The Distinction Between Creative and Branding, According to Amanda Liu

If you’re someone who works in a creative field, you’ve probably had to face the challenge of naming a product or brand, at some point. There are so many different points to consider during the naming process. For Amanda Liu, good brand naming methodologies are integral to the success of a company and its message. Without a good name and hard work that goes into establishing yourself as a brand, your company and its services will have a difficult time resonating with your market.

Read our interview with Amanda where she speaks on her career as a creative director for a powerhouse brand naming company, her passion for the work that she does, and the importance of good branding and creative work.

How did your career in branding and creative work begin?

I studied English and applied linguistics in college. I’ve always had a keen interest in language and multi-cultural communication. In my early career, I worked for a boutique French research house, Shanghai Fashion Association and a German perfume house. Throughout these experiences, I accumulated passion in building meaningful brands with positive power and relevance to local (especially Chinese) culture and consumers. I’m proud that in the past decade the team and I have built a leading brand naming methodology that integrates brand thinking, cultural insight and creativity together.

What is something that excites you about your work? Why?

The name is the most important asset of a brand. Developing the right name for a brand is the first step towards the brand’s success. My work is project-based. There are never two of the same project. When developing a new name, I need to learn the brand and product or service well. I need to dive into the brand history and story. This is a non-stop process of acquiring new knowledge. Brainstorms play a significant role in my work. I enjoy seeing creativity from different minds and perspectives, then crafting a raw idea into a final piece of work, like an art piece. In summary, I’ll say that KIP has kept me passionate about my work until now: Knowledge, Idea (Creativity) and People.

How important is creating/branding in China today? How do you imagine the creative field will evolve in China?

Branding has become more and more important in China. For international brands, they start to realize that the Chinese market is different from the global market. They cannot simply copy the global practice. Brand localization and building relevance to local consumers are very important. For Chinese brands, they go through a process from thinking branding is advertising to understanding that branding is about positioning and strategy, first. In fact, branding and creative are not comparable as they have different definitions and roles. Creative is a tool to bring a brand to life through different ways, very often visual and verbal. While branding is a multi-dimensional building process incorporating constant understanding of consuemrs&market, culture&organization, product&service, communication and design.

For Chinese brands, they go through a process from thinking branding is advertising to understanding that branding is about positioning and strategy, first. In fact, branding and creative are not comparable as they have different definitions and roles. Creative is a tool to bring a brand to life through different ways, very often visual and verbal. While branding is a multi-dimensional building process incorporating constant understanding of consuemrs&market, culture&organization, product&service, communication and design.

In China, I see creative work following more and more of a consistent direction and guidelines (branding thinking) while trying to build a more emotional connection with consumers. Also, creativity has been driven more by “being relevant to Chinese consumers.”

Have you seen any creative trends in China that have gone global?

AA digital lifestyle is a prominent phenomena in China. A smartphone can enable people to achieve all daily needs: social life (wechat, weibo), paying bills (wechat pay, alipay), transportation (didi, Mobike), shopping (Taobao, JD), etc. I’ve noticed that some of these digital concepts like Alipay, Aliexpress, and Mobike have started to expand to oversea markets.

Founded by Ms. JIANG QiongEr, sponsored by Hermes group, the luxury lifestyle brand SHANG XIA is rooted in Chinese culture and design. In addition to usual design elements, it seeks authenticity in craftsmanship with materials like inner Mongolian wool, porcelain, bamboo, sandal wood.

XU Zhen, a contemporary Chinese artist, used to be a neighbor to my workplace. He sometimes explores modern perceptions of ancient Chinese culture and the fusion of Western and Chinese ideologies. His work is exhibited across major international cities. You can check out the website for his gallery business here.

I want to mention a Chinese author LIU Cixin, who wrote a great science fiction series: The Three-Body Problem. (There are three books in total and they are available in English!) The series digs into science, religion, humanity, civilization and philosophy. It warrants so many different types of thoughts and questions.

How important is it for the name of a brand to be culturally relevant? How can this impact the success of the brand?

It’s very important for a brand name to be culturally relevant. More than just the name, in fact the brand needs to be culturally relevant in every aspect, from strategy to advertising. This means for global brands, it’s necessary to do localization in different countries and regions.

When I developed the Chinese name for LinkedIn, there were finally two top names: 联应[lián yìng] (connect and respond) and 领英[lǐng yīng] (leading elite). 联应[lián yìng] reflects perfectly the global brand positioning: connecting everybody in a circle, which the brand would like to maintain for the Chinese market. LinkedIn was afraid 领英[lǐng yīng] might be too exclusive. But consumer insights prove that 领英[lǐng yīng] resonates much better with consumers as it addresses career growth and advancement which is highly relevant to Chinese markets. LinkedIn finally decided to listen to the market and领英[lǐng yīng] soon built a great brand image.

Do you believe that Chinese culture globally impacts consumer behavior and trends? Why or why not?

Yes I think so. Branding keywords of China are changing from “Made in China” to “Created in China” or “Designed in China.” In recent years, I’ve seen a strong revival for traditional Chinese culture: Taoism, Taichi, traditional Chinese medicine, tea culture, etc. In my work, more and more Chinese brands seek branding services to help them enter oversea markets, especially in automotive and tech industries like HUAWEI, NIO, BYD, etc. Meanwhile, a lot of international brands have begun applying Chinese culture and philosophies: SHANG XIA sponsored by Hermes group, CHA LING created by LVMH. But to answer this question, a global point of view is more important. To some extent, in the era of globalization all major cultures are assimilated. The impact of Chinese culture will also depend on its relevance to other major cultures. I personally feel Chinese culture will have a bigger impact in digital, personal care and design fields like furniture and lifestyle.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in your line of work, over the years? Or if it’s easier to think specifically, what is one of the biggest challenges you remember overcoming and learning from?

I love and enjoy my work. But of course, I’ve experienced a lot challenges. One of the biggest challenges is how to convince the client of the name recommendation. In one extreme case, I even found myself in a heated debate over the phone with a client. Then throughout different projects, I came to realize that there is no “best name” similar to how there is no such thing as true perfection in this world. A name is an optimal choice to be made with the consideration of a lot of variables. Interaction and immersion are also key, which can lead to a conclusion with a full picture and logical reasoning.

What are your favourite places in Shanghai to shop for clothing, eat, and engage with culture?

For shopping and eating: Iapm mall, Xintiandi, Reel mall, K11 mall, Kerry Center Jing’an, Anfu Lu, Fumin lu. Art and culture: M50 creative park, Long Museum, Yuz museum, Aurora museum, Power Station, Shanghai Symphony Hall.

What are some of the projects you’ve got currently lined up? What excites you about the work?

Some exciting projects lining up for this year include global naming for a big Chinese automotive brand, Chinese tagline creation for a well-known international social media brand, verbal guideline development for a famous French luxury brand, and others. Actually beginning this year in 2018, I’ll be working on some new directions including verbal guidelines and nomenclature to further unleash the power of a brand name. I will also propose CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) ideas and hope to make a first attempt at that this year. We would like to contribute our branding expertise to help a non-profit organization as well.

How do you see your career evolving in the next 5-10 years, with the help of technology? Do you think technology will play a larger role in the creative work you do? How?

Technology and digitalization will influence every industry in the future, branding included. In fact Labbrand has already set up a subsidy in 2016 — MADJOR, focused on digital brand experiences like e-commerce, content innovation, CRM, and retail digitalization. In brand naming work, we’ve started to use a preliminary AI software for creating names. We plan to further develop and increase the intelligence of the AI software in the future. I believe technology will help majorly improve the efficiency of the creative work. But the value of the human brain is irreplaceable, with its ability to make sense of the creative work by building and telling a good story, integrating business, cultural and language knowledge. I don’t think technology will replace human force and brain. Rather, they will be complementary to each other.

 

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