I have just spent a month in Asia training 20+ people from Australia, China, India, Japan and Taiwan for the launch of a major new VM initiative for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
Whilst ‘in the area’, I also visited Hong Kong and saw some great retail developments, but it was in Singapore where I witnessed the most impressive new brand launch I have ever seen.
This was the long awaited, September country launch for H&M in Singapore and it was terrific.
Some would say that it had to be good, as Singapore’s fashionistas had been kept waiting too long for the brand, considering that Zara, Desigual, New Look and countless other fast fashion retailers had set up shop here years before. H&M is playing catch-up, but judging by how the launch was handled, local shoppers thought it was worth the wait.
Underpinned with an ever-present ribbon proclaiming “Sorry to keep you waiting!”, it was hard to miss that H&M was opening soon if you were anywhere in Singapore. Effective poster campaigns in the metro, billboards and 6 metre high ‘street architecture’ carrier bags were employed. Add to this live fashion runways positioned in the street and giant TV screens built into its store architecture and we’re still only in the pre-launch phase!
The store itself launched at Midnight, with a glitzy VIP/celeb drinks reception with shipped in Swedish corporate top brass leggy blondes (of both genders). The customer side was no less exciting, with the first five through the door getting $5000 dollars to spend instore, the next ten getting $1000 and so on. The queues outside made Harry Potter launches look insignificant. And as you’d expect from Singapore, there was perfect queue management and ample security with actual branded visual prompts along the barriers to let people know how long they had to wait until shopping utopia. Top Shop clamouring at the window to see Kate Moss’ mannequin this was not.
It didn’t end there – as the critical mass of signage was all changed once the store was opened to reveal the “Hello Singapore – now open!” message. The next day the street catwalks came alive with hundreds of kids posing and pouting in H&M clothes in modelling auditions to be a new face of the brand. Phew!
Without doubt, this was the best example of local marketing I have seen. It’s how to tell a nation that a new brand is coming to town, to create excitement, curiosity and get people talking. Here, in the UK we could normally expect somewhat less impactful prompts from incoming brands or new store openings – limp window posters and a few tacky balloons on opening day, only if we were very lucky!
H&M showed how both VM and marketing departments can work successfully together to deliver an effective campaign that was excellently planned and executed within the local advertising and planning rules. Throughout, H&M were considerate and respectful to Asian culture in the how models were dressed and styled and the marketing events organised.
Abercrombie & Fitch is famously clashing with the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which is opposing A&F’s semi-nude model ad campaign in the lead up to its own Singapore store launch. I wonder if the queues that form at A&F’s launch will be protesters rather than brand advocates? A&F is slow to market here too, but without the public on its side, will the brand make the right kind of noise to make friends with the people.
H&M’s launch success is such a crucial lesson to retailers who call Western Europe and the USA home.
Since the recession, brands that had previously done well when the west was booming, have found the going much harder in their home markets, choosing to improve their balance sheets by taking their brands abroad. Inditex, (Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius) is a corporate player that is currently on the International expansion trail. But instead of Europe, it now looks to the East and Latin America to bolster revenues for the company’s shareholders.
When launching in a new market, brands must invest wisely to deliver their store experiences, but crucially, must also tell the local people that they have arrived! However, it’s important to do this in a way that reflects and respects the culture and attitudes and preferences of people. Brand ambassadors are required – not brash invasion forces! Imagination and sensitivity, by the bucket load!
By investing thought, time and money into handling the launch carefully, shoppers become better engaged and want to become part of the story too. For me, the H&M experience sets a very high benchmark standard by which store launches should be judged.