New entrants: Ride-sharing apps proving uber-popular

International sports leagues and fitness trackers are among the other brands shaking up the Top 1000 this year.

New entrants: Ride-sharing apps proving uber-popular

International sports leagues and fitness trackers are among the other brands shaking up the Top 1000 this year. 

Here is Uber once again making the headlines — only this time for positive reasons. The eight-year-old ride-sharing brand, which has faced its fair share of controversy, has shot to the 19th spot in its debut on Asia’s Top 1000 Brands list, putting itself in the same league as firmly established names such as Visa and Starbucks.

Uber is not alone — plenty of new brands and technologies are seeing incredibly fast adoption rates among consumers in Asia thanks to the expansion of the middle classes, meaning greater volumes of disposable income, and the growing numbers of tech-native young people. To reflect this, Nielsen added five new categories to its Top 1000 Brands list this year: ride-sharing/transport booking brands, wearable device brands, online payment provider brands, smart home tech brands and professional sports leagues. Of these, the highest-placed brands fall mainly under the ride-sharing, wearable and professional sports league categories but Adriana Chia, director of consumer insights at Nielsen, says all five are up-and-coming, having seen an uptake in terms of social buzz, usage incidence and penetration across Asia.


All hail ride-sharing

Despite a blip in the form of its exit from China last year, Uber is the number one ride-sharing platform in eight out of 13 markets surveyed. Its closest regional competitor, Grab, which was founded in Malaysia in 2012, takes the top spot in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines; it has a presence in 50 Southeast Asian cities versus Uber’s 34.

Stuart Jamieson, managing director of SEA emerging markets at Nielsen, says that the popularity of Uber and Grab in the region is driven by a confluence of factors.

“Public transport in this part of the world is not as organised as other more developed Asian countries,” says Jamieson.

“With growing affluence, consumers have a stronger desire for convenience and like the ease of jumping on a ride and getting to their destinations through the apps.”

 Uber is in the process of building on its success by launching the food delivery service UberEats in cities such as Hong Kong and Mumbai. “UberEats is a great catalyst to force us to think about Uber’s mission, what it stands for and what value it brings to consumers,” says Renaud Besnard, director of marketing, Uber, APAC, adding that the launch leverages on “ecommerce, content, trends and social marketing”. For instance, the campaign for UberEats in Tokyo is based on the insight that Japanese consumers love restaurant chefs and fine-dining. Uber collaborated with Volvo and chef Yukio Hattori to serve a multi-course menu to riders during the campaign.

Grab has been equally pragmatic, tapping into the current ecommerce boom in the region with the acquisition of the Indonesian online payment startup KuDo. Cheryl Goh, Grab’s group vice-president of marketing, says that the 2.3 million transactions processed by the app daily have been a catalyst for the brand to venture into the digital economy. It already launched GrabPay Credit last year, a stored-value e-wallet that allow users make cashless payments for rides, and the brand’s very nature may help it expand this market to students and the ‘unbanked’ population. “We believe we have the opportunity to build the number one payment platform in this region because our customers already trust us,” says Goh.


Sporting glory

American sports star Kobe Bryant has come out of retirement from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and taken up table-tennis purely for his Chinese fans, if his appearance in an ad for the Chinese food delivery service is to be believed.

The NBA’s maturity in the Chinese speaking markets today is evidenced by its position as the highest ranked sports league in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the 63rd highest brand in Asia overall.

“We are aware that NBA players have extensive business opportunities in China,” says NBA China CEO David Shoemaker. “It tells me two things: the popularity and impact of the NBA continues to grow in China, and the league and the sport of basketball as a whole have very bright futures here.”

China is reputedly the most NBA-mad nation in Asia. It’s a love affair that dates back a long way: when Yao Ming became the first Chinese player signed by the NBA in 2002, it was a momentous occasion. The league recently celebrated its 30-year partnership with CCTV and it has 10 other media partners besides Tencent, through which it streams NBA games on mobile.

Rupert McPetrie, CEO, MediaCom China, says having local players in NBA teams has sealed the hearts and minds of Chinese fans. He calls NBA’s success story in China a phenomenon and a lesson, alluding to President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plan to make football big in China. “A key feature of its achievement lies in its ability to grow organically in the market. NBA seems to be very cross-cultural, and that is one of its strengths, in contrast to other sports which may feel a bit imported and imposed on the consumers.”

Mike Kitts, senior director, corporate partnerships, Golden State Warriors, explains that sports leagues such as NBA and the English Premier League, the second highest ranked league in Nielsen’s list, in 68th position, enjoy a visibility that is not afforded to some sports such as the National Football League (310), where the faces of the players are hidden under the helmets.


Getting in shape

Of 42 million wearables sold in Asia last year, 55 percent were fitness trackers, 24 percent locators and 17 percent smartwatches, according to an report on Fitbit is the highest ‘wearables-only’ brand in the overall list, in 307th position, although Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, LG and Xiaomi outrank it as consumers’ favourites in the wearables category itself. 

How to explain wearables’ success? Jamieson believes that consumers’ attitude towards health and fitness — combined with the love of convenience, again — is driving demand.

“If I am going to do all these exercises, how do I measure the impact? Before this, you jumped on the scales and that used to be the only way, now you have an electronic device that helps you to track how many steps you have taken and how many calories you have lost,” says Jamieson. 

Nevertheless, staying on top of a fitness routine demands strong willpower. The dropout rate for a fitness tracker can be just as significant as its adoption rate.

Kenneth Liew, senior research manager, IDC, says Fitbit users are generally those who are new to wearables and fitness trends, meaning the brand and others like it have launched incentive programmes to encourage users to stick to their fitness routines and their products, he explains. Fitstar, for example, is a health-and-fitness platform by Fitbit with over 9 million downloads across the Fitstar Personal Trainer and Fitstar Yoga apps in 155 markets.

“These platforms can be quite addictive as users can earn points, compare scores with other exercisers and challenge themselves,” says Liew. 

In terms of what differentiates one fitness tracker brand from another, Tracy Tsai, research VP of Gartner, says multiple factors can affect consumers’ purchase of wearables, including function, brand, price and ecosystem. Apple’s ecosystem, for instance, is a strong factor that drives its sales and brand standing in the wearables market, she says.

“Apple builds an Apple iOS ecosystem from phone, to tablet, to wearables. Users can easily interact with Apple’s content and interface across devices,” says Tsai.


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