Mandy Pao, the branding expert and mind behind monumental branding agency, Eloquence (EQ) International, shares, from her experience, the fundamentals to building a brand’s success and longevity, and how she is advocating for creatives and purpose-driven businesses through her work.
Hailing from Hong Kong is Mandy Pao, the branding guru who started her journey in the creative field working public relations (PR) and marketing positions. Driven by her competitive edge to make real-time impact within the industry, Mandy went on to establish her one-stop, creative branding company, Eloquence (EQ) International in 2016, putting her business-savvy mind and inventiveness at the forefront of her trade.
Her transformative work at EQ International secured them many large-scale campaigns for Dior, Prada, PepsiCo, and UNESCO, among other notable names. Mandy has since empowered countless businesses by driving fierce narratives to help brands lay their foundations, reinvigorating their essence, and fortifying their values. With a strong desire to advocate for creatives and spotlight their niches, Mandy pivoted her agency to support impact-driven businesses in crafting their own unique narratives, while equipping them to build lasting relationships with their clientele.
Hive Life sat down with the Founder and Creative Director of EQ International, Mandy Pao, to learn more about her integrative branding agency, how they have committed to “creating the trends of tomorrow,” as well as her vision for the future of branding!
Can you share a little about your professional background with us?
My first job was with a fashion PR agency. After which, I tried to freelance, and my first gig was the Transformers Red Carpet World Premier in Hong Kong. Later on, I led a couple of other movie premieres [including] Kung Fu Panda and Mockingbird, and helped them launch in Hong Kong. Shortly after, I realised it was not the work environment I wanted to embrace.
I started to consult for restaurants, and found a big difference in consulting for fashion brands and working for movie premieres, compared to F&B, which were more intimate and small-scale. I found pleasure in sitting down with people one-on-one, and it aligned with my values and aspirations.
When deciding what you want to work for, you need to find something that you are passionate about, and that’s how I crafted my PR and marketing expertise.
How did your past experiences and skills prepare you for your role as the Creative Director, Brand Strategist, and Founder of EQ International?
I studied psychology when I was back in the United Kingdom, and was fascinated with understanding what customers want and using the customer-first approach to new projects or clients. I see clients as patients that have a problem, that you first need to diagnose, what they what, what they are going through, and then you give them a medicine that best suits their needs.
I analyse and approach an issue from a marketing and business development angle. So, when I present ideas to my clients I think of how I can educate them about certain [branding] concepts. I create a creative brief to break down the [client’s brand] into an angle to present to them. That’s how I learnt that building a brand it is not solely creating a beautiful design and story, you need to do the [important] research and understand what the competitors are doing, what the customers want, and how you can actually dissect all this and put it into the brand that you [aspire] to create.
I have always been a good communicator and had an eye for design, and loved getting on top of design trends. Though I’m not a designer myself, I quickly realised that I was quite into the creative side, which naturally gave me the opportunity to become Creative Director today.
What was your vision behind establishing your own creative branding agency in Hong Kong?
I aspire to empower the creative community in Hong Kong. And recently, I have taken a bold move to narrow down and start focusing more on impact-driven businesses and helping them spread their vision!
There is no such dedicated platform for creative people in Asia, or particularly in Hong Kong. That’s why the EQ community that I have created holds the same mission to contribute to and [impact] the creative community, as these people do amazing work that deserves to be heard and seen!
Modern-day brands and business owners need unique storytelling angles to connect with more customers, and to be able to do that they require creativity. We act as a bridge to help bring the creative forces to them.
Who are your current clientele?
Interestingly enough, all the past clients that I have enjoyed working with the most come from sustainability and wellness. Right now, we do have a couple of bonus clients in sustainable fashion and other sustainability-focused fields. They align well with my values and when I present the ideas to them, it just clicks! That is probably the reason why I have decided to niche down to help with more of these [impact-driven businesses].
I’m grateful that I’m running an agency where I can have diverse opportunities to work in different industries and with different clients. Especially now, since I want to focus on more impact-driven businesses, I love hearing their stories and seeing how passionate they are.
What was the most memorable project you worked on?
It would be UNESCO. I took one year off to [work] on this campaign and travel around the world to help with UNESCO’s women empowerment campaign “You Are Next,”we helped women from developing countries become more creatively [adept], offering them the tools and education. This was one of the most memorable and biggest campaigns I worked on.
Can you share some insights on “branding as a whole experience”?
Modern customers look for brand experience, which is about creating an emotional, sensory user experience, in order to become memorable. It is subconscious, but it definitely makes you remember, because feelings are intangible. Branding. is not just about design, it is about how you use different sensory elements to trigger [certain memories] subconsciously. Most importantly, it’s to connect and engage with the target audience using different online and offline touchpoints, which to me is the beauty of branding.
I see brands as people, to each their own unique, identity, personality, and how they interact with [their customers], and the reason we attract a certain brand is that we share the same values and tastes. I create these stories to help brands connect with their clients authentically and emotionally.
How does EQ International aim to “create, transform, and revitalise brands within the market”?
There are two parts, first we use storytelling narrative to connect and engage. Next, we [incorporate] data analysis to track and understand who the target audience is, how they behave and what they like. Our approach it’s a little different since we are not only building brands that tell a story, but we also care about the end results and their overall performance.
We are helping many big corporations [fuse] their design and marketing departments together through our education and training workshops as well.
We have a very interesting way for us to onboard a client- we don’t jump straight into business. I first send them a form where I try to understand how they define their success. These reflecting questions helps my clients, and I connect and bond even more. I won’t propose anything straightforward, rather, I ask them how we can help them achieve their life goals alongside with business goals, together.
You have earned yourself quite the reputation as a “Branding Guru,” what is your secret?
The secret to success is to ask yourself what you truly care about, as that is what you will spend the most time on and eventually become good at. And what you become good at is basically the values that you can provide, and that’s the secret of being a guru in your industry, to care about the subject.
Do you have any advice for brands on how to improve their marketing and branding strategies?
While there isn’t any magic pill, I would say the most effective approach to get started is to understand your target audience, create a persona, and give this person a name, age, and what challenges they face. Then see how you can help that person and serve them [with your solution], and that is basically the starting point for businesses.
The advice that I give to my clients is to use this time to understand your target audience more, as their needs have definitely changed after the pandemic, so try to reconnect with them.
On the other hand, see what values you can offer, look inwardly and reflect to see how you can strengthen the brand, the offerings, as well as the message. Take the time to optimise yourself and see what extra values you could provide to your audience.
With multiple roles and expertise under your belt, how do you manage your time between your work, personal, and wellness priorities?
I really value my self-time. When I was able to travel before, I did solo trips every year, and would switch off my phone and recharge myself. But now with Covid-19, I pivoted my ways and really started valuing my time in nature with my dog. On my personal side, I am very conscious and selective of who I want to spend time with and what I consume online and offline as that is what makes you and affects how we think.
What advice would you share to help balance your life, and keep you focused?
Spend time on your own, and start to appreciate the time. When you take care of your body and mind, you are calm and balanced, and attract more positive things. I believe the best advice is to walk in nature and connect with your surroundings.
What does the future look like for EQ International?
We are planning something very exciting for the creative community. We recently launched a podcast as well.
I want to settle down with helping more impact-driven businesses first, and then we can focus more on the creative community. We have partnered with Tatler Gen.T to create content, where we can help the creative community spread the word.
How can interested parties contact your team for consultation?