PHD Media Worldwide > News > A matter of trust: how brands in Asia are building relevancy through trust – Mark Bowling, PHD China
August 15 2018

A matter of trust: how brands in Asia are building relevancy through trust – Mark Bowling, PHD China

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Product trust is the number one driver of online sales in an Asian e-commerce marketplace that’s significantly bigger than its Western and North American counterparts.

Items for sale across Asian e-marketplaces have five times the amount of product and ingredient information, compared with the likes of an Amazon listing. Plus, if your product doesn’t receive review ratings of 4.5 stars or higher, you can almost forget about asking Asians to part with their hard-earned cash.


Trust is easy to lose and almost impossible to rebuild.

Consider the ongoing scandal affecting China’s notorious baby-formula industry. As recently as 2008, melamine-tainted milk and formula killed at least six infants and sickened tens of thousands more. Then in 2016, Shanghai police discovered that fake formula was still on the market, and as recently as November last year, more than 18,000 cans of infant formula were found to contain expired ingredients.

It’s no wonder that at the start of 2018, the industry underwent a radical shakeup as 1,400 products were removed from store shelves as part of new government regulations, announced in line with President Xi Jinping’s call to improve the quality of life for Chinese citizens.

The regulations now require factories making formula to register their products with China’s Food and Drug Administration and to pass safety inspections. Factories are limited to working with three brands, and those brands can make only three different products each.

Unsurprisingly, trust in the infant formula category across Asia is at an all-time low, at a time when the relaxation of China’s one-child policy means that around 20 million babies are expected to be born each year.

It’s not just baby formula brands either. Wherever doubt is cast on product quality, due to a lack of safety or hygiene standards, consumer trust has eroded quickly and is almost impossible to rebuild.

However, for those brands who excel in building relevancy through trust, the Asian market is ripe with opportunities.

Take social commerce, for example. The number of social media users in Asia will surpass the one billion mark this year, while research from McKinsey found that two-thirds of Chinese consumers believe that trusted recommendations from friends is the most important factor in their purchase decision-making.

Across Asia – unlike other parts of the world, where trust can be built through community endeavour, social good or corporate social responsibility – trust is dependent on proven quality, peer-to-peer recommendations and authentic influencers.


By accepting responsibility, brands can turn brand trust into brand love.

When PHD China was asked by Bayer Women’s Health to introduce an over-the-counter female contraceptive brand, Yasmin into a society that receives minimal sex education and considers the morning after pill and abortion to be its most popular forms of contraception, relevancy and trust through education were paramount.

Contraception advertising in China is limited to promoting condoms – targeting men – while most communication to women around this topic features adverts for cheap abortions.

In order to start a dialogue and nurture a change in behaviour, we began a mobile-led campaign on Chinese university campuses. It featured two candid educational videos that were distributed through a timetable app, reaching over 18 million students across 3,000 Chinese universities.

These videos were dropped into students’ curriculums as a compulsory class at 9pm every night.

In just one week, the videos acquired 12 million views, climbing to 30 million within the first month. The fan page on Weibo was visited by over 20 million users, sparking over 100,000 online discussions on a topic traditionally thought to be taboo.

It was only through prior research that we discovered that Chinese university students were sorely lacking vital information when it came to sex education. A gigantic gap between the identified need and supply provided us with the opportunity to build trust, drive relevancy and peer-to-peer influence.

Accompanied by a guidebook and infographics about different contraceptive methods on social media, a final live stream event was organised before World Contraception Day, featuring international college students, celebrities and certified gynaecologists who openly provided sexual guidance and increased the trust factor.

As a result, Yasmin’s awareness rose dramatically on Baidu Index and saw a search increase of 60%, with search on mobile increasing by 68%. It wasn’t just awareness that grew; e-commerce sales increased an impressive 109% YOY.

So whether it’s looking after the health of a baby or taking appropriate precautions to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, Asians are finally finding brand relevancy in categories formerly devoid of trust.

Only by more and more brands accepting responsibility to continue improving their relevancy in these categories can we improve consumer relationships, and eventually turn trust into brand love.

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