Staff Reporters
Aug 23, 2018

Key takeaways from Campaign's Brand Summit China

Our on-the-ground reporters distill the top news stories, quotes and insights from Brand Summit China, held in Shanghai.

Key takeaways from Campaign's Brand Summit China

Brand Summit China is Campaign Asia-Pacific's annual event in China, for senior brand marketers and agency experts to converge, debate and discuss key ideas.  

Our editors Jenny Chan and Olivia Parker covered the 23 August event liveblog style (the coverage begins at the bottom of this page, with newer updates as you move up). 

5.35pm: Creativity returns with a vengeance

2018 will be labelled the year that the Chinese advertising industry returned to creativity, according to Tomaz Mok, founder of Match, who has noticed that rowdy, annoying ads that abuse repetition are gradually fading. Mok established early on in this panel that creative ideas will always resonate more with the audience, compared with selling a product's functional benefits. Commerce needs creativity, and it is creativity that carries more social responsibility and meaning that will truly impress consumers on a psychological level.

Isabel Wang (below), general manager of marketing of Nivea at Beiersdorf, lauded as a dream client who gives her agencies free rein on creativity, said: "I believe that creativity is the soul of the brand. Every creative idea starts with a proposition from the brand owner, then refined by the creative agency." The responsibility of a client is not to modify the resulting work wantonly or dramatically, but to respect the creative direction of the agency, she added. 

4.00pm: Brand or performance marketing? 

What should you prioritise, brand marketing or performance marketing? This was the opening question posed by panel host and MD of IPG Reprise Media China Alvin Foo and the first answer came from Mika Kanai, general manager of media and digital marketing at Shiseido China: “I don’t choose either,” she said. “It has to be together.”

Her fellow panelist Fred Luan, regional marketing director for Tourism Australia, commented that “branding is the backbone of performance”. The Australian government measures his company’s success on visitors and expenditure to the country (incidentally, China has since February been the number one source country for visitors to Australia, and Chinese tourists spend four times more than the global average) and branding plays a very important role in the process of inspiring consumers to travel. “Branding should have an organic, homogenous connection to performance.” Luan also said he preferred to talk about “integrating” his brand budget and performance budget rather than “shifting” the former to the latter.

Another perspective came from Ranjit Singh, CEO of mobile marketing agency Fugumobile Limited, who regularly works with small brands that are largely unknown in China and are looking to grow here. They commonly want to know where to spend their limited budgets in such an expensive market, he said. Most will focus more on the performance side and look to work with platforms like Tmall to host their products and generate sales. While this creates quick returns that might allow a company to justify spending for the first couple of years, the problem is that is it not a sustainable model, noted Singh. “On Tmall, you need to spend a lot of money on promotions otherwise nobody knows where you are. You may be able to work a deal to promote yourself at the beginning, but as soon as that stops your sales go to zero.” So what to do?

L-R: Alvin Foo of IPG Reprise Media, Ranjit Singh of Fugumobile, Fred Luan of Tourism Australia and Mika Kanai of Shiseido

Social is one opportunity smaller brands can explore in China. “You won’t have immediate results, but at least it is an avenue that is somewhat low cost. At the same time, you can continue with performance marketing. That lets you slowly build a brand story, keep revenues coming over Tmall and then as the story resonates more, you can spend more money on alternative media to grow your brand,” said Singh.

Luan agreed, saying he thinks the e-commerce world offers distorted promises. Brands have great ambitions here because everything in China comes with big numbers attached, he said. They can promise big sales to Tmall and Alibaba so they get promoted and sell lots in 24 hours - but then nothing. “Branding is key for long-term sustainability,” he said. 

Singh also made an interesting point about the lack of technological know-how within brands leading to mismatched conversations when they talk to the bigger platforms that are technology-led, run by people who live and breathe coding and technology. “The platform guys and the brand guys are unable to communicate. Brands teams should become more and more technology-orientated… that’s a huge challenge from a brand perspective.”

3.00pm: The new marketing mathematics formula is 1+1>2

“When we say co-creating something with another brand for a campaign, we want to think about co-investment. We combined our brand’s social power with QQ’s best engineering expertise,” said Jalin Wu (below right), global vice president of Fast Retailing Global Group and chief marketing officer of Uniqlo Greater China, sharing how the clothing brand’s recent partnership with QQ Music came about. “Clothes and music are like food and water in a consumer’s life, and can inspire them to have a ‘more than normal’ day.” Selling products is only the most basic job of a marketer, but making consumers feel happy elevates that job, Wu said.

Lays and Puma was another partnership of unprecedented scale and complexity, and a co-shared sense of experimentation helped make that happen, added Amy Chen, vice president and chief marketing officer for snacks category, PepsiCo Greater China (pictured below centre). "I encourage my team to experiment; the only failure is not trying anything."

2.50pm: Online, offline and closing the sales loop

China had over 800 million netizens by the end of June, making up over 60% of the population, and over 98% of those netizens use the internet for entertainment. But, pointed out Paul Xu, head of marketing for East China at China's largest DSP, Ipinyou, most sales are still made offline. So how can brands convert online sales to offline?

This was the main question occupying a panel discussion about China’s ‘new retail’ revolution. Xu said his company had been working to smooth out difficulties in connecting online and offline for the last two years, launching an AI-based platform to collect information on all dimensions of consumer activity to generate real leads, but he admitted that there is still a long way to go before brands can make full use of online data to make it more useful to offline sales.

L-r: Campaign's Jenny Chan, Eve Lo from DAN China, Chenyin Pan of Fireworks, Eddie Cai of GAP Greater China and Paul Xu of Ipinyou

His fellow panellist Chenyin Pan, director of Fireworks China, which calls itself ‘China’s first post-digital agency’, gave an honest account of the challenges he notes specifically in the luxury market. 70% of Chinese buy luxury products overseas, mainly in Europe, instead of in local markets, he said, no matter how many online activities are launched. “We make suggestions to customers on how to go to our offline stores, but no matter if on or offline, sales are not well supported. People are going to Europe even if we recommend shopping local [sic].” The solution may be found in making more connections between offline shops in Europe and the online shops in China, allowing brands to “close the loop”.

Online platforms like Tmall or do still have their uses for luxury brands, however: the huge traffic levels they attract means they can help brands raise awareness, said Eve Lo, chief consultant at Dentsu Aegis Network China. Burberry set up their flagship shop on Tmall in 2012 or 2013 for example, Pan recounted, not to sell products but simply to raise brand awareness and showcase the fact that their business presence is everywhere.

2.00pm: E-commerce festivals do drive shopping sprees, with a little help from data
Feng Li, co-president of Gridsum (pictured below), shared the insight that everything can be boiled down to the effective use and analysis of data. For the just-concluded babycare festival that took place on 20 May, he showed how clients could precisely document the granular changes in the sales of a certain brand in different time slots. For Wyeth Illuma, for example, the change was subject to pricing competition, when customers chose to switch other milk powder brands. When the price was lowered, their market share for that month increased.

12.40pm: Will you be my partner, in sickness and in health?

"Lots of people are talking about what they do, but no one is talking about how they do things," said Richard Bleasdale, managing partner for Asia Pacific at The Observatory, who spent more than 20 years analysing partnership dynamics between marketers and agencies. "If you focus on the how, the numbers [for marketing ROI] you generate are much, much higher."

In the most successful partnerships, marketers and agencies behave differently, he observed. Marketers take calculated risks to accept uncomfortable ideas, embrace agencies as their business partners and are firm yet fair while respecting agency people. At the same time, agencies that adopt this behaviour also push themselves to show commitment to their clients, think at a business (not just branding) level, and become the brand's champions instead of just executors.

In this way, both parties share the risks—and the rewards.

11.45am: Easing anxiety with food and humour

By Hu, planning group director of NetEase Media, used a recent case study to illustrate how Netease uses content to "touch the hearts of consumers". The company believes that having the right attitude and conveying positive energy is the first step towards successful brand promotions, he said. 

During a project to help KFC promote a line of pastries, for example, Netease conducted a social media survey that found that 94.9% of the younger generation are "obsessed" with anxiety. "We wanted to play on anxiety and tell them it can be healed - healing the anxiety is the core message we want to convey in this collaboration with KFC," explained Hu.

By Hu of NetEase Media

As their online solution, Netease invited celebrities to make videos telling viewers how they have healed their own anxiety, inviting those viewers to answer questions to help them understand how their own anxiety manifests in an online environment at the same time. Offline, the company built a 'healing pavilion' consisting of a labyrinth - a "projection of anxiety" showcasing some of the different causes of anxiety - followed by a "healing environment" where visitors were invited to write down their feelings and earn a sweet KFC dessert in the process. 

"We are a viral company," said Hu. "Our content is contagious, our fans are addicted to our content."

11.20am: Xiaomi seeks Internet of Things domination

Q.Chen, VGM of advertising and sales, MIUI, at Chinese electronics company Xiaomi, presented the brand's smart home device ecosystem, MIOT, which uses human natural language to link "intelligent fixtures" across the home environment so users can control everything from the level of their air conditioning and the music they're listening to while they work out to the destination they're getting to in their car, simply by voice commands.

Q.Chen of Xiaomi

The platform now has 300m individual users and 20m family users, said Chen. An important part of Xiaomi's ambition in the next few years is to grow the number of their offline stores, currently at 340, to 1,000 offline stores in the next two years. 

Noting that Xiaomi has in the past deployed most of its efforts helping other companies access data on their own consumers, the brand also hopes to come up with a more precise, panoramic profiling system for their own users in future, said Chen. 

Live photo stream: head to this link to find photographs from the event, streaming live. 

The packed room of delegates at Brand Summit China in Shanghai this morning.


Maggie Cui, general manager of national sales channel at Alimama

10.25am: In pursuit of 'good stories'

To tell a good brand story you need a clear concept, a good vision and a sense of mission, said Kevin Yan, senior marketing director, brand marketing and PR department, Tmall Global in a panel session on 'the power of storytelling'. Citing Disney as the "greatest storyteller" in the world, Yan told the audience about Tmall's vision to transform customers' search for a particular product they need at any given moment into a journey infused with "warmth", that makes the customer feel "emotionally bonded" to the Tmall app that is helping them. It's about finding the element that makes the brand stand out among all the other homogenous e-commerce platforms, said Yan. 

All brands pay critical attention to storytelling, agreed Autumn Song, IM general manager of Meitu, a technology company that makes smartphones and selfie apps, and is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. In the past, said Song, it used to be enough to make an advert for television that would tell a certain story and attract many viewers. "Today, a story itself is not enough, we need a good story." While we used to believe (ten years ago when Weibo and WeChat were just emerging) that content was everything, she continued, today it is how you use the content to tell stories that have become as important as what the story itself is about. 

L-R: Autumn Song of Meitu, Kevin Yan of Tmall Global and Jenny Chan of Campaign Asia-Pacific
Both speakers emphasised the point that each brand will have their own unique stages and priorities. Some will want to impress deeply in a short period of time, said Song; others want to win buy-in as much as possible. "Brands love to make use of breaking news to do some commercials," said Yan, "but they need to be reminded what is the core interest of the brand. What is your brand identity, personality? Everyone has a personality; so does every brand." 

Brands must also be mindful of non-majority customers, but while many brands pursue 'subcultures' to demonstrate their properties, they should approach these with caution, said Song. Only by engaging them smartly will brands be able to convert customers here into positive fans. 

9.30am: Success factors for brands in China

The day kicks off with a discussion between Campaign Asia-Pacific deputy editor Olivia Parker and Eva Ng, head of client global expansion at Nielsen Global Markets Group (pictured below), to share some of the in-depth findings from our Asia's Top 1000 Brands research this year. Find all of the 2018 data from China, including brand rankings and exclusive analysis from in-market experts, here

Among Ng's main insights was her observation that Chinese consumers care less about brand orientation than they used to. According to a recent Nielsen consumer confidence survey about purchase intentions in the next year, 24% of consumers said they intended to buy local brands and 9% intended to buy multinational or imported brands, but 46% of consumers said they chose to buy products according to considerations of quality, not origin. 

"The nature of the product, such as its quality, ingredients and functions, is more important for Chinese consumers than whether the brand is local or foreign in most cases," said Ng. 

She also identified three key success factors for Chinese brands: speed to capture local consumer trends, distribution penetration and boldness in marketing and media execution, leveraging the latest online technology and trends. 

A huge thank you to our strategic partner, NetEase, in helping us lay on this event. Below: Sonia Young, commercial director for Campaign North Asia, shakes hands with Jian Zhang, general manager of NetEase Media East China. 

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