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
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.
In the mid 1980s, I was working in the Middle East and when it came to taking leave, we had 2 travel options. Head West for Europe or East for Asia. Whichever direction, the airline recommendations were always the same – try to fly on Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Malaysia Airlines.
Why, because those airlines offered top quality service. Something the European carriers, with the exception perhaps of Swissair, were unwilling or unable to do.
Emirates arrived in 1985, Oman and Qatar Air in 1993, Etihad in 2003. Prior to that, the only Gulf carriers were Saudi Airlines and Gulf Air. Thanks to their owner’s deep pockets, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar accelerated the establishment of their brands with massive investments in brand experiences.
Since then, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have done their best to compete but Malaysia Airlines (MAB) was left far behind and today, is a mere shadow of the great brand it once was.
To many, if it wasn’t for the Business and First class offerings, it’s essentially already a low cost carrier. Nevertheless, in its communications at least, Malaysia Airlines continues to give the outside world the impression it sees itself as a world-class carrier.
In March 2018, Malaysia Airlines launched a campaign titled “Malaysian Hospitality Begins With Us”. The campaign aim was to ‘reinstate and demonstrate MAB as the national icon and represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers.’
MAB’s group CEO Izham Ismail said during the launch “that the airline’s diversity, heritage and culture are the foundation and reference of the brand promise, and that MAB aims to provide a Malaysian experience in travel through Malaysian hospitality.”
These bold and practically impossible to live up to statements were supported by the usual professionally produced advertisements and videos shot in high definition with smiling cabin crew in brand new aircraft telling us about ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and how it is a culture that ‘runs through the organization’.
The website, the first destination for many potential passengers has a special section for ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and in this section announces “Welcome’, or as the locals would say, ‘Selamat Datang’. That’s how it begins, the experience that is our hospitality. Warmth and generosity are the hallmarks of how we treat anyone we meet. That’s what we’re known for as Malaysians, and more importantly as an airline.”
It goes on to say, “Our hospitality begins with our experience. As we strive to deliver the best experience possible, everything we do is guided by our principles of hospitality.”
Now in some ways I think this is quite clever. Because if Malaysians are known for their warmth and generosity, then they only need to leverage on the natural capabilities of employees to deliver a potentially world class experience.
But it also means that every crew on every flight, will have to be on top of their game non stop if they are to deliver a high level of service at every touch point, every time. And that delivery must meet the very diverse needs of very diverse passengers.
And of course, the concept of ‘warmth and generosity’ may be difficult to deliver. Warmth yes, but generosity? What does that mean? Do you hug every passenger and give them a US$100 bill? Or do you upgrade everyone who asks?
Don’t forget, the aim is to ‘represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers’. With such a promise, there can be no half measures. And of course you can be sure plenty of people will be waiting for the first fail.
Is Malaysia Airlines delivering on the promises above? Despite the glossy high-end corporate videos, two videos have emerged recently to suggest it isn’t.
On their own, these videos could be dismissed as ‘one off’ rants by disgruntled customers but watched together and added to the explosion of negativity on the MAS Facebook page and a pattern seems to be emerging.
This suggests to me that whatever training cabin crew are receiving is not linked to the big promise and whoever is responsible for measuring the effectiveness of that training, isn’t doing their job properly.
Let’s take a look at the videos. The first one was uploaded to YouTube on November 20th 2018 by travel and aviation vlogger Josh Cahil who is based in Germany and has 23,000 followers on Instagram and close to 10,000 followers on Twitter.
His YouTube video where he claimed he was bullied by “extremely unfriendly” MAS cabin crew on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London has been viewed more than 280,000 times and generated more than 2,600 comments.
International media in the UK and Australia picked up the story as well and in Malaysia it was covered by Says.com not to mention other news portals.
I have a suspicion this video was created some time ago because it features the Malaysia Airlines A380 and as far as I know, they aren’t using that aircraft on the London sector any more.
But what both these videos do is show how Malaysia Airlines is unable to deliver on the bold promises it makes in its marketing. They also show the futility of spending large sums of money on big ideas and not linking that promise to the departments responsible for delivering on that promise when all it takes is one passenger to have a bad experience and share that experience across social media and the whole expensive, one size fits all campaign is ruined.
This mass economy approach more suited to 1988 than to 2018 is built around the belief that with a large enough investment, an airline can make potential and existing passengers believe each bold statement it makes and that if it doesn’t deliver on that statement during their particular interaction with the brand, the passenger should just be grateful anyway.
Following the Josh Cahil video, Malaysia Airlines initiated an investigation and according to Cahil, the group CEO sent him a template apology and offered him a refund, which he asked them to donate to a charity supported by them.
The problem was that by this stage, the story was dominating social media conversations. Even corporate driven tactics on social media were being ambushed with negative comments.
In fact the majority of MAB’s attempts to use social media in a positive way are being hijacked by negative comments. And when this happens, the firm doesn’t seem to grasp the link between what the commentators are saying online and what is happening offline.
This is the dangerous spiral many brands are finding themselves on today. They don’t invest in the right training to deliver the experiences consumers demand offline.
There are a variety of reasons for this and some of them sinister. Most common is that the scope of work for a campaign is created in isolation and by people who don’t understand the importance of delivering a ‘best in class’ customer experience.
Which means that if the scope of work for the project is wrong, it is doomed to failure before it even starts.
In despair or because they now have a channel in which to express their frustrations, consumers go online where they passionately vent those frustrations. And often they do it in the very space the company thinks it owns such as on a Facebook page, further diluting the ability of the brand to deliver on the brand promises made in the very expensive corporate driven messages it believes are defining its brand in the way it wants to be defined!
And if that wasn’t bad enough, when passengers vent those frustrations online, the people tasked with representing the brand simply don’t have the skills or for that matter the responsibility to respond in a suitable manner.
This exasperates the negativity around the brand, causing brand equity to plummet to such an extent that it can be almost impossible to escape the spiral into brand obscurity.
So what can Malaysia Airlines do? If they are serious about building a national brand that can compete with Asian and Middle Eastern competitors then it needs to understand the following
1) Forget about the big idea
Smart Brands understand the concept of the big idea belongs to the 1970s and much as the world has changed significantly since then, so should the way brands engage. Malaysia Airlines must focus budgets not on telling people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality but on showing people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality.
This requires a comprehensive overhaul of the marketing, advertising, customer relationship and social media strategies. Fusionbrand recommends this be carried out through a brand audit as soon as possible.
2) The right experience training
Judging by these videos and the comments across Social Media, Malaysia Airlines see training as a box to be ticked. A review is required to identify if there is an understanding of what constitutes world class service.
If the training providers have been hired for the wrong reasons and don’t have the skills to deliver the type of training required to compete with sector leaders, how can Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and for that matter ground crew, deliver a world class service?
3) Social Media
There’s no escaping social media but too many brands don’t give it suitable attention. Malaysia Airlines must start investing funds in social media instead of big idea promises it cannot keep.
I don’t know what’s happening at MAB, but too many companies think social media is the perfect place for interns because they are young and have an Instagram account themselves. After all, what could be hard about posting on Facebook and Twitter, right? Wrong.
Social Media is about many things. For brands, it’s about cultural, social and other nuances. Being responsible for a brand online is not something you do, it’s something you are.
Malaysia Airlines needs to link what it says and does offline with what it says and does online. Quickly, before it’s too late.
Q. THE BARISAN NASIONAL INVESTED HEAVILY IN TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATIONS BEFORE & DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. WAS THAT THE RIGHT WAY FOR TODAY’S BRANDING ENVIRONMENT?
A: As the dust settles on the extraordinary 14th General Election, the well known brand guru who allegedly ran the Barisan Nasional (BN) advertising campaign, the advertising agency involved and a number of other communications executives must be scratching their collective heads at what went wrong.
No one knows for sure how much Barisan Nasional spent on marketing in the lead up to the 14th General Election. I’ve heard RM20 million to RM2 billion with the reality probably somewhere in between. I did hear from a reliable source that RM20 million was spent online which is a lot of money for a short campaign period.
We’ll probably never know because there aren’t really any fund disclosure laws in Malaysia but we do know GLCs were asked to and did contribute.
So with so much money, a high profile brand guru, global advertising agency resources and total control of the mass media, what went wrong?
I will try and answer that question by putting it into some sort of historical marketing context.
The years from 1950 – 1995 can be characterized as the mass marketing economy. It was the golden age of advertising and the early days of branding.
During this period political parties could define, or “position,” themselves and use the mass media to reach and influence mass markets of relatively ‘docile’ citizens.
Don’t forget, up until the mid 1980s, Malaysia only had 2 TV channels and only one of them showed commercials. There wasn’t much to do after a hard day of work and so most citizens were watching those 2 channels. And both of these channels were owned and controlled by the government.
Limited satellite TV came to Malaysia in 1995 but there were no more than 5 channels. Reaching as many consumers as possible was still achieved through mass marketing tools such as TV, radio, billboards, newspaper advertising and the Bas Mini – provided you weren’t too worried about brand association!
Over the next 20 years things got exciting as media evolved quickly and today we have more than 300 TV options. Throughout this communications revolution, Barisan Nasional used mass media to push its messages to the public. And as history shows, it was very successful.
Then came the Internet and Malaysians took to this new platform very quickly. But the real turning point was social media. Social media radically changed the way brands communicate with citizens.
But crucially, from a political perspective, for the first time Malaysians had a platform that wasn’t government owned and that they trusted enough to use to voice out their concerns and frustrations about how the country was being administered.
Q. BUT DIDN’T BN USE SOCIAL MEDIA EXTENSIVELY?
A: Yes they did. But Barisan Nasional seemed to be under the impression it could simply move it’s broadcast message online and continue using this new media in the same way as they used the mass media they controlled.
In the lead up to GE14 BN went on Twitter in an aggressive, controlled approach using infographics, memes, images justifying government policies and lambasting the opposition’s promises.
The Digital Forensic Research (DFR) Lab of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank was quoted by Reuters as saying, “over 17,000 bots tweeted content related to the Malaysian election” immediately after the election date was confirmed.
According to the DFR lab, anti Pakatan tweets with the hashtags ‘#SayNoToPH’ and ‘#KalahkanPakatan “were used around 44,100 times by 17,600 users from 12th – 20th April 2018 and 98% percent of the users appear to be bots.”
Soon after, Twitter suspended 500 accounts posting spam or malicious content about the election. Salleh Said Keruak was contacted by the media but he did not respond to text or calls asking for comments, despite his official position as the communications minister.
Other social media images included well attended ceramah and of course ‘random’ individuals carrying “I love PM” signs and waving UMNO flags. While it made sense for BN to be on Twitter because the site is the most active platform for political debate in the country, and at times the approach was well structured but it didn’t understand the basic rules of voter engagement.
Consumers behave differently on social media. They are part of communities populated by people just like them who were just as unhappy as them. BN thought they could beat them into submission the way they had in the mass media environment.
Q. SO YOU ARE SAYING THEY USED SOCIAL MEDIA BUT THEY DIDN’T USE IT PROPERLY?
A: Exactly. Malaysians are not confrontational but push them into a corner and they come out fighting. Social Media provided that corner. This required a new, more collaborative approach to engagement but Barisan Nasional carpet bombed social media the same way it had carpet bombed traditional media for more than 60 years.
Barisan Nasional put a huge amount of resources into mass media techniques that were successful when the mass media yielded power over passive audiences willing to accept the word of the politician as final. However, Malaysians proved that mass media tactics don’t work on social media and they are no longer passive when it comes to politics.
Q. BUT CERAMAHS AND OTHER EVENTS WERE WELL ATTENDED. DOESN’T THAT SUGGEST THEY WERE POPULAR?
A: I think we all know that a well attended Ceramah or BN events doesn’t necessarily equate to popularity. Sure voters attended the events and listened politely to political messages at Ceramah while nodding appropriately. And of course candidate visits to constituencies were on the whole, well attended but they always are, especially when there is free food.
As matters became desperate towards the end of the campaign period, many of these visits came with blatant cash handouts, some of which were filmed on smartphones and shared across social media and whatsapp groups.
In the past these cash handouts were often enough to sway those on the fence but this time citizens sought third party verification on social media before making decisions or forming opinions.
And that verification came from people like them. Whether that be in Facebook communities of like minded individuals, in the comments section of articles about election related issues or in whatsapp groups.
For the first time ever, voters were informed and opinionated and social media was awash with people like them. It was like a wave the country has never witnessed.
Barisan Nasional was oblivious to these developments partly because their controlled media online such as The NST, Berita Harian and The Star were pushing out the government message but didn’t allow comments from readers at the end of the articles.
It showed a huge lack of appreciation for how the landscape was changing. But also meant the ruling party was unable to gauge less partisan feelings and address issues important to voters.
Barisan Nasional was basically stuck in 1985. It believed that all it had to do was create a party driven message and position that message in the minds of citizens.
Q. SO YOU ARE SAYING BARISAN NATIONAL SPENT FAR TOO MUCH ON ADVERTISING?
A: Far too many creative companies are given responsibility for building brands. And a recent ‘brand consultant of the year’ award went to an advertising agency! That’s like a car winning ‘motorbike of the year’! It’s confusing for everyone.
Branding today is much more than cool ads, cool logos, cool design, a great tagline all communicated using beautiful advertising. And this election proved that beyond a doubt.
Barisan Nasional put a lot of emphasis on logos during its time and for GE14 created the tagline “Utamakan Yang Perlu, Hebatkan Negaraku” which was soon shortened to the Trumpesque “Make My Country Great”.
It was extremely naive of the BN President or those advising him, to believe that an artificially contrived message, created without consultation of major stakeholders and retrofitted around an elitist party was going to make Barisan Nasional instantly acceptable, recognizable, trusted and voted for.
Some in the industry have questioned the advertising campaigns that focused on the achievements of the BN government and yet more often that not, featured a larger than life image of the Prime Minister.
The campaign was almost presidential yet didn’t seem to talk to anyone particular. For all the discussions about the impact of the youth in this election campaign, the reality is they aren’t going to vote for someone who, as one 22 year old told me, “looks like a friend of my dad’s.”
One industry veteran said the campaign looked really attractive and professional, but he didn’t know who they were talking to. It looked to him like the ads were created to please the Prime Minister.
Another industry professional thought that the campaign was, “run like an Obama campaign but in the style of Clinton with its heavy dependence on contrived messaging and negative comments about the opposition.
Q: SO BARISAN NASIONAL DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IT TAKES TO BUILD A POLITICAL BRAND?
A: Branding today requires a product that is fit for purpose. Internally, everyone within the organization must be ‘on brand’ so that they are all pulling in the same direction.
BN should have known through a brand audit what were the issues that were affecting the voters and how to address them. I think some research was carried out and there were also suggestions that the disgraced political consulting company Cambridge Analytica was involved.
But when research is managed internally or with those close to the ‘CEO’, the results may be influenced by the short term goals of those involved.
And of course participants don’t always provide truthful information if they don’t trust the source of the questions or what the data will be used for. And just to ram home this point about the flaws in internally carried out research, if the findings are not good, there is a temptation to sugar coat the results or present them in a less than legitimate manner.
BN’s messages had all the hallmarks of the contrived, ‘they’ll listen to what we want them to hear’ approach to branding. They spoke to everyone while saying nothing to anyone. There was a real lack of empathy for the audience.
When asked about the economy, 1MDB, GST, education in other words, the issues important to voters, they kept quiet or gave stock, pre prepared responses.
Arul Kanda was sent out to talk a lot without saying anything with his one man monologues on 1MDB but he changed nothing. BN could not gather feedback through neutral or semi neutral channels because it had closed them all off. And views of citizens through comments in Malaysiakini were dismissed as the ramblings of a few opposition planted extremists.
But citizens are not stupid and the majority of people saw straight through much of what BN was saying. BN has a track record of over promising, especially at election time, and under delivering afterwards. Many others were caught blatantly lying and in this day and age people will not put their trust in liars to run the country.
Q: SO DO YOU THINK BARISAN NASIONAL HAD A STRATEGY?
A: Barisan obviously had a narrative determined in advance. But instead of being based around issues that matter to the voters and tested first, it was very much based around how wonderful is the president and what they have done for the country.
As former Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz said, “the old objective was to “present a picture much rosier than it really is”. However, what was needed now are transparency, responsibility and honesty.”
That may be stating the obvious but as was patently clear during the campaigning period, BN was only ready to present a picture it wanted to present around it’s own narrative. BN only had a push plan and no pull plan. It seemed there was no real interest to address the many elephants in the room.
It was as if BN thought it could buy voters whereas they should have been trying to win their trust. And when it got really difficult, and BN was losing ground to the opposition there was no Plan B and instead, BN fell back on paying out cash, the demonization of the Chinese, the age of the opposition leader and numerous other petty, often personal matters to try and boost support.
BN made mistake after mistake. Initiatives such as weaponising Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Yunos and demonizing the DAP were perceived as negative and backfired.
The Barisan Nasional leadership, on the whole a wealthy elite, many of whom ‘inherited’ their positions and have never even worked in the private sector, were completely out of touch with their core voters.
If you spoke to any hard core UMNO members in the 6 months before the election, many of them were edging towards the fence because they were losing confidence in the leadership and it was easy to see the disparity between what BN said and what they did.
In the election campaign, some of the senior Barisan Nasional representatives would turn up for a Ceramah, spend 10 minutes screaming at the audience and then leave. This drove a bigger wedge between them and the people.
And throughout the whole campaign, there seemed to be nothing holding all these tactics together, except a old fashioned approach of presenting a fake picture of success.
Q: SO WHAT SHOULD BARISAN NASIONAL HAVE DONE TO BUILD ITS BRAND?
A: Political branding today is about six key attributes – warmth & humility, integrity & transparency and competence & accessibility. None of those attributes can be communicated with logos, advertising, taglines etc.
These attributes require engagement and interactions, the building of trust through legitimacy and a real, human side that can’t be faked. It might be flawed, that’s fine but it can’t be faked. BN was a million miles away from these attributes.
The opposition party, a fragile coalition of fragmented parties under the Pakatan Harapan banner and led by a 92 year old man, was prohibited from using a common logo and constantly under threat from the authorities.
Their events were disrupted, election posters defaced and their supporters were even threatened. Throughout the whole campaign however, they maintained their dignity, showed an approachable naturalness, campaigned on a ticket of integrity and transparency, were always accessible and came across as competent and knowledgeable, especially in matters of fiscal importance.
Their communications resonated with small, niche segments and because of that it had it’s own organic legs. According to one source, Pakatan Harapan spent a mere RM800 on Social Media during the entire election campaign. All that content you saw and probably shared got to you organically.
Compare that with the alleged RM20 million spent online by Barisan Nasional during the campaign period. Most of which was spent on passive content such as banners or negative content against the opposition with only a small amount assigned to branded content and native advertising.
Q. WHAT LESSONS CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS BRANDING DISASTER?
A: The main lesson has to be that political parties can no longer construct a brand around a party driven strategy and expect voters to embrace it because the party tells them to.
Trust is more important than ever. And now that voters have got a taste and better understanding of their power, they will be more inclined to use it. Underperform and you will be out of office.
The attributes above take time to be absorbed by voters. Those who you want to convince may want to be convinced but it won’t happen immediately. For people to believe what you tell them you must first connect with them on an emotional level.
And this will inevitably happen through various touch points with your brand. And remember the success of everything that you say online will be defined by what you do offline.
Governments are going to have to deliver. Ministers will have to know what they are doing, tenders will have to be open. If political parties aren’t providing the value diverse voter segments require, you aren’t going to stay in power for long.
Sure you may win some votes but you won’t get to the stage where you have a political brand that doesn’t require huge investments in marketing. You’ll always be struggling to get votes (or in this case offering more and more desperate incentives, many of them financial) and always be discounting, always wondering if today will be your last.
Another lesson that all brands can learn from this is to understand that branding is relational not transactional. It is no longer about selling one idea to as many voters as possible but instead is about building and nurturing relationships with communities of like minded individuals.
There has to be significant substance to the political party brand. And it has to be truthful with its point of view on issues. And this applies to Pakatan as well. Malaysians have flexed their muscles and seen how powerful they can be. Right now Pakatan is riding a wave of popularity but already citizens are asking questions.
Brands cannot be manufactured. They have to be real, they have to have substance and they have to be legitimate. The always on world that we live in doesn’t take kindly to liars.
The Barisan Nasional campaign was deconstructed every day in social media. For the first time in Malaysia, an election was fought not in the coffee shops of the Kampungs of the rural heartland but in the virtual coffee shops of Facebook and Twitter.
Historically, children from the kampungs went home and were influenced by their parents when it came to voting. This is no longer the case as many children living in the cities and overseas and returning home to vote, explained to their parents the extent of the apparent rot in Barisan Nasional and the hope for the future that Pakatan seemed to offer.
Moving forward, there is no question that political branding is moving through unchartered waters. Not just in Malaysia but around the world.
It’s no longer enough to just say ‘we are the best choice and if you vote for the opposition you will bring doom and gloom to you, your family and the nation.’
And we can expect to see a lot more Malaysians registering to vote as they realise they can make a difference. Millennials, with their fluctuating loyalties will become the power brokers in the next two elections.
These citizens are oblivious to the noise of the election billboard, are unlikely to see the party political broadcast on TV3 and don’t have the time, interest or concentration span for a 60 year old giving them a lecture at a Ceramah.
Q. ANY OTHER BRANDING TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS ELECTION?
A: A key branding takeaway from this election is that more substance, less communication will resonate with voters. One of the reasons Tun Dr Mahathir is so popular is because he comes from an era when politicians were seen as patriots, who were passionate about their country and made personal sacrifices for the nation.
He’s also popular because he’s a diminutive, old ‘doctor’ who is hardly threatening. And when he does bring up the opposition, he does it in a seemingly unconfrontational, more human manner, with a bit of humour.
Some of the BN representatives appeared almost bitter and aggressive when they spoke about him. And of course when a young person attacks an old person, there’s only going to be one winner. It was all very shallow and personal.
Another takeaway is that from now on, the political battleground is digital, it actually helped Pakatan because it meant they didn’t need to reach every corner of the country.
While BN created an arms length, slick, PM driven campaign with a lot of chest thumping, Pakatan was embracing voters, or more importantly Pakatan supporters were embracing voters in the digital coffee shops with informal, instantaneous responses to issues.
Trust and loyalty are the foundations of every brand and they always have been. Malaysians are smarter and better informed than they have ever been. They have shown they will no longer tolerate patronizing, incompetent politicians.
Politicians will have to earn the voters trust. They will have to be at the heart of every political party’s approach. Fail to learn that lesson and your days in power will be numbered.
Q: FINALLY, WHY DID YOU WRITE THE CONTROVERSIAL BOOK: STOP ADVERTISING, START BRANDING?
A: I got the idea for the book when I saw a print ad for Singapore from 1971 and then a week later I saw another one from 2016. Except for some minor changes such as the addition of a website in place of a tear off strip, they were virtually identical.
And soon after I read an article from Ernst & Young about how US$1.5 trillion was spent annually on marketing yet 80 – 90% of products failed to become brands.
I realised that even though the competitive environment and consumers are very different today than they were 50 years ago. That management, manufacturing and distribution have made substantial advances in the same period and we’re moving towards Industry 4.0, branding initiatives were still based around tactics from the Industry 2.0 era, even when used on new platforms.
The more I researched the topic, the more it appeared that reliance on outdated tactics from the past were the reason behind so much wasted money and so many branding failures.
So I decided to write a book about how to move away from the traditional style of trying to build a brand and save a lot of companies, and political parties, a lot of money.
Marcus Osborne is CEO of Fusionbrand Sdn Bhd headquartered in Kuala Lumpur and can be reached on marcus at fusionbrand dot com
Everyone at Fusionbrand is convinced that 90% of advertising is a complete waste of money.
And in Asia it’s not helped by the fact that most CEOs think they are creative directors and most agencies won’t bother challenging CEOs in case they lose the business that they won because invariably, they were the cheapest.
And as we all know, when your only differentiator is cheap, you are always looking over your shoulder for someone who has quoted cheaper than you have.
And besides, there’s no point being creative when many CEOs think they know everything about creativity or think creativity is copying someone else, creatively.
This billboard in KL can only be an example of a CEO thinking he knows best because I cannot believe any CD would allow this. I’m shocked to be honest that the Nissan brand approved it.
For the record it says the new Serena is a miracle! The woman’s head appears to be completely random. Perhaps a nod, pun intended, to the headroom?
A disgrace that does nothing but add to the advertising noise.
Yes it looks like an irresponsible adult allowed a petulant child with a grudge against the creative fraternity loose on a very old software programme and yes, it should never have made it past the idea stage. It’s the creative equivalent of a train crash featuring trains carrying toxic chemicals or nuclear weapons. But does it matter? In the short term, perhaps. Long term, maybe. But it never have happened.
I’m talking of course about the Tourism Malaysia VMY2020 logo (see pic) launched at the end of January 2018 by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, the Malaysia Minister of Tourism and derided by much of Malaysia, graphic designers worldwide and respected media organisations such as the Daily Telegraph, the BBC and the South China Morning Post.
Despite the negative reaction of, well everyone, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the reality is the new logo (if it survives and I don’t think it will) won’t have an effect on visitors contemplating whether or not they should visit Malaysia in 2020 (and the years before and after 2020).
In fact after being featured on social media and a host of international news channels and publications, it may have provided Malaysia with yet more free publicity.
Admittedly not the kind of publicity Malaysia really wants but it’ll take more than negative publicity about a crap logo to attract or stop foreigners from visiting the country.
Nearly every business/school/institution and many individuals have a logo. We see logos on business cards, buildings, billboards, buses, lamposts, food packets, print ads, TV ads and just about everywhere else you can stick one.
And they sell computers, clothes, cars, cosmetics, finances, food, schools, fashion and fags, alcohol, appliances, airlines and holidays, and just about anything else in between.
There are good logos and bad logos, some change on a regular basis, think Google, others stay pretty much the same for years, think Apple or Nike. We’re told logos must be unique yet instantly recognisable.
They must have colour because certain colours convey certain meanings yet they must be instantly recognisable and have the same impact in black and white.
We’re told that each element of the logo has meaning. A logo designed with sharp, straight lines communicate a strong, trustworthy brand.
Curved lines on the other hand communicate a caring and supportive product or service. The rationale for combining curved and straight lines is an ambitious company.
And we’re told that everyone should have a logo because they represent the brand and make you stand out from the crowd. But crowds behave differently today and are influenced in different ways.
The illustrative style that we recognise as logos today is nearly 150 years old and harks back to a time when Western civilisations moved out of the fields and into the factories. Most of those factories are now here in Asia where we’re living our lives a little differently today than we were back then.
The main role of the logo, traditionally anyway, has been to create awareness about a business or in this instance, a destination (and not the country) and help to build a positive image about the business/destination.
Logos evoloved to become a symbolic reflection of what the busines/destination wanted to communicate to audiences. And when logos changed, it was meant to be part of an overall strategic shift in direction for the brand and would be one of many elements of that new brand strategy that had to be communicated in a joined up, integrated manner.
But over the last 20 years, businesses have got lazy or perhaps greedy. Too many businesses have changed logos in isolation, without incorporating the change into a new strategy.
They’ve updated the brand identity and called it a rebrand without making any improvements to the organisation. And then they’ve watched, surprised when nothing changes.
Sometimes when a logo changed slightly and the reaction was negative, the brand got away with it. Remember the London Olympics logo? Other times, such as the GAP logo change in 2010, the consumer response was deafening and GAP had to backtrack quickly. But overall, because these changes were ad hoc or tactical, they made little difference to the business delivery.
Another classic example is oil behemouth BP. Back in 2000 the firm decided they wanted a new logo that communicated ‘green growth’. Despite spending over US$200 million it was considered a massive failure because the opinion of most people was that there was nothing green about the business of oil. No matter what the company tried to make us believe.
And then in 2010, the largest offshore oil spill the history of the oil business put paid to the concept of the green growth oil company communicated via its logo. For many, that’s when logos lost their relevance.
With the proliferation of countries competing for the same visitors, too many destinations play safe and compete with the same look and feel, making it difficult for potential visitors to differentiate them.
Add to this mix the powerful impact of social media on the travel industry and visitors now use the Internet for research purposes and get most of the information that influences their decision making from content generated by people like them and not logos.
The focus has shifted away from the identity of the destination to the experiences of other like minded people in that country. Against this backdrop, it’s hardly surprising then that the importance of a logo will not be what it was.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), global tourism generated $7.6 trillion for the global GDP. More than 105 million international visitors arrived in South East Asia in 2015 and that figure is growing at an average of 8% every year.
Many of those visitors will visit Malaysia not because of the logo but because Kuala Lumpur International Airport is an increasingly important hub for low cost carriers servicing destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and more. And any trip to SE Asia will include visits to other countries in the region.
So in terms of the impact the logo will have on visitors to Malaysia, it will be negligible. However, it will help shape perceptions of Malaysia as a country and much of the debate across social media was how embarrassing the logo is for Malaysia.
So in terms of the reputation of Malaysia, there will be a perception impact and that will probably add to the negativity about the country. If most of the content consumers read about Malaysia is negative, then perceptions will become negative. And those perceptions can only be influenced and changed with a brand strategy that includes all stakeholders and not with tactical activities such as a new logo, advertising or events.
For Malaysia, what’s done is done. What can other countries, states, regions, cities or towns do to ensure their efforts aren’t ridiculed in the same way?
Here are 6 lessons that can be learned from this fiasco. They should be applied to any destination branding initiative.
1) Set up a nation branding task force.
Every country or state/city/place should have one. Malaysia used to have one and in 2008 the task force commissioned Fusionbrand to develop the Malaysia nation brand but the plans were canned when a new administration took over and a new department was set up under the new Prime Minister’s Office. This department embarked on a badly researched project about 5 years later that revolved around a tagline and a logo and not a strategy and as a result, lasted little more than a month.
2) Nation branding is strategic not tactical.
Nothing related to the nation brand can be done in isolation. To avoid similar failures, anything related to the nation/state/region/city brand must go through the nation branding task force. And that includes important ministries such as the Tourism ministry. Even state tourism boards and other stakeholders must share with the nation branding task force.
3) Test identity concepts before launch.
No man is an island. But sadly in Malaysia, if a senior person proposes something it is rarely challenged internally, even by marketing professionals hired supposedly for their knowledge. Anything creative should always be tested internally and with multiple consumer segments and the task force. I know it’s time consuming and expensive but which is worse, a delay in the launch or becoming the laughing stock of the world?
4) Have a plan for your identity launch.
Don’t expect to wing it. And be prepared for serious back lash from consumers because most of us hate change. Not many new logos were well received initially. But many of them are now very familiar, think Pepsi, Citi, Accenture, Qantas. After a certain amount of fumbling, the Minister stated, “I have launched it. Nazri Aziz never backtracks. This is what will be used for the world, only one logo, no other logo.” Would a clearly defined, sensible rationale have been a better way to announce the new logo? Absolutely.
5) Social media is your friend not your enemy.
I get the impression, perhaps wrongly that Tourism Malaysia was completely unprepared for the reaction to the logo. Especially on social media. Social Media CAN effect change so learn to work with it. But remember it is not a soapbox. Simple consumer research at the logo development stage on Facebook and Twitter would have saved Tourism Malaysia and the country, a lot of embarrassment.
6) Logos / taglines etc should not be confused with branding.
Malaysia has had a tough time over the last few years with the country struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment. It’s hard to find current arrivals figures but the general consensus of opinion is that visitors from wealthy countries or high spending tourists are not visiting as they used to. A lot of this is because there is confusion over what constitutes branding and the Malaysia tourism brand has little differentiation. Brand identities / taglines / positioning statements / advertising campaigns and other marketing tactics are not branding. They may create awareness but that rarely convert to arrivals.
As I’ve stated already, I don’t think this farce will have much of a positive or negative impact on arrivals. But it’s impact on Malaysia’s brand? That worries me but that’s a discussion for another day.
Fusionbrand is Malaysia’s premier strategic brand consultancy. For more information on how we can help you get your branding right the first time, please call +60379542075.
I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a while (I’m sure many of you are happy I’ve been quiet!) but we’ve been very busy with other brands, not to mention our own. We’ve had a crazy couple of quarters at the end of 2017 and 2018 has started off much the same way.
However, after seeing the new visit Malaysia logo launched last week, I realised that it’s not only our existing clients that need help from Fusionbrand. So I’ll be working on a blog post about the new logo over the next couple of days.
In the meantime, I wanted to share with you this example of why Chairmen, CEOs, Managing Directors and even CMOs, shouldn’t get involved in the development of advertisements and why it is in any agency or consultancy’s best interests to stand up for what they believe in and not simply do everything the client asks.
The ad for what I think is a Japanese noodle began life like this
After it was sent to the client it came back like this
It went back and forth from the agency to the client and back again until the final version looked like this
Actually, I rather like the final version. In a sort of trippy 1970s Yessongs kind of way!
And it’s winding up a few people in the UK. But despite the controvery, it’s not getting the viewing numbers. In a week it’s only had 132,000 views while the M&S ad has generated more than 4 million over the same period and the John Lewis ad has been viewed 1 million times in 2 days.
Tesco has said that everyone is welcome at this time of year which is fair enough. Ignoring the religious argument (and for that matter the vegan one), it has some nice touches that most of us have experienced at some stage of our Christmas’s past. The oblivious teenage son at the beginning resonated with me!
The gay couple, the stressed mother, the backseat chef, the delirious kids, the muslim family, the, wait what did you say? Back to the religious element, a Muslim family celebrating Christmas? Yep, and those of other faiths get into the spirit (but I’m sure not the spirits) as well. And from what I can tell, it doesn’t dilute their faiths.
So will we see this ad on TV in Malaysia? It would be interesting but somehow, an ad featuring Muslims in the UK appearing to enjoy Christmas, I doubt it.