Grey's Tammy Sheu

Taking on China Mobile's corporate brand

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Although China Mobile is now the world's fourth-largest brand, according to a survey from WPP Group's Millward Brown Optimor research unit, the state-owned Chinese company is on a mission to consolidate and strengthen its image within China. Earlier this year, it held creative reviews for six assignments. The process included dozens of agencies, since each one could only pitch for two of the accounts up for grabs.

Under the leadership of Tammy Sheu, the 36-year-old general manager of Grey Worldwide in Beijing, the WPP agency won China Mobile's coveted national corporate branding assignment as well as the national creative account for its Gotone service. The Taiwanese executive, who joined Grey from Ogilvy & Mather's Shanghai office last July, spoke with AdAgeChina about the telco's challenges to upgrade its service in the world's No. 1 mobile phone market.

AdAgeChina: What was your reaction to China Mobile being named the world's 4th strongest brand by Millward Brown Optimor last week?

Tammy Sheu: We all thought, "Wow!? We were surprised. We knew it's a famous Chinese brand that's well perceived in the market, but especially after that news, we really felt really proud we were part of their team. We shared the news with our client, who had already been notified by [Millward Brown], and then circulated the news internally to encourage everyone on our team. It's a good start and we know where we are heading.

AdAgeChina: What are China Mobile's strengths and weaknesses in terms of their marketing?

Ms. Sheu: They dare to challenge themselves, they are open-minded and welcome hearing different viewpoints and have the ability to execute plans efficiently. Once their marketing head has made a decision, they can really make things happen.

Their weakness is an organizational issue. Product development is not under the marketing communication department, another department is responsible for that. Also, their national offering for each brand differs from provincial products, which makes consistent branding difficult.

How was the China Mobile pitch conducted? What was the focus on, strategy, creative, changing the direction of the brands?

Ms. Sheu: It was a full-scale pitch, including strategy and creative. For the corporate brand, our brief was to define a strategy that could consolidate their current customer brands as well as incorporate their Olympic sponsorship and new 3G services. For Gotone, our main task is to evolve the current campaign.

AdAgeChina: What are your views about how each of China Mobile's various brands should be developed now?

Ms. Sheu: The corporate brand is where we need to spend more effort as they didn't have a clear communication strategy and road map for it before. There is no doubt that consumers do perceive China Mobile as a brand leader. However, given its government background, we need to enrich the emotional attachment on the brand. Gotone is more like a mass premium brand and traditionally plays the role of flagship brand. As the current branding strategy is to try to capture a national sentiment, we need to be very careful to differentiate it from corporate brand. M-zone (handled nationally by Ogilvy & Mather) is really in good shape as the brand is tailor-made for youth from all aspects.

AdAgeChina: China Mobile's provincial offices have their own agency relationships with a lot of different companies. Will Grey have to deal with these local agencies as part of the national assignment?

Ms. Sheu: Yes, mostly with the various M-zone agencies, so we should understand the provincial companies? needs at the national communication level. China Mobile works with more than 10 agencies on creative at the provincial level around the country, and even more in other areas like marketing services.

AdAgeChina: Many agency execs in China say it's challenging to work with state-owned companies, who don't always respect marketing as a discipline. You"ve worked with local brands like Tsingtao and Haier in the past, and now have China Mobile as a client. What's the key to working well with Chinese companies?

Ms. Sheu: The most important thing is to understand their organization as well as their business. If you can get to know their decision process very well and have the key influencers involved at the right stages, getting things done and approved will be easier.

China Mobile is much better than other local clients like Tsingtao beer and Haier, however. They are much more disciplined, they know the procedure of advertising development. In general, the main challenge for agencies is helping local clients convince their boss [about marketing decisions]. Sometimes I prepare different scenarios for local marketing managers, in case their boss decides at the last minute to go a different way, whether it makes sense to us or not.

AdAgeChina: These two China Mobile assignments are worth about $750,000 for Grey in revenue. How did you celebrate the win?

Ms. Sheu: We just had a party outside the agency last week when the win became official, at a Mexican restaurant in Beijing, followed by KTV (karaoke). For internal parties, the staff always prefer international food, they have Chinese food all the time so it? s not as special for them.
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