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.

Fashion

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.

Old Navy_screen

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.

Food

“今個夏天我會喺銅鑼灣開間好正嘅意大利餐廳。”

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

LinkedIn中国_00001

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.

brand experience China

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.

Share A Coke campaign

Great global ideas do not come about easily. There is always the challenge when an idea works really well in one market, but does not resonate with the consumers in another. There is also the misconception of consistency and the danger of adapting global ideas for the local market without taking into consideration of the context, focusing more on the similarities and not the differences.

Traditionally, the narrow definition of a great global idea means the ability to adopt the same message and adapt it for the local market, maintaining ‘brand consistency’ and maximise cost savings. While this is still true in the broad sense, it is no longer enough. Not only the guiding message needs to be adapted, or transformed, to connect with local audiences, in a connected world, the way that the message is ignited is also likely to be different.

A recent campaign of Coca Cola was a good example.

The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was first started in Australia (originated by Ogilvy). Overnight, the much loved, but often overlooked, Coca Cola changed the logo on the bottles to 150 of Australia’s most popular names. It took the entire country by surprised.

The strategic thinking behind the campaign was that for a big global iconic brand like Coca Cola, people don’t find it ‘personal’ enough. The campaign was so successful that it was subsequently launched in markets including Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and the UK. This year, the China team (working with Leo Burnett Shanghai) adapted the campaign by applying local creativity. Instead of showing people’s names on the bottle, they put the very local and colloquial ‘nicknames’ that are fondly used by Chinese among friends.

icoke_webpage

A quick recap on how the idea has been transformed in different countries:

Australia – the original:

UK: (similar execution for the Netherlands and Belgium)

Greece:

China:

The result is an authentic execution building on local culture and nuances. Not only did the idea travel, but they also managed to adapt it creatively for each local market, so that the consumers felt that the idea was created natively for them.

Each market also had their own way to connect with the people. In Australia, the campaign was activated by an interactive billboard at Kings Cross in Sydney, taking advantage of the digital technology and transfer people’s names instantly through SMS messaging. In China, widely recognised as a mobile-first market, an app was designed to facilitate sharing of the chosen ‘nickname’ to people’s friends via social networking platforms.

Interactive outdoors billboard in Australia:

An app created for the China market:

icoke_app

Such creativity blurred the boundaries between origination and adaptation. I call it creative solutions.

This is the kind of creativity that every successful global campaign requires. Miles Young of Ogilvy Group commented recently that with budgets under pressure, clients aren’t prepared any more to have advertising developed in every one of those markets by local agencies. I also think that a shared brand vision globally can deepen the cohesiveness of the corporate culture internally and maximize the power of collaboration.

For a long time when it comes to international advertising strategy, we often think that emotional advertising would travel better than rational ones. Many people are convinced that certain emotions are shared around the world. Over the years, there were outstanding examples to convince us of this theory. We learnt it from Coca Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ platform to Johnson & Johnson’s classic ‘Language of love’ brand campaign. P&G’s ‘Thank you Mama’ was destined to go global; and John Lewis ‘The journey’ (featuring the song ‘Power of Love’) Christmas promotion is becoming an annual highlight nationally.

We know for a fact that people don’t like thinking about complex set of choices. Decision-making is primarily an emotional thing. We tend to ask ourselves things like ‘which do I like best?’ first, and emotions guide and simplify these decisions making. Of course we have to understand that not all communication channels need to be emotional driven. Certain media, like TV, is especially good in creating emotions. After all, nobody thinks when they watch a TV commercial, people feel.

A study on the emotional branding in Australia found that emotionally attached consumers purchase substantially more. In fact, brands can expect 40% to 60% greater yield from those consumers who had an emotional attachment with them. In UK, statistics had shown that brands that had successfully created long-term benefits through emotional advertising could achieve 5 times return on investment.

However, are all emotions universal? Can we tap into the same emotion for a brand no matter which market it advertised in?  The answer is yes and no. In a sense that the overriding emotion could be universal, but underneath it the driver could very well be different. The question is, how can we adapt it subtly to make it more relevant to the local culture? As creatives we need to understand what moves local people and what are the contemporary interpretations in order to contextualise it appropriately.

Two recent campaigns from Hong Kong had demonstrated that there are much more dimensions to the ‘basic emotions’ as exploited by some of the most powerful global brands. They tried to go deeper, and found a different angle. They also have taken the risks by only focusing on creating that ‘feeling’ with the consumers, doing something totally different during the ‘gift-giving season’ when every brand is simply putting on a smiling face.

Solvil et Titus, a Hong Kong based Swiss watch brand, had a long history in producing some of the most memorable brand advertising riding on the emotion of love. In the 2012 version it conveys the message that you can’t put a ‘time limit’ when it comes to love. TSL Jewellery’s brand campaign gives the fairy tale perfect kind of love a dramatic twist with the themeline ‘To love, is to love forever’. Coincidently, both brands talk about ‘commitment’ rather than simply ‘passion and romance’.

How do these commercials make you feel? For those of you who don’t know these brands, will the ways how they interpret ‘enduring love’ work in your market? How would you reinterpret it? I’ll let you judge it yourself.

Solvil et Titus ‘100 years’ 鐵達時 「100年之約」

TSL ‘To love, is to love forever’ 謝瑞麟 「要愛,就要愛下去」

In a recent business trip to Beijing I had a reunion with the creative team I worked with in the past. We talked about the development of homegrown creative talents and the emergence of a new breed of independent creative hot shops.

I observed a particularly interesting development. Local creative agencies are starting to embrace a hybrid model to offer services covering everything from strategy, ideation, through to integrated production. Some of the agencies I met up with even have in-house creative roles from film directors to animators, and with photography studios housed under one roof. It takes the notion of through-the-line to a different level.

This is rather different from the development of the agency structure in the West.

Paul Simons talked about the difference between ideas, execution and implementation in his recent blog. He considered that implementation has shifted ‘to a different place driven by tasks that tend to be more mechanical’. He also described how today’s multiple channels and platforms, and creative work running internationally, had turned implementation massively complex – so much so that ad agencies won’t have the resource, knowhow and technology to handle the job in hand. The solution, what it seems to be the obvious one, is to outsource it.

I agree with some of his viewpoints. The ‘decoupling’ of ‘Implementation’ and ‘Production’ from ‘Creation’ has indeed happened, especially in Europe and the US, with various degree of success for different clients.

However, what I think we have to bear in mind is even when ‘Implementation’ is technically being defined not as part of the creative process, they should not be treated as ‘post production’ – or sometimes, even as an after thought.

It is especially so when campaigns are going to be launched simultaneously in multi-markets, across all touch points and particularly, for lifestyle brands. More often than not, a certain degree of rethinking needs to apply.

Creative agencies recognising the importance of that aspect of implementation had positioned the function of technologists as an important element within a creative team. Implementation is embedded within the ideation process. Jeff Benjamin of CB+P once said: ‘When we brought the technology piece in house we made it a point to say this isn’t a production capability, this is a creative capability…A technologist is as creative, in a way, as a writer.’

Joel Koplan of AKQA even argued that ‘the job of creatives is also about making ideas happen, having an eye for execution…It’s also the ‘follow through…It’s coming up with an idea and taking the step to make it come to life in the right way’.

That, to me, is what ‘implementation’ truly is.

It is exactly when we treat the implementation process as totally separate, mistakes bound to happen.

The recent blunders of the Ikea catalogue (which I discussed in one of my recent blog) were good examples. In the case of Ikea, I imagine this was what happened – an ‘implementation/ production’ company were tasked to localise the Ikea catalogue for 10 different markets, and one of the ‘requirements’ was that in the Saudi Arabia version they need to take away the female images (somehow, a top down decision as written in the form of a localisation brief). Meanwhile, the retoucher proceeded according to the ‘brief’ without having the luxury of time to consider about the outcome and implication of the work. He/ she did a fantastic job in the retouching, probably within 24 hours turn-around and then, zoom, went to printing, which was again, possibly outsourced to a printer away from the production centre. The process also may have escaped the final screening by a local marketing manager, since either the company had eliminated such posts during the streamlining/ re-structuring or the ‘production/ implementation’ agency was not tasked to do it. It was not within the ‘scope of work’.

Technically, nothing wrong. Digital files were pristine. Assets were digitally archived. Job in question was completed within SLA. Catalogues were delivered on time.

I believe that any form of communications, no matter how technical the process, is still a creative product. And creativity, not to mention culture and local relevancy, does play a large part in its success.

Even if we were not literally doing each other’s work, there are bound to have cross-overs and we should not implement ideas like a ‘conveyer belt’ style.

Ultimately, an idea never really completes till the last minute before any work goes live.

If I polish my crystal ball, here are some of my predictions in the discipline of ‘implementation’:

  • The role of implementation will go beyond production. It will involve transforming a creative platform into any form of media suitable for any particular market, culture, and of course in any language. In the digital arena, implementation will encompass roles such as user-experience designer, interactive designer, strategist, tech head and integrated producer.
  • Creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. As such, the role of implementation is to completely understand the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.
  • Back in the days of traditional media, the line between creative and execution were clear. With digital comes to the fore, creatives often have in their mind the question whether the ideas that they come up with could actually be executed. The role of implementation is first to advice whether it is feasible and what is the best way to organise it to optimise both quality and costs effectiveness.
  • ‘Creative’ and ‘Implementation’ agencies will form tighter strategic alliance and collaboration. The discipline of media and creatives had been surgically divorced in the 90s, with no respect that often the ‘media’ were the ‘message’, and we’ve learnt the lesson. In the future, execution and the way an idea is implemented will have a profound impact on the magic of the idea. Creatives, media and implementation will need to find a way to work back together. Collaboration is the new activation. Or as I always believe, T-shaped hybrid talents will be the real star in the future.
  • The creative inputs within ‘Implementation’ will evolve in the form of ‘Planning’ and will become more crucial in the overall delivery, and more importantly, will be recognised as part of the strategic process.

Looking forward, leading implementation agencies need to join forces and articulate the value of their work, and be rewarded appropriately for what they contribute into the success of the final output.

I will continue to expand on these thoughts in future blogs. I also like to hear from your experience either as first hand from an implementation agency or from the point of view of a creative agency that had benefited from some of the best practice in this discipline.

I will also like to explore the significance of the hybrid model of some of the creative agencies in China and profile some of the need-to-know talents.

If we have to choose a high street fashion brand that had made global news recently, it had to be Topshop. During London Fashion Week in September, the fashion industry had widely praised the brand for unlocking the selling power of social media, turning ‘likes’ into ‘sells’. The effort seemed to have paid off and have certainly uplifted the brand to a global status. ‘Shoot the Show’ was also described by Topshop’s chief marketing officer, Justin Cooke as social, commerce and entertainment rolled into one.

Here are the highlights of the truly 360° activation of the Topshop Spring Summer 2013 extravaganza:

  • The entire fashion show was live-streamed on their website on 16 Sept
  • The live stream video was pinned to the top of its Twitter page
  • Consumers could personalise and share their experience as it took place in real time in London’s Bedford Square
  • Converging with conventional retail activation – the show was also shown on large screens at its Oxford Circus flagship store in London and on the websites of more than 200 media partners
  • The ‘Customise the Catwalk’ feature allowed users to select and order the key looks and accessories, and change the colour to their preferred option before placing the order
  • Viewers could click on clothes and accessories to browse color options as they came down the catwalk
  • Garments ordered ‘live’ from the runway could be delivered three months ahead of industry lead times
  • The partnership with Facebook that featured a ‘Shoot the Show’ function, whereby fans could trigger a ‘camera icon’ on the screen and take a snap of their favourite looks, they could then share it on Facebook with their friends
  • All the tracks from the show were available to be downloaded via iTunes on topshop.com
  • Beauty products used by models were available online with a 48-hour delivery promise
  • Online tutorials were developed to guide fashion fans to develop their own look inspired by the catwalk show
  • Twitter followers (@Topshop) were encouraged to review the show in a ‘Tweet-off’ for a chance to win tickets to the next runway show
  • Branded content: Topshop posted videos of the show 30 mins after the event ended as newsfeed to every country

Snapshots of stats:

  • Both #TOPSHOP and UNIQUE trended globally on Twitter Sunday
  • 100,000 images shared every 20 seconds
  • One garment was sold out in 10 minutes …during the show. In every colour.
  • 2 million people in over 100 countries watched the live-streamed show, its largest online audience ever

The social media strategy seemed to have indeed made Topshop go global. What could possibly be missing?

This year, from May to end of August, Topshop had opened a pop-up store in Shenzhen, China. Now, of all the cities in China, it’s not clear what’s the strategy behind the choice of location, but nevertheless, the global ambition is clear. What I am wondering is, when will the retail brand start localizing the online shopping site to ensure it connects to the local consumers?

Here’s the topshop.com ecommerce site for the China market:

Topshop’s CMO Justin Cooke tweeted during the social media extravaganza: ‘This was the dream #Topshop we might just be the first case study they all wanted – social to commercial, likes to pounds…more to come’. Will the web site be localised in time to even enhance local consumers’ online experience?

While online shopping in China is flourishing, should retailers look at how to implement the global brand locally? Should e-commerce act as one part of their overall digital strategy as well as their overall integrated strategy offline? These are all the questions I like to explore in future blogs. Let me know your thoughts.

*The image shows the Chinese character of ‘one’.

Sometimes we hope that cultural differences do not exist. Not only can we share the same values, it makes life so much more peaceful.

The reality, however, is never like that.

We are also living in the culture of sharing. What happens in one country, is all very easy to be shared globally.

It has just been reported that in the Saudi Arabian version of the 2013 Ikea catalogue, all images of women, including the photograph credit of a female designer and depiction of family scenes throughout the catalogue, have been mysteriously retouched.

You can see the comparison of the visuals in the below images which were taken directly from the pages of the catalogues in UAE and UK.

This is not just the case of misinterpretation of images – such as the digitally retouched photos of Julia Roberts and Christie Turlington in an ad campaign for L’Oréal (which was subsequently banned in the UK)

The case with Ikea this time is more than that. It has to do with the representation of the role of female in families and society. I am not surprised that it had created such a stir and debate – and rightly so.

For a brand that had consistently scored well from the innovative urban planning projects ‘Ikea-land’ to the widely published and popular catalogue, Ikea’s globalisation strategy had always been a textbook case study. In April 2012, AdMap published a ‘Meaningful Marketing’ report and praised IKEA “makes numerous meaningful connections with people, at an economic, intellectual, organisational, spiritual and emotional level” and had registered on top of the Meaningful Brands Index across all markets.

So what went wrong?

Localisation of marketing communications is nothing new. In fact it is something I am dealing with on a daily basis. Especially in the lifestyle category, global brands do sometimes need to adjust the ‘product’ when selling in a different country. From formula of food products to the message in marketing campaigns, customisation is what is needed.

It is also not uncommon to ‘localise’ marketing materials to fit local cultural norms, we are not just talking about changing the font or layout, but strategically curate it to bring out the best of what the brand is to the local market. What’s ‘design-led’ in one country could be ‘price-driven’ in another.

The lessons learnt from the Ikea case was that the executional treatment was based on stereotypical depiction of a culture. I am quite convinced that the production team involved at Ikea had done this with no intention to offend. It was likely that in this case, localisation has been boiled down to be just a technical process – just doing, not thinking.

Here are 5 tips when developing content for products on a global scale:

  • Implementation cannot be completed without a phase of proper planning
  • ‘Repurpose’ should not be just about execution (resizing, reformatting or retouching), it should be rethinking of the relevancy of the product and message
  • Avoid cut corner solutions. Plan ahead for the production across all markets involved and discuss requirements of additional production, such as photo shoot, for each market. If planning were done upfront, costs will be easier to manage.
  • Plan certain aspects of the production to be done locally with a flexible global guidance, such as sourcing local talent in-market
  • Involve your local marketing team even when the global strategy is coming from topdown

And one last tip – even though there is no such thing as ‘global consumer’, under the watchful eyes of social media, everything is transparent.

What do you think?