Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 7, 2014

Watsons' heritage of service and innovation

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: Watsons took the 10 spot in Hong Kong’s ranking. In this Q&A, Jacqueline Cheung, the brand's marketing controller, shares lessons the company has learned about winning trust with local consumers.

Jacqueline Cheung
Jacqueline Cheung

Ranking within Hong Kong's top ten puts Watsons ahead of some big international names like Starbucks and 7-eleven – what are some of the things that you believe contribute to that success in recognition and brand image for Watsons?

Long heritage. Watsons’ predecessor “Hong Kong Dispensary” was founded in 1841. Rooted in Hong Kong and growing with this city, we have gained the trust of Hong Kongers.

Attentive service. Watsons is the first health & beauty chain that organises qualified training courses recognised by Education Bureau’s Qualification Framework. Equipped with the biggest health professional team in Hong Kong comprising registered pharmacists, nurses, dieticians, health and fitness advisers, Chinese medicine practitioners and mother & baby advisers, Watsons wields its comprehensive professional network to the advantage of its customers.

Innovation. Watsons is the first health & beauty chain in Hong Kong to launch a smartphone shopping app. This helps draw young families and busy people who lack time to shop in person or prefer the convenience of online shopping. We have developed different store formats (BEAUTIQ by Watsons, Watsons Baby, Watsons Health) to cater the needs of different customers.

Digital technologies in media, commerce and services have great momentum in terms of public trust and uptake. The effect has been absolutely disruptive for all kinds of businesses. What are some digital-marketing tactics Watsons has adopted in Hong Kong?

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Interactive marketing campaigns on Facebook and Weibo. EDM to members. E-magazine, eBreath, to bring the latest health & beauty information to readers and at the same time deliver product news softly. Smartphone shopping app iWatsons, launched recently. Not only does it enable our customers to shop anytime and anywhere, but also serves as a channel of promotion (via smartphone notifications).

And what are some of the more traditional methods that still work even in our advanced digital environment?

We find print ads in free newspapers still very effective as they can promote products of different categories in a neat and comprehensive way. Our loyal customers also value them as important reference when they shop.

Are there key things a company has to do, or should avoid doing, to make a good impression in this market?

Keep the brand young and energetic. The city keeps evolving and we have to follow the market pulse closely. We unveiled our brand revamp campaign last year, which was well received by our customers. The revamp includes modified Watsons brand visual assets, new storefront facades, store interiors, lighting, navigation system and staff uniforms. All these refresh the image of Watsons and keep our brand young and energetic.

If you were tasked with starting a new marketing program from the ground up, for a new brand with no history in Hong Kong, based on your experience today, what would be the first things you would want to do to establish a positive image in the city?

A membership system would help build a close relationship with the customers and is an important channel of communication. Exclusive offers for members would give them a sense of importance and show that you care and value their support. We offer exclusive discount and activities (make up class, cooking class) for our members. There is also a redemption programme to reward our loyal members.

Hong Kong shoppers are known for their tastes in both high quality and getting a bargain – is walking that fine line part of the brand image Watsons tries to promote?

Definitely yes! To achieve this, we develop own brand products, which are value for money with high quality. With our worldwide sourcing network, we are able to deliver high quality at attractive price.

Which media channels have proven most effective for building Watsons image and which are the ones you rely on most to drive daily traffic at the stores?

People (store staff) and the store environment are the most important elements for building Watsons’ image, as they are what our customers come across day to day. We provide comprehensive training to our staff to equip them with communication skills and product knowledge. We also develop new store concepts and refit our stores to keep our brand young and energetic.

We adopt a customer-360 strategy to communicate with our customers via above-the-line marketing channels like TVC and print ads, radio, SMS, Facebook and Weibo, where we can inform them of the latest product news and offers.  To engage our customers, the message has to be customer-centric and has to avoid product pushing.

From a marketing perspective, are there any key differences between Wastons' business in Hong Kong and other markets where the brand operates? Are there any products for example that sell well in this market that are not as popular in others or vice versa?

Customers of different markets have different needs. Comparing with other markets, health products such as proprietary Chinese medicines, supplements and vitamins are especially popular in Watsons Hong Kong.

Are there any marketing innovations you see on the horizon that could change the way you run your business or present your brand?

Smartphones have become an essential part of our daily life and also an important marketing platform. Customers shop anytime and anywhere with a smartphone, and by presenting the membership QR code on our app during transactions, members can enjoy exclusive offers even without bringing the membership card.

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