It’s Chinese New Year on February 19. The Spring Festival is regarded as the most vibrant gift giving and shopping season in China, and therefore one of the major push for many leading brands. Many global advertisers follow the same old formula year after year, while others try to break away from the norm and do something different.

Pepsi curated a “crowd-sourced video” inviting consumers to submit 15-second videos via Mei Pai 美拍, a local mobile video app, to form a tribute to family reunions. The crowd-sourced final cut video will be eventually simulcast on the big screen in New York’s Times Square, symbolically bringing something local to a global stage. At the same time, the “Bring Happiness Home” themed promotion will deliver over 2000 postal parcels to help the mothers in the remote mountainous regions get through the cold winter days.

Apple, on the other hand, had taken this opportunity to unveil their first TV commercial produced specifically for the China market.

It has been an epic few months of localization activities for Apple. Recently they have opened five new stores timed right before the Chinese New Year. Four of the stores are in brand new cities for the brand including Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. In each location, they have strategically partnered up with local artists such as Wang Dongling and painter Yangyang Pan to co-create signature murals inspired by each city for the local store.

Apple Store, West Lake - About the Artist_00000

The TV commercial for Chinese New Year has been met with mixed criticisms. Directed by Ann Hui, best known for her films surrounding the topics of social issues, and cinematography by Christopher Doyle, a key collaborator in many films by Wong Kar Wei. However, you can hardly trace their signature style in the production. One of the main reasons, perhaps, is because they had to follow the tight guidelines imposed on the production – it has to be “consistent” with the global version. The story bears an almost identical storyline to a commercial entitled “The Song” released in the United States over the Christmas season in December 2014.

US “The Song”

China “Old Song”

Even though it is by large a just a localized version, but at the very least, there is a strong and relevant proposition. The storyline cleverly positions the brand being the bridge between the younger generation and the old, and technology plays a role in connecting the emotions across generations.

Different brands tend to adopt a different approach to localize brand messages for local market. In the old model, creating the localized version often involves so many levels at the client side. Depending on the category of the product, it could involve anyone from the local marketing team, the regional marketing team and of course ultimately the global brand team. During the process, any form of innovative thinking will be filtered, reduced, modified, tweaked, abandoned, shot down, reinterpreted or misinterpreted.

Any creatives who had worked within international network agencies on global brands will know the challenges. Fortunately, some global brands are now doing it differently.

Apple now adopts a centralized approach – global ideas being conceived centrally, while implementation and production being done locally. Local content are developed following the global guidelines. Pepsi has adopted a more locally driven approach, leveraging current consumer trends that resonate well in the local market. While brands like Microsoft, they have established processes such as “global-readiness audit” to make sure the ideas and executions can travel well.

No matter which strategy you decide to adopt, one thing is for certain – if you want a cohesive global brand at all, you do need to think global at the time when the idea was conceived. The key to success is to create a truly global platform, which could be so fluid that it allows local interpretations without losing its integrity.

Most global brands prefer the 80-20 ratio of global-local content – to adopt 80% of the content centrally and globally, and allow local market to reiterate and adapt 20% of the content to enhance local relevancy. I personally advocate the 70-20-10 model in which 70% of efforts focus on delivering quality global communications riding on universal truth, 20% on pushing the boundaries to contextualize it with local nuances, and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace in each local market.

Which model works best for you highly depends on how you structure the global-local team, and where you put the right kind of resources.

It’s also not easy to motivate creatives to get all excited to work on adapting global ideas, but you can create the space and environment to allow creativity to grow. Here are a few tips:

  • Human insights trump cultural ones. Avoid merely dressing up the global ideas but rather go deep into the reasons why, because that’s what true consistency is all about.
  • Nothing should stop you from creating something that is uniquely local; using very native expressions as long as underlying it there is a meaningful concept that everyone understands.
  • Construct a platform that local teams can “build on it” fluidly and not wasting their time to think of how to make it work.
  • Give anyone on the ground the tools and resources to thrive in scale. Be brutal in keeping the platform intact and trust your own instinct.
  • Consensus is not about everyone agreeing, it’s about everyone being heard and the rallying around the best answer. Never go for the lowest common denominator.
  • You can’t tell creative people to be creative, but you can let them.

I wish everyone a prosperous year of creativity.

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.