There are dozens of storylines swirling in this year’s survey. We select four big ones.
Instagram beats Twitter
The Twitter bird has been knocked from its nest, as Asians look for newer, more visual social networks to express themselves. Back in October, a Kantar TNS survey found that Instagram usage across Asia-Pacific had nearly doubled since 2014. That was the year the photo-sharing channel entered our survey at 486 — and it has continued to climb ever since. Currently 161 overall, it’s now outranked only by parent company Facebook as Asia’s top social media moniker.
Malaysians are Instagram’s biggest boosters, with 73 percent of connected consumers using it, followed closely by users in Hong Kong and Singapore, says Kantar. The platform also clicks in Indonesia, Korea and Taiwan where over half who can use it actually do. By size alone, Australia and Japan form two of its top Asian markets.
Already popular with restaurants and retailers, Instagram has actively targeted small businesses in the region with new tool suites that allow customers to contact them directly. It has adopted some disappearing tricks from rival Snapchat while rolling out smarter features that let users share multiple photos and videos in slideshow format. Most news about Instagram over the past year has revolved around its new tools and pace of growth.
And then there’s Twitter. Slow user growth, sub-par sales, volatile shares, trolling complaints, Vine shuttered and worker layoffs have stolen the headlines this year, along with a staffing exodus that has seen a rash of resignations from key leaders in the US and right here across APAC.
Asia is actually Twitter’s key growth region, where user engagement rates are still climbing and recent efforts in live video products may still pay off.
But it’s clear Twitter continues to lose traction and our rankings reflect that. Ranked 60 at its peak in 2011, the brand has slipped nearly every year since, dropping 30 spots this year to 182. Donald Trump may be keeping Twitter front and centre in the US, but he’s unlikely to lead a resurgence in Asia — even if he is tweeting in our time zone.
Coke is it (again)
Guess who’s back? A decade ago, Coca-Cola was riding high as Asia’s fourth top brand, buoyed by the rising spending power of Asia’s growing consumer classes. But growing nutritional awareness and a push toward healthier food and beverage choices began to erode Coke’s brand equity, reflected in a gradual slide down the rankings to 17 by 2014. Yet this year’s survey returns the beverage brand back to the Top 10 for the first time in eight years.
Coca-Cola has been rolling out its ‘one brand’ approach worldwide over the past year, dubbed by Quartz as the “worst marketing idea since New Coke”. It essentially unites its mainstay Coca-Cola soft drink with its less sugary cousins (Coke Zero, Light, and Life) through similar packaging featuring its iconic red dot. While making its products less distinguishable has its detractors, the shift in strategy was borne out of 18 months of testing and 14 market trials with the aim of giving customers a shared Coca-Cola experience regardless if their drink is the original recipe, caffeine-free or sugarless.
Meanwhile, Coke has been addressing its negative perception as a seller of unhealthy drinks. For starters, it began selling soda in smaller pack size to help consumers control their calorie intake. This spring, it introduced Coca-Cola Plus in Japan, infused with dietary fibre and claims of suppressing fat absorption. It’s the first Coca-Cola labelled as a Food of Specified Health Use (FOSHU) by the Japanese government.
Don’t forget Coca-Cola is picking up brand points in bottled water categories, despite selling under sub-brands such as Dasani, Vitamin Water, Ice Dew and Valser (it also sells a portfolio of juices, teas and milk drinks).
In China, 2017 has not only seen the launch of Cherry Coke with the help of Warren Buffett, but also Ginger Coke, which has long been served up hot across Asia as a cold remedy. This year, Coke sank another US$41 million into its 44th plant on the mainland, one of the largest to date. Sales have been muted across Asia this year but it is clear Coke is betting that it can keep building stronger brand equity in its third largest market by volume.
Huawei, Xiaomi mark the rise of China and fall of Japan
There’s still no contest between China and Japan when it comes to brand power — yet. Japan’s long capitalist history have given its brands an enormous head start and they still dominate across Asia.
No fewer than 21 of Asia’s Top 100 brands are Japanese. Only one, Lenovo, is Chinese. But what might the future look like? Many of Japan’s once-proud electronic and industrial names like Toshiba, Sharp, Hitachi and Nikon are struggling with legacy issues and trying to reinvent themselves. Of those 21 top Japanese brands, a staggering 15 of them have slipped or fallen in our 2017 survey. Only three moved higher.
Chinese brands, of course, are mostly younger with a lot of catching up to do. But they’re doing in leaps and bounds at a most astonishing pace.
Huawei is this year’s winner in the high jump, soaring a whopping 661 places to number 202 on the list. It’s once again the top selling smartphone brand in China, according to tech research firm IDC, competing on both the high-end across Asia with its P series, on the low-end in markets like India with the Honor series, and in the wearables space with its own smart watch. When Samsung was hit with its Note7 battery fiasco, some critics dubbed Huawei as the best alternative, praising its long battery life.
Xiaomi is another Chinese brand going gangbusters, rising 577 spots to 216. While Xiaomi has lost its top position in the smartphone space and is still best known for making affordable mobile devices and computers, it’s also quickly entering the smart home space, with air purifiers, vacuum cleaners and rice cookers. Unlike Huawei, much of Xiaomi’s brand recognition is derived outside of mainland China from markets like Taiwan and Indonesia.
WeChat is the other big gainer, up 249 positions to 207. This comes as little surprise to those in mainland China, where the social messaging app has become critical to daily communication and the buying and selling of all goods and services. WeChat has some presence outside of Greater China in places like Malaysia but will need to broaden its regional appeal to keep climbing.
Finally, appliance-maker Haier (up 34 spots to 168) and computer giant Lenovo (up 10 spots to 80) also rebounded in 2017, rounding out this year’s Chinese brand success story.
Visa and Mastercard charge higher
Rarely do big global brands make huge leaps once they reach the Top 100, yet the top two credit card companies have done just that. Visa has moved from a Top 50 brand to a Top 20 brand, jumping 32 spots in a single bound, to 15th overall from 47 last year. Mastercard gained even more, narrowing its gap with Visa by leaping 45 positions to land at 22 this year.
The two brands still dominate the credit card brand category and only trail behind major banks in a few markets like China and Korea. Their closest global competitor, American Express, remains well behind.
India’s decision to demonetise key bank notes in November created huge demand for cashless payments. Visa’s subsequent #KindnessIsCashless campaign reported a surge in brand awareness and a doubling of transactions.
But what gave Visa and Mastercard the biggest boost in this year’s survey was the addition of the ‘online payment provider’ category. This was long overdue given the incredible growth of ecommerce activity, which Visa reports has jumped 25 percent in Asia-Pacific over the past year. So not surprisingly, secure transaction services like Visa Checkout — set to extend to India from the six APAC markets currently — are a priority.
In online payments, the Paypal brand is tops, but Visa and Mastercard compete closely with it in India. They even beat Paypal in markets such as Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan, while holding their own against Samsung Pay in Korea.
Only in China, the biggest market, do Visa and Mastercard have their work cut out for them, being utterly dominated by WeChat and AliPay. There, mobile payment users top the number of credit cards in circulation, reports the Financial Times.
Of course, Visa and Mastercard are well-positioned to mobile competitors like Apple Pay coming. They both conduct regular research on payment preferences in Asia, including those of mobile-friendly millenials.
Mastercard reports seeing a purchasing shift from desktop to mobile, particularly in Southeast Asia where 58 percent of shopping searches are done by phone. It’s therefore concentrating on expanding its Masterpass acceptance throughout Asia while developing payment-enabled chatbots.
In the long-term, credit card brands still have further potential in Asia, but need secure mobile services that are as easy to use as WeChat is in China.