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HP’s regional marketing lead on finding a brand’s purpose

We live in a world bombarded by technology and data. We also live in a world in which we’re surrounded by thousands of messages – from the moment we wake up and thumb-scroll through our smartphones to the time we go to bed with our devices next to us. We also live in a part of the world where Millennials and Gen Z are eagerly embracing new brands, new ways of engaging, new lifestyles and work styles.

This has opened a fast-changing world of possibilities for start-ups, small and medium-sized businesses and eCommerce – which makes this a perfect time to be marketers in Asia. Our profession is now both an art and a science.

While we’re surrounded by technology, human emotions will play an even greater role in driving engagement with our customers. Asian Millennials and Gen Zs today seek authenticity and want to engage with brands anchored to a strong purpose. Brands need a strong brand promise and be rooted in a universal human truth – and yet be accessible and relevant to the culture and community within which we operate.

Global brands, local souls

To succeed in these fast-changing times, we need to drive global brands with local souls. Brands that have stood the test of time have amazing, authentic brand stories conceptualised by entrepreneurs with a clear vision of the future. But, more importantly, those brands identified a clear insight about the community they serve and have been able to turn that insight into a distinctive brand story that communicates their purpose and vision.

Before I came to HP, I worked on Johnnie Walker in China. Its brand purpose was rooted in the universal insight that people want progress. As a brand, it aimed to inspire people to progress. Progress means different things to different people at different points in time. In China, this became a campaign called “Words to Inspire the Chinese Generation”. The team’s insight came from the fact Chinese Millennials wanted to play an active role in shaping the progress of their nation.

Working with influential blogger Han Han, the team ignited a conversation with this cohort around what progress meant to them. Purposeful brands take a stand and influence culture – both internally and externally. HP’s vision is to create technology that transforms lives, empowers people and enables change. With that in mind, HP Japan recently launched its “Reinventing Stereotypes” campaign.

We wanted to reinforce the importance of diversity and inclusion in a culture in which women felt confined by stereotypes. The campaign was aimed at inspiring women to transcend these stereotypes – to empower them to upskill themselves and embrace their multi-faceted identities. This also dovetailed with the Japanese government’s aim to have more women in the workforce and its call for companies to give employees more work flexibility.

Another example we are familiar with is Nike’s 30th anniversary campaign featuring American footballer Colin Kaepernick. Combining its purpose with a very strong brand story, the brand demonstrated a deep understanding of cultural contexts and tensions. Nike was not afraid to take bold moves to create conversation – even if meant risking controversy. Behind that decision were insights gleaned from big data and AI to drive the contextual engagement with its audiences. We are going into a very exciting era of purposeful brand building.

The combination of data and emotions may seem paradoxical, but that mix is critical in gaining insights and driving brand relevance. Marketers need to build purposeful brands that grow not just profit and revenue, but also deepen reputation and trust.

The writer is Foo Siew Ting, regional head of marketing, HP Asia Pacific and Japan. The article first appeared in Marketing’s The Futurist print edition.