Winning markets, city by city
Winning markets


Many brands ask themselves “What would it take to “dominate in Asia”? Does it have to blanket the market with advertising? How can brands drive deeper emotional bonds, more relevant contextual communications, and make smarter choices about where they chose to invest in order to win the long game?

I remember when I first arrived in Asia 7 years ago I worked on one such strategy for a global sports brand. The thought emerged that as the largest cities had most impact on all the other smaller cities across the region, an efficient strategy would be to focus on dominating the hearts and minds of their audience in just the top 10 cities; everything else would cascade from there.

But what does it take to “own” a city and is that a viable strategy? Well in many Asian markets, like China and India, brands have to be selective and patient and try to win one city at a time. Given that some of these cities consist of 20m people, it is not unlike a country expansion process.

Market entry and dominance is a long terms game that needs more substantial strategy than simple media investment. We had to think about how we could get into the hearts and minds of kids from about the age of 10 until their mid 20′s.

We started to ask questions like: Where do kids spend their time? What are the routes that they take to school? Where do they hang out at weekends? Where do they play sport? We began to realize, unsurprisingly, that the urban landscape was rapidly changing. The most relevant places today, will not be the same in 5 years time. So to win the long game required identifying these spots and making a structural bond with them now.

Of course retail planners have been studying such factors for many years, but the same discipline and insight is rarely given to marketers trying to gain unfair advantage in new markets.

Marketing in urban environments – close quarter combat – is a very visceral and personal way to win consumers over. It’s about bonding to people in their home city; knowing their name, and knowing their neighbours; in their back yard. Setting up owned physical spaces, iconic Out-of home then bringing this space to life through mobile communications and utilities is a version of marketing heaven. Real, nimble, brutally honest and immediate.

As market traders will attest, winning the sale happens at very close quarters, and more often than not, within a few centimeters and or the final few moments of persuasion. I use the term close quarter combat because it conjures the image of a rapid and intimate interplay of multiple touch points – aka the urban environment. In the proliferation of media channels and the digital revolution most brands have lost sense of the intimacy that they need to have with their environment and its consumers. Brands need to refamiliarise themselves with the cities.

More people than ever live in cities, (50.5% urbanised population) and this will grow to 70% in 2030. The urban consumers represent an ever larger proportion of wealth (100 cities represent 30% of the world’s economy); for example in China, Shanghai is 2% of population and 13% of GDP. In an age where advocacy is so important, brand need to remember to focus on a small group of their consumers, then build outwards. The urban consumers in the largest cities are the ones that drive overall culture and trends – these are the consumers that we want to experience a brand in all it’s glory.

Historically, the marketplace was a location where people gathered and talked to each other, they would discuss available products, price, reputation and in doing so connect with others the internet is providing a means for anyone connected to re-enter such a virtual marketplace and once again achieve such a level of communication between people. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from brands.

Battles are won street by street, district by district. Even in the largest of countries I think it will pay for brands to think small and win over the physical social network..

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