How heritage brands are thriving in these quick-changing times

Well-established brands have best practices that work-and in most cases, have allowed them to thrive. In a year where change is the only constant, what lessons can heritage brands give when it comes to balancing tradition and relevance?
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This is part of an article series for the Power List 2021, created in partnership with Twitter as part of their global #LeadersforGood initiative.

In the past, functionality and accessibility were the two top priorities for consumers. 

But in a digital-first world, where customers have the world at their fingertips, they’re looking for more. 

While functionality and accessibility are still must-haves, today’s savvy consumers are more likely to turn to brands that are relevant to them — whether it is aligning with a cultural event or ‘moment’, tapping into a social consumption trend, or standing up for a social cause. 

According to MAGNA and Twitter’s study, “The Impact of Culture,”,  a brand’s cultural involvement makes up a full 25% of a consumer’s purchase decision. That means that being involved in culture is a significant consideration when people are weighing whether or not to buy something, alongside other factors like positive brand perception, price, and quality.

“Brand involvement in culture is especially important among young consumers, and those on Twitter versus the general population are more passionate, informed, and feel more strongly about brands aligning with culture,” notes Trang Hoang, head of business marketing, Southeast Asia at Twitter, Campaign’s Asia-Pacific Power List partner. “Embracing culture by staying current, demonstrating knowledge of consumers, and giving back, the study found, is exactly how brands can become more relevant. ”

Be authentic, but don’t be afraid to dream big 

Creating content about a ‘cultural moment’ is the strong suit of Francis Flores, the Philippines marketing head at Jollibee. 

An understanding of what tugs at the heart strings of young Filippinos have led to crowd-pleasers including the company’s “Kwentong” series.

A recent launch was LDR, which means ‘locked-down relationship’ but can also be an acronym for long-distance relationships. 

The short film follows the story of a female protagonist who ‘swore’ not to be in a long-distance relationship but was forced into an abrupt separation from her boyfriend by COVID-19. Flores says it was a hit among millennials or Gen-Zers  who might be in a relationship, but don’t share a home. 

But it’s not just about the story - it’s also how the story is presented for Flores. Noting that Filippinos love watching television, and yet, only had access to a few television channels, Flores established Jollibee Studio in 2018 to cater to the demand for professional-produced video content. 

The Studio works with award-winning directors across APAC. “In one of our meetings, I remember asking, why can’t we be the Netflix of QSR?” He jokes. 

The pandemic has forced brands to be more creative 

The pandemic has forced brands to change perspectives in ‘how they go about doing stuff’, according to Nirmal Nair, VP of marketing, ASEAN at Nissan. 

“To me this was energising, as it forced us to re-look at how consumers consume, and engage, not just from a creative point of view, but also from that of touchpoint, a push versus a pull strategy etcetera. As a marketer, it was the disruption you yearned for.” 

It rather gave more avenues to look into, and to become more creative. There were numerous campaigns over the past 12 months done with limited budgets, shot on phones, but with great impact. It showed that we don’t need pharaonic budgets to do this, and more importantly, as with everything in life, the simpler, and clearer the story, the better impact it has.” 

Since joining the brand, Nair has managed to deftly balance a new way of looking at data-which has involved moving away from Nissan’s age and demographic customer analysis in favour of data-led audience bucketing based on how close prospects are in their journey toward purchase-and emotive story-telling. 

The stunning Dare the Impossible campaign allied Nissan with nonconformists, positioning the brand as one that dares to innovate - in this case, electrifying one in four vehicles in Asia and Oceania under their mid-term plan.  

Nair says those who were exposed to the work have a much higher opinion of the brand, on top of an overall +20 point gain in brand opinion across key markets.  

Brand equity is as much about functional as emotional benefits 

When it came to brand identity, Colgate had a strong functional aspect but lacked the story-telling that would allow them to create an emotional bond with customers, says Yves Briantais, who worked at Colgate-Palmolive’s US and European offices before becoming VP marketing APAC.

In 2015, he led efforts to rebrand the famous toothpaste brand, adding the brand promise, “Optimism in action’ and putting it at the centre of the brand. 

In the past year, he masterminded a Smile Strong campaign in APAC, telling the inspirational stories of those who’d overcome a lot of challenges to get to where they are. 

Colgate also crafted different stories for each location. 

The Thailand campaign, for example, featured the stories of Auntie Jeab, a cancer survivor and longboarder, Yew, a nurse and influential blogger, and Bally, a queer teacher and anti-bullying activist.

For a brand to stay relevant, Briantais says marketers must listen and show empathy. 

“A lot of marketers are superficial. They stay at the level of the what, instead of thinking about the why. I can give the example of Colgate’s whitening products. The whitening aspect, that is function. But we also talk about confidence, and how you project confidence.” 

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The Campaign Asia-Pacific Team