Dione Song, CEO of Love, Bonito tells WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo how brands can balance the region’s diverse demographics in order to grow and connect more authentically with audiences.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on multicultural marketing in Southeast Asia. Read more

Key insights

  • Execute an Asian-centric design philosophy for the region and localise the messaging to better resonate with your audience.
  • Staying authentic should be ingrained in a brand’s storytelling strategies with an always on conversation with diverse audiences.
  • Resonate with your target audience by keeping thoughtfulness and authenticity at the core of all marketing strategies.
Southeast Asia is so diverse, which makes scaling across the region a challenge. How has Love Bonito been able to connect with and balance diverse demographics as it grew?

Southeast Asia is indeed a very culturally rich and diverse region, with Asian women from different cultures and backgrounds. These local market nuances have resulted in differing consumer preferences and lifestyles, which make localisation a challenge for brands.

As Love, Bonito continues to expand, it has become increasingly important to cater to each market without diluting the brand’s identity, mission and purpose. To connect with our diverse demographics, we first amplified core aspects of our brand, which are kept universal regardless of the geographical locations we expand into. We are consistent in amplifying our mission to empower the everyday Asian woman and inspire self-confidence. This is a message that is universally relatable and understood regardless of our differences.

Next, we consider the areas, be they in the product offering, store design or pricing, that our brand needs to be flexible in and evolve to ensure relevance and customer satisfaction in the local community. For example, Malaysian and Indonesian markets are generally conservative, hence our designs have been adapted with longer sleeves and higher necklines to suit preferences for modest dressing. In more temperate markets like Hong Kong and the United States, we also released fall-winter assortments to offer staple pieces for her winter wardrobe. Our Singapore community also shown preference for one-pieces and dresses, so the assortment on our Singapore website homepage is tailored to show up differently.

We also look at our unique value proposition within the local competitive landscape and decide what must be included in our offerings to maximise value to the new market. This could be through varying pricing structures which include duties and taxes.

What advice would you give to other local brands that want to scale regionally or global brands that want to localise or regionalise in SEA? What do brands normally get wrong?

Oftentimes, brands make the mistake of identifying the next market opportunity and then altering the product too much to suit this new market. However, this is an indication that brands are not leveraging what they’ve built, which results in a waste of resources, added costs and elimination of economies of scale.

As a direct to consumer brand, the product is the bread and butter and treasure chest of the brand. At the initial stages of expansion, the product should already be mastered and there should not be too much diversification early on as it is complex and costly.

Instead of localising extensively into one specific market, brands should be getting more mileage for what they’ve developed. They should evaluate best-selling features in current products and find customers in other cities or countries that have a lot in common with the current customer and market.

At Love, Bonito, which is headquartered in Singapore, it was common for brands to simply focus on scaling to neighbouring countries in SEA five years ago. However, we knew that diversity, income levels, shopping preferences, technology and languages were all at varying levels between Singapore and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and so on. It seemed that there was not a natural market fit for our product where we would be able to demonstrate our unique value proposition. To solve this problem, we took a step back and looked for markets and customers that were lookalikes to our current core customer, the Singapore woman, in her mid-20s to early 30s.

This proved fruitful as we identified suitable countries like Hong Kong and the Asian diaspora markets like the United States with a sizeable Asian female market that had similar education levels, ability to spend, shopping preferences and even physiques. This meant that our current product would be suitable for the demographic, without involving too many product tweaks, which would have been expensive and slowed down our expansion.

What are the pros and cons to treating SEA as one region versus having individual market strategies catered to each country’s unique cultural nuances? When should brands speak to commonalities versus differences?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution in choosing how to address the diverse SEA region. At the core of all marketing strategies, brands should be clear about their key target audience and brand non-negotiables before considering how to approach the consumer.

At Love, Bonito, our core target audience is the everyday Asian woman in her mid-20s to early 30s. Whether she’s starting a new job or becoming a mum, she will have thoughtfully designed apparels to journey through various seasons of her life. This holds true for all regions Love, Bonito serves.

From a big picture view, we knew that our core purpose and messaging of product UVP is core to our brand identity and is a message that would stay consistent throughout the SEA region. What should be localised is how we execute an Asian-centric design philosophy in markets and how we would localise this messaging to better resonate with our audiences.

The importance of DEI is growing. As a brand that “exists for the everyday Asian woman”, how should brands think about the interplay between gender and culture when it comes to marketing to more diverse audiences?

With our purpose to exist for the everyday Asian woman, it is only right to keep the Asian consumer at the heart of all our strategies. From determining our campaign messaging to choosing real women for our campaign visuals, we always keep in mind that we are serving an Asian community that is diverse, vibrant and versatile.

Brands should stay authentic to their purpose and think about universal messages that resonate with their target audience. They should also be mindful to be inclusive in the planning stage of campaigns to reflect the brand’s purpose in campaign visuals.

For example, in celebration of Love, Bonito’s 12th Anniversary, we embarked on a global brand refresh and launch of the new tagline “Come Into Your Own”, which seeks to be an inspiration for women to find strength through adversity, to achieve and realise their fullest potential. Inspired by the nature of flowers blooming in their own time, the campaign is represented by various flora as a visual motif juxtaposed against the stories of real women. This is a universal message that transcends gender, culture and relates to women from all walks and stages of life.

To localise and better resonate with different markets, we were very thoughtful and intentional about representing our brand with real women with a compelling story to share. A total of five flowers have been chosen to represent the journeys of five renowned women across Singapore, Malaysia, United States and the Philippines. Each woman was chosen for her embodiment of positivity and strength, diversity and courage, rebirth and resilience, freedom, and femininity. Through each story and personal experience, we aim to inspire and encourage women around the world to discover their purpose.

The women are:

  • Rachel Lim, Singapore (corresponding flower representation – sunflower)

    Rachel co-founded what was to be Love, Bonito at 19. She started her own online fashion business when e-commerce was in its infancy and grew the blogshop into a multi-million-dollar global brand in just over a decade. Represented by the sunflower, Rachel encapsulates positivity and strength, and is a female role model and inspiration.

  • Jillian Gatcheco, Philippines (protea)

    The former editor-in-chief and deputy and editorial editor of Cosmopolitan PH, Jillian has dedicated 15 years of her career to digital publishing, culminating her stint as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Philippines and deputy editorial director at Summit Media, the Philippines' top digital network. Being fiercely passionate about who she is and the values she stands for, Jillian is represented by the protea, which symbolises the values of diversity and courage.

  • Helen Wu, US (lily)

    Helen co-founded the Asian Boss Girl podcast in 2017, which normalises discussions around sex, imposter syndrome, health and ambition. Today, an average of 50,000 people tune into each hour-long ABG episode. Represented by the lily, Helen is the symbol of purity and fertility, and portrays the feeling of self-love by loving herself with all her battle scars.

  • Mili Kale, Singapore (lotus)

    Mili is passionate about wellness and is the co-founder of Moom Health, a women’s health platform with a mission to create natural, personalised and accessible remedies for the modern Asian woman. Her journey is symbolised by the lotus, which brings forth strength, resilience and rebirth.

  • Nalisa Amin, Malaysia (bird of paradise)

    A plus-size fashion model, social media influencer and body positivity advocate, Nalisa Amin is passionate about using her platforms to empower women with the importance of body acceptance. She is aptly represented by the bird of paradise, which symbolises the freedom to be yourself and the power to be the director of your own life.

How can a brand ensure they have a “right to play” and stay authentic when speaking to diverse audiences? Can you give examples from Love Bonito?

Staying authentic should be ingrained in a brand’s storytelling strategies and be an always on conversation with diverse audiences. Brands may get flak when they leverage religious and cultural events that have little to no relation to the brand’s purpose, product and/or service.

Instead of trendjacking on every upcoming event to stay relevant, brands should stay grounded to their purpose and stay consistent in their messaging. With these communication pillars in place, brands can then think about how they can create impact and value to their audiences, which ultimately results in a loyal community that keeps coming back to your brand.

For example, Love, Bonito exists for a larger purpose of empowering the everyday Asian woman and we feel a responsibility to provide opportunities to raise awareness on women’s issues and connect like-minded women. During International Women’s Day, we thought about what matters most to our Asian female community and what it means to empower her. With our target audience at the heart of all we do, we launched a global month-long campaign of impactful conversations titled “Your Perspective Matters”. Through conversations on Instagram Live with global thought leaders, topics chosen emphasise the possibilities for women to redefine their roles, expectations and experiences in society today. These include discussions on pertinent issues ranging from feminine health and wellness, female for future and women's rights, all of which are close to the hearts of many.

We hope that by using our platform to facilitate these conversations, we will be able to amplify varying perspectives, shed light on important women’s issues and ultimately, empower the everyday Asian woman to grow not only as an individual but also as a community, aiding one another throughout the seasons of life.

A few terms have come up over the years, from glocal to hyper local. What do you think is next for multicultural marketing?

Multicultural marketing is here to stay as we face a growing Gen Z that feels strongly passionate about diversity and inclusion. To better resonate and cater to your target audience, brands should keep thoughtfulness and authenticity at the core of all marketing strategies.

Through customer insights and feedback, brands will be able to better understand the core audience and represent them in a culturally savvy manner.