Staff Writer
Feb 17, 2022

Returning to branding in the post-pandemic era: Focus Media’s Cindy Yan Chan

The unprecedented growth of e-commerce shows no sign of slowing — but how can brands make sure they stand out in such a saturated market? We spoke with Focus Media’s chief strategy officer, Cindy Yan Chan, about how traditional branding can complement digital marketing and foster consumer confidence.

Returning to branding in the post-pandemic era: Focus Media’s Cindy Yan Chan

It’s no secret that offline sales have declined since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Catalysed by social distancing measures, the already-burgeoning e-commerce market has seen exponential growth in the past two years and shows no sign of slowing. The increasing reliance from consumers on online shopping has given rise to rapid development of online sales channels, which in turn has greatly changed the advertising industry.

Within the booming online shopping landscape, livestream e-commerce in particular has gone from strength to strength, with many brands scrambling to have their products featured in livestreaming rooms at all costs. However, livestreaming isn’t the lucrative one-and-done solution it may appear to be at first glance.

Cindy Yan Chan, chief strategy officer and partner of Focus Media, points out, “If brands rely on online promotion and live e-commerce by top hosts only, they are likely to get good sales figures yet no profit because of the margin between the high costs of pit fees, commission to livestream shopping hosts, expenses on paid traffic and the ‘lowest online price.’ With the little profit left, companies cannot afford to further develop their brands and with this vicious cycle, sales promotion leads to non-sales.”

Additionally, Chan notes that livestreams tend to result in small purchases such as daily necessities as a result of consumers’ lacklustre confidence in brands they haven’t otherwise heard of. Instead of relying entirely on online sales channels, a more holistic approach that builds brand recognition and increases the likelihood that they will purchase instinctively.

Many companies realise the importance of branding, so they have returned to increasing the value of their brands and creating brand awareness. Chan says, “Companies that have strong brand value will own the hearts of consumers as well as the market. The stronger the brand power and greater the awareness, coupled with online promotion, the better the sales will be.”

Focus Media has always been committed to occupying top-of-mind awareness among consumers and establishing brand recognition through its precise marketing system. “Most of our media is in the lifts of office buildings and upscale apartment complexes, that mainstream Chinese consumers walk past every day. In the confined space of lifts, Focus Media, based on LBS (location-based services) and category tags, effectively builds awareness of the brand in consumers’ minds by delivering accurate messages in high frequency to them.” According to the 2012 China Domestic Popular Advertising Slogan Audience Research Report released by Ipsos, lift media has the most prominent effect on consumers’ memorization of slogans; in terms of spreading brand messages, 83% is attributed to lift media. Using these methods, Focus Media has successfully helped domestic cheese brand Myco Lando, down clothing company Bosideng, and infant milk formula brand Feihe Dairy increase brand awareness and sales across the board.
Consumer data needs to be taken seriously for companies with a growth agenda
In late 2021, the Chinese advertising industry saw the introduction of the Personal Information Protection Law and the Data Security Law, impacting the way brands could use consumer data to market themselves to netizens.
According to Chan, “Nowadays data is a new factor to consider. The implementation of these two laws will restrict the behaviour of excessive collection of personal data for digital marketing, thus companies that comply with the regulations in terms of data collection will see better growth. In the short term, the implementation of these laws is a challenge to the digital marketing industry, but in the long term being orderly and well-regulated will help the industry enter a phase of quality development.”
As for outdoor advertising, given its nature as a form of outbound marketing, consumers’ personal data would not be excessively collected. For example, what Focus Media’s lift media captures is a comparatively broad portrait of target audiences, without any personal data of specific individuals involved.
In terms of the impact on advertisers, Chan believes the new laws will urge advertisers to choose media that can deliver their brands’ messages more accurately and focus on building strong connections and trust with their real target customers.
A vision of precision
In the wave of digital transformation, Focus Media has become a success story in the offline advertising industry. In 2018, Chan led a digital transformation at Focus Media to modernise its processes for maximum effectiveness. “Focus Media used to be an offline media platform with all processes operated manually, but now we have successfully achieved intelligent and systematic operation and management.”
The endeavour has successfully turned Focus Media into a digitally-enabled media platform. The pre-placement stage, empowered with LBS and category tagging, includes intelligent uploading, scheduling and media systems, and the post-placement stage is equipped with facility monitors, advertisement monitors, and a real-time monitoring system from third parties. Each step in these stages is monitored in real-time. Furthermore, Focus Media adopts image recognition to verify the accuracy of the system, so as to enhance its operational efficiency.

Exporting lift media overseas

Focus Media started to expand to the highly promising overseas market in 2017 and has now established branches in Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, covering more than 30 major cities across Asia. In 2021, Focus Media started to see profit in its business in Korea and Singapore, and branched out into India, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Chan shares, “In some countries, we have tapped the market by establishing joint ventures with their local mainstream media corporations, and have been proactively adapting to customs and traditions of local consumers through localization. For example, the shape and the style of the facilities, and the forms of broadcasting are different in different countries, but what remains the same is our digital and intelligent management system.”

Noting that mainland China always leads Asia Pacific in internet development — about a year ahead of other countries — Chan is optimistic about the future of branding across the region. “The current trend in Mainland China is to gradually return to the branding itself and to adopt a combination of branding and social media. I believe that in the rest of Asia Pacific, we will also see a resurgence of brand advertising very soon.”

Target Media Culcreative pte Ltd
Focus Media Korea Company Limited
Target Media Culcreative pte Ltd
Target Media Culcreative pte Ltd


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