10 ways to ensure your business becomes a brand in 2020

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.

2020 is barely a week old and social media has already contributed to the downfall of a minister. As the year unfolds, Malaysians will use social media to vent their fury on any business that treats them like fools.

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

Which is the best business class from Kuala Lumpur to London? Malaysia Airlines vs Qatar Airways vs Emirates compared

According to the Skytrax world airlines awards for 2019, Qatar is the best carrier in the world, Emirates is 5th and Malaysia Airlines is 36.

The Skytrax awards are based on the responses of 21 million participants from 100 nationalities. It is touted as the largest annual airline passenger satisfaction survey in the world.

I have a number of issues with satisfaction surveys, the primary one being that they don’t really provide any actionable insights. J.D. Power, a research company carries out an annual satisfaction survey of US airlines and their 2019 survey shows travellers are more satisfied than ever with airlines.

Yet high levels of satisfaction don’t translate into increased profitability as airline stocks underperform most markets, mainly because as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall.

And many of those surveyed probably travel once a year in economy. Business class passengers’ account for only 5.4% of international travel, yet are responsible for 30% of airline revenues. On some flights business class passengers account for 75% of profits.

Little wonder then that Malaysia airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates are going all out to attract premium class passengers as we head into the lucrative end of the year holiday season. But which one of them flying to the UK deserves your hard earned money?

We compare the business class offerings of these three of the main carriers.

Online airline booking experience
If you want an easy to navigate, seamless experience with an online booking engine that is clear and transparent with an intuitive interface then Emirates clinches this important part of the process as all the information is clearly laid out, allowing you to make changes without too much effort or repetition.

The Qatar Airways sites is easy to navigate although the font is a bit small. They lose a point for the outrageous ‘no show’ penalties while Malaysia Airlines loses a point for the limited number of flights offered but wins it back for being the only one to offer direct flights, shaving at least 3 hours off the journey time.
Emirates 4. Qatar 3. Malaysia 4.

Check in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
There’s nothing to choose between the three, which is a massive lost opportunity for MAS because KLIA is its home airport and should be used to really make a powerful first impression.

Check in staff for all three carriers also need to be trained to have more enthusiasm for their jobs and be constantly reminded they represent the brand at the start of the relationship with passengers.

It may be a process for them but it isn’t for the brand or the customer. It’s a key touch point in the relationship building process and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially by Malaysia Airlines.
Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.

Emirates, Qatar Airways & MAS lounges at KLIA
All three lounges are on the ‘mezzanine’ level at KLIA and are all harder to find than they should be, especially the Plaza premium lounge. This is not unique to KLIA as most airports appear to hide their lounges.

The Malaysia airlines lounge at KLIA

When flying Qatar and Emirates I took the early morning flights that left around 0200hrs. Qatar doesn’t have its own lounge at KLIA so uses the Plaza Premium lounge. Which is anything but premium.

From an experiential branding perspective, this is a massive fail on the part of Qatar Airways. I don’t know why they haven’t invested in their own lounges, not just at KLIA but at other airports around the world.

The Emirates lounge at KLIA is small & intimate

Emirates lounge is small and intimate with a limited but superior range of hot and cold foods and beverages including premium non vintage champagnes. The lighting is calm and the environment relaxing. Staff are attentive and knowledgeable.

Understandably the MAS lounge is the largest but it wasn’t the most impressive. The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s the unmistakable smell of Malaysian food.

It reminded me of walking into a food court. Nothing wrong with that perhaps but the Emirates lounge in Dubai doesn’t smell of Mandi while the Qatar Airways lounge at Doha don’t smell of Machbus.

While some business class lounges around the world are creating daylight boosting zones, ‘Hue lighting’ rooms and amber or blue lighting throughout, The Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA was rather dull and uninspiring.
Emirates 4. Qatar 1. Malaysia 2.

Lounge to gate experience at KLIA
Walking from all the lounges to the respective gates should be straight forward but it isn’t due to a lack of effective way finding. While this isn’t the fault of the carriers, they should be able to influence the airport operator. Walking out of the Malaysia Airlines lounge, there is no sign directing you where to go or even how to get down to the ground floor.

The main security checks for all flights are at the departure gates. I think this is unique to KLIA and absolutely bonkers. At Dubai, Doha and Heathrow, by this stage it’s just a passport check.

So as a business class passenger on the national airline you queue with everyone else. This should be at an earlier stage of the journey where there are fast track lanes for business class passengers.

National carriers need to leverage every opportunity they can and home advantage is supposed to work for them, not against them. Malaysia Airlines really needs to get on top of this by working with stakeholders such as Malaysia Airports to create a memorable experience, for the right reasons. Malaysia Airlines loses another point here because KLIA is its home airport.
Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.

Business class environment on MAS, Qatar and Emirates
My Emirates flight was a Boing 777 while the Qatar flight was an Airbus A330 and the MAS flight an Airbus A350. So not exactly ‘apples to apples’ but close enough.

Emirates business class is bling central. It’s shiny, bright with huge TV screens and thousands of movies, TV shows, games, flight information and more. It’s world class and has won numerous awards.

The Qatar cabin is less ostentatious and a little more refined with equally impressive TVs and movies, TV shows, games and flight information. It’s also won many awards especially with Skytrax.

The Malaysian Airlines cabin is functional. It’s more Toyota than the Porsche of the others. The TV is smaller, of poorer quality and there are less new movies. Overall entertainment options are significantly less than the others.

I’m not comparing seats because that would only make sense if I compared exactly the same seat on each aircraft.

Wifi is free on Emirates and Qatar and costs US$2 – US$25 on MAS, depending on the package. Bearing in mind the quality of Wifi on flights is still patchy, charging business class passengers is not a good idea and MAS would be better offering it free.
Emirates 4. Qatar 4. Malaysia 2.

Comparing inflight service on MAS with Qatar Airways & Emirates
I’ll focus on key experiential points here and not do a food review! The mix of passengers on all the carriers was essentially the same – Westerners, Arabs, Malaysians and a mix of others so they need to cater to all tastes.

Order a pre meal drink on Emirates or Qatar and it’s served together with a variety of warmed premium nuts in a bowl.

Pre meal nuts on MAS
Pre meal nuts on Emirates
Pre meal nuts on Qatar Airways

On MAS the nuts are the same as economy class and are served in the bag. Another bag of nut mix is also served the contents of which was a serious disappointment.

MAS does provide two choices of nuts but the presentation is weak

On Emirates and Qatar, every pre dinner drink order was a personal event and served by a ‘waiter’. I saw a number of passengers order cocktails, champagne and other drinks and the glassware is elegant and the whole experience is similar to a 5 star hotel cocktail bar.

The pre dinner experience on MAS is functional. It isn’t bad, it’s just not in the same league as the competition but it is competing with them for the same passengers so it really needs to be.

While the food is comparable, MAS really lets itself down with the way it serves the food. Emirates and Qatar prepare meals in the galley and serve them individually, MAS pushes the food trolley along the aisle, like in economy.

I was sitting in the back row so had to put up with the trolley clanking every time it went over a ‘lip’ on the floor next to me.

Oh, and on the MAS drinks trolley were some heavily flavoured and hugely sweet ‘juice drinks’ popular in Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia but not really anywhere else.

Watching MAS cabin crew peel back the seal on one of those containers didn’t make me feel like I was in an exclusive cabin. Pedantic perhaps but paying attention to these little things is what differentiates great brands from the rest.

MAS did deliver the main course personally so I didn’t have to put up with the trolley!

MAS losses a point over its coffee. The world loves good coffee. Arabs have been drinking coffee since the 15th century. Europeans have had a coffee culture for 400 years. There are 700 Starbucks stores in South East Asia, 140 of them in Malaysia. 75% of Australians drink fresh coffee every day.

Order a coffee on Emirates and you’ll receive a freshly brewed mug of Ethiopia’s finest beans. Same on Qatar, on MAS it’s Nescafe. Now I know Malaysians like Nescafe but the typical international business traveller from the East or West is more likely to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of java.

At the end of the meal on MAS, out came that bloody trolley again. And this time there was a rubbish bag on top and as the steward cleared plates, he emptied left over food and rubbish into the bag. Sorry but that’s simply not good enough on business class and another point lost.

Clearing plates on MAS business class

All three offer a ‘mattress’. Qatar gets a special mention for providing The White Company pajamas. I didn’t use them but I took them home!

Like I say, it’s not that MAS business class is bad, it’s just that the other carriers have raised the bar when it comes to service. So it’s inevitable passengers will compare experiences.
Emirates 4. Qatar 5. Malaysia 2.

Cabin crew attitude on MAS, Emirates & Qatar Airways
Cabin crew are some of the most underrated and under appreciated people in the aviation business. They need a wide variety of skills. They need to be professional yet friendly, polite and caring, have great communication and customer service skills while at the same time an empathetic nature.

They need to be flexible enough to deal with multiple cultures, have high levels of tolerance, be organized, firm and calm while managing multiple activities and all at 38,000 feet!

Little wonder then that cabin crew can make or break an airline brand. And it takes real talent to become good cabin crew. Asians have a natural charm and historically, Asian carriers have led the world in providing memorable experiences and it’s no surprise that Emirates and Qatar hire mostly Asian cabin crew from at least 15 Asian countries.

Emirates cabin crew lead the field in terms of professionalism. They are attentive and yet unobtrusive. The crew member looking after me introduced herself at the start of the flight and made herself visible without interrupting me. She made me feel special and important.

The service, personalization and ‘nothing is too difficult’ attitude was bang on the money.

There isn’t much to choose from between the Qatar cabin crew and Emirates, perhaps a little more refined but really nothing much in it.

The cheese platter on MAS. Would it be more exclusive to serve the biscuits out of the wrapper?
Presentation of the Emirates cheese platter is very different to Malaysia Airlines

MAS staff were professional and attentive if a little hurried. I felt they wanted to get the meal over with while the others seemed to actually enjoy their work.

When I complained about not being able to have a proper cup of coffee on MAS, the crew member – who was senior and obviously experienced – dealt with me sincerely, sympathetically and professionally.
Emirates 5. Qatar 4. Malaysia 4.

Arrival in London
Most airlines seem to be happy to be rid of you the moment you leave the aircraft. However, flying Emirates business class entitles you to a limousine to any destination within about 70 miles of Heathrow or Gatwick.

This limousine option is outstanding value and ensures the last leg of the journey leaves a lasting, positive impression. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned this service to people. Neither MAS or Qatar offer a limousine and for some I know it’s a deal breaker.
Emirates 3. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.

The post experience experience
None of the airlines try to build a personal relationship with you. I was travelling Qatar for the first time and yet there was a lack of personalisation in follow up communications. It was my first flight to London on MAS for about 5 years and I had mentioned it on social media but again, no attempt was made to build rapport with me although I was sent an email asking me to complete a questionnaire. Emirates carpet bombs me with numerous emails containing special offers but doesn’t do anything to build rapport with me. This a missed opportunity for all the airlines.
Emirates 0. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.

The Verdict
Emirates 30/45
Qatar 23/45
Malaysia 18/45

Malaysia Airlines comes in a distant third and that’s a pity because in the mid 1980s, before The Emirates or Qatar even had their own airlines, three airlines – Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines – invested heavily in their people to make the experience of flying with them memorable.

The contents of the MAS business class toiletry bag 3 years ago
The Malaysia Airlines business class toiletry bag is a lot better today.

It worked and those airlines became the ‘poster boys’ of the commercial aviation business.

MAS began to lose sight of what it is in the 1990s and stumbled along until the twin tragedies of 2014. In the months and years after 2014, costs were slashed and it became nothing more than a low cost carrier masquerading as a national airline.

There is no doubt that it has made significant headway since those dark days but it still has a long way to go. To make the transition, management has to understand they are not selling flights they are selling experiences.

The Emirates toiletry bag is well thought out with brands that complement the offering.

Looking at the MAS staff behave, my gut feeling is they are trying their best but the MAS training is inadequate in the face of such dynamic competition. And how the management react to the recent FAA ruling will be key to the next stage of the carriers evolution.

Splitting Emirates and Qatar isn’t easy. Qatar’s rise as a global carrier of repute has been meteoric and it is winning awards almost every day. Loads out of Kuala Lumpur are impressive but it isn’t investing as heavily in the experience as Emirates and that’s why it came in second.

Emirates is the benchmark for all airlines. The crew really seems to be in touch with the company values and living those values on board. Having said that, I hear there are rumblings of discontent amongst frequent flyers.

Emirates has undoubtedly reached the top but in many ways, that’s the easy part. Staying there and continually improving will be tough, especially if competitors up their game.

Emirates is a clear winner.

If you’d like to know how Fusionbrand can make your business a world class brand, please contact us on +60192233090.

Brand perceptions of 1 brand can be influenced by small, unconnected actions of others

Here’s a cautionary tale about how the innocuous actions of one brand can influence perceptions of another brand as well as cascade into more complicated issues.

At the end of October 2019 I flew into Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Narita, landing at 0500 hrs. On arrival at KLIA, I have 2 options to get to my house, Grab or the KLIA airport limousine service.

I intended to use Grab but when I arrived, I was prompted to take my picture for authentication purposes. As I’ve cracked my screen right over the forward facing camera, this wasn’t an option.

So the only option was the airport limo service. I couldn’t find an app for the service and their website doesn’t list the fares so I needed to use the booths at the airport.

I knew from memory that arriving between midnight and 0600 hours means I incur a 50% surcharge, which is fair enough.

As I walked through customs and reached the Airport Limo counter, it was closed. Fortunately I know there is also a counter at the domestic arrivals but I did wonder what the Japanese families who were on the same flight would do if they intended to take a taxi downtown.

Walking to the domestic arrivals area, I was approached by two illegal taxi operators who offered to take me downtown for RM200, almost double the expected airport limo rate, even after the surcharge.

Of course I told them to get lost but there are numerous stories on the internet of people who have been duped by these unscrupulous operators and I wonder if they approached any first time visitors, would they have paid the inflated price?

As these are not licensed operators, I presume they are not insured.

Anyway, when I got to the domestic taxi counter, I asked why the counter at international arrivals was closed and the young man replied, ‘Not closed, they are asleep.’

Now while I respect his honesty he shouldn’t be saying that. I mean, what sort of message does it send?

Finally, this frustrating and underwhelming brand experience ended with me walking out to the car where the only 2 drivers were talking to each other.

As I got in my car, the driver continued to chat with his friend. He then got in the car and continued chatting. It was all very casual, as if me the customer was more of an irritant than his only source of income.

But it also showcases the lack of appreciation for the customer that is so common in Malaysia.

It’s as if there is an assumption that there will always be an unlimited source of customers. This is especially common with those businesses that are monopolies.

This despite what happened recently to established businesses such as the taxi industry that has been decimated by travel disruptor Grab.

What are the branding lessons to be learned from this simple yet important interaction? The issue here is one of stakeholder communication and brand management.

These brands need to ask themselves why the booth at international arrivals is closed at a time 100s of passengers are landing at KLIA? How often does this happen?

Do staff sleep every night? If yes, what is the direct and indirect impact on revenue and reputation?

Why are the brand front liners so ill prepared for a simple customer question? Have they not been trained properly? What else do they answer so naively?

What can be done to fix the problem? How can staff be trained to present a more professional explanation? In this case, a simple response to such a question could be, “Sorry sir, they are changing shifts and will be back online in 5 minutes.”

There has been a lot of talk about illegal taxi operators at KLIA and how there is a zero tolerance toward them. That doesn’t seem to be the case in reality.

This isn’t just an issue for the KL taxi service, it’s also an issue for the Malaysia nation brand and the airport operator.

If tourists unwittingly use an illegal taxi and they are involved in an accident, incur medical expenses or worse, are killed. Who is accountable? Are the authorities, through lax enforcement, culpable?

Will it take a serious accident causing injury or even death to tourists to make the government do something?

What will be the impact on the brand if there is an accident and it goes viral? What damage will be done and how much and how long will it take to address the negative impact on the brand?

What will be the consequences of such an event on potential visitors or investors in the country? Will they potentially choose an alternative destination or review Malaysia as an investment option?

If illegal taxi operators are allowed to function without fear of prosecution, how does that impact the airport’s relationship with legal operators? If illegal taxi services can operate freely, why should legal operators follow the rules?

In the future, could those legitimate operators sue Malaysia Airports for loss of income?

What about the reputation of the police, already under fire in Malaysia for numerous issues ranging from drug abuse to mysterious disappearances, corruption and more?

What about the reputation of PDRM, will it be further tarnished by illegal touts operating with impunity at the airport?

If a Minister has stated there will be zero tolerance to illegal taxi touts why are they still operating? What impact will this have on future statements from the Minister, a representative of the government?

Successful branding requires all stakeholders to work together, to understand what is their responsibility to the brand and what is required to deliver a seamless, positive brand experience at every touch point every time.

This simple example of a seemingly innocuous event with one brand has the potential to negatively impact numerous other brands. Every business should look at branding from the same perspective and not in isolation.

It’s potentially complicated but the rewards for all stakeholders are positive and for commercial organisations lead to greater profits.

Another C level executive leaves Malaysia Airlines

According to marketing magazine, group CMO of Malaysia Airlines Arved von zur Muehlen lasted 6 months in the role before jumping ‘ship’ and joining a Canadian carrier.

This despite Malaysia Airlines crediting him with being “instrumental in restoring the airline’s position as a leading international carrier and developing its innovative customer-centric services.”

Only yesterday, Group chief executive officer Izham Ismail announced in a bullish interview with Bernama that things were improving at the carrier and the five-year Malaysia Airlines Recovery Plan (MRP) was seeing impressive results across the board.

Err, you don’t say! “the key focus in year 2018 included driving revenue.”

He said “…customer experience had also improved with market-driven metrics based on the company’s customer survey and net promoter measures showing significant positive gains over the last two financial years.” I don’t quite understand what that means but I do understand that this latest departure and the barrage of abuse the carrier is getting online and on an almost daily basis (See this earlier report with hugely embarrassing videos) suggests things are not so rosy down there in Sepang.

But one thing seems to be for sure. Despite the CEO saying things are really, really good, Malaysia Airlines is a springboard to better positions in more solid Western carriers because Muehlen is about the fourth Western C level executive to bail out in the last couple of years.

Does it make sense to rebrand Kuala Lumpur’s taxis?

Taxis are ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur, just as they are in most cities in around the world. Unfortunately, years of poor public transport, viable alternatives, ineffective regulation and little or no oversight has created an industry that is a Frankenstein monster that has lost sight of it’s actual purpose. In other words, it has grown fat and lazy.

Generations of visitors to Kuala Lumpur have put up with a terrible product. Drivers would stop at taxi ranks and ask each person in the queue where they wanted to go.

Once the driver found someone going where he, the driver wanted to go he would quote an (inflated) fare and the potential passenger could take it or leave it.

If none of the waiting passengers wanted to go in his direction or refused to accept the quoted fare, he would drive off, only to sit in traffic with an empty cab. (That particular stunt always baffled me.)

KL taxis waiting to take customers to a place the driver is happy to go

Getting a receipt for a journey was an exercise in futility. Meter rules were flouted, tourists and residents ripped off and on more than one occasion, this writer was driven by a Pakistani native who’s long beard and salwar kameez did not match the clean shaven, tie wearing Malay in the id on the dashboard identification.

There were exceptions but they were few and far between. A vast majority of the drivers appeared oblivious to the concept of customer service or for that matter, safety, personal hygiene, honesty, integrity and warmth.

And then in 2014, the uber disruptor Uber opened in Malaysia. You’d think that with the arrival of such a dynamic competitor, the Kuala Lumpur taxi business would think to itself, ‘well we’ve had it good for years but now serious competition has arrived so we better up our game’. Alas no because a year later, Kuala Lumpur came top in a poll for the city with the worst taxi drivers in the world.

To celebrate this accolade, taxi drivers complained to the government and rioted in the streets, attacking the vehicles of Uber drivers and in some cases dragging customers out of Uber cars and into taxis. Who needs customer service when you’ve got brute force and violence?

KL taxi drivers think the way to impress customers is by destroying the competition with violence

Citizens voted with their feet and despite being more expensive, Uber became the preferred mode of transport for most KLites.

All it took for this revolution was a taxi business that did what it said on the tin – ie picked people up when they wanted to be picked up and sent them to where they wanted to go at the agreed price in a nice, pleasant environment, normally delivered with a smile.

Recently there has been talk of rebranding the KL taxi business? Can this issue be fixed with a rebrand and if so, how? The short answer is that done properly, a rebrand has a very strong chance of success but if the wrong approach is taken, it’ll be an expensive and futile exercise.

And why is that I hear you ask. Well we need to first understand what constitutes branding. Only then can we appreciate what constitutes a rebrand.

To answer this, we first need to look at what isn’t a brand. In a nutshell, a brand is not a new logo or brand identity. Imagine the Apple logo. Would changing the logo from an Apple to say a sausage change anything about the brand? Of course not.

And rebranding is not launching the new logo or brand identity with a new website, new tagline and new advertising campaign that makes outrageous claims that are almost impossible to live up to and more importantly will be viewed with scepticism by consumers.

A rebrand is a three stage process that begins with a comprehensive review of the business. In this case, it will probably be painful but it needs to be done to benchmark future effectiveness of the brand strategy.

It’ll look at processes and systems related to the brand. What’s good and bad about it, explore segment specific perceptions, the technology used, communications, experiences and much more while identifying areas for short, medium and long term improvement.

Once this brand audit is completed, the findings are used to develop the internal and external brand strategy.

The internal strategy will improve dated systems and processes related to hiring, training and firing of drivers, define driver rules, develop codes of conduct and develop best practices for key touch point linked to customer requirements for value.

The adoption of technology will play a key role in providing a better product and in due course, contributing to the process of changing the perceived professionalism of the taxi industry. Tools are already on the market that allow the sharing of the resources of Grab and taxis to the benefit of both businesses and users.

The external strategy will focus on activities around 6 core attributes necessary for the success of any brand. Those attributes are warmth, humility, integrity, competence, accessibility and transparency.

Disruption is the scourge of every business today and actually has been for many years. Think how the hospitality, banking, aviation and retail industries have had to keep reinventing themselves.

KL’s taxi drivers shouldn’t be frightened of change. By using these attributes as the pillars of their industry, they have a lot going for them.

The external strategy will also leverage weaknesses in the Grab model. A narrative needs to be developed around what taxi drivers contribute to the economy, as opposed to what Grab doesn’t contribute to the community.

If there are questions about how much tax Grab pays, the taxi model will be extremely transparent and the amount of tax paid by taxi drivers will be developed as a societal narrative.

The carbon friendly London taxi, voted the best in the world

If insurance and safety are key concerns when it comes to using Grab, the taxi industry can use this to it’s advantage by inculcating a culture of safety with the drivers (instead of the often blatant abuse of traffic rules) and water tight insurance policies that cover passengers.

If Grab has a weakness when it comes to passengers with disabilities, the taxi industry will specialize in working with such groups. If the Grab pricing models are contentious, the taxi models will be clear, fair, transparent and impartial. At all times, taxis will be well maintained.

Some European cities have used regulatory vetoing to block disruptors. But in KL there was a serious market failure when it came to the needs of the customer.

So with the damage done, the free market has already decided so such action won’t work in Malaysia and the taxi drivers should stop trying to force the government to take the same approach or for that matter by trying to force the government into action with random acts of violence.

However, KL’s taxis can rebuild trust and belief in the brand. But they’ll need to adopt an organizational approach to a rebrand. If they do so, over time, perceptions of taxis and taxi drivers will improve.

A service driven culture will increase the revenue of taxi drivers while making KL a better place to live.

Ironically, taxi drivers have the potential to become the disruptors they fear, to influence cultural and political change in KL, Malaysia and possibly the region.

So yes it does make sense to rebrand KL’s taxi business. And just like the Malaysian people have proven to the world there is still some mileage left in democracy, Kuala Lumpur’s taxi drivers can prove to the world that this ancient industry has plenty of miles left in it.

 

Fusionbrand is Malaysia’s only Strategic Brand consultancy. You can reach the author Marcus Osborne on marcus (at) fusionbrand (dot) com or call 03 7954 2075 and ask for Gurmeet.

Another example of why advertising is becoming irrelevant

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.

A disgrace to the advertising industry. Whoever created and approved this should be shot

‘Think Big’ yes, but first Malaysian business owners must stop thinking cheap

There’s a thought provoking piece in the business section of freemalaysiatoday.com that reports more Malaysians buying Chinese made goods ‘out of economic necessity’.

The article says that Malaysians look past the stigma of Chinese products even though there are concerns that they of inferior quality and possibly even dangerous compared to products from other countries.

The article quotes Mr Yeah Kim Leng, professor of Economics at Sunway University Business School who says, “the open market system brought about by globalisation and increased connectivity was intensifying competition for local businesses.”

The President of a local consumers association supports Mr Yeah’s point of view saying that even though many Malaysians are concerned about the quality and legitimacy of China made products, they are prepared to basically risk their lives because Chinese made goods are readily available and cheaper than Malaysian products.

Another economist and Klang MP Charles Santiago is quoted as saying, “Malaysians were buying food from China out of economic necessity despite their misgivings about the quality of the items.” He went on to say, rather worryingly, “There is no excuse for eating toxic food. We must ensure that the food coming into the country fulfils all international health standards.”

I agree with Mr Santiago, there is no excuse for eating toxic food. And in the last twenty years there have been reports out of China of adulterated baby formula. Factories using industrial-grade salt to pickle vegetables then spraying them with banned pesticides before shipment, soy sauce made from human hair, counterfeit alcohol and fruits and vegetables with unacceptably high levels of illegal pesticides.

In our house we stopped buying any foods and most other things from China more than 10 years ago. I don’t care what it costs, I’m not going to jeopardise the lives of my family in an attempt to save money which if they get sick is a false economy anyway. More on the false economy later. But it seems we’re the exception not the rule.

I think there is a deeper issue here. My theory is that there is a culture in Malaysia of ‘if it’s cheap, its good value.’ I think we’ve lost sight of what constitutes value. There are many reasons for this. We’ve been ripped off or know of people who have been ripped off, time and time again by unscrupulous companies from just about every sector and in particular automotive/property/food/transport/healthcare/hospitality and so on.

One patriotic Malaysian friend of mine (and I won’t be popular for quoting this), suggests some Malaysians have been let down so many times and have become so cynical about what companies promise that they now believe it’s better to pay the minimum amount for something and then if it doesn’t deliver on the promises made, well at least the bare minimum was spent.

At the same time, he believes this has created a stubbornness which in turn has made them unable to make sensible decisions when confronted with difficult scenarios.

He suggests that is why many people will spend 30 minutes stuck in traffic to avoid a RM1 toll charge. The fact that the wear and tear on the car engine, the petrol, the lost productivity and stress cost so much more than the RM1 toll charge is irrelevant. The goal is to avoid the RM1 toll charge.

It’s the same with people (and this is not just restricted to Malaysia) who make a special trip to fill up their petrol tank because the next day, petrol is going up by 2 sen a litre. Much of what is saved, is spent on the extra journey, the fuel used in the inevitable long queue and the time spent away from more important things. In almost all such cases, the action delivers a net loss or at best, an immeasurable gain.

And that’s why Malaysians are now buying toxic food. It’s not deliberate, it’s just a natural progression. How many times have you heard a conversation along the lines of:

Q: ‘How was the nasi lemak?’
A: ‘Good, it only cost RM6.’

Hardly the breakfast of champions but never mind, it only cost RM6

The fact that the dish was 80% rice, included 3 peanuts, two ikan bilis, a tiny serving of sambal, the scrawniest chicken wing and 1/8th of an egg is irrelevant. And that’s before we even discuss the source of the oil used in the cooking, the supply chain and the hygiene of the foreigners who cook the food. What’s become important is that it only cost RM6.

What’s all this got to do with the economy and in particular branding? Well for Malaysian businesses to compete against any foreign firms, not just those from China but also those from Europe, the USA and north Asia, they need to move on from the mentality of competing purely on price.

To move on from a belief that they can only compete if they are the cheapest. To see their business not as a series of transactions, but as building relationships with their customers. Because this approach is unsustainable. There will always be someone out there, who can produce what you produce cheaper. And in this case that someone is China.

The economist Mr Yeah suggests that Malaysian firms should ‘think big’ and he’s right, Malaysian firms or rather the businessmen that run them, need to think big but only after they move away from the belief that what’s cheap is good or what’s big is cheap. And the good news is that it’s not a huge step.

International luxury houses such as Gucci, LVMH, Prada, Georgi Armani and Channel have for years dominated sales of luxury goods in Malaysia. Closer to home, Malaysia has proven it can build brands from scratch. Think of Royal Selangor Pewter, PappaRich, Sime Darby, YTL, Proton and Linghams sauces, probably the first Malaysian brand to go international and now available in 100 countries.

But these are the exceptions, not the rule. And it’s the middle ground that needs to change. To move away from the false economy of cheap is best. The false economy in Malaysia has become so chronically negative that it is having a detrimental effect on decision making across the spectrum. Even though it is now threatening lives.

I find it extraordinary that I am writing a blog post about people willing to risk their lives to save a few pennies. But everywhere I go, my team and I have discussions about brand tactics that are driven not by questions such as “What do we have to do to make our business the number one choice in our sector” but instead by questions like “How much does it cost?”

Recently I had a discussion with the head of marketing at the Malaysian campus of a British school with a unique 150 year heritage. The head of marketing wants a video for the school and he asked us to submit a proposal. He didn’t have a brief (which as head of marketing he should prepare) but wanted us to submit a proposal for ‘a school video’. When we asked the budget, he refused to share it.

So there was no brief and no budget. I explained that there were already a lot of videos of the school online (‘none of which are very good’ according to the most senior member of staff) and how is this one going to be any different? He replied that that was our job.

That we should ‘think out of the box’, to ‘propose something unique’, to ‘do something special’. When we explained that ‘thinking out of the box’ took more time and therefore cost extra and therefore we needed to know the budget to see if was possible, he refused to share it.

I explained that even without the ‘thinking out of the box’ requirement, the budget was crucial because it would determine the type of production. Did he want a script? Did he require a film crew to visit the school? Are we to interview staff/pupils etc? Would he like drone shots? How long does he want the video to be? SD or HD? And so on.

We realised that if we were to go this route, we could be submitting ideas for months before we accidentally created something he liked. We also realised that by not sharing the budget, there was a good chance that even if we created something he liked, he might not be able to afford it (or alternatively, we could propose something that didn’t utilise the full budget, to the detriment of the school) and that his decision would probably be based on price and so we reluctantly walked away from the business.

This mentality of ‘cheapest’ has a negative impact on his brand. Not because he didn’t get to work with us although thats one reason, but also because it makes the video a priority instead of making what the video can do a priority. It’s the business equivalent of buying potentially tainted food from China and ignoring that fact because the main thing is it was cheap.

This culture of cheapest is best has caused him to move from doing what’s best to market the school to getting a video done. It actually becomes a box ticking exercise instead of a useful tactic. And we’re seeing this time and time again.

Once a large percentage of Malaysians get past the ‘cheapest is best’ mentality, then only then can businesses have the confidence to ‘Think big’. It will require a cultural change in both how they think and how they run their businesses. Once they do that then we’ll see more successful Malaysian businesses become brands.

Tesco’s bold TV commercial features Muslims celebrating Christmas

Hot on the heels of the Marks and Spencer and John Lewis Christmas ads comes the Tesco one.

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.

Watch the John Lewis Christmas 2017 TV commercial

Back in my day we knew Christmas was coming because the thick woollen shorts we wore through the winter term, yes shorts despite going to school in the wettest, darkest, coldest (well it felt like it in those shorts) part of England, began to rub the skin off your thighs because your legs were so cold.

Christmas meant it would be warm in 3 months and you’d soon feel your toes again. Nowadays they say you know Christmas is coming when the John Lewis TV ad is released. And this year, just like previous years it was eagerly awaited and came out today. You can watch it in all its glory here.

Personally, I don’t think it is as good as previous years, with 2016 being the standout year for me.

Reactions on YouTube have been mixed. One comment was, “So basically… his parents gave him a badly wrapped present that killed his only friend.” While another said, “Such a disappointment! It has no sweet sentiment that makes you feel all warm and excited about xmas. I’ll go as far as to say it’s shite. Look what you’ve made me say about xmas!”

John Lewis 2017 Christmas ad. Not as good as the animals on the trampoline

The 120 second TV commercial will premiere on Channel 4 and Sky tonight, 10th November. It cost about £1 million to shoot which is the same as the M&S ad and John Lewis will also spend another £6 million to cover media.

I haven’t seen any other Christmas ads except this one and the M&S ad. My money is on the M&S ad being more popular.

UNIFI you are better than this

One of the key tenets involved in creating a brand is to demonstrate a high level of competency and authority in your industry. And with that competency and authority comes trust. And trust is key to the success of any brand.

Poorly written content dilutes the potential for trust. If that trust is diluted, a prospect may decide not to buy and in the social economy, create negative consumer content.

Once negative content is created and shared and commented on and shared further, your reputation is not defined by what you do but by what your customers say you do.

And once that happens, your customers not you are defining your brand.

According to research the preferred online language in Malaysia for consumers is English. Whilst there are different levels of English in the country, if a brand communicates in English it must make an effort to communicate properly.

Well written content communicates professionalism, knowledge, experience, credibility and confidence and generates respect.

While poorly written content with the wrong grammar, communicates a lack of professionalism, hints at laziness and shows a careless approach. In such a situation, the reader would be forgiven for thinking that if the brand is careless about itself, is it really going to look after me?

Plainly obvious mistakes detract the reader from what you are trying to say and negatively impact your credibility. The reader may understand you but that doesn’t mean they trust you. If they don’t trust you, they are unlikely to buy from you.

I recently interacted with Unifi, the broadband supplier of Telekom Malaysia the national telco and the largest broadband services provider in Malaysia.

Now the first interaction I had with the brand on this particular issue was through their website where I encountered this poorly written message.

UNIFI, you are better than this

I didn’t bother filling in the requested information because I immediately thought I’d be wasting my time. My immediate thought was negative, that the organisation lacked professionalism and simply didn’t have the processes and systems in place to prevent such a hugely embarrassing situation.

And remember this is not an SME. This is a Government Linked Company with a market cap of RM25 billion (US$6 billion).

My immediate thought was that if they don’t care how they are perceived, it’s unlikely they will care about an insignificant customer like me. I thought therefore that it’s not going to be able to do what it said it could do.

Now the irony is that I thought this might be a great opportunity for a blog rant about how amateurish is Telekom Malaysia. So I emailed their customer service (in English) thinking I wouldn’t get a reply.

I got a reply within 24 hours and the writer answered my question. The answer did mean I had to write another email and again this was responded to with an informative answer and within 24 hours.

Us consumers are a fussy, knowledgeable lot these days. It is easy to find out how much a brand is making from us and how big are the fat cat salaries of the top people in every company we give our hard earned money to. We’ve been let down far too often by brands that over promise and under deliver.

We’re tired of being taken for a ride. We’re also spoilt for choice so if you don’t make us happy, we’ll take our business elsewhere. Because it’s the little things that make or break brands today. Every touch point needs to be perfect. Make it perfect and we’ll trust you with our money. That’s all.