Professional & Client Leadership

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:

  1. Customer obsession – How in touch a brand is with how consumers live and work?
  2. Distinctive inspiration – Is a brand motivated by a clear purpose?
  3. Ruthless pragmatism – Does a brand make experiences reliable and widely available?
  4. 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.

As Chief Executive Officer of J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific,
Tom led an organization of more than 3,000 people across over 25 countries and offices.

Under his stewardship, JWT consistently set industry standards for record revenue and profit growth.  The company’s success has been achieved though organic client development, new business wins as well as strategic acquisitions.

In the process, JWT emerged as one of Asia’s most culturally cohesive, creatively dynamic and synergistically integrated communications companies.

Three core principles underpin Tom’s growth strategy:

1. Idea-centricism. Ideas, not technological innovation for its own sake, are rooted at the core of everything JWT thinks about and does. The entire organization is committed to crafting and nurturing powerful ideas, with the brand idea–the definition of the long-term relationship between consumer and brand—at the epicenter. JWT is all about ideas.

2. Digital Heartbeat. As both consumer and technology landscapes evolve, digital expertise and competence is integral to the company. The pulse of digital technology is infused into the agency. There are no silos that separate technologists (systemic thinkers) from ideators (conceptualizers).

3. The Power of Collaboration. JWT recognizes that collaboration with partner companies across a wide range of specialist skills provides win-win solutions. Desk-to-desk. Country-to-country. Company-to-company. JWT maintains an open mind-set, reinforced by a strategically focused acquisition agenda. The company’s assets include: Always, the region’s most extensive field marketing network; Mirum, Asia’s largest digital solutions and technology platform developer; @Comm, China’s leading PR-driven integrated communications firms; and 3ti, a leading e-commerce solutions provider.

Tom is proud of his management team’s stability. The “JWT APAC Iron Triangle” – Lo Sheung Yan (Chairman, Worldwide and APAC Creative Councils) Ratan Malli (APAC Director of Strategic Planning) and Tom — has been unified since 1998. J. Walter Thompson’s cohesion, unique in the industry, has fostered an intellectually adventurous culture that been invaluable in attracting the best and brightest communications talent.

During his 22 years based in Asia, Tom has harnessed the power of idea-centricism, a digital heartbeat and collaboration ethos to elevate the marketing and communications of a uniquely broad base of corporations, both global and local.  A hands-on leader, Tom has directly managed long-term partnerships with the following clients:

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Tom is one of the world’s foremost experts on marketing in China
as well how the psychology of Chinese influences behavior, brand loyalty and engagement with digital media
and emerging social network platforms.

Based in Shanghai, he lived in Mainland China since 1998 as the guiding force of advertising agency J. Walter Thompson’s China operations. Between 1994-1998, he resided in Hong Kong. Two of his books, Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer (2006) and What Chinese Want: Communism, Culture and China’s Modern Consumer (2012), shed “much-needed light on the differences between Chinese and Western cultural preferences…and should help multinational companies understand their target audience, and enable them to market their brands more effectively to China’s hungry consumers.” (The Wall Street Journal on Billions).

In addition to his books, Tom has authored an extensive series of widely presented “China insight” white papers. Based on JWT’s proprietary research as well as cross-category experience working with its clients, they cover a broad range of cutting-edge topics including: “Who am I? Western versus Eastern Online Identities,” “Parallel Universe: Cyber Commerce in China,” “From We to Me: China’s Silver Market,” “Dream and Disasters: China’s Mass Market,” “Waves of Growth: China’s Lower Tier Markets,” “Old World, New Minds: China’s Post 90s Generation,” and “Goldmine or Landmine? Luxury in the PRC,” amongst many others.

Tom applies his deep knowledge of China’s distinct culture and commercial environments to designing not only marketing and branding campaigns but also digital, social media and e-commerce strategies, which effectively engage Chinese consumers.

Tom’s China expertise has made him a sought after keynote speaker for institutions as diverse as Columbia University and the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party and at forums including: the World Economic Forum; J. P. Morgan’s Global China Summit; the Women’s Wear Daily (WWF) Apparel & Retail CEO Summit; and the International Advertising Association’s World Congress. Fortune has recognized Doctoroff as a “go-to pundit for Western TV and radio producers seeking quick, sharp insight into Chinese behavior,” which is why he appears regularly on CNBC, CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, as well as in the Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

Tom is also a regular columnist for the Huffington Post.

Tom is the recipient of the “Magnolia prize,” awarded by the Shanghai municipal government to expatriates who have made “significant contributions” to China’s economic development. Tom was also selected as a Torchbearer for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He was also a driving force behind Samsonite’s winning Mainland China’s first Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the advertising industry’s premier awards competition.

Tom Doctoroff is one of Asia’s leading experts in brand marketing and
cross-border brand management.

As CEO of JWT Asia Pacific, the region’s largest advertising agency, Tom has partnered with dozens of blue chip corporations to pioneer solutions that build businesses. He has developed long-term relationships with several multinational clients that include Unilever, Ford, HSBC, Mattel and Microsoft as well as leading Asian enterprises including Lenovo, COFCO (China’s largest food conglomerate) and the Singapore Tourism Board.

Tom has been intimately involved with some of Asia’s greatest marketing successes including: the launch of Nike’s in China; Ford’s transformation in China from also-ran to producer of more than one million vehicles per year and Unicharm’s elevation to Asia’s leading feminine hygiene brand.

In an era of technological revolution, Tom is a passionate advocate of adhering to timeless brand building principles that unify marketing communications to deepen loyalty. He has developed multimedia presentations such as “Content: The Currency of Connection” and “Brand Advocacy in an Era of Digital Empowerment.”  In 2014, Tom also authored Twitter Is Not a Strategy: Rediscovering the Art of Brand Marketing (2014), a best-selling book that outlines how traditional and digital communications must be aligned to achieve harmony: between the clarity of top-down positioning and the dynamism of bottom-up consumer engagement; between long-term brand equity and short-term tactical messaging; and between emotional relevance and results driven by data-driven digital platforms.

Over the past decade, Tom has introduced to dozens of corporations JWT Asia Pacific’s proprietary brand building methodology based on four key imperatives:

1. Consumer Insights. Insights are the fundamental motivations of people that explain behavior and preference. They answer the question, “Why?”

2. The Brand Idea. In the engagement era, the brand idea must be defined, meticulously, as the long-term relationship between consumer and brand that remains consistent over time, yet remains flexible enough to evolve as competitive, demographic and technological circumstances shift.

3. Engagement Ideas. To ensure media neutrality, creative ideas must be defined as ideas that invite participation. Engagement ideas can be short-term, long-term, thematic or tactical, but they must be expressions of the brand idea.

4. Engagement Planning. When engagement ideas are defined as participation platforms, the opportunity to “marry” ideas and media becomes richer as ideas are woven through the fabric of consumers’ lives.