FEATURE | 3 marketing types of brands in China: Volcano, Candle and Haystack

November 28,2019

Finding a spokesperson for a brand is a rather traditional marketing technique. It is never easy for a brand to find the right spokesperson at the right time. Before looking for a spokesperson, the brand should first define its own position and ask itself: What stage is your brand in? Is your brand a volcano, a candle, or a haystack?

A "Volcano" Brand

1.A long and unshakable history

2.An accumulation of a large number of active real users

3.Spokespeople are used to ignite brand growth

Although century-old luxury brands have deep roots, choosing a spokesperson in China, an emerging market, can still be a challenge.

On May 31, Italian luxury brand Prada announced its new spokesperson —— Cai Xukun --  on its official Weibo through a commercial shot by a Chinese artist Cao Fei.

Connecting with art has always been important for Prada. This was a novel and intelligent way to announce their new spokesmen through a collaboration with Chinese artists, and to convey the brand spirit and communicate with the users. 

At the same time, bold innovation is another core element for Prada. The choice of Cai Xukun makes many users feel the contrast between the two. It can also be an effective channel for Prada to communicate with young Chinese consumers who are not yet familiar with the brand.

For luxury brands, spokespeople do not need to be too rigid on the brand spirit, but can be more bold and awaken and reach new users.

Usually, people study cases from luxury brands of choosing spokespeople, but in the China market, where the fashion industry is just starting up and brands are rapidly emerging, users’ minds are not determined, for excellent new brands or revival of old brands, this marketing strategy may be more meaningful -- I call these brands "candles" and "haystack".

A "Candle" Brand

1.A consolidated brand spirit

2.A need to integrate real users and brand

3.A spokesperson who allows potential users to recognize the brand

Local young lingerie brand "NEIWAI" was founded by Liu Xiaolu Shanghai in 2012, driven by concerns around the freedom of women’s bodies and minds. This developed gradually to become a lifestyle brand that now covers lingerie, loungewear and sports.

In the early stage of the brand, NEIWAI often held events at female salons to discuss the spirit of independent women in the new era, conveyed the brand concept, and gradually formed a real user community through word of mouth.

When did the brand decide to find a spokesperson? Liu Xiaolu describes the timeline very clearly and sensitively: "In the early days, as word of mouth spread, every guest understood NEIWAI, but as the number of users grew, the image of NEIWAI in many users’ minds began more abstract --- NEIWAI may be a comfort brand, or a brand that advocates independence and freedom for women. I began to feel that the brand needed to be positioned more specifically."

At first, she hoped to find a talented and representative woman to cooperate with. In the initial brainstorming phase, most of the women on the list were independent musicians and artists. However, when Du Juan appeared in the discussion, everyone agreed that she was right for NEIWAI. The process of choosing a spokesperson is regarded as a prime opportunity to tell users what the brand is.

After the announcement, feedback from NEIWAI fans confirmed the team's intuition.

After Du Juan, NEIWAI decided to invite cutting-edge female director Maizi and San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Yuanyuan Tan as the brands’ friends. Because the three women have similar temperament, at this stage Liu Xiaolu wanted to continuously deepen the impression of the brand, rather than diversify the brand image through different kinds of spokesperson.

By choosing the spokesperson who best embodies the brand, the brand spirit, real users and potential users can become unified. In addition to attracting potential users who understand the brand spirit, these users can in turn continue to endorse the brand, so as to complete the virtuous cycle from candle to wax to candle.

There are also some cases worthy of our attention amongst revived classic brands. For example, the global CEO of Valextra, Sara Ferrero, mentioned many interesting details of the process of finding brand friend Liu Tao.

Valextra has always been very careful when cooperating with celebrities. For the China market, where brand awareness is rising, Chinese actress Liu Tao bought Valextra bags and used them multiple times on the street, in turn driving product sales and customer feedback.  "It seemed like all the Chinese consumers were asking where to buy the bag that Liu Tao were holding, but we didn't know what was going on at first," said Sara Ferrero. Then Liu Tao naturally became Valextra’s brand friend.

A "Haystack" Brand

1.The brand base is relatively loose

2.Real users have no engagement to the brand

3.Spokespersons may not be very effective or brands overstretch themselves

Lululemon's early KOL pyramid can be seen as a classic example of the rapid growth of a start-up brand:

In early stages, Lululemon used a multi-tiered brand ambassador strategy, successfully making the brand's professional yoga image deeply rooted in people's hearts. The top of the pyramid ranged from professional athletes and yoga masters (major KOLs with 500,000 to 2 million followers) to a large number of small KOL (with 10,000 to 100,000 followers), and finally to numerous store ambassadors covering different regions to represent the community.

Such a strategy helped lululemon blossom quickly and become a national phenomenon, but it's important to note that the success of this strategy came before the brand spirit, while lululemon still in the highly segmented yoga scene. Without the premise of this segmentation scenario, such a strategy needs to be reconsidered.

When a brand blindly looks for spokespeople as a conventional and short-term marketing strategy, especially when the brand spirit has not yet been established, it is only because they have obtained a large amount of financing or urgently hopes to break the sales bottleneck. A spokesperson found in such an anxious state of mind is easily divorced from the spirit of the brand and the real users. Thus, it is difficult for potential users to establish deep engagement with the brand. 

We observe that in China many fast-growing emerging brands (although they have not yet appointed any official spokespeople) never stopped improving the link between the brand spirit and users. 

In the early days of a brand, its DNA is usually built by the founder and the team, but the spirit of the brand cannot always be conveyed by the brand itself. With a real and active user community that have a unified and clear recognition of the brand, the brand’s spirit can be constantly confirmed and amplified, truly growing into a "candle” brand.

It is important to note that the transformation from “candle” brand to “volcano” brand cannot be rushed, and must go through time of careful cultivation.


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