For all the talk of a growing threat to big brands from the disruption of smaller, more nimble businesses, one of the most surprising elements of this year’s Hong Kong rankings is support for the view that established, international brands continue to capture attention and market themselves more effectively.
The usual names and logos again dominate the coveted top positions, as they did in 2014 and 2013. Given the narrative around disruption in branding and advertising ushering in a new order, the big disrupters and haywire local brands are largely conspicuous by their absence. Also missing are those leading ‘human’ brands—the influential international and local cultural icons that consumers take their lead from and crave association with. Overall, the supremacy of traditional ‘hero’ brands appears to be a constant.
It is perhaps inevitable that high-profile, global brands (with sizable budgets) remain out in front. However, marketers are now acutely aware that leading players’ spend on traditional media and advertising is becoming less of a guarantee of success.
In Hong Kong, its physical geography and unique urban environment, with a selection of high-traffic locations, means that outdoor media will remain attractive for brands. However, the growing power of digitally native millennials in the city presents a new and distinct challenge. This group, for whom digital is the main currency, represents the future power wallets for consumer brands. The realities of a digital world mean that companies, and agencies, need to be smarter, bolder and, most importantly, more attuned to consumers to drive brand reputation.
Fundamentally, brand campaigns must continue to excite, inspire, educate, or entertain (or preferably all four!) to be successful. Many retail and apparel brands are already innovating to offer omni-channel services to consumers that extend beyond a basic transactional interaction to a more experiential one.
To be successful in this new digital, and increasingly competitive landscape, brands need clearer differentiation, greater originality and stronger authenticity. To achieve this, a more forensic understanding of the drivers of key consumer archetypes is essential. Brands, and agencies, must develop a deeper knowledge base of their target customer groups to enable them to design and execute more segmented strategies that can be deployed via the most relevant channels.
The days of pre-packaged campaigns designed for set channels are no longer sufficient—clients have developed stronger, in-house capabilities and are demanding ever more in terms of value for money.
For agencies, internal structures and skill mix must evolve to provide the creative solutions required by brands. Recruitment needs to be geared towards tapping into new talent pools with cutting-edge expertise in emerging areas such as, user experience, creative technology and innovation. Much can also be learned by forming strategic partnerships with individuals and organisations in the start-up community about how to cultivate a more disruptive mindset, experimental consciousness and innovative ideas.
Agencies also need to become more adept at leveraging the business of ideas with clients. Current relationships with clients are often restricted to interactions with like-minded marketers. Instead, account teams need to forge close links and direct dialogue with chief financial, innovation and operating officers to devise brand strategies, agree appropriate performance measures and evaluate outcomes.
More strategically for Hong Kong, it is imperative that the sector shows a greater willingness to flex its creative muscles. Hong Kong needs to be looked to as the doorway, and not the doormat, for international companies looking to enter the Greater China, or the wider Asia Pacific market.
Hong Kong needs to be viewed as a regional and global hub where energy, innovation and disruption are constants and international and local players can thrive. Hong Kong needs to be known for the same things it is already renowned for, but also its confidence in being different.
Adam O’Conor is the chief executive for Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong