Cracking Hong Kong – key ingredients to brand success in a land of contrasts

Words by Cecylia Grendowicz
Date 2023-08-09

Hong Kong is, and always has been, a city of diverse contrasts. Bustling neighbourhoods seamlessly blend the old and the new; modern office buildings stand tall next to lush greenery; low-key cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong diners) sit alongside luxury restaurants.

These sometimes-surprising juxtapositions are part of what makes the region so unique – and they translate into the business landscape. A quick glance at the brands that are thriving in Hong Kong reveals that leaning into the region’s contrasts is the most effective way to stand out from the crowd.

This year saw the launch of the inaugural Kantar BrandZ Hong Kong Top 30 Strongest Brands report, created in partnership by Design Bridge and Partners and Kantar. The report features a diverse range of brands that embody Hong Kong’s inherent diversity, with three key themes jumping out. The best brands in Hong Kong are able to navigate these tensions and strike a fine balance between:

  • Local vs. international
  • Innovation vs. nostalgia
  • Bargain vs. luxury

So which brands are embodying these themes to set themselves apart from the pack?

A blurred line between local and global

Despite border closures during the pandemic, Hong Kong remains an international hub. The top 30 features a mix of homegrown brands and giant multinationals. But in many cases the line isn’t that clear cut, with some brands like HSBC playing both roles – a testament to the region’s openness and internationalism. Of course, Hong Kongers are very open to global brands – but those that tap into local tastes and nuances receive the best reception.

HSBC – which ranked top in the report – has a storied history with Hong Kong dating back more than 150 years. And despite growing into one of the world’s foremost financial institutions, it continues to be perceived as a local business.

HSBC consistently showcases its internationalism, whilst reinforcing its deep local understanding in its brand activity. From the ‘Hong Kong inspired by the world’ campaign amplifying the city’s openness and diverse culture to the ‘Branching Out Our Support’ initiative that supports the community by highlighting districts’ individual characteristics – HSBC’s commitment to the Hong Kong community, and to the city’s standing on the global stage, has helped generate brand affinity amongst Hong Kongers.

In with the old, in with the new

Hong Kongers have an insatiable appetite for novelty. The latest restaurant and exhibition openings frequently draw huge crowds and queues around the corner. This is a nation of early adopters that’s always eager to embrace innovation – it was one of the first places to adopt 5G, for example.

Yet there’s plenty of respect for history and heritage, as well as a sense of comfort to be found in nostalgia in uncertain times. There’s been a recent resurgence of unique Hong Kong traditions and revival of dying arts like neon sign making, hand-carved mahjong tiles, and ‘bamboo noodles’ (竹打面).

Hang Seng Bank’s (HASE) doors have been open for 90 years – but longevity hasn’t led to complacency. The brand has been a first mover with multiple digital features, including being the first Hong Kong bank to introduce a virtual key opinion leader (KOL). It’s also used its knowledge of local sensibilities to support Hong Kongers in good times and bad. Case-in-point, it launched mobile cash withdrawals and allowed multiple accounts for family members, responding to local demands.

This embrace of new and old is reflected in the ranking, which features new-and-upcoming brands alongside those with more than a century of history. The Peninsula hotel is an icon of the Hong Kong cityscape, standing tall since 1928. The brand’s long-standing credibility enabled it to partner with the Star Ferry – another nostalgic Hong Kong icon – to offer an exclusive harbour cruise, complete with a classic afternoon tea.

Driving a hard bargain

The ranking features brands that are known for affordability, alongside some of the world’s best-known luxury brands. Hong Kongers’ love of a great deal is well known – but it’s not as simple as being cheap or expensive.

Whatever a brand’s price point, the strongest know how to successfully justify their pricing by offering something that’s meaningfully different to consumers.

Shangri-La, for example, complements performance marketing with ‘desire building’ – using messaging and experiences to create desire for the lifestyle the brand represents, in turn increasing loyalty and perceived value. The recent #FindYourShangri-La brand campaign elevates Shangri-La from ‘a hotel for business’ to a destination full of memorable experiences, including the new YUN Wellness centre at the Island Shangri-La.

At the other end of the spectrum, rewards platform Yuu placed third in the ranking, despite only launching three years ago. The lifestyle app gives Hong Kongers access to the region’s best-loved brands and helps them seek out the best everyday value.

Creating success from contradictions

Hong Kong’s status as the diamond in both Asian and global business markets is unlikely to be threatened in the near future. But whilst upping advertising spend is effective at getting your foot in the door, navigating the region’s distinctive cultural contrasts is essential for brands wanting to capitalise on Hong Kong’s full potential. This is a location that takes pride in its unique personality and surprising juxtapositions — brands need to embrace them if they want to resonate with the Hong Kong consumer.

First published in Branding In Asia.