What the Lunar New Year Celebrations Taught Me about Branding

It’s Day 4 of the festive Lunar New Year / Chinese New Year celebrations (i.e. #CNY2016). It’s the biggest occasion of the year for Chinese all over the world… And it lasts 15 days.


Although the celebrations are supposed to last 15 days, the most important days are usually the first two days. We call this 初一and 初二 (pronounced “chu yi” and “chu er”). These two days are generally announced as nation-wide Public Holidays.


Reign in the celebrations


With the first two days being rest days, most Chinese would either travel back to their hometowns to be with family, or stay put to do some visiting at friends’ and families’. We call this 拜年 (pronounced “bai nian”).


Either way, you’d hardly spot any Chinese at work. You’ll see most of them dressed in red/orange/yellow (or any other bright color perceived to be their “lucky color for the year”) and carrying little bags of mandarin oranges while commuting to and fro.


Welcome to the Land of Nothingness


For most countries/cities with a dense Chinese population, you’re likely to experience a “dead town” situation within the first few days.


dead town
(Source: Break)


That said, as a woman who’s lived in Singapore for the past 25 years, I realised I am always faced with the “dead town” situation during this period.


99% of shops would be closed (including those selling food), which leaves me very hungry and desperate. Only the trusty Starbucks and McDonald’s will be open. Perhaps Malay and Indian food stalls too. Which is a real blessing to all Singaporeans… thank God for being a country which is multi-racial and multi-religious.


So what now, about Branding?


Okay, so I stated in the post title that I learnt about branding through this experience. To be more specific, an element of branding – brand recall. 


To be even more specific – unaided brand recall.


According to this websitebrand recall is “the extent to which a brand name is recalled as a member of a brand, product or service class, as distinct from brand recognition.”


In my own definition, unaided brand recall is to freely recall a brand from pure memory, without the provision of external cues.


The Lunar New Year scenario


At this time of year, I’ll partake in a few sessions of unaided brand recall to decide on where and what to eat for my meals.


This is where organisations which have succeeded in good branding allows people to freely and easily recall their brand names when a particular need comes to mind. In my case, “what food stores are open 24/7?”


Clearly, Starbucks and McDonalds made the cut. However, these are big global brands with years of legacy in branding. Ask anyone in the world what the most accessible, convenient, and traveler-friendly food store is – I can bet you it’s these two names that pop right up.


Size may not matter


Now don’t get me wrong. Small brands can be great brands too, and they can be equally effective in promoting brand recall.




It depends on the specific things your brand represents that can potentially occupy in a consumer’s mind, as a Blue Ocean company. Read about “The Blue Ocean strategy” if you haven’t already done so – it’s a good-to-know, trust me. 


That being said, the Blue Ocean strategy posits that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space. In other words, great brands need to create unique points of differentiation in their target consumers’ minds.


Take for example, I mentioned Malay and Indian food stores may be open during the Chinese New Year period. Although I went through two mental filters, the first being, “what type of food store most likely employs non-Chinese workers?”, and the second being, “what would I want to eat from this type of store and which store specifically?” – I still managed to recall purely from memory, a specific brand I wanted to dine at. Every year, I’d think of patronising this small shop selling Roti Prata at Bukit Timah.


Even if it was a location and not the specific name of the store I remembered, keep this in mind:


A brand is not just the name of the organisation, but a combination of many elements. From the logo to the unique dressing of the employees working at the store; all of these tangible elements make up a brand’s identity, which contributes to the brand.


Create your own brand identity for recall


In sum, creating brand recall isn’t a difficult task. Conduct a simple brand recall exercise with your team, or simply do it yourself. Here’s how to get started.


Make a list of keywords and phrases that your brand is unique for. It can be anything related to the brand. The product, the modus operandi, the tagline – anything. Be as creative as you can.


Once this is done, compile this list and randomly pick a handful of people to ask what brand comes to mind. DO NOT provide hints. If you realise that your brand does not get mentioned, perhaps it is time you start rethinking and come up with new unique selling points. Find your own blue ocean.

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