HKUST Business School Ideas Lunch Series – Alumni Online Sharing: Brand Transformation of the 116-Year-Old Hong Kong Trams

Trams in Hong Kong, affectionately known as the “ding-ding” in Cantonese, is one of the most iconic transportations in the city. On February 25, MBA alumnus Nixon CHEUNG, Head of Commercial and Brand at the Hong Kong Tramways, discussed with Professor Sophie FAN from the Department of Marketing about his rich experience transforming this classic Hong Kong brand by expanding local market reach and opening up new revenue streams.

Nixon’s brand transformation strategies rely on co-branded partnerships to develop commercialized products and brand experiences that resonate with generations Hong Kong people whether they ride the trams or not. As trams only operate on Hong Kong Island, the diverse product offerings ensure that the brand could target consumers beyond their usual geographical constraints.

Rebuilding a brand with a century-old legacy comes with both advantages and challenges. Where some local brands recognize the legacy as an asset, global brands may have less interest in working with localized brands. Although working with global brands has its benefits, Nixon prioritizes working with local brands that share similar “Made in Hong Kong” roots and compassionate and sustainable values.

Aside from the added commercial value, each product is developed based on a strong storyline between Hong Kong Tramways and the partnering brand. This generates great emotional value among consumers. As a compassionate and caring company that is “home” to generations of employees, Nixon’s rebranding strategies also ensures these qualities and values would convey to consumers. “The story behind and the quality of the products and values are more important than how well-known the brands are,” he explained.

Where anxiety and uncertainty are now part of the “new normal”, Nixon’s agile leadership approach has supported his team through turbulent times. When Nixon joined the Hong Kong Tramways two years ago, the city was embroiled in social events, followed by the global pandemic. The company had also suffered monetary deficits for several years. Nixon emphasized that understanding the root cause and regularly reviewing objectives and values were core to solving problems and complex situations. 

Nixon’s unique leadership abilities successfully redefined Hong Kong Tramways from a transportation operator to an iconic local brand. Looking ahead, Nixon is spearheading a new educational initiative that focuses on promoting STEM education and combining the company’s century-old engineering experience with innovative technology. 

The ding-ding has indeed captured the hearts of many generations of Hong Kongers. It is also one of the backbones of the city’s unique culture. Not only did Nixon and his team bring Hong Kong Tramways back on track, but their work also ensures the company’s legacy lives on for future generations to come.