Where Next for Asian Brands?
It is well documented that Asian brands have struggled to establish their presence on the world stage.
This is plain to see when considering Interbrand's Top 100 brand list (below, comparing US, Europe and Asia), where Asia has consistently produced only around 10% of the list since 2001. Furthermore, Asian representation has been dominated by Japan (6-8 brands each year over the 11 year period) and South Korea (1-3 brands), with 2011 signalling a break from this pattern with the inclusion of Taiwan's HTC (sneaking in at #98).
So while it's widely believed that this century will ultimately be dominated by Asia, the story over the last 11 years has not been the rise of Asian brands, but the US' decline and Europe's rise.
Reasons for lack of global Asian brands
A lot has been written about the reasons for the lack of powerful global Asian brands, outside of the more obvious macro reasons (e.g. many Asian markets are still classed as emerging, and hence are naturally less likely to have produced strong brands). A notable example is Joseph Baladi's The Brutal Truth About Asian Branding: And How to Break the Vicious Cycle, where he argues that the biggest factor at play is a lack of understanding of the power of strong brands at the CEO-level in Asian companies. Furthermore, Asian CEOs' habit of focusing on short-term financial gain makes it difficult to foster an environment where long-term brand building can take place.
The net effect is that Asian brands lack the investment of their global peers, ultimately resulting in lower salience and a lack of consumer preference. Without significant brand equity, Asian companies are forced to compete on other factors such as price, which acts to reinforce the short-term mentality noted above.
Asian brand exceptions
Of course there are exceptions where Asian brands have established themselves as strong global players - most notably in the consumer electronics and computing (think South Korean powerhouses Samsung and LG, as well as Sony) and automotive (think Toyota, Kia, Hyundai) sectors.
Furthermore, Japan acts as an exception in itself - as a nation it has shown an ability to produce great brands, both in the two categories mentioned above (e.g. Canon, Sony, Honda, Nintendo), but also in categories where other Asian nations have often struggled (e.g. Uniqlo for fast fashion, Asics for shoes and Asahi for beer).
What next for aspiring global brands in Asia?
To become a global brand, a need to understand the fundamentals of branding is a given; beyond that, we believe Asian companies need to identify how they can leverage what is truly unique about them - which in many cases will be driven by the fact they are Asian, and not Western - and bring that to the global market in a compelling way, which differentiates itself from its Western competitors. The 'glass half full' view is that as there is a lack of compelling global brands with positionings that reflect Asia's rich culture and heritage, there is an opportunity to 'own' that space in any number of categories.
Some examples of brands who have effectively leveraged their Asian heritage include Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo, which has embraced its Japanese origins in a distinctly modern way, and Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, which has used Asian themes to distinguish itself from the often generic branding evident in most global hotel brands.
So embracing Asian heritage - and not trying to be like existing powerful Western brands - we think is a key for Asian brands looking to succeed globally.