Weifang City: destination branding

Client: Weifang City

Challenge: White Space Exploration, Brand Positioning, Brand Activation

My role: Strategy Director

Agency: ZhengBang

When: May 2015

Long Wai is practicing calligraphy, Weifang China

Long Wai is practicing calligraphy, Weifang China

Weifang is a cradle of Chinese culture, the second wealthiest city in Shandong province, and home to more than 9 million lives—yet just one more Chinese city, among many.


When we started the project the city was famous among local kite lovers for the annual Kite Festival - a valuable brand asset, but one too regional to draw investors.

We went to the city for an audit, to discover which of Weifang’s assets can be leveraged to Weifang’s brand equities, and how those equities can fill white spaces in the context of international investments.


After a series of interviews with officials and business leaders, and conversations with residents of the city, we learned that Weifang is perceived as a great city to live in. The local business community showed that Weifang was attractive to investors not only money-wise, but also lifestyle-wise. People love the city’s fresh air (“it is the city of breezes”) and food (“I ate like a  here”); we embraced these ideas and positioned the city in contrast to Beijing and Shanghai, China’s internationally famous political and financial centers.

Here is where “the city of kites” came into the game: we used the idea to emphasize how windy the city is, suggesting the importance of the ecological and natural, unlike the heavily polluted megacities.

We decided to amplify those motivations and offered the following brand promise: unlike heavily polluted Beijing and Shanghai, Weifang is a city, where one can experience Chinese life, not just factories and banks.


Regardless of the potential investors this might draw, we always prioritized meeting the ambitions and values of Weifang-ren (inhabitants of the city). Not only are they who will live with our work, but also they are who will advocate for their home city to anyone we might try to reach.

 To empower Weifang-ren to share their city’s promise, we translated Weifang values into visual symbols, using the most balanced letter in the alphabet, “W.” This embraced the city values and assets, which are enhanced by the brand positioning: well-being, welcoming, and warmth, among others. To translate this idea to Chinese we used the pool of Chinese characters, from which we chose the character Wei (濰, same as the city)

We launched “W” and “濰” as the main brand activation framework.


Weifang rolled out its brand activation across all media platforms, targeting the domestic market first. The number of visitors has increased by 15% year-on-year, which is significantly above China’s average, and web traffic regarding Weifang has similarly increased with increasing media presence.


As far as I was leading the strategic project, it was a challenge to coordinate the project’s direction and keep everyone on the same page, as was gaining the trust of the city government following.  It was a great opportunity to learn about the Chinese political system from the inside.


CRRC: To establish cultural relevancy of a symbol, globally

Challenge: Cross Cultural Testing

My role: Team Manager, Brand Researcher

Agency: Zheng Bang

When: May 2015


Cultural translation of symbols

A single symbol may have as many meanings as there are cultures, and likely even more than that. To verify cultural translations of any given symbol, we developed a framework - the Utopia evaluation framework.

 Even if the magic of design cannot be directly quantified, cross cultural checks about a symbol’s meanings are a must in our global culture. Symbols have meanings developed in particular contexts. If a symbol is powerful and represents particular meanings, it depends on its environment to do so. Once it crosses a border, it could turn out to represent an opposite meaning, which may significantly diminish the power of the brand or even harm the business (just ask about Uber’s re-branding in China).

CRRC: Can a chinese symbol be exported without losing its power?

 In May 2015 we worked with the newly merged Chinese railway monopoly -- China Railway Rolling Stock Corp (CRRC), the biggest railway corporation on the planet. To satisfy the client's ambition, the design solution required a strong visual mark which represents “world-leading” and “multinational integrated solution provider of superior rail equipment.” But could this be exported from China to the global community?

Questions about design: it is not about opinions, it is about understanding.

 For this, we used my proprietary Utopia evaluation system: sampling international respondents from key territories of the brand operation, taking into consideration their native languages and cultures, and incorporating important themes and patterns from their feedback into the design solution.

We tested three aspects of the logo:

  • Functionality
  • Meaning / Appropriateness
  • Uniqueness

As the results showed, the symbol does not have any particular meanings across all tested cultures - it meant this symbol was open to being populated with meanings as the business is developing. There was a significant difference between Chinese and non-Chinese speakers: Chinese speakers immediately recognized the character che (車), which means “transportation,” while non-Chinese speakers didn’t. There, to retain the power of the logo even for non-Chinese speakers, we recommended the addition of Chinese visual cues in the typeface. We suggested to explore further typeface options and to tie closely the symbol and the script, and to pay homage with the hidden character to all Chinese speakers, domestically and abroad.

Testing results

Overall, the CRRC logo “met expectations” across functionality and meaning. In order to enhance the logo attribute of uniqueness, we recommended typeface modifications. As a result of our recommendations, the logo typeface was modified and released to the world.

Explore what did it look like here ->>> links

 If you would like to talk more about the Utopia evaluation framework -> drop me a line on my email