Technology brands are not often good in coming up with their product names. They also tend to focus more on building the best products and put much more emphasis in communicating what the products or services do, from a functional point of view, rather than going for the conceptual or creative approaches.

This is even more so if the technology startup brand is an innovative concept. Conveying the functional side of the product will deem to be more crucial at the early stage of the brand development.

GoToMeeting, Box, WeChat, YouSendIt, Summly…YouNameIt.

These many not be the coolest brand names but they did exactly what the startups need to achieve, especially in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.

There are no one-size-fits-all guide in building a technology brand, but we can certainly learn from the journeys that some of the brands had gone through.

Sometimes, certain names did catch on even though they set out to focus on communicating the functional side. Skype derived their name by cleverly condensing the meaning of ‘Sky Peer to Peer’. The brand Skype is easy to pronounce, with potential of leveraging on the images of ‘sky’ in both messaging and design (the cloud graphics). Nowadays, the brand name has become a verb – ‘Skype me’, as we say. It’s also fair to say that it has travelled well internationally.

Skype taglines

YouSendIt, the cloud storage service, has just announced that its name has changed to Hightail. This is to signal the new vision as led by the new CEO Brad Garlinghouse. In his official announcement on their blog, he comments that the new identity represents the current breadth of their services and also marks the fundamental changes that have happened at the company since he took over as CEO just over a year ago. The move is hardly surprising. The name ‘YouSendIt’ will indeed be very confining, and does not carry the connotation that appeals to their core professional users.

Hightail_logo

WeChat, the mobile text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent in China, first released in January 2011. The original name of the app ‘WeiXin’ (微信) literally means ‘micro messaging’. It had grown from 4-5 million users in 2011 to over 100 million by 2012. The growth was phenomenal and hence the ambition to go global. Quickly in response to that, they rebranded as WeChat for the international market in April 2012. This move allowed the international audience to get what the product is quickly, sharing the same universal language. WeChat is a true big global brand in the making, but will they re-define their product in the future and will ‘chat’ start to become a limitation? Time will tell.

So what are the guiding principles when developing a tech brand? Here I share with you some of my thoughts:

Define your brand early: Tech startups need to be as crisp as possible in defining what their point of difference is because they’re entering a very cluttered marketplace. They should also take full advantage of being starting from a blank canvas and refine their brand early. I also argue that sometimes it should start with a brand before developing the product. Once you have identified what people really needs, everything will flow into place.

Be world-ready: From the brand name to the representation and various interpretations of the brand, embrace diversity and have a world-view on what the identity means to people in different cultures. A brand name needs to have the capacity to endure velocity of the marketplace and the swift changes in people’s needs. Do it with foresight, not hindsight.

Which tech brands do you think have got their branding done right? What are the differences between branding for tech startups versus other products and services? I like to hear your thoughts.

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.

I came across this campaign earlier this year. It was created by Print Power Europe, advocating the effectiveness of print media in the multi-media environment. Like any organisation exists to protect the role of a specific media in the integrated marketing world today, the message single-mindedly focuses on the effectiveness of the media, communicating the notion that print often demands the ‘full attention’ of the reader.

However, this is of course just one side of the story. When was the last time you were not being interrupted by a push message appearing on your mobile while reading the newspaper? Or have you ever read something interesting from the newspaper, and quickly tweeted it in 140 characters?

In fact, any single media attempts to operate in silo is surely going to fail. The Print Power Europe also acknowledged that digital integration is central to the success of the print media.

But newspaper and magazine advertising now offer that interactivity with the use of QR codes, Augmented Reality and Near-Field Communication. 
This digital integration is now central to the success of print media and offers the marketer a host of opportunities to engage with their customers in a number of new and exciting ways.

The challenge today is not only because of the multi-screen media consumption habit of consumers that caused huge disruptions to any specific media, it’s also much more difficult to make a strong business case if we frame contributions of one single media too narrowly – and not from the entire customers’ journey.

What we have started to see happening is cross over interactions. Twitter had successfully reminded the advertising industry about their close relationship with TV viewership, their 140 characters actually could be a good fit as and when the consumers’ eyeballs are glued to the TV screen.

In the context of print media, we also see innovative partnerships. Here are just two of the recent examples:

Enhanced Lexus print ad:

By inserting an iPad screen under the print ad, it transforms a print ad into multi-media visual sensation.

Independent+ Powered by Blippar:

Through ‘visual discovery’ pioneer Blippar app, the enhanced Independent content is enriched with videos, pictures, story updates and all sorts of interactive engagements.

The original page:

Independent_original page

Scan with Blippar which triggers additional content:

Blippar_independent_screen_1

Instant access to constantly updated online content:

Blippar_independent_combined

As everyone is talking about ‘mobile first’ when it comes to digital strategy, we are in fact just touching the tip of the iceberg in its potential. I am so looking forward to seeing how the creative folks can think of even more innovative ways to create interesting partnerships with traditional media channels; and how such ideas could be implemented for brands on a global scale. It’s a constant and never-ending iteration, and it’s only going to get better.

Untitled-3

Topshop is no stranger to creating social media sensations. Last year, Topshop took the high street fashion chain’s social presence to a global level when they collaborated with Facebook on a “Customize The Catwalk” experience during London Fashion Week (see my summary of it in my previous blog post).

This year, the brand worked with Google+ to create yet another multi-dimensional experience. The trend for brands to work with social media platforms takes the definition of ‘the medium is the message’ to the digital age. The benefits for brands to co-create content with social media platforms directly is to tap into the expertise of the technology and jointly exploring innovative ways to connect with consumers.

It also guarantees a certain level of exclusivity during content-rich season such as the London Fashion Week when every brand is now producing live streaming of some sort and winning the consumers over unique experience is important.

Brands are also able to make the best use of data collected from various activities. While live streaming, and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion, was more of a marketing tool at first, is now being seen as a research opportunity.

Here I would like to give a brief summary of the key elements of the campaign to illustrate how they are all inter-connected with each other:

Teaser: On 12 Feb, a trailer “The Future of the Fashion Show” (as featured below) was released as teaser of the upcoming activities, giving hints on the ‘storyline’ that would unfold in the following days leading up to Topshop Unique show at London’s Tate Modern on Feb 17. It’s also a crucial step to invite fans to get onboard Google+ that essentially acts as the hub and springboard of the Topshop ‘story’ of the season.

The Future of the Fashion Show – the trailer:

Creating buzz: On 14 Feb, Google+ and Topshop installed a “Be The Model” photo booth in Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store in London. Customers can try on Topshop outfits and snap pictures in the booth, the device creates animated GIFs users can share with others on their social networks. Organically growing the number of followers and Topshop fans were turned into brand advocates through peer-to-peer recommendation.

Connecting with professional influencers: On 15 Feb, Topshop unveiled behind-the-scenes videos of the models and creative team preparing for Sunday’s show on its YouTube channel, and invited bloggers and fans to join a Google Hangout with Topshop’s creative director Kate Phelan and the Topshop design team. Specific content targets at the fashion circles that in turn act as credible voice for the brand – to give ‘a 360° view of what goes into creating a catwalk show’

Real-time experience: On 17 Feb, Topshop activated its full portfolio of interactive tools. 3-D Google Map technology was employed to give fans access to the show’s space in The Tank at Tate Modern. To create pre-show buzz, 30 mins before the show kicked start, Topshop broadcasted Google Hangouts between fashion bloggers, Topshop fans, and celebrities on their way into the unique space. More opportunities for the content to be widely spread on various platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Hangout Live Backstage Before Topshop Unique AW13:

Topshop Unique AW13 – The show:

Multi-platform distribution of content: The Topshop Unique Show was streamed live on Topshop’s owned website, as well as on Google+ and Twitter (Tweek Walk), in embedded media players on news organization websites and various fashion blogs, and on a giant screen in the window of Topshop’s Oxford Street store.

360° Interactivity: Runway models’ outfits and accessories were fitted with ‘Model cams’, HD micro-cameras powered by SIS Live’s Hawkeye techonology. The tiny cameras broadcast model’s-eye video in the corner of the show livestream, giving audience an opportunity to experience stepping out onto the catwalk through their favourite models’ eyes.

Content optimization: Other spin-offs were adopted from the success of the previous season’s livestream “Customize The Catwalk” initiative. These include the very successful “Shoot and Share” feature for fans to take still shots from the webcast, and various ways to prolong the experience by allowing fans to download the catwalk music tracks (this year the music featuring tracks from the Smiths, Beats International and Saint Etienne) and purchase the make up range. Every single element was fully utilised to extend the lifespan of the campaign.

Data intelligence: “Be The Buyer” post-show custom Google+ Hangout app was launched so that every clip from the runway will be swipable into a ‘wish-list’ which will then be featured on Topshop website. The data from the Google+ Hangout app will help the buyers decide what they are going to actually bring to retail. Fans feel like they are literally taking control of what they are going to buy.

It’s exciting to see how brands embrace digital channels to produce experiences that consumers really enjoy. The use of data also allows designers for the first time to make a very educated decision about how to plan. I believe the clever and seamless application of technology without making consumers feel like they have been put under the microscope is the key to success. As we know, the worst things happen to some of the digital campaign is that they tend to make consumers feel like they are generating content on behalf of the brands rather than having an enjoyable experience.

I would also like to see how this kind of co-creation could evolve to a global level, creating universal experience for consumers from different markets joining in the big event. It also allows brands to understand what works where globally. That could well be the next big news in global digital content creation.

Celebrity endorsement in advertising is nothing new. From the long time strategy adopted by brands such as Lux who pioneered female celebrity endorsement or Pepsi’s relationship with pop culture in their ‘Taste of the New Generation’ platform, to the more contemporary usage of celebrities by brands such as Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I’m a fan’ campaign. The use of celebrity used to be about helping to shape the brand positioning (as in the case of the Lux being the choice of ‘stars’ and Pepsi’s association with the ‘New Generation’), or in some cases, purely as an awareness exercise.

In Asia, celebrity endorsements had long been a ‘formula’ favoured by brands aiming to achieve an instant fame, from China, India to Japan, often without much careful consideration of the compatibility of the celebrity’s persona with the brand’s image. Every Bollywood star has a product to endorse, and every Japanese whisky has a Hollywood star in a talking head commercial. That’s probably the reason why in the past when a client said they wanted to use a celebrity in the upcoming campaign, it almost always signified the beginning of a formulated creative process.

To a certain extent, this has changed.

The recent trend for brands to associate with celebrities indicates both a changing nature of ‘celebrity’ and the practice of ‘endorsements’. Celebrities are no longer just the face or simply play an acting part in a commercial. In fact they are now hired as creative directors. Some of the recent appointments include:

  • Justin Timberlake for BudLight Platinum
  • Alisha Keys for Blackberry
  • Marc Jacobs for Diet Coke
  • Will.i.am for Intel
  • Lady Gaga for Polaroid

Here are some of their own words in response to their appointments:

Some of them are more credible, as in the case of Will.i.am who actually carries the title of Director of Innovation and reportedly holds an Intel fellowship at the company’s HQ in Santa Clara to constantly dream up innovative ideas, working in collaboration with Intel’s futurist Brain David Johnson. This seems to me one of the more successful collaboration. For other, it could well be just another ‘form’ of celebrity endorsement.

However, one thing is for certain, celebrities are no longer one-dimensional and with their ability to generate ‘content’ in the digital space, it’s where the potential begins. And when brands are moving towards acting as ‘publishers’, the need for relevant and quality content is paramount. When BudLight announced Justin Timberlake’s appointment they said he will ‘provide creative, musical and cultural curation for the brand’ while Justin Timberlake said he is ‘looking forward to not only being a part of the creative process, but in bringing other talented musicians to the forefront as well.’ Could that mean the brand’s future involvements on platforms such as MySpace? Let’s wait and see.

Will the trend of ‘celebrity creative directors’ adapt well in your market? What are the differences in terms of the driving force behind it and its effectiveness? I would like to know.

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」

Not sure if it is the weather, or because it’s just that time of the year.

A few major ‘changes’ had made the headlines in the industry press. Here are the news from some of the global brands…

Global Brand-Building Officer of P&G Marc Pritchard said the company wants “fewer, bigger creative ideas that can travel around the world”, the impact will be lower agency and production fees by eliminating some that “don’t add value”. The major cuts will be on the non-advertising portion of P&G’s annual marketing spending, including production of promotion and in-store marketing programs, coupon distribution and eliminating things such as giveaways of stuffed animals. The spending on such promotions that “don’t build brand equity” amounted to around $2.1 billion in 2011.

Unilever is moving its 150-strong London-based European brand development team to Rotterdam while centralising its global brand development team in London – the whole shift will be completed by 2014.

These might sound like just everyday news, but if these are in any way an indication of a trend, and when we think deep into the impact, these changes potentially will shake up the entire agency support ecosystem. It influences how, and where, brand ideas and campaigns/ platforms are planned, created, implemented and fulfilled.

Further down the chain, it will impact every agency of any discipline, and every talent working within.

It will also fundamentally change how we, as creatives, producers and implementation specialists, approach any brief; and how and in what way we collaborate with each other, globally.

I find this exciting.

Could this be the starting point of a revolution? Is it a major trend in the making?

One thing is for certain. I am convinced that we cannot go after quantity, but need to invest in quality thinking and insights.

We all need to be as agile and flexible as possible to take advantage of the fast-changing conditions in the marketplace.

Rain or shine? How would you turn this into opportunity? What will we expect in 2013?

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’.