Archive for January, 2011

China’s top brands

Oliver Wright writes:

BrandZ has recently released its flagship reports on the value of global brands, and took the moment to launch a companion report on the Top 50 most valuable Chinese brands. Given China’s buoyant economy, the results are bound to be of interest to companies looking to expand into new markets.

A glance at the top 10 brands is revealing. China Mobile is in top spot, with large banks taking many of the remaining places, rounded out by Tencent (also known as QQ; an instant messenger and mobile provider) and local language search engine Baidu – Google doesn’t figure in the top 50. Although China has the reputation, at least in the West,   of being a large exporter, supplier of components, and the manufacturer of so much of our ‘stuff’, the top 10 are almost exclusively service providers with a strong national base. Of course, this is unsurprising, given the necessity of these services in a rapidly expanding economy.

Looking further down the list, there are a couple of internationally recognisable brands. Most will have heard of Tsingtao beer (35), one of a number of alcohol brands in there, but how many could claim to recognise ChangYu (22), an premium wine brand?  Haier (29) and Lenovo (16) have both made an impact in the US, with the former increasing its (albeit small) international business by fostering a reputation for reliable but affordable appliances.  But Midea (25) is another appliance brand with a larger brand value than Haier, built on a different strategy: its growth has largely come from focusing on China’s many tier 2 and 3 cities, where the presence of other brands is limited.

Retailers and apparel producers also feature further down the list. But like other Chinese brands seeking to establish themselves internationally, value remains the overarching brand association outside of China. Within China, of course, consumers are becoming more brand conscious; 53% shopped with a brand shortlist in 2010, compared to 41% in 2006.

However, as Kunal Sinha of Ogilvy notes, Chinese brands with an international presence are a marker of quality for consumers back home. Tom Doctoroff also makes the important point that many of these brands have yet to test their mettle in their home markets against international brands, as relatively few have had much impact yet. There’s still a lot to play for.

28 January 2011 at 9:00 am 3 comments

After the floodtide of prosperity

Andrew Curry writes:

Our chairman, J Walker Smith, was one of the experts invited to contribute by Marketing to its ‘Forward Thinking‘ essays this year. His theme: that we’ve reached the end of “the floodtide of prosperity”, which is changing consumer behaviour, and that marketing will have to follow suit.

But, as he writes in his contribution, this is about more than just the aftermath of the financial crisis:

Three major cycles are coming to a close nowadays, only one of which is economic. One is technological; one is demographic. All three are opening onto something new in the face of unprecedented resource constraints. … Based on where we see these three dynamics headed, the macro consumer trend to watch will be the emergence of lifestyles reflecting an overarching outlook of ingenuity.

And this is made more necessary by the emerging environmental constraints we face, which include a whole range of scarcities – from water to fish to timber – as well as climate change. The result is that we’re moving into a new world in which the new consumer assets are ‘vigilance’ and ‘resourcefulness’.

Consumers are being forced back onto their own skills and smartness. There are no ready answers about what to do in a world in which economic risk is top of mind, technological engagement is ubiquitous, generational priorities are upended, and resource limits necessitate temperance.

All of the ‘Forward Thinking’ essays can be found here.

24 January 2011 at 9:17 am Leave a comment

‘The Man’ and Burning Man

David Gunn writes:

Each year has its personal symbols, the few things that you might recall 5, 10 or 20 years later. For me, 2010 will be probably be remembered as the year i eventually went to Burning Man festival.

I first came across the festival during a Henley Centre project for Arts Council England back in 2003. We were looking into alternative organisational models for the creative sector, and Burning Man was an intriguing case. Nominally a festival amongst many others, it is far more than this. A temporary city of 50,000 people that appears for one week in the Nevada desert, and disappears without a trace. A “gift economy”, where things aren’t bought or even exchanged, but offered freely by all. Temporary encampments and neon motorcades, dust storms and sociological debate, bicycles and all-night dancing.

Seven years later, I eventually got to visit in person. What struck  me was that all the things you hear about don’t really matter. The gift economy, the imposing artworks, the harsh environment of the desert playa, all of these are little more than “necessary pretexts” – ways to access a certain quality of experience, a sense of playful freedom. We started most days with little idea about what would happen, and any plans we did make would inevitably fail, overshadowed by the joys of random discovery – cycling in solitude, playful conversations with strangers, getting lost in the dust and wind.

As everywhere else, brands are finding ways to inch in. As we arrived, i watched two undercover executives from an alcoholic beverage company arrive in an RV filled with crates of alcohol to “gift” to fellow travellers. Not surprisingly, this kind of activity is frowned upon throughout the event, and some actively oppose it. But more broadly, it is a classic case of brands being unable to respect a different type of community, a type of experience that they simply cannot (and should not try to) co-opt.

That’s not to say companies can’t learn something from an experience like Burning Man. But rather than trying to take a product out to Burning Man, they might do better to bring a little bit of it back into their own organisations. Organisations tend to think that their success pivots on the ability to answer consumer needs. But in an increasingly stable and controlled world, events like Burning Man demonstrate people’s appetite to  be outside their comfort-zone, to be challenged and renewed. And it may be a little late in January to be pushing for resolutions, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more companies skip the worn-out promises, and actively engage people in questions, disruptions, challenges. They might just thank you for it.

This is a guest post by David Gunn. He now runs the specialist cross-disciplinary creative organisation, Incidental. The pinhole photographs, also by David Gunn, are published here under this Creative Commons licence.

11 January 2011 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

Eating my greens

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

Early January, and it’s the time of year to be making New Year’s resolutions. After over-indulging during the festive season, it makes sense to decide to eat more healthily. And I would also like to try to be more green. However, I am not sure the two are compatible.

It might seem healthier to cook my cottage pie from scratch at home, but a study shows there are lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in microwaving a ready meal version. This is because mass manufacture involves much more efficient use of resources and appliances, and being provided in portion format, is less likely to lead to wasting opened ingredients (such as that bit of mince that didn’t fit in the pan) or unconsumed cooked food (someone forgot the leftovers hidden at the back of the fridge).

Fine – so it looks like it could be better to eat ready prepared food, and many manufacturers are trying very hard to make their products healthier, for example by using oils high in polyunsaturated fats as oppose to saturated fat. However, it’s not that straightforward, as these oils need more water to clean the residues off the production lines, and I am not keen on increasing the embedded water content in what I eat.

Perhaps I would be better off to keep things simple, eat less meat, and focus on my ‘five a day‘. But who would have thought that it is greener to eat a salad with tomatoes imported from Spain than local produce needing lots of energy to heat the greenhouse, or that an English apple will have been consuming energy to stay fresh in refrigeration  throughout the winter? Or that going for fish is equally challenging given the amount of research needed to ensure you are eating from truly sustainable sources?

To avoid subsisting on a diet of just Brussels sprouts, turnips and parsnips I need help. How can we cut through the complexity so we can all make good (ie healthy, green and good value) choices as a consumer?

The photograph at the top of this poast is from VegBox Recipes, and is used with thanks.

7 January 2011 at 11:24 am 1 comment

Holiday collection # 4

Eloise Keightley: David Crystal, British Library

The broadcaster John Humphrys remarked in 2007, “It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago”.

Not strictly true, according to the renowned linguist Professor David Crystal, who gave an insightful talk earlier this year intended to challenge the myths about the impact of texting and tweeting on our use of language. Myths include the notion that young people are using abbreviations to the extent that they cannot distinguish between text-speak and ‘proper’ English (and hence can’t write their school essays without slipping in a gr8 or 4u). Realities? We can trace text-speak abbreviations back to the Victorians, many of whom – including Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria herself – were fond of language games and employed very similar abbreviations to the ones that we use now in text messages.

Equally stimulating was The British Library’s English Language Question Time event, part of the BL’s Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices series. Chaired by the luminous and ever-articulate Victoria Coren, a panel of language experts took a range of questions and conundrums from the audience, ranging from the baffling (“Kilometre or kilometre – what should you call a thousand metres?”) to the philosophical (“Is perfect punctuation necessary in order to write beautifully?”). The mainstay of the series is the interactive exhibition which continues to April 2011 and is highly recommended.

Justin Labourde: Anthony Swofford, ‘Exit A’

I just finished Exit A, a rather interesting novel by Anthony Swofford. Swofford is the ex-Marine who wrote the non-fiction bestseller Jarhead a few years back. Exit A is an interesting look at modern Japanese culture told from the perspective of an American Air Force brat who lives on the Yokota air force base on Honshu. It’s a love story, but not a ‘simple’ one. Parts of the book are tragic, parts are confusing and parts are wandering and overlong, but what it is most of all is an effective, and ultimately enjoyable, explanation of how the US military presence there has been affecting the development of Japanese youth and society.

Walker Smith: A. R. Ammons

At the end of every year I promise myself that I will read new poetry in the year ahead.  But I never do.  I keep returning to what always moves me.  A.R. Ammons is my favorite. He seems hard to find these days, and is too little known outside of the US.  “Corson’s Inlet” is far too long to recite, so let his much shorter “Winter Scene” suffice.

There is now not a single

leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay

plummets in, lights, and,

in pure clarity, squalls:

then every branch

quivers and

breaks out in blue leaves.

1 January 2011 at 10:38 am Leave a comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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