Branding is relational, not transactional. It's about retention, not acquisition. I work with companies and governments to identify and develop the strategies required to build the relationships that ensure ongoing branding success.
I call it data driven branding & it should not be confused with creative driven branding.
I'm also a rugby nut & devoted family man, probably in that order, but don't tell my wife!
A network of entrepreneurs or small businesses working from home is nothing new. In Malaysia, sundry shops, restaurants & bars, workshops, clinics, pawnshops even real estate agents & lawyers have operated out of the front of their premises while living at the back or upstairs for 200 years.
What’s changed though since the first shophouses of the early nineteenth century is technology. Where once those businesses served the surrounding area, work from home entrepreneurs can now, theoretically at least, sell to the world. It’s now easier than ever to start a business, all you need is a product, laptop, modem and kitchen table.
Many entrepreneurs start by selling biscuits, cakes, hijabs, telekungs, bags, jewelry, cosmetics, photography services and more on Instagram or other social media platforms. Some of them do very well but for every APOM, Harmini Asokumar or Vivy Yusof, it’s estimated that 90% of online businesses fail in the first 3 months.
Of those that survive, the majority struggle to establish themselves outside of social media and soon get tired of trying to scale up the business on tiny margins built on a price driven model.
Even those businesses that do grow by migrating to an ecommerce site and/or third party marketplace, inevitably find the competition from China, Indonesia, Thailand and even Europe and the USA too intense and are soon overcome.
The single biggest contributor to the failure of so many Instagram offerings is that the social media model of mass reach to make new sales to new people is not that dissimilar to the mass economy approach (circa 1950s – 1990s) that used mass media to try and build ongoing sales to new customers. However the current landscape is very different, for three primary reasons
1) In the mass media economy there was limited competition and limited conduits to consumers
2) It’s as easy to start an Instagram business for others as it was for you
3) Consumers are a lot more fickle, unforgiving and with so much choice & no real value offering other than price, have less loyalty to social offerings.
Too many of these social offerings assume that the internet, with it’s global reach and hypothetical marketplace of 4 – 5 billion consumers will supply a willing queue of eager new buyers forever. Obviously, with such a high failure rate, that’s not the case.
It’s at this stage of their evolution, that entrepreneurs get in touch with the small business unit at Fusionbrand. But even then many of them start from the wrong place, believing that all they need is a visually compelling identity and with that, they’ll instantly scale up their business, get repeat sales and start raking in huge profits. If only it were that easy!
To accelerate the leap from Instant Instagram offering to real business requires an investment in both creating a brand and branding. You cannot have one without the other but there’s a big difference between the two. And while this requires an initial investment, it is the bedrock on which any business is built. Successful companies that have made the transition from Instagram to the real world, such as DUCK and Naelofar invested both in their brands and branding.
The brand gives them the chance to start the process of building relationships with their customers. The irony here is that their initial success was often based on their ability to provide a personalised service to customers. With not many customers, a personal touch was doable. But as the customer base grew, relationships suffer. When there’s no relationship and price is the only differentiator, there’s often no reason to stay.
What’s the difference between a brand and branding?
A brand is the visual and cultural assets of the business that determine how that business will deliver economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers. Unfortunately a lot of companies focus all their efforts on the visual elements of their brand. Sure it’s nice to have to cool logo and all that but it isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference in the success of your company.
After all the largest tech company in the world has an apple as a logo. Apple on the other hand has invested a huge amount on their culture. Visit an Apple store in any of the world’s major capitals and see in sync the teams are.
The priority for any new business should be on the culture to ensure the three values above are delivered at every touch point, every time. As we always say, it’s not about the company, it’s about the customer.
Delivering this value is really important because it is the first step in the process of building a sustainable relationship with consumers. The brand identity is important but it’s not going to build a relationship with anyone. The culture on the other hand is what resonates.
So the first part of your brand building process requires you to focus on your brand’s culture and build it around delivering value to customers, on their terms. This means hiring people who understand the importance not of selling your stuff but of building meaningful relationships with prospects and customers.
This customer centric culture is what the great brands are built on. While you may not be able or need to build an ecosystem like the one Apple has created, you will still find business easier if you have relationships with your customers rather than seeing them as just another purchase.
Develop a brand strategy
Once you’ve created your brand, you can focus on Branding. Branding is the strategy that not only brings the brand to life, but also builds the relationship with customers. And the best way to do this successfully from the outset is with a brand plan.
If you don’t have a plan, everything you do risks being campaign driven and reactive. There is no place in a social media world for campaigns. Successful businesses are always on, using social media to build relationships, not broadcast corporate messages. Granted there are times when you need to react to events around you, and the most nimble brands do this but these are tactical shifts while the overall strategy continues.
Way too many small businesses think that simply by existing, they become a brand. But think about it, if it were that simple, we’d all be like Coca Cola, Apple or Google in our field! Making the leap from Instagram offering to business requires you to invest in a brand and branding.
Think of it like building a house. You can build a house without foundations but it can fall down at any stage. Build solid foundations and it will survive hurricanes, disasters and potentially last hundreds of years. Branding are the foundations on which your business is built.
It may not be as exciting or as sexy as putting up a billboard on the federal highway and having your friends tell you they saw it. But it’ll definately make you more money in the long run.
For more information on how to take your Instagram offering to the nation, please contact email@example.com.
I was invited to participate in a conversation on Recovery Branding for Tourism. You can watch the video here.
I think the video is worth watching, but if you don’t have time, I’ve added my responses to the questions below
On the personal front I’m Marcus Osborne. I’ve lived in Malaysia since 1994, I’m married to a Sarawakian and have 3 kids all born in Kuching and they all are very proud of their heritage.
On the professional front, I co-founded Fusionbrand in 2003 after a career in marketing & sales in Europe the Middle East and SE Asia.
We founded Fusionbrand because we saw how the branding landscape was changing and that although branding was becoming more complex and necessary, most firms thought it was related to positioning, taglines, logos etc.
Then and even now, most firms see branding or rebranding as a cosmetic tactical exercise like changing a logo, developing a tagline or creating a new advertising campaign. We also noticed that a lot of businesses were stuck more in a trading mentality and didn’t invest enough in the brand experience or technology to assist them with brand building.
We determined that with an economy growing at up to 9% a year, this didn’t matter but we realized that as growth slowed and the world was getting smaller, more dynamic, more competitive, that cost was no longer a good enough differentiator and that building brands around delivering value would not only block local and international competition but also lower operating costs and increase profits.
So we established Fusionbrand and built the business around two primary pillars
A brand is the visual, historical, topography, environmental and cultural assets of the business or destination. It’s important you base these not on what you want the destination to be but on the reality of what it has to offer. For destination brands today, authenticity is key so it’s about leveraging the natural assets into something that’s of interest to key segments.
This becomes the destination’s DNA and it must have at its heart the goal of consistently delivering memorable experiences to consumers at every stage of their journey from the initial research to becoming part of the consideration set and then to become the chosen destination, through the visit and afterwards as well.
It’s really important therefore to have the buy in of all stakeholders, especially the front liners who often benefit the most. If stakeholders aren’t on board, it doesn’t work. This is often the hardest part, especially when, if they won’t adjust, then they have to be excluded.
Branding is about how we bring the brand to life, throughout the customer journey. Both through the narrative we create around the destination and its assets and how we encourage others to participate in the development of that narrative.
The narrative can take many forms and be communicated through multi channels but the DNA has to be consistent in terms of how the brand is represented. This consistency is more important than how creatively it is presented.
Most campaign driven marketing projects are a straight line whereas smart branding uses technology to connect with the consumer from the outset using a variety of tools and build a relationship that includes staying connected with them long after their first visit.
To be successful, you need to have a solid brand in place before you attempt branding. There’s no guarantee of success but technology allows us to measure the effectiveness of everything we do.
And you need a fair amount of luck as well.
The benefits of branding are significant – lower acquisition costs, better reputation, improved visitor numbers, higher repeat visits or purchases, increased investment and more.
Fail to do it and at best you get left behind which is why most Malaysian states aren’t attracting visitors, even those with outstanding natural assets.
At worst you spend millions every year trying to develop a creative campaign that will stand out in a crowded market place dominated by destinations with far deeper pockets.
And of course if something like a pandemic or other disaster happens, everything you’ve spent on traditional media is essentially wasted.
From your perspective, could you give us the overview of the current situation in our Tourism Industry?
The industry has been hit hard, really hard. Look at hospitality, even before the MCO, in the first 3 months of the year 170,000 hotel bookings were cancelled.
The hotel industry alone is reported to have lost RM3.5 billion in the first 6 months of the year. That’s unsustainable. All related industries have been impacted and it’s not over yet.
But you only need to look at the social media pages of the minister to see she is working tirelessly to stimulate domestic tourism & its working because there has been a fair amount of revenge tourism since the MCO was partially lifted although that has been a double edged sword because a lot of destinations and hotels weren’t ready for the surge in visitors.
Moving forward, what I’d like to see is a more strategic approach to stimulating domestic tourism. There needs to be a plan outlining initiatives as well as new incentives from the government to stimulate demand and regular briefings from the communications team at MOTAC on what is being done and its impact.
From Sarawak’s perspective, I can see that STB is trying hard to stimulate domestic demand & I like how quickly the Sia Sitok programme was developed although if I’m not mistaken, its only available for those living in Sarawak. If this is still the case, I suggest it is extended to West Malaysians.
At the same time STB seems to be moving away from mass advertising to developing branded content. This long term focus will help the state rebound quicker once the pandemic is over as potential visitors will be increasingly familiar with the state.
Because the way destinations are researched these days means experience related content is critical as it drives visitors to a website or blog which allows a tourism board to start the relationship building process through the use of email marketing and other tools. It also allows tourism boards to develop revenue streams by using affiliate marketing.
There’s a real possibility that as governments look for ways to reduce costs, pay for COVID economic stimulus packages or decide agencies now have to generate their own revenue streams, technology will help tourism boards achieve this.
Used correctly, technology allows tourism boards to have more control over their messaging. When visitors to a website or blog don’t sign up for newsletters or leave contact information they can still be reached with retargeting, allowing the destination to stay relevant for longer.
I also think the private sector needs to understand that it’s not just the job of the government to drive visitors to Malaysia, the private sector needs to contribute as well. This is going to require a mindset change.
2. What are the prevalent branding practices during this pandemic (tourism or other industries) and what do you think of them?
On a Sarawak level, there seems to be a pivot away from international markets to domestic ones. This is necessary but I think content creation related to experiences needs to be ramped up. And improvements can be made to how social media is used.
On a national level there doesn’t seem to be much marketing with the exception of Desaru that is advertising a lot online but the website is buggy and doesn’t provide enough information or seamless opportunities to purchase products. Desaru could learn from the One and Only marketing experience.
From what I can see, just about every other state seems to have gone into its shell. This is sad because destinations can use the pandemic to forge long term bonds with domestic tourists now that could last for years, even generations.
Digital is underused & under appreciated
Digital can be used to build interest in destinations, forge relationships with travellers and close deals. But it’s important to appreciate that digital is not a broadcast platform. It’s a platform for connecting with people. This requires structural change and a move away from how things have been done for the past 40 years.
Today, destination brands must be constantly connecting with audiences to get the most out of social media. There is the potential to build DTC relationships that will benefit destinations in the long run. But this means digital infrastructure has to be changed as the old rules, even before Covid no longer apply.
Industry wide structural issues
However there are other structural issues that have to be addressed as well. There are not enough ‘best in class’ products in Malaysia. My theory is too many products are created from the wrong perspective. The goal is not to create a product. The goal is to create an authentic experience that delivers economic, experiential and emotional value.
For example a homestay is not about creating a building in a kampung and calling it a homestay. A homestay is about creating an authentic experience. Everything about it should mirror the reality of the kampung. If it doesn’t it fails.
3. What are the new norms for tourism branding?
COVID has given us an opportunity to evaluate the national and state tourism industry as well as the agencies that are responsible for the development of the industry and the marketing of Malaysia and states.
And this is timely because there’s a problem with the industry. Tourism arrivals have been flat for ten years. Unsavoury practices within the industry are destroying Malaysia’s brand equity and need to be addressed because they won’t go away. Now is the time to take a long hard look at who manages the industry, how it is managed and where it is going because things must change.
A road map for investment needs to be developed around pillars that will drive the industry forward for the next 20 years. I think one pillar that should be explored thoroughly is tourism investment zones.
Until there’s a vaccine, it’s going to take a long time for international travel to pick up. Corridors will be the first step and marketing teams will have to adapt. We’re already hearing about a corridor between Perth and Langkawi. That’s a great development but it’s a small step.
With the right approach, we could see charter flights into Sarawak from certain locations but we need the products to attract visitors from those sources. This requires a pivot away from what we’ve done for the past 20 years.
Transparency is a critical success factor
Transparency is going to be really important. Who knows what the psychological impact of covid is going to be but we can sure that with all the uncertainty around the pandemic and the poor handling of the fallout by many important sources of visitors to Malaysia like the UK, transparancy will play a big part in generating traveller confidence in a destination.
Other new normal branding initiatives will be the use of visitor tracing apps in the supply of information. Leverage on the excellent work done by the Ministry of Health by providing information on health and safety in marketing collaterals and define protocols while providing easy access to real time information.
Those travellers who are exploring medium and long haul trips will look for ease of access to COVID related information around a destination. And they’ll cross reference it against what they can find online. Those that are transparent and open.
So destinations that use a multi channel approach to their branding and provide real time COVID updates, provide hot lines for visitors, seamless advice on what to do if there is a surge in numbers etc on a regular basis will build trust and give potential travellers the information they need to make travel plans. And once travel begins, make sure it’s a touchless travel experience to further build confidence.
These are new norms and confidence is key. Building confidence takes time. Now is the time to start.
On a tactical level, I think we’ve seen the end of the hotel buffet which is probably a good thing!
4. What essential element(s) should industry players be aware of when strategising their recovery branding?
Well the pandemic should go away but it won’t be an on/off lightbulb moment. It’s more likely to fade away, so there’s time to get ready. If they haven’t done so already, industry players should be doing or do the following:
Review your operations, especially marketing departments and how they operate
Review existing products & determine whether they are fit for purpose for a post Covid environment
Build a strategy around what you have, not what you or stakeholders want to have
Use down time to reskill your teams around delivering memorable experiences at every stage of the customer journey both online and off
Look to renovate, invest in new materials, equipment etc. The industry will come out of this and when it does, the competition will be intense
Create a brand plan. If you don’t have a plan everything you do is guesswork. Fusionbrand, a destination brand consultancy has noticed that firms with a brand strategy that incorporates a crisis plan are dealing with the COVID environment better than those who don’t have a plan
Government & the private sector must move away from mass media marketing to creating content that builds organic narratives and collect data
Data will be key. The post COVID travel environment will be different, so invest in data collection tools and use data to build direct relationships with target markets. Especially important for those destinations or products that don’t have the massive marketing budgets of competitors
Reduce the number of stakeholders in the industry
Industry players should be objective in their decision making. Collaboration between stakeholders is important to get out of this. This is not the time for stubbornness!
Explore tourism investment zones, ideal for places like Sematan in Sarawak for instance
Stay fluid. Community managers will play a big role as they keep followers involved and informed on developments in the relevant destination
The fastest way to restore traveller confidence is by being accessible and transparent. Put protocols in place now to deal with a surge in social enquiries
5. New norm vs conventional ways. Do you think industry players would return to the conventional ways of doing things once this situation died down?
I hope not! We’ve been doing it wrong for some time. Which is why visitor numbers to Malaysia have remained around 25 million for the last 10 years.
The majority of people who visit, love Malaysia but products are not good enough to encourage return trips. There are exceptions but overall the quality and variety is simply not there. And many of the products are not marketed properly.
Moreover, regional competitors are constantly creating new offerings while Malaysia’s tend to stay the same. Plus the management of many of Malaysia’s tourism products leaves a lot to be desired.
Moving forward, there are not enough new products coming onto the market. This needs to change. Let’s hope it isn’t ignored once things get back to normal.
And there needs to be more synergy between TM & state tourism boards. Local destinations don’t market themselves aggressively enough.
And moving forward, I want to see the private sector investing more in the industry. If this requires policy change then so be it.
6. How can branding for a destination like Sarawak be done effectively now during the pandemic and after it has blown over?
It’s important to appreciate that branding is a strategic initiative. So although COVID has taken a toll on every destination, there should still be a road map in place to drive the industry forward and build the destination’s reputation. Much of that will remain although if the marketing focus was on mass media, that needs to change.
Tactically, getting West Malaysians to visit is the right approach for both the long term and the short term but it’s going to take time and they need to be nudged repeatedly before it’ll start happening.
But Sarawak can’t ignore international markets. I understand a new tourism master plan is being developed and this is good news for the industry. It’ll have to be ruthless as currently there are too many stakeholders in Sarawak so this master plan should streamline this and it needs to move away from the campaign approach of small tactical initiatives to a long term strategy.
And that strategy must be built around a clear brand proposition that is authentic and they must use this to unlock growth around 3 pillars, products, content & relationships. Those products should be built around 5 – 10 niche sectors, invest in them to ensure they are best in class.
Substantial investments need to be made in the tourism infrastructure. New products created for the right target markets.
Sarawak has a lot of potential but not as a shopping/mainland Chinese mass tourism destination. There will be business from China but not volume business. It’ll never be a mass market destination for anyone & shouldn’t try to be.
Sarawak will never have the accessibility that other destinations have but that shouldn’t stop Sarawak from becoming a globally respected destination. Something it could be in 5 – 10 years.
More importantly, the tourism master plan must propose a task force is created to implement the master plan because too many plans have been created only to gather dust on a shelf.
At the end of 2019 I wrote a blog post comparing the business class offerings of Malaysia Airlines, Emirates & Qatar. You can read the full review here. The purpose of the review was to highlight just how difficult it is for Malaysia Airlines to try and rescue its market share, especially in the premium business class segment.
Covid-19 has of course changed the aviation business, probably for ever. But when things do get back to some sense of normal, you can be sure the battle for business class will continue. If Malaysia Airlines continues to offer such basic service in premium class, it will never recover its former glory.
My piece generated a few comments, one from a Malaysian called Derek Ow. I’ve reproduced his comments (in red below) and have included my reply to certain comments where I think I can add further value.
I have quite mixed feelings about your review especially in your review of Malaysia Airlines. But let me start with the points I agree with.
1) I agree that the Golden Lounge isn’t the best and that it could be better. But then again, such preferences are very subjective. But the Emirates lounge does indeed set a new level for airlines to follow.
The Emirates and Qatar lounges are the benchmark by which any business class passenger traveling to Malaysia, the region or onto Australia & New Zealand, will judge other airlines. It’s not that there’s much wrong with the Golden Lounge – it’s certainly functional – but these days, that’s enough to run a business but unlikely to generate new sales.
2) The nuts could have been served in a more premium way considering that they are served in a similar fashion in Economy Class.
Such a simple touchpoint, on it’s own means very little. But once it’s put in the competitor context, it makes the Malaysia Airlines brand seem second rate, lazy even.
3) You voiced your concern to a senior attendant in the MAS flight. That’s an exemplary move.
4) WiFi should have been offered to Business Class passengers at either a lower rate or be made complimentary altogether in MAS.
WiFi on planes tends to be so bad that charging for it cannot have any benefits except financial ones yet they will leave a negative perception of the carrier in the mind of the business class passenger – I had to pay for WiFi on MAS and it was crap. Not a good outcome. Better not to charge for it and explain that it will be patchy at best.
5) In-flight entertainment in MAS is quite horrendous and most of the time, they’re outdated and offer little to no programs that appeal to non-Malaysians.
6) Emirates does undoubtedly lead in terms of service. Despite MAS being my airline of choice, objectively Emirates is a winner considering the tiny details the staff pay attention to. And yes, having a limousine is a colossal advantage over the other 2 airlines.
Now onto points I strongly disagree with:
1) You mentioned of how security checks are carried out at the departure gate. I personally applaud the Malaysian authorities for practicing such a protocol as they ensure that between the immigration section after checking in and pre-boarding, there is little to no chance someone could have brought in a forbidden item while at the gates. Let’s not forget that criminals are sophisticated and so refined to a point where they can placed forbidden items (while highly unlikely, it is still possible) on your clothing or even swap carry-in bags while you wait for your flight if you are not paying close attention to your belongings. So I take this as the authorities minimising the chances of any potential hazards no matter how minor making their way into the flights.
2) Honestly, the biscuits still being in the wrapper when served doesn’t bother me a single bit. I don’t even understand why that should even be a question on how exclusive it is.
I don’t think anyone is bothered by it but it hardly communicates a sophisticated experience. You won’t find a high end restaurant serving biscuits in wrappers. It’s just tacky and lacks sophistication.
3) While I am aware that airlines must cater to all tastes, Malaysia Airlines had always branded themselves with ‘Malaysian Hospitality’. Perhaps that a difference in our methods of reviewing but I personally review flights based on how the respective airlines brand themselves. So based on the types of hard products served (especially the Nescafe), I can boldly say that MAS is adhering to their philosophy that is ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and that there isn’t much fault in that. We’d love for you to experience what we Malaysians enjoy in general. But it is understandable that you may prefer Western tastes.
Malaysian Hospitality is a claim, a tagline, nothing more. This old fashioned approach to branding, where you try and convince the public of something through a communications campaign is irrelevant in the global economy of today where consumers not companies define brands. As for experiences what Malaysians enjoy, that’s not the point of a carrier. And it’s nothing to do with my personal tastes.
I know Malaysian’s like Nescafe but that’s a lifestyle choice driven by indolence and speed not quality. But my point is not about serving Nescafe, that’s fine for Malaysians (although I think it’s really sad because Malaysia has some great home grown coffee and the carrier could support those small businesses by offering their coffees) but the typical international business class passenger does not want to drink Nescafe.
If you want to attract those international travellers and their foreign currency, you need to be able to offer as good as or even a better experience than the other carriers. Offering the cheapest, nastiest coffee in the market to your business class passengers is not the way to do that.
4) I find it unfair to compare airlines in different leagues, serving different communities with different philosophies in terms of service by the same universal benchmark unless it is about the general quality of service which I think you didn’t highlight that much from an objective standpoint when it came to the in-flight service. It was mostly about fulfilling your personal taste which again, is a very subjective topic. But kudos for being quite objective when it comes to the post flight section.
Malaysia Airlines is in direct competition with Emirates and Qatar. And also BA, Etihad, Oman Air and anyone else who flies the same routes. Once again, it’s not about my personal taste. Cabin crew pushing a trolley down the business class aisle, emptying uneaten food into a garbage back is not high class. Fact. Nothing to do with my personal taste.
And as I keep saying, it’s not that Malaysia Airlines is bad, it’s that everyone else has got so much better. In my opinion, Malaysia Airlines gets the job done. If you simply want to fly from A to B then fine choose Malaysia Airlines but if you want outstanding value for money, then fly the other two because they’ve raised the bar to a new level.
Some of my points can be biased but I’d like to make it clear I am in no way shooting down the entire review since I think it is quite well-done. Just that I didn’t agree on some ways you criticised MAS. Hopefully you will return to Malaysia again someday! Cheers!
My posts/comments/responses/observations are based on nearly 40 years experience of working with brands from both a brand consulting perspective but also as a consumer who works bloody hard for his salary and doesn’t see why he should give his hard earned money to any business that doesn’t provide value.
There is so much competition out there for every product or service that simply going through the motions, as so many businesses do these days is not good enough. I don’t have to accept second best and I won’t.
Successful branding is all about details. Especially in such a brutally competitive space as the aviation business. And contrary to your suggestion that I’m comparing airlines in different leagues, well I’m not. Qatar and Emirates, as well as Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Oman Air and Etihad are all competitors of MAB because they fly routes MAB flies. And in business class, Qatar and Emirates are setting the business class benchmark for flights in and out of Asia. And one way they are doing this is by paying attention to the details.
Also, as a brand consultant, I can tell you that Malaysia Airlines has wasted millions of dollars trying to position the MH concept in consumers minds. The idea of the tagline to drive a brand is outdated and irrelevant. Whatever happened to ‘Fly Malaysia’ launched last year?
Finally, I’m not criticising Malaysia Airlines, I’m providing feedback for them to improve. Happy flying!
Even before the arrival of COVID19, the bottom had fallen out of the freelancer market in Malaysia. Once upon a time, freelancing was seen as the best of both worlds, work to your own routine, don’t have to answer to a dictatorial boss while only taking clients you wanted. Sadly life is rarely so simple and many freelancers have suffered.
A frustrated freelancer described the business to me like this:
Freelance graphic designers get friends asking them to do wedding invites for RM500, 3 days before the wedding. Even though the freelancer knew his friend was getting married, he didn’t ask for the business in case he was rejected. The friend getting married didn’t ask earlier because he’s disorganised or assumed his friend would do it. Plus he’s a guy and leaves everything to the last minute.
The freelancer is happy to get the job but 2 weeks earlier he’d won a RM5,000 job and had been paid RM1,000 but hadn’t started work on it because, well he’s a freelancer and works to his own schedule but the deadline is a week away and he was intending to work 3 days straight to catch up but now he’s got the wedding job so focusses on that because it’s for a friend and he can’t let a friend down and it’s a wedding, so he can’t push the deadline back!
As a result, the RM5,000 job gets put aside but he is too shy to tell the client. As the deadline approaches the client starts calling more and more often. Because he doesn’t know how to speak to clients, apologise and explain a new timeline, he ignores the client’s calls till he’s finished the wedding job which he does. His friend is really happy and pays RM250 and promises the balance later, blaming the wedding costs etc for the delay.
It’s his wedding and he’s a friend so the freelancer has to say no problem. Then he calls the RM5,000 client who ignores his calls because he’s got fed up and has taken the RM5,000 job and given it to someone else. Now desperate he starts looking for work but can’t find any.
He can’t chase the wedding guy because they are friends and it’s too embarrassing to ask friends to pay their debts. Besides, what if he tells other people in the kampung? He’ll never get another wedding job.
Meanwhile the RM5,000 client has found a freelancer willing to do the RM5,000 job for RM3,000 so even after writing off the RM1,000 deposit he paid to the first freelancer, he’s actually saving RM1,000 which should make his boss happy and his boss is more happy when money is saved than when value is created.
However, the freelancer who is doing the RM5,000 job for RM3,000 doesn’t put much effort into the job because he’s only getting 3k and it’s a lot of work and should really cost RM5,000 plus he didn’t get anything in advance because the client is pissed off with the first freelancer but why should he be punished?
I forgot to mention the original freelancer who did the wedding job used the RM1,000 deposit he got for the RM5,000 job for a downpayment on a 50 inch TV from Harvey Norman and desperately needs to make the next payment or suffer the humiliation of his neighbours seeing the TV taken away a month after it was delivered.
So he goes out and gets a RM5,000 job by offering to do it for RM1,000 with 50% up front so he can pay the next instalment on the TV. But after paying off the TV he’s got nothing left and TNB cuts off the power to his house so he can’t work. The client is calling him so he turns off his phone and goes back to his parents.
Meanwhile, all the companies that thought using a freelancer would save them money have seen deadlines and opportunities missed, brand equity reduced, reputation tarnished and large amounts of hair pulled from heads.
Across town in Damansara, a mother of three who markets herself as a social media guru because she’s got 10,000 questionable followers on IG and gets free products for promoting unknown skin care brands, suddenly realises that there’s more to social media than sharing 12 second videos of cats saving babies from falling off motorbikes in the suburbs of Boise, Idaho or ducks doing handstands. But she charged RM1,000 to develop a social media strategy for a government company with impossible to achieve follower targets because organic takes forever and she doesn’t have any budget to promote the posts which is probably a good thing for the rest of us because it’s less crap content clogging up our feeds!
So if you are thinking of becoming a freelancer or hiring one over a consultancy or an agency because they are cheap, think again. Think past cost and think about value. Cheap can often cost far more than moderately expensive. There are some good freelancers out there. But you need to find them. Not all of them are created equal and it can be very dangerous if you choose the wrong one…
This is not a piece about the latest technological advances, gimmicks toys or 5G, 8K, robotics, foldables, AI and other buzz words. It’s about preparing your business to compete in 2020 and beyond!
So what will be the big branding shifts in Malaysia in 2020? Here are ten developments that will help you take your company from innocuous business to sustainable brand:
1) Seismic shift away from using traditional media to create instant sales to relationship branding to ensure long term success: In 2014, in a global attempt to unseat Apple at the head of the consumer electronics table, Samsung spent a heart stopping RM50 billion, yes RM50 billion on marketing with a large chunk of it on advertising. It failed.
For twenty years Proton spent in the region of RM10 – RM25 million annually on traditional creative driven marketing. During that period, Proton’s market share fell from 85% to 16% and it had to be bailed out by the Chinese.
In 2018, Unilever slashed RM1.2 billion dollars from it’s annual marketing budget. The impact on sales? Zero.
And then there’s Malaysia Airlines. In the lead up to the tragic events of 2014, Malaysia Airlines spent over RM1 billion on traditional media telling us about Malaysian Hospitality. In fact it is still using hospitality to sell seats but lost nearly RM800 million in 2018.
Everywhere you look, businesses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a traditional, creative driven approach to marketing are struggling to stay competitive, repeatedly bailed out by the government or have already gone out of business.
In 2020, the old rules of marketing will no longer apply. Replaced instead by relationship branding. Relationship branding focusses the organisation on establishing a personal relationship at every touch point with every customer, all the time.
Based around a business with a deep understanding of the organisations’ abilities (and limitations), relationship branding will seek to build deep, meaningful relationship with prospects and customers by delivering outstanding individual value and memorable experiences at every touch point throughout the customer journey and beyond.
2. Co-creation is the new innovation:Fusionbrand, one of Malaysia’s most established and respected brand consultancies is working with a local fashion house to build a community around it’s best customers. Each customer is encouraged to participate in the design process by voting for designs online.
Designs that ‘win’ will be developed and marketed in the same way as designs developed in house. This simple but effective example of co-creation will help build relationships with prospects and customers while encouraging participation in the success of the brand and at the same time, generate discussions that will be far more effective than traditional advertising.
This more collaborative and transparent approach to branding is nothing new but it’s rarely done properly. Yet ask yourself, if you are in a positive, fulfilling relationship, where your partner treats you as a partner, are you likely to end it? Of course not. In 2020, successful businesses will look to build relationships not sell products.
3. Develop social media strategies to leverage its power, not treat is as a tactical after thought: 2018 was the year Malaysians finally understood the power of the internet and in particular, consumer generated media (CGM) when they used it to peacefully topple an authoritarian government that had ruled for more than 60 years.
In 2019 Malaysians experimented further by repeatedly challenging the newly elected government while flexing their muscle on numerous issues such as the economy, education, immigration, transportation and taxes.
The taxi industry, utilities providers and other monopolies incurred the wrath of the increasingly confident Malaysian consumer. They and many others are under increasing pressure to perform and will come under further pressure throughout the year.
One Malaysian property developer saw its reputation practically destroyed because of the power of social media and more importantly, its inability to represent its brand effectively online in a crisis.
This provides an outstanding opportunity for businesses that understand social media and how to develop a strategy to leverage its power. To do so, firms will need to be more genuine, authentic, accessible, transparent and human. One way to do this is by creating and managing online communities where customers interact with each other, often to the detriment of the brand. Attributes that don’t come easy to Malaysian CEOs but they really don’t have a choice.
The irony is that such transparency and collaborative approach is beneficial to the brand. The Ogilvy Loyalty Index found that such customers are worth six times the value of a “typical” customer while a McKinsey study found that these customers accounted for two-thirds of online sales.
4. Enhanced customer connectivity: With consumers increasingly choosing to shut out the more than 5,000 messages they receive every day, companies must accept that they need to look for more innovative ways to engage with and stay connected to customers if they are to stay ahead of the competition in 2020 and beyond.
The good news is that consumers are more willing than ever to share information and this, coupled with the increasing affordability of tools that provide better capabilities for segmented messaging mean there is no longer the ‘no budget la’ excuse for not integrating technology into any brand strategy.
Moreover, advances in geolocation collection and activity-tracking, mean that companies can provide personalised, custom content and offerings as well as anticipate needs and potentially prevent potential issues at a fraction of the cost of even 5 years ago.
A word of warning though. Enhanced connectivity means more interactions so personnel need to know how to represent the company and what tone of voice to use. Marketing automation and chatbots are not a solution on their own. It’s how you use them that matters.
5. Social branding: Increasingly, companies will understand that brands have social as well as economic value. This is a lesson that companies such as the Body Shop, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s have long recognized. Think #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Movember for examples.
In 2020, companies will increase sponsorships of a wider variety of social movements. Sights like RankABrand are sharing information on how sustainable brands are. Expect Malaysian companies to pay greater attention to corporate governance, recognizing the strong effect that transgressions can have on their brands.
6. Product placement will not go away: As advertising becomes less effective, better enforcement of the PDPA act, do-not-call lists and more robust spam filters, companies will have to work smarter to get their products in front of consumers. Look for an expanded emphasis this year on product placement, not only in TV and movies but also in songs.
7. Blogs will get the recognition they deserve in 2020: Blogs are hardly new but they aren’t used properly in Malaysia or rather they weren’t up until 2018 when they helped bring down the government. An online tool powerful enough to help influence and change the voting habits of Malaysians while making obscure Swedish gamers international superstars and multi millionaires will be used extensively in 2020 to move product.
While there are many bloggers in Malaysia, not many of them are consistent. In 2020, we’ll see blogs begin their rise as a cost effective tool for internal and external community relationship builders.
Smart brands will recognise the power of good blogs such as syedoutsidethebox, Bangsarbabe and of course this one! The power of Blogs to fuel word-of-mouth, which accounts for 30-50% of all brand switching will be truly recognised.
8. Training and upskilling: 2020 will be a tough year economically, making competition even more intense. Moreover, international brands are now targetting Malaysia making it harder to find talent willing to join Malaysian businesses.
This means Malaysian companies will have to invest more in their personnel, treating them as an investment not a cost.
9. Brand audits will become fashionable: In 2020 smart companies will invest in hard hitting brand audits that identify what is right (and wrong) with the brand and provide a benchmark for future strategies.
Understanding where is the brand today, providing a clear vision and mission as well as making sure everyone within the organisation understands what is the brand, its values, what is its purpose and what their role is in delivering memorable experiences will be the key to moving from price driven businesses to brands so expect to hear a lot of talk in 2020 about brand audits [LINK].
10. Fast-forward to the end of 2020: Keep an eye on immersive communications. Talked about since 2005 or so, immersive communications has struggled to cut through the noise, mainly because businesses don’t want to make the investment, preferring instead to try and shout louder than everyone else because everyone else is shouting.
Branding is often not about new stuff, it’s about doing the fundamentals better than anyone else. Get that right, while delivering on promises made and you’ll see your brand succeed where others fail in 2020.
If you’d like to learn how to make your business a brand, contact us today
The Skytrax awards are based on the responses of 21 million participants from 100 nationalities. It is touted as the largest annual airline passenger satisfaction survey in the world.
I have a number of issues with satisfaction surveys, the primary one being that they don’t really provide any actionable insights. J.D. Power, a research company carries out an annual satisfaction survey of US airlines and their 2019 survey shows travellers are more satisfied than ever with airlines.
Yet high levels of satisfaction don’t translate into increased profitability as airline stocks underperform most markets, mainly because as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall.
And many of those surveyed probably travel once a year in economy. Business class passengers’ account for only 5.4% of international travel, yet are responsible for 30% of airline revenues. On some flights business class passengers account for 75% of profits.
Little wonder then that Malaysia airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates are going all out to attract premium class passengers as we head into the lucrative end of the year holiday season. But which one of them flying to the UK deserves your hard earned money?
We compare the business class offerings of these three of the main carriers.
Online airline booking experience
If you want an easy to navigate, seamless experience with an online booking engine that is clear and transparent with an intuitive interface then Emirates clinches this important part of the process as all the information is clearly laid out, allowing you to make changes without too much effort or repetition.
The Qatar Airways sites is easy to navigate although the font is a bit small. They lose a point for the outrageous ‘no show’ penalties while Malaysia Airlines loses a point for the limited number of flights offered but wins it back for being the only one to offer direct flights, shaving at least 3 hours off the journey time. Emirates 4. Qatar 3. Malaysia 4.
Check in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
There’s nothing to choose between the three, which is a massive lost opportunity for MAS because KLIA is its home airport and should be used to really make a powerful first impression.
Check in staff for all three carriers also need to be trained to have more enthusiasm for their jobs and be constantly reminded they represent the brand at the start of the relationship with passengers.
It may be a process for them but it isn’t for the brand or the customer. It’s a key touch point in the relationship building process and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially by Malaysia Airlines. Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.
Emirates, Qatar Airways & MAS lounges at KLIA
All three lounges are on the ‘mezzanine’ level at KLIA and are all harder to find than they should be, especially the Plaza premium lounge. This is not unique to KLIA as most airports appear to hide their lounges.
When flying Qatar and Emirates I took the early morning flights that left around 0200hrs. Qatar doesn’t have its own lounge at KLIA so uses the Plaza Premium lounge. Which is anything but premium.
From an experiential branding perspective, this is a massive fail on the part of Qatar Airways. I don’t know why they haven’t invested in their own lounges, not just at KLIA but at other airports around the world.
Emirates lounge is small and intimate with a limited but superior range of hot and cold foods and beverages including premium non vintage champagnes. The lighting is calm and the environment relaxing. Staff are attentive and knowledgeable.
Understandably the MAS lounge is the largest but it wasn’t the most impressive. The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s the unmistakable smell of Malaysian food.
It reminded me of walking into a food court. Nothing wrong with that perhaps but the Emirates lounge in Dubai doesn’t smell of Mandi while the Qatar Airways lounge at Doha don’t smell of Machbus.
While some business class lounges around the world are creating daylight boosting zones, ‘Hue lighting’ rooms and amber or blue lighting throughout, The Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA was rather dull and uninspiring. Emirates 4. Qatar 1. Malaysia 2.
Lounge to gate experience at KLIA
Walking from all the lounges to the respective gates should be straight forward but it isn’t due to a lack of effective way finding. While this isn’t the fault of the carriers, they should be able to influence the airport operator. Walking out of the Malaysia Airlines lounge, there is no sign directing you where to go or even how to get down to the ground floor.
The main security checks for all flights are at the departure gates. I think this is unique to KLIA and absolutely bonkers. At Dubai, Doha and Heathrow, by this stage it’s just a passport check.
So as a business class passenger on the national airline you queue with everyone else. This should be at an earlier stage of the journey where there are fast track lanes for business class passengers.
National carriers need to leverage every opportunity they can and home advantage is supposed to work for them, not against them. Malaysia Airlines really needs to get on top of this by working with stakeholders such as Malaysia Airports to create a memorable experience, for the right reasons. Malaysia Airlines loses another point here because KLIA is its home airport. Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.
Business class environment on MAS, Qatar and Emirates
My Emirates flight was a Boing 777 while the Qatar flight was an Airbus A330 and the MAS flight an Airbus A350. So not exactly ‘apples to apples’ but close enough.
Emirates business class is bling central. It’s shiny, bright with huge TV screens and thousands of movies, TV shows, games, flight information and more. It’s world class and has won numerous awards.
The Qatar cabin is less ostentatious and a little more refined with equally impressive TVs and movies, TV shows, games and flight information. It’s also won many awards especially with Skytrax.
The Malaysian Airlines cabin is functional. It’s more Toyota than the Porsche of the others. The TV is smaller, of poorer quality and there are less new movies. Overall entertainment options are significantly less than the others.
I’m not comparing seats because that would only make sense if I compared exactly the same seat on each aircraft.
Wifi is free on Emirates and Qatar and costs US$2 – US$25 on MAS, depending on the package. Bearing in mind the quality of Wifi on flights is still patchy, charging business class passengers is not a good idea and MAS would be better offering it free. Emirates 4. Qatar 4. Malaysia 2.
Comparing inflight service on MAS with Qatar Airways & Emirates
I’ll focus on key experiential points here and not do a food review! The mix of passengers on all the carriers was essentially the same – Westerners, Arabs, Malaysians and a mix of others so they need to cater to all tastes.
Order a pre meal drink on Emirates or Qatar and it’s served together with a variety of warmed premium nuts in a bowl.
On MAS the nuts are the same as economy class and are served in the bag. Another bag of nut mix is also served the contents of which was a serious disappointment.
On Emirates and Qatar, every pre dinner drink order was a personal event and served by a ‘waiter’. I saw a number of passengers order cocktails, champagne and other drinks and the glassware is elegant and the whole experience is similar to a 5 star hotel cocktail bar.
The pre dinner experience on MAS is functional. It isn’t bad, it’s just not in the same league as the competition but it is competing with them for the same passengers so it really needs to be.
While the food is comparable, MAS really lets itself down with the way it serves the food. Emirates and Qatar prepare meals in the galley and serve them individually, MAS pushes the food trolley along the aisle, like in economy.
I was sitting in the back row so had to put up with the trolley clanking every time it went over a ‘lip’ on the floor next to me.
Oh, and on the MAS drinks trolley were some heavily flavoured and hugely sweet ‘juice drinks’ popular in Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia but not really anywhere else.
Watching MAS cabin crew peel back the seal on one of those containers didn’t make me feel like I was in an exclusive cabin. Pedantic perhaps but paying attention to these little things is what differentiates great brands from the rest.
MAS did deliver the main course personally so I didn’t have to put up with the trolley!
MAS losses a point over its coffee. The world loves good coffee. Arabs have been drinking coffee since the 15th century. Europeans have had a coffee culture for 400 years. There are 700 Starbucks stores in South East Asia, 140 of them in Malaysia. 75% of Australians drink fresh coffee every day.
Order a coffee on Emirates and you’ll receive a freshly brewed mug of Ethiopia’s finest beans. Same on Qatar, on MAS it’s Nescafe. Now I know Malaysians like Nescafe but the typical international business traveller from the East or West is more likely to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of java.
At the end of the meal on MAS, out came that bloody trolley again. And this time there was a rubbish bag on top and as the steward cleared plates, he emptied left over food and rubbish into the bag. Sorry but that’s simply not good enough on business class and another point lost.
All three offer a ‘mattress’. Qatar gets a special mention for providing The White Company pajamas. I didn’t use them but I took them home!
Like I say, it’s not that MAS business class is bad, it’s just that the other carriers have raised the bar when it comes to service. So it’s inevitable passengers will compare experiences. Emirates 4. Qatar 5. Malaysia 2.
Cabin crew attitude on MAS, Emirates & Qatar Airways
Cabin crew are some of the most underrated and under appreciated people in the aviation business. They need a wide variety of skills. They need to be professional yet friendly, polite and caring, have great communication and customer service skills while at the same time an empathetic nature.
They need to be flexible enough to deal with multiple cultures, have high levels of tolerance, be organized, firm and calm while managing multiple activities and all at 38,000 feet!
Little wonder then that cabin crew can make or break an airline brand. And it takes real talent to become good cabin crew. Asians have a natural charm and historically, Asian carriers have led the world in providing memorable experiences and it’s no surprise that Emirates and Qatar hire mostly Asian cabin crew from at least 15 Asian countries.
Emirates cabin crew lead the field in terms of professionalism. They are attentive and yet unobtrusive. The crew member looking after me introduced herself at the start of the flight and made herself visible without interrupting me. She made me feel special and important.
The service, personalization and ‘nothing is too difficult’ attitude was bang on the money.
There isn’t much to choose from between the Qatar cabin crew and Emirates, perhaps a little more refined but really nothing much in it.
MAS staff were professional and attentive if a little hurried. I felt they wanted to get the meal over with while the others seemed to actually enjoy their work.
When I complained about not being able to have a proper cup of coffee on MAS, the crew member – who was senior and obviously experienced – dealt with me sincerely, sympathetically and professionally. Emirates 5. Qatar 4. Malaysia 4.
Arrival in London
Most airlines seem to be happy to be rid of you the moment you leave the aircraft. However, flying Emirates business class entitles you to a limousine to any destination within about 70 miles of Heathrow or Gatwick.
This limousine option is outstanding value and ensures the last leg of the journey leaves a lasting, positive impression. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned this service to people. Neither MAS or Qatar offer a limousine and for some I know it’s a deal breaker. Emirates 3. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.
The post experience experience
None of the airlines try to build a personal relationship with you. I was travelling Qatar for the first time and yet there was a lack of personalisation in follow up communications. It was my first flight to London on MAS for about 5 years and I had mentioned it on social media but again, no attempt was made to build rapport with me although I was sent an email asking me to complete a questionnaire. Emirates carpet bombs me with numerous emails containing special offers but doesn’t do anything to build rapport with me. This a missed opportunity for all the airlines. Emirates 0. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.
Malaysia Airlines comes in a distant third and that’s a pity because in the mid 1980s, before The Emirates or Qatar even had their own airlines, three airlines – Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines – invested heavily in their people to make the experience of flying with them memorable.
It worked and those airlines became the ‘poster boys’ of the commercial aviation business.
MAS began to lose sight of what it is in the 1990s and stumbled along until the twin tragedies of 2014. In the months and years after 2014, costs were slashed and it became nothing more than a low cost carrier masquerading as a national airline.
There is no doubt that it has made significant headway since those dark days but it still has a long way to go. To make the transition, management has to understand they are not selling flights they are selling experiences.
Looking at the MAS staff behave, my gut feeling is they are trying their best but the MAS training is inadequate in the face of such dynamic competition. And how the management react to the recent FAA ruling will be key to the next stage of the carriers evolution.
Splitting Emirates and Qatar isn’t easy. Qatar’s rise as a global carrier of repute has been meteoric and it is winning awards almost every day. Loads out of Kuala Lumpur are impressive but it isn’t investing as heavily in the experience as Emirates and that’s why it came in second.
Emirates is the benchmark for all airlines. The crew really seems to be in touch with the company values and living those values on board. Having said that, I hear there are rumblings of discontent amongst frequent flyers.
Emirates has undoubtedly reached the top but in many ways, that’s the easy part. Staying there and continually improving will be tough, especially if competitors up their game.
Emirates is a clear winner.
If you’d like to know how Fusionbrand can make your business a world class brand, please contact us on +60192233090.
Here’s a cautionary tale about how the innocuous actions of one brand can influence perceptions of another brand as well as cascade into more complicated issues.
At the end of October 2019 I flew into Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Narita, landing at 0500 hrs. On arrival at KLIA, I have 2 options to get to my house, Grab or the KLIA airport limousine service.
I intended to use Grab but when I arrived, I was prompted to take my picture for authentication purposes. As I’ve cracked my screen right over the forward facing camera, this wasn’t an option.
So the only option was the airport limo service. I couldn’t find an app for the service and their website doesn’t list the fares so I needed to use the booths at the airport.
I knew from memory that arriving between midnight and 0600 hours means I incur a 50% surcharge, which is fair enough.
As I walked through customs and reached the Airport Limo counter, it was closed. Fortunately I know there is also a counter at the domestic arrivals but I did wonder what the Japanese families who were on the same flight would do if they intended to take a taxi downtown.
Walking to the domestic arrivals area, I was approached by two illegal taxi operators who offered to take me downtown for RM200, almost double the expected airport limo rate, even after the surcharge.
Of course I told them to get lost but there are numerous stories on the internet of people who have been duped by these unscrupulous operators and I wonder if they approached any first time visitors, would they have paid the inflated price?
As these are not licensed operators, I presume they are not insured.
Anyway, when I got to the domestic taxi counter, I asked why the counter at international arrivals was closed and the young man replied, ‘Not closed, they are asleep.’
Now while I respect his honesty he shouldn’t be saying that. I mean, what sort of message does it send?
Finally, this frustrating and underwhelming brand experience ended with me walking out to the car where the only 2 drivers were talking to each other.
As I got in my car, the driver continued to chat with his friend. He then got in the car and continued chatting. It was all very casual, as if me the customer was more of an irritant than his only source of income.
But it also showcases the lack of appreciation for the customer that is so common in Malaysia.
It’s as if there is an assumption that there will always be an unlimited source of customers. This is especially common with those businesses that are monopolies.
This despite what happened recently to established businesses such as the taxi industry that has been decimated by travel disruptor Grab.
What are the branding lessons to be learned from this simple yet important interaction? The issue here is one of stakeholder communication and brand management.
These brands need to ask themselves why the booth at international arrivals is closed at a time 100s of passengers are landing at KLIA? How often does this happen?
Do staff sleep every night? If yes, what is the direct and indirect impact on revenue and reputation?
Why are the brand front liners so ill prepared for a simple customer question? Have they not been trained properly? What else do they answer so naively?
What can be done to fix the problem? How can staff be trained to present a more professional explanation? In this case, a simple response to such a question could be, “Sorry sir, they are changing shifts and will be back online in 5 minutes.”
There has been a lot of talk about illegal taxi operators at KLIA and how there is a zero tolerance toward them. That doesn’t seem to be the case in reality.
This isn’t just an issue for the KL taxi service, it’s also an issue for the Malaysia nation brand and the airport operator.
If tourists unwittingly use an illegal taxi and they are involved in an accident, incur medical expenses or worse, are killed. Who is accountable? Are the authorities, through lax enforcement, culpable?
Will it take a serious accident causing injury or even death to tourists to make the government do something?
What will be the impact on the brand if there is an accident and it goes viral? What damage will be done and how much and how long will it take to address the negative impact on the brand?
What will be the consequences of such an event on potential visitors or investors in the country? Will they potentially choose an alternative destination or review Malaysia as an investment option?
If illegal taxi operators are allowed to function without fear of prosecution, how does that impact the airport’s relationship with legal operators? If illegal taxi services can operate freely, why should legal operators follow the rules?
In the future, could those legitimate operators sue Malaysia Airports for loss of income?
What about the reputation of the police, already under fire in Malaysia for numerous issues ranging from drug abuse to mysterious disappearances, corruption and more?
What about the reputation of PDRM, will it be further tarnished by illegal touts operating with impunity at the airport?
If a Minister has stated there will be zero tolerance to illegal taxi touts why are they still operating? What impact will this have on future statements from the Minister, a representative of the government?
Successful branding requires all stakeholders to work together, to understand what is their responsibility to the brand and what is required to deliver a seamless, positive brand experience at every touch point every time.
This simple example of a seemingly innocuous event with one brand has the potential to negatively impact numerous other brands. Every business should look at branding from the same perspective and not in isolation.
It’s potentially complicated but the rewards for all stakeholders are positive and for commercial organisations lead to greater profits.
We’re looking for an accounts executive who doesn’t mind doing a bit of administrative support work. The position is advertised on WOBB, a popular job portal in Malaysia.
Last week we offered the job to an applicant and he accepted. The package meant a 25% increase over his previous salary and working with us meant he didn’t have to commute from KL to Kuantan every day. He seemed happy.
Then at 0625 on the morning of his first day, we received a text from him. Here’s his verbatim message:
Well my friend, we thank you for your apology and we’re sorry such a tragic event happened just when you were supposed to start a job that you feel is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I appreciate you may be telling the truth although my gut feeling is that you are not. We’ve heard similar, though less dramatic stories before. Just today, we had another no show. She finally answered our messages 5 hours after the appointed time to say she had car trouble yesterday and forgot to inform us she wouldn’t be coming.
We get 100s of applications for nearly all the jobs we advertise. And we go through every one of them. Based on a number of criteria, we shortlist the ones that we want to know more about.
As you can imagine this is a time consuming process and for a small business, time is a premium. We communicate with candidates via text or email and if we’re happy, invite them for an interview and set aside an hour to get to know them.
Of course emergencies happen, cars break down and candidates receive other offers. In such a situation, all any business expects is to be notified. It’s called common courtesy or professionalism.
Now the more forgiving of my colleagues consider you have a special talent to be able to come up with such a creative excuse.
But to me you are unprofessional, immature, disorganized and ignorant. You lack confidence, courage and charisma. I don’t know why you left it so late, perhaps you fear failure or are simply indecisive.
By preferring to create an elaborate tale or distorting the truth rather than informing us of your change of situation, you’ve shown us what sort of person you really are.
I feel sorry for you because you have missed a fabulous opportunity to grow as an individual, to contribute to the growth of your country, feed your family and mature as an individual.
I will be eternally grateful to you because you’ve done Fusionbrand a massive favour by not joining us. You were definitely not a good fit. You’ve also opened the door for someone else to take this opportunity to grow as an individual and contribute to our growth.
To those people reading this who are applying for jobs with any company, be professional, confident and courageous. If you change your plans or decide to decline an offer, simply tell the company that has invited you in for an interview that you have accepted another offer.
It really is that simple. Don’t ignore it and hope it’ll go away. Don’t ignore phone calls and shy away from such ‘confrontation’. You’ll respect yourself for doing so and your reputation will be intact.
You’ll often hear creative teams talk about how beautiful or full of ‘meaning’ their concept logo or brand identity is. That it’s a visual representation of the business and communicates the very essence of the organisation.
They’ll tell you that your brand’s personality is reflected in the logo and that in a social media world the logo is more important than ever and that it must be the trigger to an emotional response and therefore is a key strategic imperative.
Unfortunately, far too many CEOs are seduced into believing every thing they say and many are convinced that a logo or brand identity is a strategic initiative when it’s not, it’s simply one (increasingly insignificant) tactic of many that make up branding.
OK, let’s take a step back for a minute and look at one of the most recognisable logos in the world, Apple. If you Google, ‘what does the Apple logo communicate’ the top result is this page from culture creation.
If you can’t be bothered to click on the link, here’s the description, “In the Bible, Adam and Eve are tempted, by Satan, to taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
Eve…gives in to temptation and takes a bite of an apple. Once Adam and Eve had their first taste of knowledge, they knew that they were naked, and they were ashamed. That first bite of the apple represents the fall of man.
The apple symbol – and the Apple computers logo – symbolizes knowledge.”
The article then goes on to introduce us to the Apple as the forbidden fruit, although it could have been a pear for all we know. We learn about the significance of the Apple in Greek mythology and the article closes with:
I don’t believe a word of it even though I’m a big Apple fan. What’s important to me is the fact that Apple makes great products and the experience of dealing with Apple is nearly always memorable, for the right reasons.
I think I speak for the majority of people when I say that I really don’t have the time or the inclination to analyse the meaning of a logo when I’m deciding on which company I want to buy a product from.
And even if I did, it wouldn’t make me keep going back to that company if the product/service etc wasn’t top notch. Especially for a luxury product like Apple.
And if the logo were so important, and so much thought goes into it, then what’s going on with this billboard seen around Kuala Lumpur at the moment? Why does this billboard feature 18 logos?
Are we supposed to analyse every one of these logos to determine what exactly they mean and whether they resonate with us? All done while sitting at a traffic light when we also need to check our WhatsApp, email, missed calls and sports results?
The fact of the matter is that in this day and age, a logo is nothing more than a symbol. It certainly isn’t a brand, strategy or branding. And while symbols may resonate with our inner pagan, it’s only over time and following multiple memorable interactions with the business across numerous touchpoints, does the business gain any meaning at all.
Building that meaning is what we call branding. You can’t manufacture it. You can’t have it. It’s something that builds up over time. And while you can nurture it, you can’t determine it. That requires a clearly defined strategy, an ‘on brand’ workforce, continuous engagement and a helluva lot of luck.
There’s no shortcut to branding. But branding should be what every business is focussed on because it has multiple internal and external benefits including attracting better quality talent, products or services that sell more quickly and at higher prices, better customer relationships that increase more profitable repeat sales, blocked competition and, of course, sustained profitability.
But most CEOs don’t seem to be able to grasp this. Or perhaps they just don’t have the stamina to build a brand. Preferring the campaign over the connection, the creative over the substantial, the superfical and irrelevant metrics such as likes over relationships.
Talking of likes, social media has made the logo even more irrelevant. When businesses could control the message, too many of them lied to consumers about their products or services. Even though the logos were great, consumers became jaded and suspicious and trust was eroded. More on social media later.
Nowadays consumers ignore much of what they see or hear brands tell them. They get their inspiration not from a cool advertising campaign but from the experiences of those they know and/or respect. In 2018, Nielsen reported that 83% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.”
If all advertising includes a logo and what advertising is saying is believed by only 17% of the population, what is the point of the advertising and, by default, the logo in the advertising?
It’s normally about now that people refer me to big brands like Samsung or Nike. If you use either of these global brands, ask yourself if you would have bought them the first time if everyone you know said the products were crap. Of course you wouldn’t.
Also ask yourself if you would continue to buy them if the products were hard to find, staff in stores were rude and as a result, the experience of buying them was underwhelming. Of course you wouldn’t.
And while we’re at it, I would argue Samsung doesn’t have a logo although the purists will say it’s a logotype but whatever it is it’s not a logo like Nike or Apple but still sold US$40 billion of products in 1Q2019!
20 years ago if you wanted to buy Nike products in Malaysia, you had to find the large wire basket in the corner of Isetan or Metrojaya with a few items of clothing, a couple of pairs of trainers and little else.
If you were lucky enough to find a member of staff, they rarely knew anything about sport and often covered cosmetics and household as well as all the brands in the sports departments.
When Nike decided to take responsibility for the brand in Malaysia, they didn’t create a new logo, instead they took ownership of the experience and now have 10 flagship stores in Kuala Lumpur and at least 6 more across the country.
To make that logo even more irrelevant, consumer lives today revolve around social media. Everything consumers do is influenced by their interactions on social media.
It’s only logical then that social media has to play a pivotal role in your brand strategy. But social media isn’t a passive channel like a TV. It’s interactive and is tailor made for participation not passive acceptance of corporate driven messages. Or your logo or your identity.
The great thing about social media is that it allows businesses to leverage word of mouth and to a wider audience far more quickly than ever before. But this takes time, resources and the right investment and commitment.
Most businesses are too lazy to do it properly. Or perhaps they are seduced by the creative agency sales pitch. As a result they use social media just like another media channel and despite the fact that consumers don’t trust them, still try to tell those consumers what they want them to hear.
They think they can manufacture a brand in the same way as businesses did in the past, often through a cool brand identity and logo.
But for so much better educated consumers who spend so much of their time on social media where content is distributed via titles and headings, screen grabs or personal shares, the logo no longer has a significant role to play in defining the brand.
It doesn’t matter who designed it or what meaning it has, the logo has become irrelevant. In much the same way as DVDs, CDs, audio tapes and many other tools from similar eras.
So if you are looking to rebrand your business and you have invited agencies or consultancies to present to you, I strongly recommend that don’t be dazzled by the creative images or past brand identities because those are not what is going to make your rebrand a success.
Focus instead on their processes and systems to review your brand internally, identify gaps or pinpoint weak spots in your brand experiences. Focus on their approach to collecting and using data.
Their approach to retaining not acquiring customers and how they will communicate with them once they are retained.
Focus on their understanding of the nuances of social media and how they will accelerate your online narrative. Don’t be seduced by how many logos they’ve created for businesses in your sector. Or on the promises about how your new logo will be seen by millions of people daily.
Focus instead on how they are going to spend hours nurturing your brand through every touchpoint every time.
I opened my LinkedIn this morning and had this message in my inbox. Now my trials and tribulations with BMW are well known to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis.
But in case you are new and interested, you can read an example of why I detest this brand with a passion here.
Let’s go back to that message in my inbox. This is a relatively new channel for brands, especially here in Malaysia where most business owners think a billboard is the height of marketing sophistication.
So why would you use this channel? Well in theory it allows you to get in front of the right kind of people. Ideally, that is people who are interested in your industry and potentially although not in my case obviously, your actual brand and even a particular product.
The idea is to work with LinkedIn to target users who have shown some interest previously in a similar product or even better are perhaps engaged in related communities.
Best of all would be members who are engaged and want to know about the product. I’m none of these but that didn’t stop BMW messaging me.
Look at that message. What does “Athletically muscular and aesthetically uncompromising” juxtaposed with ‘its full-on racing DNA is visible from the get-go” even mean?
In the era of Mad Men this meant something. Today it shows a complete lack of understanding or appreciation of the customer journey.
Hopefully they are being charged per click because in the course of writing this post, I’ve clicked on the call to action many times.
And once I get to the site, I’m bombarded with even more powerful verbs, adverbs, adjectives and prepositions. Uncompromising power. The Perfect Gentleman. Design. WTF? I guess by now I’m supposed to be frothing at the mouth, desperate for the opportunity to own this beast, which incidentally costs more than RM1,000,000.
But perhaps most galling of all is that when I click on the link, I go to the main BMW site. So I’m being targeted as someone with the potential to spend RM1,000,000 on a car, yet now I’m supposed to mix with the hordes of BMW 1 and 3 series wannabe owners.
There should an exclusive, seamless way for me to engage with the dynamic 8 team waiting for someone like me keen to learn more about the 8 series!
But anyway by now, instead of frothing at the mouth, I’m doing what every potential customer does these days. I’m seeking out the opinions of people that matter to me.
And when it comes to buying a car, my first stop is Top Gear. BMW describes the interior of the 8 as “More irresistible with every detail. The elegant ‘CraftedClarity’ (note the nifty use of capitals and joining together of two words) glass application gives the sporty interior an exquisite appearance…It embellishes the insert of the gear selector…The result is an interplay of sporty flair and exclusive design that combines athleticism and grace like never before.”
Obviously as a jaded consumer who has been let down so many times by brands over promising and under delivering, I need to visit the Top Gear site to get a third party unbiased opinion.
Top Gear describes the interior as, “the new TFT- screen instrument cluster is a mess. There’s a big area in the centre that shows navigation diagrams, which can’t be used for anything else if you know where you’re going.” Hardly ‘CraftedClarity’!
Top Gear goes on, “Alongside is a near-unreadable rev-counter. In compensation you get a tach in the HUD when in sports mode. The new climate controls are a bit fiddlier than BMW’s previous efforts too, and the silver buttons are impossible to read when backlit. And while Apple CarPlay-over-Bluetooth is a convenient idea, it was glitchy in the test cars. That’s a nitpicking paragraph, but more nits than you expect.”
It’s a million Ringgit car! You nit pick away lads!
However, Top Gear isn’t done. They end the interior review with, “…The front seats are a good place to be, poly-adjustable and supportive. The back ones aren’t. They’re horribly cramped, for knees and heads. At least the boot is biggish, and folding the useless back seats extends it some more.”
That’s a long way from, “interplay of sporty flair and exclusive design that combines athleticism and grace like never before.”
The Top Gear verdict is seven out of ten and the very underwhelming, “It’s very competent across the board, but not greatly different from the rest of the BMW range.” Hardly a compelling reason to spend RM1,000,000. And that’s before the astronomical insurance, road tax and running costs.
So how can you make sure your brand doesn’t make the same mistakes? Well here’s a few ideas
1) LinkedIn messaging isn’t a tool for creating awareness. Don’t be lazy and treat it as one.
2) Branding is no longer about transactions. It’s about building relationships. Don’t try and sell anything to anyone at the first attempt.
3) Know your target market. How many people in Malaysia are likely to be able to afford or want a BMW 8 series? No more than a handful. There are better ways to reach out to them.
4) Have an integrated brand strategy based on robust brand, market and customer data to make informed tactical decisions. No more of this ‘spray and pray’ approach.
5) Understand the customer journey before making any tactical decisions.
6) If you are selling an exclusive product, make every step of the experience exclusive.
7) Brands can no longer expect consumers to believe what they say and not seek 3rd party confirmation of the claims. The days of flamboyant corporate driven advertising with ‘power words’ are over. Accept it. Be real and human in your content.
8) For an automotive company, the right way to use LinkedIn messages is to create personalized invites for a test drive or invitation to an exclusive and I mean exclusive, event.
9) Don’t use new tools in old ways.
10) Collect and use customer data.
It is inevitable that you will lose customers although preferably not the way I was lost to BMW.
Have a recovery plan for lost customers, especially those lost in an acrimonious way. But once lost, don’t include those customers in your marketing as it may negate your marketing efforts significantly.
But most important of all, branding today is about building relationships, not selling stuff. Use new tools properly to build relationships. The stuff will then sell itself.