How HK marketers future-proof their brands: Branding 360 wrap-up

The brands that can successfully evolve with or even lead marketing disruptions are the ones that dare to dare.

At this year’s Marketing Magazine Branding 360 conference, several top marketers and thought leaders shared how they revamp things from the inside out in a bid to future-proof their branding.

Building authentic, relevant brands

Ctrip, for instance, is now in a period of soft-launching a new brand globally. The online travelling agency’s general manager – international business, Hillman Lam, said on the conference it’s a necessary act if the brand wish to further ingratiate itself with international travellers.

For three months, the brand analyse everything from its brand equity to customers’ travelling priorities, which lead them to an on-going transition to a new brand “”, a new logo, and a new domain. Lam said they will launch more localised campaign to eliminate any reference to being Chinese-owned. (Read more: Ctrip launches global rebrand to

“Unless Hong Kong people want to come to China, they won’t use Ctrip,” he explained. “In Korea and Japan, people would actually hang up if they find out from the accent of the customer service team that they are not locals.”

“We have to glo-calise ourselves and launch more campaigns relevant to locals.”

Timberland went through a similar “glo-calised” re-branding process, but in a complete reverse direction to that of Ctrip: it aimed to build a brand presence in China.

Its vice president marketing and merchandising, Christy Kilmartin, recalled how things were difficult back then in 2014, when Timberland only earned a brand awareness of 11% in the country, 72% significantly lower than it did in the US, according to data from China Brand Health Tracker.

The company organised seemingly endless meetings with Chinese agencies to communicate their desire to not just create fictional ads to “wow” the audience, but to build a radically different, authentic brand message. Finally, it launched a successful campaign which tripled its yellow boots sales. With the slogan “Tee Boo Lang (踢不爛)”, a sentence similar to Timberland which means ‘unbreakable’. The Tee Boo Lang campaign featured several videos that tie the shoes to values like perseverance and courage – and the videos went viral.

“You need to create an authentic brand story that actually builds trust,” agreed UberEATS’ brand manager Basil Cheung. The food-delivery company engaged restaurant partners in its latest campaign by sharing stories behind the local restaurants, to add a sense of human touch to the brand equity.

Branding and experiences in the age of data and social media

Once you’ve established more relevant branding, the next step is to articulate messages and communicate with your audience – both actively and passively.

Vizz Digital Group’s group brand director, Jordan Sun, advised brands to humanise themselves by actively interacting with other brands on social media, which eventually builds audience trust. One of the examples he quoted was a Oreo’s tweet in 2013, which featured an edible gaming controller, to respond to Xbox One’s tweet about their new game controller. “Can we play?” the tweet asked Xbox.

In a panel discussion, Sony Corporation of Hong Kong’s managing director, Henry Lee, also raised questions about social media, including how marketers should leverage the channel and plan what to spend.

At Sony, the company consolidated its CRM team with the communication team five years ago to enhance its social listening ability. UA Cinema Circuit’s former general manager for Hong Kong and Macau, Rosa Lin said they also have a dedicated team to react to customers online and offline, and solve any misunderstandings they come across.

As for ALDO Group International, marketing director Renee Sin said their team handles everything from product operations marketing, to updates from social media platforms, to improve the transparency of its operations.

“In the short term, we can gather a lot of data from social to e-commerce, which is really useful in customising campaigns and products,” Sin explained.

Flight Centre Asia’s director of marketing, Cecilia Yee, reminded brands to really zero in on their end-goal when it comes to collecting data if they wish to recognise useful metrics. The travelling agency, which focuses on humanising its social media presence, sees data as a tool to customise and personalise communication points, for example to make their email newsletter more engaging.

And it’s way more than just data. Domo’s vice president and general manager of Asia Pacific Japan, Paul Harapin, is an expert on the opportunities that real-time data can offer. He said some businesses had multiple sources of customer data, and got their information stuck in silos.

Harapin said companies should build a single database which conglomerates all the individual data silos to align the different functions of the business, act in real-time and better connect customers in more personalised ways.

Using Sephora as one of his case studies, Harapin said the company greatly improved its results by responding to events in real-time during a sale, for example, by instantly pausing an online ad when a product is out of stock and pushing ads when a product is slow to sell.

Real-time social data can serve as alerting signals too, Simois Ng, head of marketing communications at Sony Corporation added. “There are comments that go really viral, and they might have posed the questions. What to do is to find out the truth, then respond to them.” Ng said in some cases, brands can direct angry customers from social media to offline, for example inviting them to meet or call. “Very often, they will stop complaining.”

On a separate note, Danny Levinson, regional director Asia, Isentia, used a viral video of a girl being assaulted at a hotel in China as an example of how data intelligence can play a role in managing risk on social, and how vague responses can actually aggravate a situation.

However, by integrating media intelligence into business operation, Levinson said the brand sourced and tracked online discussion, then leveraged influencers and media to showcase other viewpoints on the issue. He assured that brands can acquire abilities to evaluate the performance of the PR team and communications campaign through media intelligence solutions.

Managing technological disruption, and staying ahead of the curve

To anticipate and lead marketing disruption, UA Cinema Circuit’s former GM Lin said they use a combination of exponentially improving technologies, new product architectures and innovative business models to meet customer needs in new and unexpected ways.

From IMAX, to e-ticketing and e-admission, to on-site activations like photo booths, Lin said they explore any new technology that can enhance customers’ journeys in visiting a cinema.

Similarly, Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Tina Chao constantly looks for technologies to improve its campaigns. Earlier this year, the board launched a new campaign to revive interest in the area known as “Old Town Central” by introducing people to different thematic routes to explore the district, including: tasting Hong Kong; crazy for art; time traveller (heritage); and treasure hunt. The campaign displayed art-inspired QR Codes at various locations within the district to enhance their route.

“Tourists are looking for personalised experiences, so we are exploring technologies such as chatbots to make a difference.”

Uniplan Hong Kong’s managing director, Darren Chuckry, reassured that digital and technology can now be used for bigger scale engagement, for example for personalised events, or learning where visitors are going through GPS tracking.

“Even if there are 1000 people at the event, they may have different requirements,” he said, adding that that’s when data and technology can measure how their needs and emotions are being met, and how brands can improve.

Admitting it’s difficult to combine existing and new data sets in most companies, Chuckry said his usual practise is to create a community for the event through social media, build a profile of them, then analyse the information to engage with them.

“Even for sponsorship, it is changing drastically,” he added, calling on marketers to leave behind traditional strategies like simply setting up a booth and calling it a day, and combine exponentially improving technologies to meet customer needs in unexpected ways.