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GLOBAL 2016: Fast-rising Asian brands offer important lessons for building strong, flexible brands

Asian brands grasp complicated dualities in culture and in O2O

by Doreen Wang
Global Head of BrandZ™
Millward Brown

China, India and Indonesia are the largest markets in Asia, with young populations, confident consumers and impressive growth rates. Many local brands from these markets are now as competitive as multinationals. Looking to these markets for strategic input will be increasingly important for global CMOs in the years to come. Two lessons are particularly useful to absorb: how to embrace contradictions; and how to create mobile innovations where the digital and physical meet.
Many Chinese, Indian and Indonesian brands are huge in their own markets, but still waiting to break through internationally. The key for these brands will be how to translate market-specific Unique Selling Propositions to global USPs. Keeping an eye on which brands manage to grow globally and how they do it could be a great source of learning.

Asian markets will only grow bigger and dominate more of the global arena. The U.S. government has predicted that in 2030 India’s economy will be bigger than both Germany’s and Japan’s, while Indonesia’s economy will be on par with those of Italy and Canada. The efforts to understand how Asian brands operate will pay off for marketers who apply their new insights in clever, tangible ways.
Embracing contradiction
In China, Indonesia and India, embracing dualities is often a necessity. Parts of the cultures are deeply concerned with preserving traditions, while a rising middle class wants to consume everything new and exciting. Instead of ignoring or fighting these divisions to create singular brand messages, Asian marketers embrace contradictions.

The second fastest-growing brand in the BrandZ™ India Top 50 is Lakmé, a personal care brand that is part of a growing trend of indulgence. The brand is, however, also rooted in traditional Indian culture - its name is a derivation of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Straddling the extremes of present-day beauty ideals and ancient tradition, Lakmé is perfectly comfortable in both worlds.

One key to Lakmé’s success has been innovative marketing tactics that modernize its brand heritage. This becomes especially obvious at the Lakmé Fashion Week, the brand’s own fashion event run in co-operation with the Fashion Design Council of India. Having an entire event dedicated to the brand is an exceptional opportunity to hone brand messages and communicate them to a large audience. It sets Lakmé apart from domestic and international competitors, and ensures that the brand is a centerpiece and not an accessory at the event. The brand clearly communicates to its consumers that it is just like them, with one foot in each world.

Many of us will habitually assume that brand messages should have a single focus and that complexity is only a distraction. But by embracing contrasts at the heart of a brand message, marketers could gain much in terms of brand value and market penetration. Consumers are not single-minded entities and if they can identify with a brand on a deeper level, they will be more loyal, trusting and willing to engage.

Mobile and e-commerce meet the real world
In Asia-Pacific, the online-to-offline (O2O) market is more advanced than in the rest of the world. And when merging the physical and digital in Asia, one aspect of consumer behavior is impossible to miss: online basically equals mobile. Only 16 out of 100 Indonesians have an Internet subscription. But the share of mobile subscribers in Indonesia and the UK is exactly the same sky-high figure: 125 mobile subscriptions per 100 consumers. This means that very few people are online without doing something else at the same time, and that no online campaigns are seen in isolation.
Tencent’s “Connection” strategy links users with content and services that enhance their lives. The brand aims to be a part of anything users want to experience online or via their mobile. Alongside social, payment, gaming, music and e-commerce, its partnership with JD.com enables users to purchase products from the retailer while messaging on the ubiquitous WeChat platform.
The brand is also adopting disruptive models to shake up other sectors – generating unique video content and launching Didi Dache and Kuadi Dache, China’s answer to Uber, for example. Tencent works hard to make consumers’ experience seamless as they move from one product to another.
Content provider Letv – one of the two highest risers in this year’s BrandZ™ China Top 100 – has successfully stretched its brand even further. In addition to Internet streamed TV, video production and distribution, and e-commerce, Letv offers televisions, gadgets and smartphones and is developing an energy-saving car. By creating an integrated experience across the offline and online worlds, it is embedding itself into consumers’ physical lives, as well as their virtual lives.

Asian marketers have a constant focus on multi-screening and blending mobile and e-commerce with physical retail. The Indonesian brand Telkomsel, for instance, is a mobile provider expanding into electronic payments. Telkomsel ranks third in the BrandZ™ Indonesia Top 50 - and the brand has realized that consumer use mobile for much more than communication.

Seeing online campaigns in isolation is meaningless in Asia-Pacific. As mobile grows, looking to the Asian frontier is one of the best ways to get new ideas for integrated digital/physical strategies.