Behind Thread Scenes with Christina Tse, Strategist

We’re at it again! When we sit down with one of our Threadsters to pick their brains and get to know them a bit better. 

What’s your name?

Christina… never Christine or Tina!

 

What was your nickname as a kid?

Funny enough, my first ever nickname was in elementary school and has no meaning at all! Bobega and pronounced as Bo-Beg-A, now say it quickly. It was chosen by a friend’s older brother, who only had one rule, that it sounded “cool” with my friend’s nickname because we hung out all the time. Her’s was Macodi  (pronounced Mac-o-dee, because she couldn’t pronounce Mercredi properly in French). So magically Bobega was created and we were always known as the tag team duo of Bobega and Macodi. To this day, it’s still my favourite nickname because it’s just so playful and rolls off your tongue!

 

I hear you have a thing for food, what’s your favourite thing to eat at 2pm?

Chili crab legs! But that’s hard to get… I’m all about variety when it comes to food, so I don’t have one specific thing. Which means you’ll likely see me curiously looking around the stores in the afternoon and reaching for new flavours or snacks to share with the office.

(Left) Years ago, the start of my craft beer research with Justine and Harry. (Middle) Me and my chili crab leg. (Right) Found a box of Jelly Belly Bean Boozled and had to share with the office *evil smile*.

 

What does growing up in Canada teach you?

The beauty within cultures. I was born and raised in Toronto where almost half the population is of visible minority. I was constantly exposed to people of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, which challenged me to see how things can be different from what I knew and was comfortable with. All those interactions have left imprints on who I am today. When I made my way to Beijing and then Shanghai, I definitely didn’t expect to find the same diversity and depth as I did back home. I love how this city can bring in and connect people from all over the world, it’s one of the reasons it’s kept me here. 

 

What is a Chinese tradition that you have fond memories of in your childhood?

During Chinese New Year, my grandpa and I would fold paper money into the shape of gold nuggets (sycees). We’d have to fold hundreds of these, which were then burnt for our ancestors. When I first started out, my small hands couldn’t get the folds right and kept crushing them into non-nugget shapes. As I got older, my grandpa and I would have competitions as to who folded the nicest nuggets in the shortest time or the most in a minute. This might’ve just been a Tse-family thing!

Christina-young
Sparklers to celebrate Chinese New Year, pre-paper folding fun! 

 

Ok, now for some tough questions, Christina, what do you actually do here?

I help clients figure out what they stand for and why consumers should be choosing their brand over their competitors. It may sound like simple questions that most brands (should) know the answer too, but it’s not always the case. Through workshops, we will guide clients through a series of exercises and really challenge them on the value they bring to consumers and how/if they are delivering on that. It’s important to get this right because with so many options available now, Chinese consumers are flooded with choice, information and experience overload. A lot of times, brands still believe that being premium, imported and healthy will set them apart and help capture the ‘white collar middle class’ market. I hate to break it to them, but it doesn’t make them special and I guarantee there are already tons of other brands claiming the same thing in their category. Other times you’ll see me working with the team on creating a Chinese name for a new brand. Having a strong Chinese name is such an important asset, especially if you’re a foreign brand with a difficult name to pronounce. If consumers can’t say your name, there’s an even lower chance they’ll remember it. Talk about missed opportunity and loss of revenue right there!   

 

How do you go about picking a Chinese name?

That’s a tricky question since there are so many factors that go into it. Much of what’s written online is about pushing for a Chinese name that has phonetic similarity and represents the brand’s meaning. Yet, many don’t realize how incredibly difficult it is to achieve both requirements and be able to register the name with the China Trademark Office. Just to give you an idea, the amount of name registration applications more than doubled from last year to 3.5 million.

Just to give you an idea, the amount of name registration applications more than doubled from last year to 3.5 million.

A great name isn’t only based on the phonetic match and meaning, there are so many other great starting points to build a Chinese name from. Take for example Toblerone, their Chinese name is 瑞士三角 (Ruishi sanjiao) which literally means Swiss Triangle. It’s leveraged its unique packaging and used it as their name. Everyone knows the shape of a triangle, even kids, and no one else has the triangle packaging – so remembering and recall will be a piece of cake (or chocolate) . If you’re exploring the idea of creating a Chinese name for your brand, I’d recommend keeping an open mind and looking beyond the criteria of phonetic and meaning match.

 

The topic of COVID-19 is hard to ignore, how do you think this will change how brands act in China?

It’s hard to say for certain at the moment, but given the changes in consumer behaviours, I hope brands are keeping an eye on how they can stay relevant and adapt to those new needs. We’re all living a new normal and it’s safe to say that the world isn’t going back to how it was pre-COVID days. So if you’re a brand that’s just waiting around for things to settle again, you better think again and start putting a plan together asap.

 

How do you think this will change how companies operate in China?

I think it’s been a rude awakening for many companies, not just in China but around the world. When an entire business is suddenly forced to work remotely, your existing structures and processes are put under a stress test. Everything from tech to communication to decision making changes, then layer on the different dynamics people have at home and you’ve got a melting pot of fun! For example, if you don’t have your shared files and documents on a cloud server – it’s going to be painful getting access. If you’re used to doing brainstorming workshops in person, well you’ll have to find a way to make Zoom or Feishu work for you or come up with a new way to do it. It’s not easy, I’ll be the first to admit, I struggled with running a brainstorming workshop during lockdown, but nothing says growth like a new uncomfortable situation!

 

What’s your top piece of planning advice? 

Don’t chase titles, chase knowledge. 

 

And to finish off, best memory of being at Thread (so far)?

Few years ago, we had a team retreat with the theme Disney Princesses. We’d rented out a ‘castle’ a few hours from Shanghai, it had a beautiful pool, tons of rooms and a massive space for us to play Chalenj! It’s like Cranium, but on steroids and more physical challenges. So when you have 12 grown adults, dressed as Disney Princesses, who are slightly competitive… it becomes one hilarious reality show. 

Post-Chalenje! with smiling faces still and team intact