Campaign Asia-Pacific spoke to Clode this morning to ask about his move to Resonance from Labbrand Shanghai, which he joined only six months ago after turning down a global role in London.
The research purists might be surprised why you have joined a digital agency like Resonance. Tell us why?
After a disappointing return to China, I met with Resonance China founder, Rand Han, to discuss how we could collaborate. What was ostensibly a job interview moved quickly to a powerful planning session on how we could rejuvenate the industry. We focused on how to more effectively understand Chinese digital behaviour with the creation of Smart, an offering where research design moves beyond tradition to offer dedicated solutions to solve clients’ core challenges.
What can we expect from this new offering?
Research in China, too often, is clouded by bias from tired stereotypes about China and Chinese consumers. Our focus is on asking the right questions from the outset, discarding narrow assumptions.
A key part of Smart is to enhance, complement or replace traditional research approaches such as focus groups with more intuitive forms of engaging Chinese consumers. For example, we will offer 'digital day-in-life' approaches, designed to give busy and digitally-embedded consumers a seamless way to participate in our research.
To gain an understanding of what local consumers expect from a category, and a clear birds-eye view of where brands sit compared to their competitors, this is where semiotics and discursive approaches come to the fore. Sometimes you have to leverage the "power of geek" to differentiate.
Also, we will offer film output that allows a geographically-dispersed client team insight into the lives of their Chinese consumers. The power of a well-designed and -produced film is so important in terms of consolidating insight for brands and agency partners—this is an absolute passion of mine, as a filmmaker.
Alongside research and strategy, Smart will also address another shortcoming of the industry to date: naming. A Chinese name is essential to a brand's presence in China, but so often names are created without sufficient consideration of the category context or how the name works digitally. Chinese brand names need consistency to fit the brand's core messaging and talkability to seamlessly enter Chinese conversations, face-to-face or online.
But I must stress the creation of Smart is only part of my role. I will also dedicate my time to Resonance’s China Social Branding Reports, a syndicated database that provides analysis of the best-practice digital strategies and campaigns in China every month.
So finally, what should we be looking out for in terms of Chinese consumer trends?
On my return to China last year, I have noticed the entrenchment of the idea of middle-class living, defined by an increasingly clear type of consumption and set of brand associations. Previously this concept was more amorphous, but with a shift of the Chinese economy from production-led to consumer-led, the characteristics of this new lifestyle have taken form rapidly in China.
The good news for brands is that few consumer categories have established leaders or brand roles yet, meaning culturally-nuanced strategy and powerful engagement will create consumer relationships that define the future of nascent categories.
There must be a fundamental attitudinal change in how brands engage China, from short-term tactical habits to long-term strategic philosophy. Chinese consumers have now reached a new level of sophistication where brands are spoken about in terms of their emotional appeal and how they can project personal identity. In this context, stories that address consumer challenges and aspirations are the key to engagement.
A very interesting development will be the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in June. For me, this will have an important contagion effect across a number of areas including entertainment, tourism, education and even digital behaviour.