As a ranking that derives from consumers, Campaign’s Top 1000 Brands survey is a clear measure of the brand names that stick out in the minds of people shopping in Asia right now. And that’s a lot of people, more than half of the world’s population, which gets into why this year’s ranking is more important than ever. How brands do here could define their bottom line.
The companies in our Top 1000 are largely global, but many are local to Asia’s individual markets. All have put a firm mark in the memories, purses and wallets of the whole region. From number one on down to 1,000, it is an achievement to make this list because it indicates a reputation, not only with a brand’s main customer base, but also with a wider consumer audience. Because our survey asks people to rank a second-best brand (which is likely in addition to the one they already own or use) it invokes an important measure of brand image. How much influence a band has is not only about what people already bought, but also what they may be leaning toward purchasing next time.
Sales are one thing. That a brand has built and marketed a product that people buy is certainly the end game. Except this game has no end. A purchase today is already yesterday’s news. What will people buy tomorrow?
In a way, it’s the old ‘a fish today’ versus ‘learn to fish’ dilemma. Brand strength plays a vital role in catching new fish every day. How likely is a customer to buy the same brand again? Or how much might a non-customer aspire to buy a certain product? Both are potential fish for tomorrow and both say a lot about the future of a company’s business.
Strong brands can overcome one-off glitches or public relations fiascos because the trust they have built endures. But those same things have a higher chance of defining weak brands. It seems logical then that the names nearest the top of Campaign’s ranking may be able to withstand more market turbulence, but as Asia’s buying power balloons, rising or falling in the list takes on greater significance for global sales potential.
Asia’s Top 1000 Brands is not an editorial judgment. Nor is it a formula of sales volume versus profitability or some aggregating of statistics that a company could report better. The real judges and final measure are Asia’s consumers. So the only way to do better in Asia’s ranking is to impress them with great customer experiences and, even better, follow up if the experience falls short. Should be easy, right?
Asia’s consumers (your judges) are more important than ever
Globalisation is giving way to localisation and the odd sound of ‘glocal’ is passing the lips of more CMOs as they try to balance global scale with satisfying local tastes. The equilibrium isn’t easy to attain or maintain. But the opportunity is impossible to ignore.
“It is interesting that the current global marketing trend is global-local,” says BBH Asia chairman Charles Wigley. “There is a lot of logic to this approach (and cost savings), but it is dependent on the assumption that there is very high quality in-market talent available. In a lot of fast-emerging markets, this isn’t always the case.” But reaching those emerging-market consumers has become more vital than ever.
The issue is perhaps best spelled out by Kristina Rogers, global consumer products emerging markets lead analyst at EY. In the detailed report, Profit or Lose, Rogers sums up in one sentence what’s at stake. Asia’s many buyers of goods and services, she says, are the new “centre of gravity for profitable growth”. EY’s research shows that by 2017, 38 per cent of worldwide consumer-product growth will come from emerging Asia, a geographical lump that excludes Australia and Japan. Add those two back in and Asia’s share climbs to 40 per cent.
No other region comes close in these projections. North America slips in at the lower end with 9 per cent. South America comes in second, claiming 23 per cent. And even combining the two continents makes for a distinct second place. The bottom line for brands then isn’t as much about opportunity as it is about obligation.
As EY points out, focus on Asia for profit, not just growth. Against that profile, Campaign’s rankings take on greater business significance. The global economy is closer than ever to a shift from Western-market leadership to Eastern command and influence.
Accenture’s Asia-Pacific MD George Patten says: “Gone are the days of it just being the West growing in the East; now many CEOs, CMOs and CFOs are based here in APAC, with less European or US experience in their teams. They are looking for help and advice from Asia about EMEA and the US, as opposed to the centre of power always being in the US.”
Even Japan, where the economy has been stuck in a deflationary cycle for about 20 years, is seeing upward prospects. The World Bank posted a report in April that predicts robust domestic demand in the country “with signs of further strengthening in the first quarter of 2014”.
There is still much debate about Abenomics and whether reforms can push the country’s economy into growth. Let history and the economists duke that one out, but one fact stands in support of Japanese consumerism: the workforce is aging and shrinking. That creates a tight labour market and puts upward pressure on wages.
China’s buying power also recently made headlines. When the World Bank released results from its 2011 International Comparison Programme, forecasts from those findings placed China ahead of the US, in terms of purchasing power parity, as soon as 2014; in other words, right now.
Economists are still arguing about how accurate those claims are, but the bottom line for marketers is that the spending power of consumers in the world’s two biggest economies is closer to parity than ever before. And while they are on opposite sides of the planet, they are likewise on contrary ends of a global growth track.
Patten also notes that marketers ignore smaller markets at their peril. “Everyone talks of China and Indonesia, but what about buying power in the likes of Vietnam and Thailand, where there is varied scale and expertise by each group? That is why the Dentsu-Aegis and Publicis-Omnicom deals are interesting: who can get the best critical mass everywhere? At the moment clients struggle with one dominant player everywhere — they have to pick and choose.”
No such thing as Asia
Many markets may still be on the path from developing to developed, but the sum total of Asia’s economic strength makes for a powerful whole. At the heart of that consumption capacity is a consumer force that marketers understand is as varied as it is vast. The importance of individual markets is a sentiment that leadership at many brands has started to echo.
“For Hong Kong and Asia-Pacific, we think global, but act local,” says Yahoo Hong Kong marketing director Tania Lau. “Interactions with local audiences also form a precise measurement to let us know our consumers’ will, in order to provide the most personalised and relevant experience.”
Digital brands may have an easier time tailoring experiences to suit specific audiences, but overall, the days of looking at the eastern side of the planet as a single market are gone. Niches are more distinct and the personalities of each nation and consumer segment matter far more to marketing plans than they did even a few years ago.
“With greater focus on Asian consumers and markets, some multinationals are spending more on individual market campaigns, which enables them to tap into specific local popular culture and customs, which obviously provides another set of great opportunities creatively and strategically,” says Wigley.
“It’s too easy, and potentially very wrong, to be black and white about these things,” he warns. “If you want to create a powerful pan-regional campaign for your brand then you absolutely can.
“There are a number of distinct Asian cultural orientations — collectivism, progress, hierarchy — that are more pronounced here than in the West, and which great pan-Asian work understands and uses. So yes, there is an ‘Asian consumer’, as much as if you want to take it to a very high level, there is a ‘global’ one.
“After all, I haven’t heard many people in recent years say ‘Just do it’ or ‘Keep walking’ can’t work in my market.”
But to take some pressure off marketing, it might be worth remembering that what you’re selling matters too, not just how you go about it.
Takuya Kawagoi, head of Sony’s Design Centre Asia, says: “Design is a powerful influencer, allowing a person’s curiosity to ignite through creative executions — not just cosmetic design, but the entire experience of customers feeling the packaging, opening the product, using the interfaces and taking pride in their purchase. Like a journey, we define what is comfortable, what makes people smile, and what makes people happy.”