• Transform magazine
  • July 18, 2024


Insights: From Asia to beyond, through upstream creativity

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Asian brand owners are benefitting from an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the power of branding. Jolin Guan discusses changing approaches to creativity

At Superunion, we believe in upstream creativity. Upstream creativity means that creativity – enabled by close client partnerships – has a place at the heart of a business, not just its outward expression. In a world characterised by increasingly complex interactions between businesses and customers, creativity has the power to unlock solutions that create distinctive advantages and growth.

Does upstream creativity work in Asia? Yes, it does. The truth is, each and every Asian market is now characterised by saturated industries, with outstanding, creatively inspired brands required to achieve cut-through. That’s where we come in. 

Superunion is the branding consultancy with the longest history in Asia. The earliest incarnation of Superunion China – then Brand Union – was established in 2001, giving us 18 years of experience in the world’s most dynamic market. Others don’t have the same depth of knowledge on how the perceptions of branding and its value have evolved.

Adjacent competitors – advertising agencies, PR agencies, etc. – are all espousing their own form of branding, but we remain confident in our approach. Our vantage point allows us to have the unique capacity to act as true brand guardians for Asian companies. We are uniquely positioned to help our clients understand that branding is a long-term holistic investment with a place at the highest levels of business. To us, branding should never be low-brow.

We’re also a little choosy. We love working with category leaders, and category disruptors. Genetron Health, one of our Chinese clients, is a startup that saw an unresolved pain point in the cancer genomics market, and went for it with bravery and ambition. That’s the kind of boldness we love.

Clients are shifting from ‘downstream activation’ to ‘upstream creativity.’ Retainers are rare in Asia; in part because most clients see branding as positioning and logo design, and that’s it. However, in the past few years, we’ve seen 3 key shifts in how clients perceive the value of branding.

Asian clients, especially Chinese clients, have growing upstream brand consciousness. More and more clients come to us with a solid understanding of what branding is. They might even have an existing brand model. However, the process of building and managing a robust brand remains unclear. Brand has also become a board-level issue, not just the purview of marketing directors.

Asian clients are seeing us as long-term creative partners, not vendors. Our 13-year relationship with Cofco, China’s largest state-owned food processing conglomerate, is a shining example of creative partnership. From our first corporate brand project in 2006, our insight has led Cofco to trust us with many of its billion dollar brands – hotels, shopping malls, service apartments and many others. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of the most well-known institutions in Asia, is another. Our groundbreaking brand work for the Club House, and all the sub-brands that sit within it, is due to launch in 2020.

Asian clients are building international standard brands for the domestic market. Asian brands, especially Chinese brands, are believed to be relentlessly pursuing overseas expansion. This isn’t always the case. Lianhua Supermarkets, a long-term partner of Superunion China, is one of China’s largest supermarket chains with over 5000 stores in China alone. It sought branding services not to expand abroad, but understood that upstream creativity would be necessary to build an international standard supermarket brand for Chinese consumers.

We’re optimistic about the road ahead. Client briefs are becoming more strategic and challenging – and that excites us. We’re becoming regional leaders in digitally led design, and our strategists have a rare breed of left and right brain instincts. We continue to grow by double digits here in Asia, and firmly believe that we will see more businesses believe in branding, and the power of upstream creativity.

Jolin Guan is the executive strategy director at Superunion in Shanghai

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