BEIJING: As pressure from tariffs increases on Asian companies, the need for meaningful brand differentiation is becoming more important than ever, argues Superunion’s Global CEO, Jim Prior.

The WPP company, made up of five agencies – Brand Union, The Partners, Lambie-Nairn, Addison and VBAT – is designed to be a “next-generation global brand agency” that offers a broader range of strategic and creative services than its constituent agencies.

The new agency, which was announced in January, already has some hefty global clients, including Diageo, Ford, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Vodafone.

Its purpose, Prior told Campaign, is to offer a structure similar to that of a management consultancy, bringing to WPP’s offer an upstream branding capability, one that can be “applied at the centre of the business”.

“Our business is not designing a logo. We are way upstream. We need to be increasingly upstream”, Prior said.

In China on Wednesday, he spoke about the agency’s offer toward Chinese companies, an offer that Prior thinks they might need in the face of US tariffs.

“If you impose a tariff on certain products, the businesses that will suffer will be those whose businesses or brands are commoditised,” he told Campaign in an interview.

“It increases the need for brands and branding to be done properly and thoroughly to look for points of distinction, competitive advantage and strong propositions that separate you out from a price-based commodity product.”

This is part of what he sees as a longer-term pathology of Asian brands, compared to their Western cousins. Asian brands will increasingly have to look outwards and, in part, the use of culture in these brands has been hampering.

“I think too many companies trip up on the idea of culture in their brand. It’s not about Chinese culture, it’s about the relevancy of your brand full stop.”

Beyond that, the rise of digital services has given way to a lack of risk taking, a lack of distinctiveness as businesses clamber to offer the same thing. “The risk of digital disruption is that everybody ends up exactly the same in the same homogenous sea of Accenture-driven SAP-integration programme type of stuff”, Prior said.

The job at hand for Superunion will be to provide practical branding that can go into action immediately, rather than a series of PowerPoint decks that claim to elucidate the brand’s position and purpose. Clients don’t want that, Prior said, “They want things tomorrow, particularly in Asia.”

Sourced from Campaign; additional content by WARC staff