Feature: Why Meaning is the Missing Link in Asia’s Race for Premiumisation

NewsAug 08, 2023
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By Jackson Ong, Strategy Director and Rachel Goh, Head of Insights at design consultancy Elmwood Singapore.

This article originally appeared in Advertising Week.

Premiumisation is not a new notion. In fact, the desire for aspirational value is increasingly expected not only by the wealthy but also a wider audience. And with Asia’s diverse population, high momentum and sophisticated consumer tastes; the doors have swung wide open for FMCG brands to seize their slice of the premium market.

Yet hitting the bullseye isn’t as easy as it seems. A challenge that becomes even more pronounced when trying to capture the attention of South Korean ‘Insta-grannies’, Indonesian eco-shoppers, Indian mobile gaming fanatics and Chinese ‘spicy moms’.

This means making a product premium is a cultural exercise that simply cannot be hacked. Especially as traditional value drivers of heritage, exclusivity and one-upmanship continue to make way for more experiential codes of hype, immersion and satisfaction.

FMCG marketers must look beyond the distractions of dollars and polish; and zero in on the meaningful difference that anchors their offer of transformative premium brand experiences.

Multi-dimensional appeal

Manifesting your brand’s meaningful difference means demonstrating what makes your product truly special. This is not solely about function – but the way a function makes people feel, look or simply enjoy.

Take for example Snow Beer’s first-ever upscale beer offer, SuperX. As its bold moniker might suggest, SuperX urges Chinese Gen-Zs to get out there and grab their passions by the horns. Rather than touting the cliche of superior drinking pleasure, the brand injected its no-holds-barred personality in a multitude of ways – from music festival-inspired retail structures to hosting a virtual WeChat-powered New Year party offering over 10,000 interactive games.

Similar digital interactions also offer big opportunities for memorable engagement. Staying true to its promise of helping babies – and their parents – navigate a baby’s world, Huggies Singapore added a fun spin to its Nature Made packaging with 3D animal paper cut-outs that spring to life via AR technology.

In essence, your product may add something desirable such as social proof, excitement, or the feeling of being cared for. Or it may be freeing people from something sorely unwanted. The key here lies in connecting the dots between consumer desires that your product is meeting, and how it might be unique – as the precursor to transformative premium brand experiences.

Meaningful coherence

FMCG marketers looking to master premiumisation must be ready to adopt a fresh approach defined by coherence, over strict consistency. Guided by an authentic thread of meaningful difference that runs across, the most invigorating consumer experiences are the ones where brands morph into unexpected expressions.

Years ago, Aqua, Indonesia’s heritage bottled water brand, introduced Aqua Reflections, its higher-value offering within the category. This premium extension is rooted in the masterbrand’s meaingfully different associations of pure goodness and cultural pride – but re-imagines its brand assets with a contemporary, nature-meets-art twist. By incorporating a canvas-like aesthetic, fashion designer collabs and activations with local cocktail bars; Aqua Reflections adds a new facet of expressive living to a household name more known for everyday hydration.

Perfect Diary, the fast-growing C-Beauty champion, takes this thinking to a whole new level. As a brand, it embodies rich discovery-led meanings of experimentation and accessibility. These thematic attributes live across Perfect Diary’s many physical and digital mash-ups – where its brand identity flexes to capture the majestic wilderness that Discovery Channel is famous for featuring, while also taking audiences on a trip to a stunning sci-fi future with China Aerospace.

In a landscape where the element of freshness matters, marketers that focus all their efforts on consistency run the risk of stagnancy. Remember, it’s all about branding, not blanding.

Moving forward

Aspiration is an ever-evolving human desire, with definitions that could shift in ways we might never expect. But one thing’s for sure: meaningful difference is a key anchor in making premiumisation a reality for any Asia-based FMCG brand.

Imbuing that into the right visual and verbal assets – projected as a coherent brand narrative across key consumer interactions – is what will inspire transformative premium brand experience.

For those that get this right, the ultimate reward awaits: an opportunity to bridge the value gap with meaning and unlock a differentiated path to premium power.