Recovery branding for Tourism in Malaysia. A Q&A with Marcus Osborne


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

Introductions

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

  1. THE BRAND
  2. BRANDING

The Brand

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

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.

  1. 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:

  1. Review your operations, especially marketing departments and how they operate
  2. Review existing products & determine whether they are fit for purpose for a post Covid environment
  3. Build a strategy around what you have, not what you or stakeholders want to have
  4. Use down time to reskill your teams around delivering memorable experiences at every stage of the customer journey both online and off
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Government & the private sector must move away from mass media marketing to creating content that builds organic narratives and collect data
  8. 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
  9. Reduce the number of stakeholders in the industry
  10. 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!
  11. Explore tourism investment zones, ideal for places like Sematan in Sarawak for instance
  12. Stay fluid. Community managers will play a big role as they keep followers involved and informed on developments in the relevant destination
  13. 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.

Endless Possibilities has endless potential


The response to the “Endless possibilities” tagline has been, as one would expect when discussing a Nation Branding project, emotionally charged.

Much of the focus has been on whether or not the tagline has been used by Israel or for that matter Mongolia. In fact, it would seem the tagline has been used not only by both Israel and Mongolia but also Sagada in the Philippines.

sagada-2010-marlboro-country-endless-possibilities

And while we’re at it, “Endless possibilities” has also been used by a lot of companies such as BHS in India who used it for an advertising campaign and by Florian pearls. It’s also the name of a thrift shop in the USA, a change management company in the UK and it also appears on a tee shirt underneath an infinity loop.

But most commentators and those members of the public who have cast scathing comments in blogs, forums and on social media sites are missing the point. There may be questions around the chosen tagline, how it was researched and why it was chosen but the reality is, the tagline doesn’t really matter. Yes it is a bit embarrassing that it has been used by other countries but it’s important to understand that this is not the Malaysia Nation brand.

It is a tagline. And like the majority of taglines, it will soon be forgotten. In fact, taking a macro view it will have very little influence on the success of the Malaysia Nation Brand project.

Sadly, it is not unusual for organisations to launch a brand strategy with the creative side of the project. This is wrong but unfortunately it is common. What will make or break the success of the Malaysia Nation Branding project is what the strategy consists of and what comes next.

This will be mapped out in a well researched, comprehensive brand plan that will not only form the foundations of attempts to drive the brand forward but also be the glue that keeps stakeholders together.

The world is loose, more fluid and more collaborative than ever before. As a result, nations have less control over the Nation Brand than they are used to but that doesn’t mean they should forgo a well-researched brand plan and let consumers define the brand, something that may already be happening in Malaysia. The Nation Brand plan is more important than ever as it serves as a blueprint for all stakeholders to adhere to.

Specifically, the Malaysia Nation Brand plan must communicate a positive and dynamic personality with economic, experiential and emotional values that reflect target audience requirements.

The brand plan must be holistic and comprehensive to enhance export promotion, economic development, tourism, foreign direct investment and other key national initiatives.

It must also communicate the intended message to the target constituents and stakeholders in multiple countries and at the same time, it must lay guidelines to strengthen the strategic, communications and visual impact of the Nation Brand.

The blueprint must also systemically connect the Nation Brand to the country’s core industries, corporate brands and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector brands.

This must be established via a systematic, holistic process that accommodates the requirements of both national and international stakeholders. This process must not only be effective to optimize the Malaysia Nation Brand, but also maximize limited national resources.

But at the same time, the team tasked with this project must be flexible and open in the implementation of the plan. Let events influence the plan and be ready to adapt to events and opportunities.

The new Malaysia logo (thanks to thestar.com.my)
The new Malaysia logo (thanks to thestar.com.my)

But right now, all we have to go on is the tagline, a logo, a website and a commercial featuring the Prime Minister that was aired on CNN a few months ago. There is a Facebook page for Visit Malaysia Year 2014 that features the new logo but the site hasn’t been updated since March 2013.

VMY 2014 FB page
VMY 2014 FB page

The Facebook page features a link to a competition but this actually goes to the Ministry of Tourism website. Such competitions will help drive interest in the country and there is no reason why a competition can’t be created for businesses that may want to invest in or relocate to Malaysia.

The message of the TV commercial was to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) while the message of the website is “Whether your passion is food, culture, sports or art; whether you’re a traveler or entrepreneur; Malaysia has something amazing to offer. The journey starts here”.

The malaysia.my home page
The malaysia.my home page

One might be forgiven for thinking that sounds like a tourism message however the site features a number of feel good stories about successful Malaysian entrepreneurs, achievements, news, activities and more.

As the website evolves, it may need to focus or at least segment activities more clearly and provide refreshing and new content that is of interest to stakeholders and not repeat content that is already in the public domain. This new content will create interest in the country, be picked up by search engines and robots and drive traffic to the site.

The team tasked with the responsibility of making the Malaysia Nation Brand project a success will also need to engage stakeholders on an ongoing basis and not just use digital platforms to broadcast corporate driven messages.

Right now, a search of “Endless Possibilities” on Youtube doesn’t send visitors to any Malaysia site. The Brand plan will also map out tactics for driving users and search engine robots to original content.

you tube search of 'endless possibilities'
you tube search of ‘endless possibilities’

The launch of the new Brand strategy is set for 17th September and we should know more about the project then. But I believe, done properly and based on a comprehensive Nation Brand plan, “Endless Possibilities” really does have endless potential.

5 facts about developing a brand strategy in the social economy


1) Research is more important than ever.
Research has always been important but it was cumbersome and time consuming. Not any more. Today, the right research can be developed and implemented and results analysed quickly and efficiently.

Brand building - don't run before you can walk
Brand building – don’t run before you can walk

It’s easy to find those people who are likely to like your product. It’s even easier to talk to them. But too many companies don’t bother, preferring to chase the holy grail of more new customers through corporate driven messages.

And don’t forget your existing customers because they are your best source of information. Talk to them, find out what they are looking for, what they value and match attributes to their requirements for value.

2) Mass market branding with a focus on the 4 Ps is no longer effective.
Brands today are built on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value. Not on creating some cool position and communicating it across as many channels as possible for as long as possible.

Deliver that value with stories that resonate with target markets and existing customers. Build relationships with customers by allowing access to the brand, personalizing all elements of all interactions, through relevance, experiences and emotions.

Ignore the social element of the social economy by trying to speak to everyone with one corporate driven message and you will fail.

3) Focus on developing more profitable relationships, not a more profitable product. Brands evolve when companies start buying for customers instead of selling to them. This is especially true in times of economic hardship.

4) Branding is an organisational issue not a departmental responsibility.
And the organisation is the responsibility of the CEO. The CEO needs to be involved in the development of the corporate brand.

Your brand is too important to be left to a marketing department that still believes in the corporate driven message over the engagement of the consumer.

And once you’ve built a brand, don’t rest on your laurels, continue to innovate or you will be left behind.

5) Retention is key to brand building.
Companies no longer sell products, customers buy them. And once customers have bought a product, companies must do everything possible to hang onto those customers. After all, you’ve investment a lot of money to gain a customer, why let them go?

Especially as the more time a customer spends with you, the more money they will spend with you.

How to brand a city like Ipoh


Senior Executive Councillor Datuk Hamidah Osman of The Perak state government in Malaysia announced on a trade and investment mission to China recently that the state government, in an effort to boost its tourism industry, intends to brand Ipoh, the capital of Perak as the “City of White Coffee”.

Datuk Hamidah was quoted by Bernama “ Perak should have its own identity and branding just like Shenzhen that is known as the “Shoe City” and Paris which has long been known as the “City of Fashion”.

In conjunction with the plan, Datuk Hamidah said, “We plan to have a food fair to be held in Ipoh this December. The idea is to promote the local foods and tourism industry. We have the best bean sprout chicken rice and chee cheong fun (rice rolls),” she added.

Faced with increased domestic and international competition for both tourists and FDI, there is no doubt that Ipoh and Perak, need to develop a destination brand. But that brand must be based on a platform of multiple tourist attractions and business potential.

Set amongst picturesque limestone scenery, a diverse selection of tourist attractions include Kellie’s Castle, Perak Museum, Ipoh railway station, Tambun hot springs, Taiping lake gardens and Zoo, and more, Ipoh and the rest of the state have a lot to offer.

Other destinations include Pangkor and Pangkor Laut, Bukit Larut and others. Perak also has a rich heritage that can be promoted, including silver and tin mining. It is historically known as an innovator, having pioneered such advances as the first rubber trees in Malaysia and was also the first state in Malaysia to go wireless.

The tagline ‘City of white coffee’ certainly differentiates Ipoh from other destinations but what else does it tell potential visitors, businesses or investors? How can stories be developed around the tagline, who are the target market? How will it be communicated? If it is a one-size-fits all approach, it’ll need significant resources to communicate the new tagline. Have budgets been agreed and so on?

Today, Destination branding is not based on a tagline. Destination branding must be based on experiences that are successfully delivered to specific segments and not based on attempts to market all places to all people.

Research and data are critical to understand tourist and other stakeholder requirements before developing strategies and not the other way around.

Stakeholder buy-in is critical for brand consistency and fulfillment of the brand promise. As an example, how can a hotel contribute to the proposed approach? How can the same hotel leverage the approach to grow it’s business?

Branding is a long term coordinated and integrated strategic exercise and not a tagline. One-size-fits-all strategies using mass media are no longer effective.

Planning is essential to coordinate initiatives, ensure accountability and avoid wasting resources. Without a plan, activities will be reactive and tactical.

What Ipoh and other cities need is a consistent and organized methodology to brand themselves as domestic and international destinations.

Here is one approach that would definitely help Ipoh:

Stage one: Carry out extensive research
Research develops data on key success factors, generates insights and what current and prospective visitors seek, and provides benchmarks to measure branding ROI. The research should consist of the following activities

1) Destination analysis: Key members of the hotel industry, government bodies, local business associations and representatives of major attractions should be confidentially interviewed. The interview will be based on an agenda designed to explore a number of issues related to the city

2) Visitor audit: Carry out interviews with current and past visitors. Other groups can also be selected, such as conference organisers. The interviews will focus on the experiences and motivations associated with Ipoh, information resources, and suggestions for increasing tourist value.

Special attention will be paid to how they researched Ipoh, what they have heard or told others about Ipoh and the channels or vehicles used to tell them. Additionally, representative travel agents in Ipoh will be interviewed about tourist experiences and requirements. Online surveys will be useful to research baseline perceptions of brand Ipoh.

3) Place audit: A place audit will identify Ipoh’s economic/ demographic characteristics, review major attractions (including strengths and weaknesses of the attractions) and outline all brand assets. The place audit will also look to identify product potential.

4) Communications audit: A comprehensive analysis of the channels, vehicles and materials, both digital and print, current and proposed that are or will be used to communicate with both consumers and businesses.

Stage 2: Ensure community buy-in and set internal branding requirements
Community and other stakeholder buy-in is important both for delivery of the brand promise, development and ongoing funding. Stakeholders must be communicated with and input from stakeholders must be incorporated so that they understand that they play an important role in initial and ongoing brand development.

Such buy-in can be accomplished through a variety of activities, including “townhall” or other community meetings, private presentations and media briefings. Initial research findings and recommendations can be discussed as a basis for soliciting input.

Additionally, community buy-in requires a group of citizens, business people, and local and regional government officials. This planning group will:

• Define and diagnose the community’s condition, major issues and potential solutions

• Develop a long-term brand vision based on a realistic assessment of the community’s values, resources and opportunities

• Work to develop a long-term plan of action involving intermediate stages of investment and transformation

Stage 3: Brand plan development
The results of the research and community buy-in will be incorporated into a comprehensive plan for Brand Ipoh. This customized brand plan serves as a strategic framework for all marketing activities, messages, metrics, timetables and proposed budgets. Special attention should be paid to digital branding and product development to get previous visitors to return again.

Stage 4: Comprehensive and segment-specific execution & measurement
Unfortunately this is where most destination begin their brand strategy. Once the brand plan is in place, execution begins. The execution operates on two overlapping fronts – general and segment-specific:

General: General branding represents the ongoing efforts to ensure visibility and provide value to prospects, agents and visitors, as well as gather data, ensure continuous performance and maintain reporting.

Segment-specific: Segment-specific branding concentrates on two areas where it is important to establish and maintain strong relationships. These include existing customers/visitors, and target-rich segments such as families, agents, previous visitors, etc. The actual segments to be targeted will have been defined in the brand plan.

I appreciate that many cities will view this as a daunting and potentially expensive task. But it will not be as expensive as numerous one size fits all communications based on a tagline that tries to speak to all but really speaks to none.

Outstanding performance by Tourism Malaysia


Tourism Malaysia should be commended for its performance last year. A total of 23.65 million visitors in 2009, beating the target set by Putrajaya by an impressive 4 million. In fact the 2010 target of 23 million visitors was beaten by over 500,000 visitors. This generated over RM50 billion for the country despite the difficult global situation.

You may be interested to learn that FusionBrand carried out the research that addressed numerous areas and culminated in over 300 actionable recommendations, including that TM move away from a global one size fits all strategy to a geographic focussed, segment specific stategy.

To realise these recommendations, FusionBrand also wrote the 2009 Tourism Malaysia global brand plan and 12 key market brand plans that were the back bone of the Tourism Malaysia brand strategy for 2009.

FusionBrand would like to think it was responsible, at least in a small way, for part of this impressive performance by an organisation that will be, within 10 years the number one industry in Malaysia, in terms of revenue.

Pitching for a bank name change in Malaysia


Last Friday we were pitching against 4 advertising agencies to a Malaysian bank. Essentially, the brief was for a name change and to create awareness of the name change in Malaysia. We were invited to pitch despite being a data driven brand consultancy. In fact I had personally discussed this fact with one of the corporate communications representatives at the bank.

He told me that if we went into the traditional FusionBrand pitch (We had presented to them 12 months ago) we would not get very far however, if we presented a ‘traditional re-brand’ pitch and suggest the FusionBrand approach for after the name change then we might generate some interest.

So, much to my chagrin, we pitched in the traditional way and suggested that this was only half the battle and what the bank also needed once the population was aware of the new name was a strategy to get prospects and customers into the branches and to buy product(s) and so on.

As my colleagues presented, I was imagining how the other agencies would make promises based on their new “positioning” of the bank.

I found myself thinking that what sort of a position could an agency offer the bank that would make them stand out from all the other banks? What position would make consumers cast aside their ingrained perceptions (not very good) of the bank? How would a new positioning strategy encourage prospects to walk into branches? And once they had walked into those branches, how well preparred would the staff be to sell to them?

I already knew that one of our competitors was a global agency but because they are very busy they were outsourcing the creative element so it was unlikely (though not impossible) that they would have the best talent in the market working on the creative.

And then I thought how could the bank make inroads into existing markets using the same type of ‘positioning strategy’ that all the other banks are using? Sure, the tactics might be different, then again perhaps not, but the positioning strategy, of finding a space in the consumers mind would be the same.

I also thought of how tumultuous the world is at the moment and how any positioning ‘strategy’ that had been implemented before the global economic crisis would be a worthless (and expensive) waste of money now because the world is a different place compared to even a year ago. What if something similar were to happen in the next 6 months, as this bank’s positioning ‘strategy’ was implemented? Would they too waste their valuable resources?

I also thought about my own issues with my bank and how, despite numerous negative experiences over the last 10 years, I was still with them. And yet during that time, I’ve seen so many ‘re-brands’ of banks or financial institutions, RHB, CIMB, Bank Islam, etc, all of them used positioning to influence me and hope that I would become a client (I didn’t and I wonder how many did. I certainly don’t know anyone who has changed their bank in the last 5 years).

It made me realize that the FusionBrand approach, where we use customised research to deliver actionable data, operational excellence as the foundations for the brand strategy, brand planning to eradicate the hope mentality, and segment specific communications that resonate with those segments alone and meet the economic, experiential and emotional needs of customers and prospects in those segments. Metrics and measurement that ensures valuable marketing resources are not wasted are what is required to build a brand in the customer economy of today.

The issue of course, is whether the bank knows this! I will let you know how we get on!