How Relevant Brands Capture the Head and Heart of Chinese Consumers
In Prophet’s seventh Brand Relevance Index®, we once again explored the powerful way that brand relevance drives impactful, profitable growth. As the world continues to shift and settle into the “new normal,” brands are breaking through to connect with us on a more human level. This year, our analysis found that successful brands are evolving, building relevance with consumers by appealing to the head and the heart.
As we revealed the top 50 most relevant brands in the U.S., we asked our colleagues in Shanghai to share their perspectives on what some of China’s most relevant brands are. Here are their thoughts on which brands stand out.
HEAD: Redefining the Everyday
Tom Zhang, Associate Partner
“Manner Coffee truly democratizes coffee for the average Chinese consumer in a way that no other brand has. Manner connects to the head through ruthless pragmatism and pervasive innovation. Its price point of 15 RMB for a hot latte is less than half of one at Starbucks, yet it maintains high standards for the quality of its beans and its baristas. Its menu is constantly updating with seasonal drinks and limited-edition collaborations. Manner also holds a unique perspective on what a coffee shop should look like. Beyond office buildings and subway entrances, Manner is also integrated into the fabric of the city, with locations in theaters and fresh markets alike, turning it into a simple yet classic component of life.”
Wuling Hongguang Mini EV
Charlotte Zhang, Marketing Manager, Asia
“Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is a micro-sized, four-seater electric car that debuted in 2020 and has since become the best-selling electric vehicle in China. The EV offers a convenient yet affordable option for daily transportation in China’s dense urban areas. Its advantageous size makes it easy to navigate, park and charge – perfect for dropping kids off at school, stopping by the grocery store and commuting to work. Also, Wuling continues to launch new models such as a convertible version and customizable options. The competition from traditional players is fierce though, and Wuling must go beyond being solely a pragmatic choice and define what it stands for as a brand in order to achieve relentless relevance with consumers.”
HEAD: Reinforcing Promises with Performance
Baron Zhang, Senior Associate
“The innerwear category has exploded in China in the past few years, with several new players taking on traditional industry leaders, and Bananain is at the forefront. Bananain leaps ahead by positioning itself as a technology company built on patented somatosensory technology (e.g., Tagless, Zerotouch, Airwarm) rather than simply an innerwear brand. This technology-led approach is deeply integrated into their growth strategy and design process, allowing their products to deliver on the functional benefits they promise. With the belief that people should ‘focus on the inside,’ Bananain exists to ‘raise the baseline’ and elevate the standards for self-care.”
HEART: Creating Magical Escapes
Flora Wang, Engagement Manager
“With hundreds of new, local brands entering the pet industry, VETRESKA has identified a unique formula for success: Viewing pets as their owners do, as family members. This strategy worked especially well with the rapidly growing segment of young, female pet owners who have rising disposable incomes and a discerning eye for quality and design. With backgrounds in fashion, VETRESKA’s cofounders have gone beyond typical pet products to create a shared fantasyland for pets and humans alike. As a mom of two cats myself, VETRESKA allows me to provide the best for my pets and brings us closer together.”
Tracy Xu, Senior Associate
“With borders closed and international travel restricted during the pandemic area, Chinese travelers are rediscovering domestic destinations and seeking out best-in-class experiences. Songtsam is a boutique luxury hotel group in the remote Yunnan and Tibetan areas of China, providing access to what were once hard to get to destinations. Songtsam connects intimately with the hearts of the guests who stay there. The brand offers a both undeniably indulgent and deeply reflective experience inspired by nature and the local culture, with a staff that is over 90% Tibetan.”
Will Chiang, Associate
“næra Hotel is similarly creating an immersive and escapist experience, located closer to Shanghai. The hotel integrates local Jiangnan cultural elements in its design but also combines modern aspects, exhibiting the artwork of 35 local and foreign artists. In addition, næra’s experience is anchored in its nearby 3,000-acre organic farm, which supplies produce for its restaurants and allows interested guests to pick their own vegetables.
“Songtsam and næra represent a new breed of boutique hotels in China that are elevating the standards for domestic travel.”
HEART: Enabling Shareable Experiences
Yang Yu, Associate
“Holiland, a traditional Chinese bakery chain, turns 30 this year. It recognized the need to keep up with new market trends in order to surprise and delight customers and stay relevant. It aimed to be seen as not only reliable but distinctive as well. To do so, Holiland collaborated with many in- and out-of-category brands – including Toblerone, Diantaixiang Hot Pot and UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, to launch new and unexpected products. The brand also refreshed its visual identity and retail concepts, creating sleek, futuristic retail concepts that invite young consumers to come together to socialize and snap photos with friends.”
Shirley Liu, Finance Lead; Lily Xu, Talent Lead; Wynee Zhang, Executive Assistant
“MOBI GARDEN is at the forefront of the new camping craze that has swept China. Originating as an OEM for foreign high-end brands, MOBI GARDEN combined its deep industry expertise and production capabilities with a unique understanding of the domestic market. This insight was key in their offerings of high-performance, cost-effective products that deliver safety and comfort as well as a premium “glamping” experience. The brand also recognized the need to position “glamping” as a lifestyle, creating shareable content while engaging with consumers through social media channels such as Douyin (TikTok) and RED. By making the outdoors more accessible and shareable, MOBI GARDEN offers a new form of social currency for China’s rising middle class.”
RELENTLESSLY RELEVANT: Elevating Modern Living
Swire Properties (Taikoo)
Joey Zhang, Associate
“Swire Properties, under the Taikoo brand in China, is redefining what urban life in China looks like. In an industry that is known to be stale, Swire creatively transforms urban space, community and culture through adaptive reuse, innovative retail concepts, and hyper-localized experiences. Its newest project in Shanghai, Taikoo Li Qiantan, features an open-plan and lane-driven architectural design that appeals to the head and unique experiences centered on wellness that appeal to the heart. The stores featured are a mix of well-known brands, rotating pop-ups and pioneering concepts such as Starbuck’s first Greener Store Lab in Asia. As a native Shanghainese, I can see this project putting the new Qiantan area on the map in a way that few other developers could.”
RELENTLESSLY RELEVANT: Inspiring Through Technology
Sean Hong, Senior Associate
“Chinese consumers, once known for flaunting brand names and logos, are increasingly choosing brands that reflect their own perspectives and values, and Tesla embodies just this spirit. Tesla’s industry-leading technology fuels a mission that goes beyond itself or even cars in general – ‘to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.’ Elon Musk himself is a big part of the brand as well, speaking his mind and sometimes taking a stance that is at odds with other western brands and media. This characteristic appeals to Chinese consumers greatly. When he tweeted a cryptic, ancient Chinese poem in November 2021, the topic went viral on Chinese social media platforms as netizens praised his cultural knowledge and raced to decipher its meaning.”
Chuck Deng, Senior Associate
“When I think about brands I cannot live without, RED is at the top of the list. The social media platform allows me to experience life from new perspectives, places, interests and people, whether I’m on the go or in my daily living. On RED, I’m constantly inspired by users around me. It is not just following the latest trends, it is where trends are created. When I want to know something, I no longer use Baidu or Google. Rather, I turn to RED to get a more personal, unique perspective from influencers I trust. RED is also keeping up with the latest in tech innovation, launching its own NFT platform, R-SPACE, late last year where users can directly purchase NFTs within the app.”
“Successful brands are evolving, building relevance with consumers by appealing to the head and the heart.”
As marketers and consumers, we’re constantly intrigued by the way brands, old or new, continue to stay relevant in the ever-evolving China market. But we are even more impressed by the holistic way they can connect with our heads and speak to our hearts. From elevating our daily lives to creating fantastical escapes, relentlessly relevant brands have the ability to surprise, delight and deliver unforgettable experiences.
To learn more about our research, including how to assess, create and maintain brand relevance, download our 2022 Brand Relevance Index®.
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