Branding Lessons from 5 Asian Unicorns

Asian Unicorn Startups

By Julia Koh & Syira Junaidi
November 2019
Asian unicorns are dominating the startup investment scene. Southeast Asia alone houses at least 10 such companies, and stand behind India and China as the top three unicorn producers in the continent.
So don’t think unicorns are something only little girls would like. Investors, corporations and even the general public are interested in unicorns. These are startup businesses that have a brand valuation of over USD 1 billion or more.
What helped these businesses to be valued so highly? Let’s delve into 5 Asian unicorn brands and learn what they did:
  1. Grab: Adapting to Demand Fast

    We don’t have to explain a lot about Grab and what it has done to Southeast Asia. What started as a taxi-booking app has now become a lifestyle brand for millions of people in the region.

    One of Grab’s many factors for success was its ability to adapt to demands at breakneck speed. The brand was quick to expand to private cars for hire instead of sticking to taxis. It also adopted e-wallet and food delivery swiftly to rival competitors.

    Grab’s hyper-localised strategy meant that each region in Southeast Asia had a unique experience based on the socio-economic environment. That’s why you can only hire motorcycles in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam but not in Malaysia and Singapore. Grab offered what people want and they adapted fast, which led them to monopolise almost the entire Southeast Asia.

  2. Alibaba: Trust as Currency

    Right from the get-go, Alibaba strives to build consumer trust since 1999. They verify every single user, show proof of credibility of their merchants, and provide platforms for communication, payment, and returns. Before it got its IPO in 2014, Alibaba was valued at dizzying USD 42 billion.

    Today, the brand has expanded to offer services such as financing, logistics, and e-commerce. It owns a 55% market share in China, with the help of its B2C segment, Taobao. It owns Alipay, Tmall, Lazada, and a lot of backend software systems for businesses. Alibaba builds brand trust and give it currency, which becomes invaluable for customers around the world.

  3. Razer Inc.: Customer-Obsessed Gaming Ecosystem

    This Singaporean-American unicorn started with the demand for esports hardware and equipment. Its first products were gaming laptops, gaming tablets, and PC peripherals. But what sets Razer apart from heavyweights like Alienware or Armageddon is its commitment to gamers and the gaming lifestyle.

    Razer aims to create a whole ecosystem for gamers, which means products and services from built from start to finish. It continues to produce software, wearables, sound systems, and even phones (and maybe toasters). Razer is also extremely customer-centric and has worked endless hours to research and produce high-performing gaming equipment. Before it went public in 2017, the brand was valued at USD 4 billion.

  4. Traveloka: Localise & Specialise

    Indonesia is home to a lot of unicorns. There’s Gojek, Bukalapak, Tokopedia, and the unicorn with the highest value of them all, Traveloka. It started as a flight-booking app for Indonesian flights but had since grown to hotel-bookings, car rentals and expanded its operations to all over Southeast Asia and the world.

    Traveloka offers a one-stop booking service from hundreds or thousands of partners in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries. While rivals like Skyscanner or Airbnb only offer flight-bookings and accommodations respectively, Traveloka offers both and more. Paired with the enormous consumer market in Indonesia desperate for a viable travel planner, it’s little wonder that Traveloka quickly rose to success.

    With a valuation of USD 2 billion, Traveloka continues to find partners that offer local hospitality to customers and specialise in serving them the best travel experience.

  5. OYO Rooms: Establishing a Strong Brand Identity

    As mentioned, India is also home to many unicorns that have popped up over the course of this decade. There’s Zomato, Byjul, and Swiggy to name a few. But the most famous and valuable unicorn has to be OYO Rooms, valuing at USD 6 billion and currently operating all over the globe.

    OYO Rooms’ branding has always been strong from the start. The brand is known for its signature red brand colour painted over hotel walls and signages. OYO also fiercely maintains its identity, insisting its hotel partners keep a consistent look. That’s how OYO Rooms look the same regardless of the city or country it is in. Loyal customers would feel familiar whenever they stay at an OYO Rooms’ accommodation.

In Conclusion

Startup unicorns are valued for their unique value proposition or a revolutionary new business model. But they also take their branding seriously from the start because they know it can be a tremendous asset to the business. Especially in Asia, a company’s brand has to be strong due to the fast-growing competition and dynamic landscape.
These Asian unicorns have taught us to understand our customers, adapt to demand, build brand trust and maintain a strong brand identity.
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