As part of our look at Hong Kong's top brands of 2018, under the Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, we asked Hong Kong consumers to identify their top home-grown brands, and HSBC, Watsons, Pacific Coffee, Lee Kum Kee, Café de Coral, Wellcome, Maxim’s, Mannings, Cathay Pacific and ParknShop emerged on top. Here, five in-market observers discuss what's behind the success of these brands, and what it will take to uphold that status.
What’s behind these brands’ appeal to local people?
Owen Smith, head of strategy, Grey Group Hong Kong: Salience plays a huge role. These brands have presence everywhere in people’s lives. What they do with their presence is important though. There’s a big difference between showing up as active contributors to the Hong Kong community and just being ubiquitous providers of goods and services. For example, Wellcome generated goodwill by parking modified delivery trucks in neighborhoods all over Hong Kong and holding open auditions to serve as voiceover talent for price promotions.
Supriya Jain, client director, Lion & Lion Hong Kong: While Hong Kong is a multicultural city, locals still love brands which provide them with a local experience. Localisation is key winning the Hong Kong market. Brands like Mannings and Watsons have put in the effort to localise communications and creative, for example by creating illustration-based visuals which resonate well with HK consumers. Likewise, Cathay Pacific showcases experiences while highlighting the beauty of Hong Kong, while HSBC highlights Hong Kong as the centre of financial activities, yet resonating with local consumers.
Jacqueline Alexis Thng, partner, Prophet: There is a combination of reasons for these brands’ appeal. Legacy brands such as Lee Kum Kee, Café de Coral and Maxim’s, all with a long history in the lives of local hong Kongers will remain well-loved and relevant, as Hong Kongers are loyal to brands with a strong local heritage. Having said that, the success of these brands is also due to their focus on innovation and striving to improve customer experience to stay relevant.
Ben Hui, head of digital, IPG Mediabrands Hong Kong: Many of the brands listed are home-grown brands in HK and they are embedded in the fabric of Hong Kong. Café De Coral has a long history as a fast-service restaurant that caters to the taste buds of Hong Kong with iconic dishes and drinks (HK Milk Tea, Baked Pork Chop over rice).
What are they doing that other local brands—or brands from elsewhere—are not doing?
Hui: They are able to take a product/service and localise it for the Hong Kong consumers. Watsons and Mannings get return customers because they offer collectible mini-stickers based on the total amount of purchase, which customers can redeem for discounts and gifts. And Cathay service fits the needs of local travellers with food catering to Chinese taste and a large selection of Cantonese in-flight entertainment.
Jain: Brands like Pacific Coffee will be looking to hyper localise content in terms of language and visuals even at granular levels of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories to resonate with the consumers on occasions like Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year. This, when combined with strong online to offline activations, sample signups, and redemptions help to ace the local market.
Thng: Staying relentlessly relevant, instead of being differentiated, in a changing consumer landscape amplified by a strong changing digital era requires brands to have a stronger understanding of customers’ needs, invest in innovation and improve customer experience. Brands from the likes of Nokia, Esprit to Eu Yan Sang are losing relevance especially to the millennials who are more digitally savvy, better-informed and seek 'wow' brand experience beyond price and basic products.
Smith: Many do a good job of balancing consistency and reinvention. For example, Lee Kum Kee often explores new flavor combinations by bringing their traditional recipes together with new, and sometimes unexpected partners.
Do you see these brands’ future as under threat from encroaching global or non-local players?
Thng: Yes especially the popularity of Korean brands and (eventually) in the near future Chinese brands who are both investing in innovation and digital experience.
Hui: Brands need to adapt to the changing market. Ecommerce for Watsons, Mannings Wellcome and ParknShop are just slowly developing. HKTV Mall is one of the leaders in the market for ecommerce purchase of daily/household goods. This can be tied back to the one items that's a concern for every Hong Kong citizen, real estate. With rent at record highs, companies can save a lot of money by cutting back on physical stores. Additionally the younger age group doesn’t want to make the time to go grocery shopping in a crowded market with limited store space. They'd rather do shopping of day to day necessities such as toilet paper, bread or rice from the comfort of their own bed or sofa.
Jain: In the future it will be interesting to see more global brands playing up the strength of their origin, but also producing local content based on consumer insights to showcase a “local brand with global flair” attitude.
Smith: Every brand’s future is under constant threat from both global and local players. The biggest threat, however, often comes from within—changing too much, or too little. Figuring out how to evolve and grow without losing sight of who you are and why people choose you in the first place is tough but necessary.