Prophet’s China Brand Relevance Index (BRI) measures the depth of the role brands play in the lives of consumers. Our belief is simple: in order both sustain a price premium and fuel future growth, brands need to be relentless relevant, deepening relationships with consumers over time.
The BRI ranking is an aggregation of four dimensions of engagement:
- Customer obsession – How in touch a brand is with how consumers live and work?
- Distinctive inspiration – Is a brand motivated by a clear purpose?
- Ruthless pragmatism – Does a brand make experiences reliable and widely available?
- Pervasive innovation – Does a brand push the status quo with novel solutions to life?
China is a society that is becoming modern and globally connected but not Western. Therefore, these dimensions must be underpinned by insight. Specifically:
Liberated Lifestyle. Our list is strewn with high-tech companies that offer new lifestyle opportunities to a population that until recently was starved for choice. Mobike, a dockless bike share system, liberates millions from the hassles of public transportation. Tencent’s QQ has evolved from a texting app to a multidimensional entertainment platform.
Thanks to Alipay, the virtual payment system, China is morphing into a wallet-free society. The brand ranks first on fourteen of the sixteen dimensions of relentless relevance, including “makes me feel inspired,” “connects with me emotionally” and “engages with me and new and creative ways.”
Active Status. Status can no longer be a static badge. It must be active, the “X Factor” that transforms past achievements into new opportunities.
The messaging of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz – power brands for the past twenty years – is now focused on the future. Mercedes has adopted a strikingly youthful, energetic tone. In its 2016 Olympic advertising, copy exhorts, “Nothing ages faster than past glory…Don’t forget! Tomorrow is another training day!”
Marriott, W Hotel, Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Grand Hyatt and the Park Hyatt offer distinct combinations of timeless prestige and new multi-dimensional experience. Shanghai’s W Hotel is a melting pot of style and luxury for China’s young and hip, complete with famous DJs, “East meets West” dance parties and eclectic art exhibits. Four Seasons offers personalized “extraordinary discoveries” that broaden the worldview of Chinese traveling abroad.
Connected Self-Expression. The expansion of personal networks has always been high risk. Face, the manifestation of social currency in China, can be both easily won or lost by saying or doing something wrong.
Today, however, the relative anonymity of digital platforms enables Chinese Millennials make new connection without fear of causing offense.
Self-expression has become less dangerous. NetEast Cloudmusic fuses streaming service and social sharing to the tune of 100 million playlists and 200 million comments. Estée Lauder and Lancôme have morphed from cosmetics manufacturers to social media juggernauts, forging communities in which millions share beauty and professional tips.
Larger-than-Life Escape. As the pressures of the modern world crescendo, brands that provide stress release are consumed as emotional sustenance. IKEA curates social media conversations on new domestic ideals (“your home, your beautiful heaven”) and advocates transforming homes into dreamscapes for the masses. Lyrical copy nods to new fulfillment: “Yes, home will always be a retreat after a busy day. But it can also be a field of joy.”
The desire for (safe) release also explains why so many gaming companies are in the top fifty — Riot, Blizzard, NetEase Gaming and Tencent Games. They are addictive because they free a sense of repressed inner glory. Riot’s League of Legends boasts more than 110 million accounts and championship playoffs (“Chase Your Legend”) that are a national sensation.
Cool Scale. Size both affords low price and reassures regarding reliability. These benefits are conservative. That’s why BRI attributes “I trust” and “I know I can depend on” are more important than in other markets.
But scale can be trendy, and a mark of national pride.
Huawei is now the world’s third best-selling smartphone. As China’s first genuinely global brand, it’s hip. Huawei hires foreign celebrities such as Henry Cavill, Messi and Scarlett Johannsson. It partners edgy brands such as GoPro, Porsche and Leica, and sponsors exhibits — “From Selfie to Self-Expression” — at London’s chic Saatchi gallery. The company’s evolution from “made in China” to “created in China” is happening.
Tmall, the ecommerce behemoth, projects ego-affirming hip. Single’s Day was originally a promotional event for the lovelorn. The event has morphed into a patriotism-fueled demonstration of national spending power. In 2016, $18 billion in sales revenue was generated in 24 hours. Singles’ Day is also an online-telethon party. Mega-celebrities such as David Beckham, Scarlett Johansson (again!), Katy Perry and Kobe Bryant drop by to sprinkle star dust across Single’s Day transactions.
In conclusion, relentlessly relevant brands must walk the talk. In a country, exploding with choice, the combination of insight and satisfying customer experience is the lynchpin of growth.