Constantly changing design required in Asian markets

Changing design required in Asia
Market Leader Spring 2010

There are always detractors when a high-profile brand takes a risk and does something a bit different – or heaven help it, a lot different – as Pepsi discovered in 2008. Its new identity system was widely criticised in the media, even before its 'leaked' design brief was ridiculed on the web. But Pepsi had the courage to tackle one of the biggest challenges for global brands operating in emerging markets: constant change.

Its new logos are the tip of the iceberg compared with its willingness to embrace change. Look at how many different liveries it will don to keep its consumers interested.

Developing markets are exciting, fast-moving and profoundly unforgiving. In the past Western brands wrongly assumed that they would be attractive to millions of potential consumers simply by virtue of who and what they were. Another false assumption was that processes that worked well in developed markets would replicate elsewhere.

The target for most international brands is teenagers. And in many territories they hang out in the same places, which makes design a better vehicle for communication than advertising because it achieves brand activation at the point of purchase. Environmental design, below the line, street theatre and the like enable marketers to create a huge presence in key places.

In developed markets brand equity is highly prized and strictly managed. Western consumers like the idea of brand families and are used to them. Innovation is careful and variants are taken seriously. Not so in developing territories.

Forget a variant strategy in emerging markets: it is a swift way to kill your brand. In one instance, one of China's major brewers had so many variants of its leading beer that it had no idea how many there were in total – somewhere between 450 and 600, it guessed. Not surprisingly this was very damaging to the core brand.

When emerging market consumers purchase a big brand they are buying into its security. Big international brands are more trusted because of their health and safety regulations. Some brands in developing markets can, and do, kill you. Confronting consumers with endless variants and sub-brands compromises confidence.

It is also expensive to support a large brand family. In China, for example, each TV viewer gets a mix of eight national channels as well as a multitude of regional and local channels. The solution is to keep variants to a minimum, but to innovate and develop them regularly.

Keep the core pure but change everything around it frequently. Brands need consistency to gain recognition and trust, but they also need to maintain interest. Emerging market consumers think that if a brand is not changing then it must be dead or dying. These youngsters, often 15 or 16, are used to constant noise. Brands need to have new news at point of purchase all the time.

Brands need to be redesigned continuously in developing markets. There is already a lot of activity in graphic design and we are starting to see greater emphasis on structural design. It is not unusual for a project to go from discussion to in-store in less than eight weeks.

Many of the most successful international brands in developing markets operate a canny portfolio structure.

They have an international brand with a huge communication spend behind it, positioned as premium in the market at a suitably high price point and with relatively low volumes. It has an international name and look.

The same parent company will also have a local product positioned as upper mainstream that feels local but provides cost-effective access to the equity of the global brand. This brand is communicated below the line and will provide most of the volume for the business. The localised brand attracts a premium against truly local brands, and companies may have a number of these localised brands in a single territory.

There is no doubt that developing market consumers trust huge global brands more than local alternatives, so the portfolio strategy allows them to benefit without costing them a fortune.

The most successful international brands in developing markets share similar features. They are sensitive to local nuances. They leverage brand architecture in a way that helps their new consumers. They keep a tight rein on variants and sub-brands. They keep the core pure, but change everything around it constantly. They keep pace with the markets they're in, no matter how fast-moving.

It isn't easy, but it is rewarding.


John Matthews is head of strategy at Blue Marlin Brand Design, Sydney.

[email protected]