Why BUILT-IN BRANDS will delight Asian consumers in 2016 (and beyond)


This is the latest in a series of posts from one of our longtime partners Taan Worldwide - a global network of carefully selected independent advertising & communications agencies. Taan member Terry Lee is the co-founder of the China-Asean Entrepreneurship Centre an information-sharing platform for entrepreneurs in the China-Asean economic corridor.

Here, Terry unpacks our recent Asia Trend Briefing on BUILT-IN BRANDS - diving into the intricacies of a market that has swelled to almost 1.5 billion people. One brand, it seems, is setting themselves apart from the rest. But how?

Terry Lee, member of TAAN, and BUILT-IN BRANDS expert

Over the past four years, the fight for the de facto social media and business platform in China arrived at a clear result.  WeChat by Tencent was the resounding winner. In China, because (rather than in spite of) the humongous market of 1.4 billion people of which some 500 million use smart phones daily (and probably hourly), there can only be one winner. No prize for second place.

As a unified platform for social media, business, payments and information, WeChat has emerged as the winning platform. This has vast implications on marketing in China. In particular, WeChat has enabled built-in brands to go deep. Brands are quick to seize the opportunity to reach out to their users and keep themselves entrenched, to the delight of their users. (Note that I use the term users, not consumers.)

WeChat is the amalgamation of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and PayPal in China. It enjoys the wave of info-comms infrastructure that the Chinese Government has been building in a bid to fortify the economy and engender new age entrepreneurship. Today, almost every smart phone is installed with the WeChat app.  In this app, one gets to do almost everything necessary in daily life: from what to wear, what to eat, where to live, and how to move around. As consumers grow increasingly averse to outright advertising, peer sharing has filled the shoes as a trusted reference.  Peers are fellow users - users of WeChat, and the services, goods and experiences that are built into the platform.

Consumers seem to find it distasteful to be treated as consumers, likened to sheep waiting to be slaughtered.  The concept of a user base in place of a consumer base is taking root as users are charmed with free basic services and information. One does not have to spend in order to be a user. The users generally feel needed and respected, not under pressure to prove their worth by spending on something thrust at them.

So, Chinese consumers turned users of WeChat are happier. How about the brands? Well, the brands are delighted too. Brands park themselves just where the users are. There is much precise big data to tap. Millions of users willingly offer their “expert” views to peers as well as for altruistic reasons. “We are a community. This is ours to build.” Hence, it is extremely efficient to obtain feedback on new products and service enhancements on the WeChat platform, where users and brands meet as peers.

Ultimately, everyone is a consumer. And so is every user. Through peer review and opinions gleaned from “expert” users, the consumer feels a lot more assured with what they spend their money on. The brands are happy to augment this trust system by identifying gaps, serving needs and beating the competition to delivering on performance. In a China efficiently connected online via platforms like WeChat, and connected offline through superior logistics providers like SF Logistics, using China’s rapidly growing rail and aviation network, we see the emergence of a new age offline-online ecosystem, in the wake of this rebuilt trust system.

In this trust system you find happy users and delighted brands. How does it feel to find your kindred soul online when you sue the app? The Chinese are experiencing this now.


Terry Lee co-founded communications agency Splash in Singapore in 2005 after more than 10 years in journalism, copywriting and forex trading.  While at Splash, he has travelled far and wide with TAAN—one of the world’s largest and most successful networks of carefully selected independent communications agencies. Operating since 1936, TAAN exists to enhance the intelligence, expertise, reach and effectiveness of their members, through cooperative learning and shared capabilities.