To what extent have our brand experiences really been altered under Covid? If you’re a canned soup brand, one could argue that not a lot has changed. Our experiences with the brand still largely revolve around product taste, ingredients, price and perhaps the packaging.
But think about it more. Since consumers have been spending more time at home, we might be more likely to eat soup for lunch more often. And for that soup to be in our kitchen pantry, it likely would have to have popped up more prominently on our online grocery platform’s mobile site for home delivery. If we were unsure if we’d like it or if it was ethically sourced, perhaps we Googled around and decided to go for it based on available reviews. And since we did all that, we might be more likely to see a mobile ad for another soup flavour as we eat our lunch while trying to stay connected with others during Covid.
Suddenly it’s clear why even the most basic consumer goods brands have been undergoing real digital transformative change in the past 18 months.
“Almost all brands and categories have rapidly improved their connected experiences since COVID began,” says Hugh Connelly executive creative director at IPG’s design experience agency Huge in Singapore. “From your local supermarket, online grocery store, to even the DTC pasta chef down the road. The mixture of owned websites, third party platforms and messaging services has provided a more connected experience, allowing better and faster interactions,” he explains, noting the big strides in enhancing customer experience that delivery platforms like Grab/Uber, or Deliveroo big online retail platforms like Tmall or Shopee have been making for brands since Covid began.
“Better predictive experiences, and more immersive and social experiences have met the demand for shoppers unable to venture out like they used to,” Connelly explains.
Some brands do better at this than others and inevitably it is the ones whose experiences are crafted to benefit the user above the brand that best succeed.
“Connection only improves customer experience if it delivers meaningful interactions. This means the quality of connection and interaction to the customer is what counts,” says Hugo Texier, Capgemini Invent’s Asia vice president of consumer products and retail based in Kuala Lumpur. “This isn’t about new revolutionary things. It’s about creating meaningful one-to-one relationship with consumers leveraging meaningful insights and being able to relevantly act on them. In this context data integrity is paramount,” he adds.
Texier points to Netflix as one brand that does this exceptionally well by uniquely capturing your behaviours with every touch and rewind you make on a screen and tailoring their content and delivery accordingly.
Many software and platform companies thrived under Covid, Connelly agrees, which many have chalked up to their ability to captive users in a socially-distanced world. Yet while both the gaming industry and the subscription-based streaming industry matured and expanded during the pandemic, he points out they were already ahead in offering strong connected experiences.
Device makers fared the best
Asia’s Top 1000 brand survey by Campaign and NielsenIQ reflects a surge in gaming and streaming services brand affinity under Covid. But given the huge strides in brands’ digital transformation efforts over the past year we asked a new question of Asia’s consumers this year:
Name the brand that offers you the best experience whenever you interact with it through any connected device
While gaming and streaming platforms like Netflix (33) and Nintendo (55) fared better in this category than their overall brand rankings (54 and 81 respectively), consumers were driven to a much more obvious choice for the top winners – the device makers themselves.
The top three brands are Asia’s the most popular handset makers in Samsung, Apple and Huawei. Samsung and Apple are also Asia’s number one and two brands respectively overall, which is no coincidence when consumers choose the brands with the best connected experience as their favourites. Huawei and Xiaomi, the big Chinese device makers meanwhile, make the largest jumps in this category from 67 and 114 overall, to 3rd and 7th place respectively, while the world’s largest mobile operator that powers them, China Mobile, lands in 8th.
Since these brands provide the connected devices themselves that consumers spend the most time on it’s only natural they will be closest to consumers’ connected experience, points out Forrester principal analyst Xiaofeng Wang. But she adds that the successful ones are able to attract loyalty to their own customer groups by establishing an ecosystem of extensive product profiles.
The best example of this is probably Apple with its vast array of unique products linked to its own iOS operating system making consumers who are used it less likely to shift.
“Apple does an amazing job of creating a unified experience between devices, personal data, lifestyle choices and shopping history. They’ve moved way beyond a brand that represents intuitive software, beautiful hardware and content. They’ve become bigger than just a lifestyle brand. They’ve fine-tuned the connected product and software ecosystem in such a way that users see Apple as an integral part of their life. They’re a life brand,” Connelly explains. “That’s what I love about Apple. It’s also what I hate about Apple. It’s such a seamless and ubiquitous connected experience that it’s hard to get away from it.”
“Everyone is trying to own the living room, with different degrees of success,” observes Sebastian Troen, Capgemini Invent’s Asia vice-president of Brand & Experience. If they can connect your phone with your fitness data, internet access, along with music and entertainment content it allows them to offer much smarter and better connected experiences for their users.
“But connection from device makers is suffering some backlash, with suspicion from some that connected devices are listening in and there are real privacy concerns,” Troen adds. “How do you deliver a connected experience with trust? That’s the critical question to ask.”
It’s a question all the connected device makers are thinking about now, and one that Apple has decided to place front and center in its positioning, by allowing users to stop being tracked by mobile identifiers (IDFA) through their devices unless they opt-in. While highly unpopular for platforms relying on mobile tracking for advertising, like Facebook, Wang says the move is paying off for Apple, as privacy conscious consumers are more likely to prefer Apple products, perceiving a higher standard of consumer data privacy protection.
Other electronics brands, platforms and super apps
Other consumer electronics makers like Sony (5), LG (9) and Panasonic (14) are here too, but slip in this connected experience category compared to their higher overall brand rankings. The biggest Internet and social media platforms, however, such as Google (4), Amazon (6), WeChat (10) and Facebook (13) join the device makers in vastly outperforming their overall brand rankings in this connected category (9, 23, 27, 28 respectively).
This also makes full sense. Google not only connects our communications with critical app tools but leads our internet browsing, forming the doorway to other sites, platforms and apps. For many outside of China, Google is the web that keeps our digital worlds linked up. And within China, WeChat is the ‘app for everything’ linking communication, media and payments in one critical super application.
No other super app comes close to that same level of ubiquitousness outside of China. In Southeast Asia, Grab and Gojek do not have the same scale or social communications element yet, though they do connect a sizable portion of consumers’ daily transactional needs from transportation to delivery, meals and payments. Therefore they also rank among the brands with best connected experiences at 19 and 30 respectively, compared to their overall Top 1000 brand rankings at 75 and 749.
The online retailers
Clearly the companies that are able to integrate and successfully deliver services beyond their own category scored more highly as connected brands. Amazon, which delivers digital video streaming and cloud computing web services to the enterprise market in addition to its core online retail business, ranked 23rd in Asia’s Top 1000 Brands yet is the top ranked retailer in this category in 6th place.
Delivering the best retail experience on your connected device, however, is more than offering a wide selection. Shopee (20) and Flipkart (26) were the online retailers scoring next highest in this category after Amazon. Wang, who leads Forrester’s research in B2C marketing and ecommerce for Asia-Pacific, notes that these companies play well to local markets (Flipkart and Amazon to India, Shopee to Southeast Asia) where all brands are doubling-down on ecommerce to grow. In SEA, Wang says Shopee has upped its game in providing better customer experience. “It has shortened the onboarding process and attracted more global brands to meet the increased demand on its platform. The company launched Shopee From Home and Mom’s Club to offer more categories specifically curated to take advantage of the surge in demand,” she notes.
But many observers like Texier at Capgemini Invent still point to China for the future of best connected retail experiences, where Alibaba’s ‘new retail’ model is embodied in Hema or Freshippo supermarkets where the online and physical, fresh food and restaurant are not only merged, but integrated to your device while delivering unique “theatrical experiences.”
Huge’s Connelly agrees, noting how third party e-retailers like Alibaba’s Tmall (which along with sister company Taobao also outperformed in this category) have been adding more ways to shop from branded content, live influencer videos and integrate with social platforms, which like TikTok/Douyin are also moving into the ecommerce space.
“These moves are not all just reactions to Covid, but purposeful efforts to elevate e-commerce shopping beyond utility and transaction to deliver an experience,” Connelly says.
Consumer goods brands
Brands that are not built around devices or platforms rely on the latter for delivering their interactions, which brings us back to the soup company at the top. The best consumer product makers are finding ways to elevate online experiences, either through their own apps or digital services related to their products that improve our lives.
L’Oreal will digitally evaluate your skin and provide personalised skin advice, Texier points out as an example. Its augmented reality version of the product speaks to you, and the digital ecosystem connects the smartphone, the store, and beyond through the whole consumer journey.
DBS, known colloquially as the ‘Digital Bank of Singapore’ for its seamless user-friendly banking and payment apps, was the highest ranked (35th) among financial service brands in this category.
Honda, whose Digital Solutions division provides detailed checklists to dealerships on customer engagement through connected devices, was the highest ranked (15th) auto brand.
Connelly points out that the best brands are also driving consistency at every channel. The highest ranked apparel brand in this category was Nike.
“Like Apple, Nike does an amazing job at unifying their brand story, marketing, digital platforms, and of course their core products, with their shoppers' lifestyle,” Connelly notes, while also pointing to Under Armour as another example, for embracing the healthy lifestyle surrounding their products in a big way with apps like My Fitness Pal, one of the most popular calorie counting tools, but doesn’t try to push sportswear while doing it.