Rahat Kapur
Sep 8, 2023

HSBC tops Design Bridge and Partners x Kantar BrandZ list for Hong Kong

Beating out over 129 other brands to secure the crown, Campaign chats to HSBC's Brian Hui and Design Bridge and Partners' Hannah Duley on what it took to top their charts.

HSBC's Brian Hui (left), with Design Bridge  and Partners' Hannah Duley. Photo: Via HSBC.
HSBC's Brian Hui (left), with Design Bridge and Partners' Hannah Duley. Photo: Via HSBC.

What does it take to be one of Asia’s leading brands?

HSBC might just have the answer.

Landing the top spot in this year’s Design Bridge and Partners' x Kantar's inaugural ranking of their ‘BrandZ Top 30 Strongest Brands in Hong Kong’, the bank beat out 129 brands across nine categories over a two-year period, to claim the crown.

The report reveals the strongest brands with the most cultural power and equity, with a focus on those that build strong emotional connections with their audience, differentiate distinctly from competition, and mean the most to their consumers.

So, what made HSBC stand out? Kantar’s data reveals the bank provides a 'meaningfully different' experience to its customers, boasting high levels of brand salience in the financial market, and a strong emphasis on strategic thought leadership. Despite the universal impacts of the pandemic, inflationary pressures, high interest rates and the ongoing war, HSBC has managed to deliver improved returns for shareholders. Its 2022 results suggested the bank's steadfast pursuit of its strategic purpose of 'Opening up a World of Opportunity' is working, alongside its ability to build resonance with the younger generation, amongst some 39 million customers worldwide.

Campaign asked HSBC’s managing director and head of Customer Propositions and Marketing, Wealth, and Personal Banking (Hong Kong), Brian Hui, and managing director at Design Bridge and Partners Hong Kong, Hannah Duley, 10 key questions on what it takes to top a list like Kantar’s, and what other brands can take away from HSBC to outmaneuver their competition.

1. What key strategies and initiatives have enabled HSBC to uniquely stand out amongst this year’s prospective brands for the top spot?

Brian Hui: For the past three years HSBC had been through a brand transformation process. From introducing no minimum balance fees in 2020, to the latest 7-day branches—we are setting new standards in banking services for our customers.

With Hong Kong fully reopened, we are launching the narrative of banking as a lifestyle. We partnered with Pharrell Williams in our industry-leading #OpenToArt initiative during March Hong Kong Art Week, supporting art initiatives in the city with a series of talks and gatherings of artists, galleries, collectors and art patrons, and our partnership with M+ Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District. With our #OpenToSport campaign we continue supporting sport for the Hong Kong community with our fun-filled Rugby Sevens series, bringing together a festival of sport, music, food, and immersive experiences.

And most recently, with our #Wealthdecoded campaign, that aims to decode financial market trends into easy-to-grasp financial insights and actionable investment strategies to for the public, we used AI-generated imagery and AI avatars of Hong Kong’s most admired comedian—Dayo Wong—and his artificial alter ego, “AI Dayo,” to demonstrate the potential of machine learning technology. We hope to elevate the industry by expanding our reach, we’re not just a bank of Hong Kong, but a Brand of Hong Kong.

Hannah Duley: Hong Kong is a land of contrasts and juxtapositions, which has only been solidified by the trends that have emerged from its most successful brands. The strongest brands in the region are those that can strike the balance—HSBC leading in this nuanced exercise. All at once, it’s a local bank yet internationally connected. It’s innovating to connect with audiences in new ways, while building on over a hundred years of heritage, trust, and credibility. It’s this ability to place community at its heart while opening a world of opportunity for every Hong Konger that has driven HSBC to the top as the region’s strongest brand.

HSBC's ‘Wealth Decoded’ campaign in May 2023.
Cultural icon Pharrell Williams meeting select HSBC clients during March Hong Kong Art Week.

2. Kantar’s data reveals a great focus on HSBC's thought leadership and building resonance with the younger generation. Could you elaborate on some specific examples of how the bank has achieved this, and the impact it has had on its success?

Brian: The design of HSBC One aligns with our customer-centric and ‘progress-with-customer philosophy.’ To ensure a better user experience for millennials, (of which 60% of them in Hong Kong are HSBC customers), we invited them to help design the banking solutions and experiences that are most relevant to them at this life stage.

As millennials move along their life journeys, HSBC is committed to providing a banking service that caters to their evolving and more sophisticated financial needs. FinFit Survey, Budget, and Future Planner are some campaigns we launched recently, and in return, the improvement of financial literacy among millennials helps grow our penetration among audiences.

For HSBC, the competition on building excellent customer experience extends beyond the financial industry, we are looking at brands like Apple, Amazon, Spotify as competition. In this regard, the principle of designing marketing campaigns to respond to and anticipate customer needs is the principle that leads us forward.

3. The report also discusses the importance of establishing an emotional connection with the audience. How has this focus on emotion changed since AI and other such tools have entered the market, and how are they impacting daily operations?

Brian: With the prevalence of technology in our daily lives, how our audience banks with us, and how we provide banking services have changed [in three key ways]:

1. Transactional behaviour changes: The introduction of AI and other technological tools have heightened customers' expectations on efficient and timely responses to their requests. Expectations from customers are now like the Oscar-winning movie, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” They expect to be able to speak to a relationship manager, move their money, buy insurance, manage their investments digitally and instantly.

2. Psychological / emotional change: The rapid development of AI also brings forth more challenges related to fraud, making the world more uncertain. As a result, we noticed that people have become more risk-adverse in both investments and life changes during the uncertain times. They pay more attention to their wellbeing and health, and their families, and we see significant demand increase on these products.

3. More International/Boundary-less: The rapid development of AI and similar tools make seamless and boundary-less services accessible to the public. In the world of banking, it’s also raised people's expectations to move money around seamlessly, access the same credit card limit even when they apply for a new card in another country, or opening a new banking account when you arrive at a new destination. They expect it to be the same consistent experience and service from the same bank.

Hannah: AI is and will continue to be a tool that can enhance human creativity, not replace it. We see huge potential in it to help us generate ideas and streamline content creation, which can help create deeper emotional connections. However, we are still at the early stages of innovation and adoption. Generative AI raises many questions about ownership, compensation, copyright, and bias. Brands need to tread carefully to make sure that we remain responsible in how we use AI.

4. HSBC has taken key steps into the Metaverse. How does the bank leverage digital innovations and emerging technologies to enhance its brand presence and customer experience, and how will this change in the Metaverse?

Brian: We have taken bold moves towards digital innovation and emerging technologies to create unique brand experiences for new and existing customers. The technology of [the] Metaverse will open up opportunities for our global community to experience art, sports, technology and beyond and allow us to create digital experiences that are educational, inclusive and accessible for all.

HSBC Mobile Banking's ‘DuoVerse’ music show in February 2023.

Just last year we were the first to create real-world and Metaverse concerts running at the same time. While on the surface not directly related to our product, the way we can use it to highlight our value proposition allows us to demonstrate our progressiveness and change the way younger generations perceive us.

We also launched our ‘Open to Art’ Metaverse Gallery - a one-of-a-kind digital art experience for local artists to showcase their work which transforms traditional art into immersive experiences.

5. In the context of Hong Kong being a hub with globally connected brands, how does a brand maintain its strong local identity and heritage, whilst also embracing its international outlook and reach?

Brian: Hong Kong is a unique market as it serves as a super connector, linking China with the global market and vice versa. HSBC has a dominant position in Hong Kong and unrivalled international footprint. It is also the largest foreign bank in mainland China with a presence in all 21 prefecture level cities in Guangdong. The re-opening of Hong Kong to the world puts HSBC in an ideal position to open up new kinds of opportunity for our customers, and serve as a bridge between our international customers and those in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

6.  Can you please talk a little bit about what customer-centricity really means today? Especially beyond common terms like ‘customisation’ and ‘personalisation’. How do you really meet a customer where they're at in the lifecycle?

Brian: Marketing and branding are not just ads and campaigns, it’s also about growth and outcome. Our teams cannot just wait for the project brief from the product team and then come up with promotion ideas. Marketers need to co-create the whole customer journey along with the project owners from the very beginning.

That said, I believe nowadays that marketers should be responsible for the business results and the customer experience. We expect the marketing team to put customer experience as their top priority and follow through the product development stages, to ensure what the team does is fundamentally enhancing customer experience, elevating our brand perception.

7. How can brands stay ahead of the rapid pace of innovation today, and not just from a preparedness point of view?

Hannah: For me, innovation starts from the inside out. The best brands bake innovation into their internal culture and enable ideas to come from anywhere. HSBC has run with this concept, establishing ‘Open Creativity’ within its brand and marketing function, a way of working that encourages agile, sprint work and regular sharing of ideas to allow everyone to input. This helps to arrive at better solutions quicker.

8. Is the pressure to remain a leading brand a key part of the strategic focus for HSBC moving forward?

Brian: For HSBC, maintaining its position as a leading brand is not seen as a pressure, but rather as a commitment. The brand has its strong roots in Hong Kong, and while it has been a fixture in providing Hong Kong people’s retail banking needs, to many HK people, banking with HSBC means a lifelong trust.

Not just the bank of Hong Kong, HSBC is the ‘Brand of Hong Kong’ through commitments to innovation and an open ecosystem, e.g., open to art, sports, tech, AI. HSBC aims not just to thrive on its own, but to leverage its thought leadership to lead the industry and even other brands outside of the financial industry to drive the growth of the community.

9.   How does HSBC play at the intersection of culture?

Brian: With our brand promise to ‘Open up a world of opportunity,’ in November 2022 we launched the ‘Open’ brand narrative in conjunction with Hong Kong’s reopening to the world, further reinforcing HSBC’s commitment to empowering the progress of Hong Kong. And culture is one of the important aspects of this commitment.

This narrative included various initiatives, such as ‘Open to art’, ‘Open to sport,’ ‘Open to tech,’ and ‘Open to sound’. All these gave a fresh dimension to the HSBC brand and helped to connect with the HK community in an exciting, fresh, and progressive way. This was also something that was enjoyed by everyone in Hong Kong and helped create a sense of unity and inclusivity. By aligning our brand with these unifying themes, HSBC was able to demonstrate our commitment to the community and showcase our values of openness, resilience and collaborations.

10. What can other brands learn from HSBC’s experiences to achieve the same focus for themselves moving forward?

Hannah: Tapping into cultural tensions, insights and undercurrents is critical for building brands that can connect more meaningfully with consumers. As the region progresses, HSBC will need to keep its finger on the pulse of these undercurrents to make sure it stays relevant and reflects the needs and desires of the Hong Kong community long term.


Campaign Asia

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