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How Digital is Transforming Brand Building: Huang Taji's Success

Posted by: Carl Yang on Wednesday, March 5 2014 05:04 PM

The big social media news of the moment is American TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ record-breaking tweet from Sunday night’s Oscars show. With more than 3.2 million and counting retweets and more than 1.8 million favorites, it’s a testament to the potential reach when the right brands come together with the right message at the right time.

While the virality that powerhouse celebrity brands can achieve at one of the most popular events of the year may be in a stratosphere of its own, brands are finding there are ways to tap into the potential that social media offers. Beijing’s HuangTaji is a prime example of a brand turning the worries about social media’s impact on brands on its head and proving with the right approach, brands can use social media as an effective tool to build brand loyalty.

A small Chinese pancake restaurant opened in 2012, it has grown through its social media efforts on platforms like Weibo and WeChat to build word of mouth, raising its profile, attracting new customers and engaging with fans to create brand ambassadors. What began as a simple 15-square foot storefront and brand with no traditional media advertising, has grown to become a popular brand with 95,300 fans on Weibo who post their love for the brand on the page and the page’s community manager actively interacts with its fans.

HTJ has demonstrated it’s very good at communicating with consumers, creating shareable, playful content. Little quirky notes like, “Take a pancake and think about life” and “If you’re not chewing, you’re not happy” humanize the brand. Even negative feedback on Weibo gets a response, demonstrating a commitment to customer service. 

HTJ on Weibo

Using digital touchpoints in this smart and relatable way has helped build a brand image. Coupled with the brand’s strong elements, a solid core brand has emerged and garnered customer, investment and press attention. According to Hugo Yu reporting in e27, HTJ has secured more than $6 million USD in angel funding.

The brand’s founder, He Chang, a formerly of digital companies like Baidu, Google China and Qunar.com, clearly understands how to leverage Internet culture to build a brand. But he’s also developed the brand’s product, environment and customer service. 

HTJ on WeiboHTJ differentiates itself in a market where food scandals have raised questions about food safety with a strong focus and messaging on health. It never uses chemical additives and all of its soybean milk is ground on the premises, which send a very strong signal to customers that their food is safe.

They’ve also elevated the pancake, developing new and fashionable food such as DongBei Rolls, Sichuan Cold Noodles, desserts and hot beverages that still stay true to the core food package of one Chinese pancake and a cup of soybean milk. While the brand’s prices may be a little higher than those of competitors, few customers seem to mind.

Attention is also paid to every minute detail of the physical environment. Fashionable decor, lively music, novel baubles and free Wifi signal to young customers that the restaurant is not only about selling Chinese pancake, but also a fashionable lifestyle, similar to Starbucks' achievement in the coffee space. 

The brand experience is humanized across touchpoints. This is no vending machine that sells junk food. The internal brand engagement is clear as every employee is always ready to welcome customers with a smile. If ever a customer is dissatisfied, the well trained employees of HTJ work to quickly rectify the situation. They even go so far as to show customers how to avoid parking tickets because the restaurant doesn't have a parking lot. 

On China's Children's Day, in order to deliver happiness to the people, every customer was given a red scarf. Every employee was dressed in Spider-Man costumes.

So many customers enjoy HTJ based on its brilliant attention to messaging, product, environment and customer service. These four elements create a distinctive brand experience. HTJ innovatively uses digital touchpoints and an interesting brand voice to not only give its brand a spirt and link to a fashionable lifestyle, but to build customer loyalty.

Carl Yang 杨 建 is a Senior Consultant, Strategy, at Interbrand Shanghai.

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