. If it doesn’t, no matter how sharp the graphic design of the logo, or how unique the choice of color, fonts and all that, it will not work. Airbnb has crafted a rather interesting message here. In the introduction video that accompanies the launch, it eloquently explains that while the world is getting bigger, people feel less connected. Recognizing the desire of people to connect and share, is the reason why the brand stands for a world where people can “belong everywhere”.
For a change, even the logo has a name. It’s called Bélo. The key message is that it has transformed the “transaction” from a pure mechanical “accommodation booking” to a “connector” from which you can find a place where you feel you belong to. Like a friend with a name.
There is indeed a trend that we all crave for human interaction in the world of digital channels. When you buy a book from Amazon, it might add to the memory and experience if you know that someone you know is also reading the same book. Recent research also have found that LinkedIn lacks the emotional attachments that encourage people to stay and spend time on the platform, which sparked the recent brand positioning drive worldwide.
Giving power back to the consumers
Consumers no longer engage with one-sided marketing messages. Social media has further intensified this relationship. Consumers are now more connected as they have an easy access to information. The battleground is now leveled and consumers have all the power to shape your brand and bend it right. It makes sense that this way of thinking starts right from how the brand is conceived, literally.
“The community has outgrown the brand” Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, said passionately about how “friendship” is an element of the brand that has been so underrepresented.
The Airbnb Bélo was designed to be accessible and universal so that it “can be drawn by everyone”. To facilitate that, users of Airbnb can personalize the logo and place in their property or share it with the community. The companion project “Create Airbnb” has put this in practice and let the users to experiment with it. The notion of a “shared brand identity” is a bold one (though I have to stress that it is not the first time that a brand has done it) and it shows the brand’s confidence and really meant what they say.
More important, this is not just a trademark, but a platform for future growth. It paves the way for the development of other “sharing-economy services” down the road. At the end, a good identity defines what the business is and where it is going.
Creating a culture and a movement
The idea that the logo is so simple that anyone can draw it, and so basic that it’s not likely to be drawn the same way twice, connotes something larger than the logo itself. It celebrates and embraces diversity and recognizes the fact that everyone is different. Unlike a typical hotel brand that guests may need to conform to what the brand projects, with Airbnb, you have the feeling that you are in charge.
A brand is no longer just about the product, but about creating a culture and a “movement”.
So, what’s next?
I hope the new brand identity really lives up to the brand’s ambitions, and provides a fertile ground for product extensions. Whether the rather bold statement and fully customizable brand identity will be able to withstand the risks that in certain markets there could be a sudden influx of copycats bearing a similar “identity” is yet to be seen. But I think as a defining statement of what the brand stands for, it is instrumental in crafting a pretty clear and sharp picture.
What I think also interesting is how the identity could be interpreted for the users in different countries, and how the message of “belonging” could be adapted globally, regardless of territories or language barriers.
When a western brand enters a foreign market, a lot of people will first set sight on the name. However, a name, as important as it seems, is just part of the defining factors. Let’s take a look at how a few brands across different categories have done recently.
When American casual fashion brand Old Navy opened their 22,000 square foot, three-level flagship store in Shanghai in March, they did not launch with a Chinese name. Critics came pouring in right after. Some people criticised the overtly American presentation in their merchandising and launch activities. Old Navy may not be a brand that can accelerate so quickly in the market. Their parent brand GAP (also without a consumer facing Chinese name) launched their own-brand shop in 2010 in China, and is still gradually finding their way in the market. Shanghai is likely to act as their platform to anchor their presence and pave the way for a nation-wide launch of their e-commerce business, and that will be the time when their Chinese brand name will play an important role.
Within the everyday fashion category, it is common for brands to launch without their Chinese name. H&M and ZARA, among others, all followed the same formula. When I worked on the launch of H&M in Shanghai and Hong Kong at the time, what the campaign had managed to achieve was to establish a new ‘category’ in the market. The message was defined through innovative media and owned channels such as their own house magazines. The brand also came in at a time when the millennial generation emerged, and ‘affordable fashion’ perfectly fits what they need. In a market filled with all kinds of Chinese fashion brand names, it was perhaps wise for these brands to focus on their authenticity. What latecomers like Old Navy need now is to craft the next ‘movement’, and to break the new dress code into the mass market. Perhaps adopting the notion of ‘made with Chinese’ rather than the traditional approach of ‘made for Chinese’, and leverage the impact of co-creation with the younger generation in the country. That, to me, is the real localization tactic.
This was, apparently, what Jamie Oliver said in his video announcing the opening of Jamie’s Italian in Causeway Bay, the heart of the busiest district in Hong Kong.
Traditionally, food is not an easy export. Even though Italian food is arguably one of the most accessible cuisine in the world, and starting with Hong Kong is going to give the brand a good testing ground of the concept, before they enter further into the mainland market. Jamie Oliver cleverly adopts his down-to-earth persona by appearing to be playful in this promotional video. A subtle way to say, “Hey, mixing with local culture is in my DNA”. If he is clever enough to ride on his personal brand, he should engage with the local market through his fantastic social enterprise activities and food revolution campaigns. I believe there is a market for a meaningful brand – a global one.
Professional social network
In a different category, Linkedin has just announced their expansion in China and has launched a simplified Chinese language beta-site branded “领英” (literally meaning ‘Leading Elite’, phonetically as ‘lǐng yīng’). Linkedin (the global site) claimed to have more than 4 million members within China already, but through the partnership with Sequoia China and CBC, they hope to refine and localize the product’s offerings to the Chinese users. The decision to launch with a Chinese brand name, in their case, will help to make sure the Chinese users can communicate comfortably in native language in a business context. However, whether they can fine-tune the nuisances of the communications within the platform to reflect the Asian way of communications is yet to be seen. And once communications start to involve cross-border interactions, how can they effectively help global users to connect and communicate successfully and seamlessly, is also a crucial element. All these challenges, is not just a well-coined Chinese phrase can help.
Think beyond language
A well thought out localized brand name, is just one of the ways to gain traction in the market. The most important part is whether the brand can identify the ‘market’ for their product. They should have the insight to localize the product elements and understand how they can fit into the lifestyle of the local market. Without a clear positioning, finding a Chinese name may just be another hit and miss exercise.
There is a subtle difference between brand pushing messages to consumers, and letting consumers discover what the brand represents.
Recently, a giant pavilion in the shape of a Louis Vuitton suitcase emerged on Moscow’s Red Square. The construction is part of an exhibition called “The Soul of Travel”, marking Louis Vuitton’s 150th anniversary. The blatant display of branding in a conservative culture didn’t go down well.
In fact, consumers in parts of the world where branded goods used to represent status are now turning towards more subtle expressions of taste. China is one of them, and luxury products have already seen heavily branded merchandises slowly losing their charm.
Brand presence has to be more intelligent, subtle, understated, and localised.
In doing so, brands need to dig deep into their DNA or develop a multidimensional personality, and not just fulfilling a functional benefit. Sportswear is not just for helping people excel in sports performance but as a fashion statement; cosmetics is not just about beauty but about fulfilling a social purpose; and coffee shops are not just about beans but about sharing with friends.
Brands are also becoming more like publishers. Creating content around the brand needs more than just one dimension. To be involved in popular culture, particularly the creative side, gives brands the opportunities to contextualize the brand stories, and build key components of their brand promise. It can also give them “currency” and relevance in specific local markets.
There’s a trend that resonates this movement – brands are making the most of retail space. Not just as a place for transaction of sales, but also as a place where they can project a multidimensional character of their brand.
The beauty and make up company Sephora created a pop-up museum concept in New York entitled “Sensorium” in 2011. The category of perfumes has always been solely relaying on glossy print ads and images, but the interactive journey of the setting of the “Sensorium” space introduces consumers to a new way of appreciation of fragrance. All of a sudden, beauty is not just skin deep, but adds a layer of intelligence to it.
In September this year, Starbucks opened two flagship stores in Beijing. They are not ordinary flagships, they are brand-defining establishments. One, located at Beijing’s glitzy and busiest Kerry Centre, is a 4,000 square-foot, two-story “coffee tribute”. The temple-like space features a giant, bold, Starbucks siren icon on the exterior of the building that illuminates at night. The other “eclectic” version, located in Sanlitun, is a 24/7 operation. Featuring ceiling-to-floor glass windows with a special club on the second floor called “Club 1971” that features live music by local talents on weekends. The Chinese Millennials are in dominance. It also reflects the young Chinese growing up in the one-child system with a strong desire to connect with their brothers and sisters outside the family.
In Shanghai, Under Armour opened its first store in China by blending art and science, presenting the Chinese consumers a sensory journey into the brand. The “retail theatre” is located in the new Jing An Kerry Centre, and designed by Marc Thorpe Design in collaboration with HUSH Studio.
China has a complex relationship with sports, although Chinese athletes are winning more medals in the global stage, but still relatively few Chinese has a personal relationship with sports. Global brands such as adidas adapted their strategy by creating two different divisions, on the one had is their flagship sports performance line; and on the other hand, capturing an aspect that translate sports into lifestyle and fashion. The result is, sub brands such as Originals and Y3 had been successful through the halo effects and the connections with its sports performance heritage, effectively crafting out a strategy that is relevant in the local market.
But developing local product strategy is not enough anymore. The idea behind the Under Armour’s “retail theatre” is to open up the minds of the consumers by redefining the notion of training – not as a pursuit of profession in sports but working to achieve physical greatness. It elevates the proposition from a physical one to an aspirational one.
In an age where authenticity of the brand is so critical that it defines what the brand is all about, by presenting consumers a production quality of epic scale it breaks down the boundary between the physical space and the digital, it will certainly triumphant over any content people get just from small screens.
Creating unique brand experiences is one of the most powerful, immersive means of building a brand. Ultimately, it boils down to making it relevant to local consumers while enabling sharable conversations.
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