Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jun 17, 2019

Didi Chuxing rides high in China while OTAs incur consumer wrath

We saw much longer strides in brand perception as a result of an intentional focus on service. The opposite is true for local losers, even if their drops are not as dramatic.

Didi Chuxing rides high in China while OTAs incur consumer wrath


Many hyperlocal Chinese brands have risen in stature, it seems, with names like Sogou, Three Squirrels, Bilibili, and Yunnan Baiyao all moving upward dramatically in the Asia's Top 1000 Brands ranking.

Didi Chuxing may still be far from securing a place in the hallowed Asia-wide top-10 brands list, though it rose from 597th position in 2018 to 300 this year. But it sat prominently in the China top 100 table at No. 5, a far cry from 48 in 2018, some evidence that it has recovered well from its upheavals.

Even though it was China's ride-hailing leader, Didi Chuxing fell into disrepute late last year following two high-profile deaths on its Hitch commuter carpool service. In an overhaul, privately owned Didi pledged to put safety first at the expense of profitability to prevent more unnerving scandals. It also stopped pursuing a planned initial public offering.

In April, the brand's first public disclosure of its expenses breakdown revealed that Didi is still burning cash on many trips. But at least its significant climb in brand perception this year outpaced its financial losses.

It also managed to mitigate potential damage to its image when it implemented layoffs. Good rumours spread about the company's offer of generous severance paychecks in an N+2 format, which equals to the amount of an employee’s annual income and bonus divided by 12 plus two months of salary. There is still room for improvement in actual service standards, certainly, but these gestures saved the day for Didi.

Next up in local brands, the Asia-wide list saw the ubiquitous WeChat in 456th place three years ago, jumping to 207 in 2017, 201 in 2018 and 189 this year, maintaining its forward stride. Within China, WeChat flanked the top-10 list at 13 (up four spots from last year). One most-liked emoji of the post-1990s generation is the face with tears of joy, and it's not hard to understand why as Tencent's super app is serving consumer needs better and better by allowing people to use WeChat to pay for medical appointments, food delivery fees, and other daily chores.

Sogou emerged as the top local riser, up from 1796 last year to 236 this year. The Chinese search engine alternative to Baidu (sliding 11 spots down to 47) has been named 'Global AI Industry Top Brand of the Year' by IDG, being recognised for its investments in language-based artificial intelligence technologies and integration into Sogou Search, Sogou Input Method and smart-hardware products. 

Another crowd favourite was Three Squirrels, an Anhui snack brand with, of course, three animated squirrels as a common theme throughout its marketing. Launched in 2012, it took just seven years for it to become the top seller of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits in the mainland, finishing in position 142 (from 1578 last year) as our survey respondents went 'nuts' over its direct-to-consumer business model and data-led personalisation strategy.

On the flip side, brands that have lost domestic support include Qunar, Tuniu, Proya, Belle, and YangHeDaQu and Yishion, all decreasing between 300 to 400 places. 

This year's consumer cohort, alongside thousands of Weibo complainants about Qunar being a "black-hearted business", did not take kindly to the online travel agency's poor customer service, with horror stories of missed flights due to lack of notification of changes, misrepresentation of recommended airfare prices on its "garbage app" not actually being the lowest, and inconsistent ticket regulations that differed from that of the airline.

Fellow online travel agency Tuniu is in the same rocky boat. Having been rated as one of the worst for complaint resolution in China's travel segment by a Sina-owned Black Cat Complaint site, it tumbled from 563 last year to 967 (down 404 spots, perhaps suitably reminiscent of the well-known web-browser error message).

Don't miss the rest of our exclusive data and special reports:


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