How to save the Proton brand

So finally it’s official, China’s Geely Automobile Holdings has withdrawn its bid to buy a controlling stake in Malaysian carmaker Proton. No reason has been forthcoming, but Geely’s Chairman Li Shufu told Bloomberg in early March that, “They keep changing, today it’s this, tomorrow it’s that. They haven’t decided what they want.”

There are rumours however that Proton or rather parent company DRB-Hicom wasn’t comfortable with the deal despite the automaker’s desperate situation. We’ll probably never know but what is known is that only Groupe PSA, owner of Peugeot, Citroën and recently, Opel and Vauxhaul is left in the frame.

For now, Groupe PSA is still interested in Proton

My gut feeling is PSA will drop out which means Proton will have to go it alone or pull the plug. I don’t think that’s a viable proposition because of the social and political implications of putting 10,000 direct employees out of a job.

Proton is in big trouble. Its market share has dropped from over 80% to 12% in little more than 20 years. It’s plants were operating at 30% capacity at the end of 2016.

Service centres have a reputation for over promising and under delivering and despite the firms best efforts, many consider the cars to be inferior to the competition and over priced.

The previous CEO, Abdul Harith promised to “reform and rebrand.” And initially anyway, he appeared to be on the right track as he carried out a comprehensive audit of service centre operations and customer service at after-sales operations.

During his time there were some minor cosmetic changes made to the logo and some fairly predictable new communications campaigns and then before he could complete his work, he was replaced in 2016 with Datuk Ahmad Fuaad.

The new CEO of Proton Ahmad Fuaad is up against it

Abdul Harith didn’t have a chance to address the negative perceptions surrounding the national car maker. And to be fair that was always going to be a tough ask because Proton doesn’t have the lean manufacturing skills of the Japanese competition, or for that matter their heritage.

So what’s next for Proton and can it survive? It will have a better chance of surviving if it gets into bed with a global partner such as PSA but that is no guarantee of survival. And with Geely out of the picture, Proton is desperate and PSA will be well aware of that during any negotiations.

And let’s be honest, the main reason for any acquisition is not to save Proton but for the foreign partner to gain access to the lucrative Asean markets and their low trade tarrifs.

If a foreign partner does come in, there’s a very good chance the Proton brand would be phased out because right now it’s a weak brand with a poor perception in its domestic market, let alone any international market, even a regional one.

The other option will be to go it alone. If it is to do so, it’s going to require an even more brutal turnaround that the Malaysia Airlines project. That will mean laying off workers, cancelling supplier agreements and rebuilding the brand from the ground up, probably with tax payers money. Or rather with more tax payers money.

So if Proton does go it alone, how can it salvage the brand and avoid another kick in the teeth for the ailing Malaysia nation brand?

Here are 5 things Proton must do to save its brand

1) Proton has had more leadership changes than you can shake a stick at but if they can’t find a partner, they may have no choice but to get a new CEO. The next CEO must understand that customers not companies define brands and integrate the concerns, perceptions and needs of target markets into your strategy.
2) Proton and the unions need to wake up to reality and appreciate that market conditions are such that unless you layoff staff and renegotiate supplier agreements, the brand is doomed.
3) The organization is the brand. Dealerships may not be Proton owned but they are the first touchpoint every prospect and customer has with the brand. Every negative interaction, every unfulfilled promise, every delayed delivery or extended service time defines the Proton brand and not what you say in your advertising. From the get go, there must be a zero compromise on quality of customer service, investments in staff training and better internal and external communications based on stakeholder requirements for value and not what you want to tell them. The company is failing miserably in many customer facing activities and needs to carry out a comprehensive review and overhaul of current practices and service providers in these critical areas.
4) Current middle management systems don’t seem to be working. Fix them.
5) Stop wasting money on ego advertising built around a big idea. In the social economy, when consumers not companies define brands and those consumers are spoilt for choice and rarely believe what advertisers tell them, the one size fits all ‘clearly defined’ brand positioning campaign is a futile exercise that does nothing more than waste valuable funds.

London taxi company, a missed acquisition opportunity for Proton

This may be hard for many to stomach, but Proton needs to forget about being a fully fledged automotive brand. It will never have the clout to do this. Instead, it needs to find the automotive blue ocean and take ownership of it.

Personally I think this is the taxi and/or MPV space because Asian families are large and they spend a lot of time in their cars. Furthermore airports are often not well served by public transport. A large, electric, prestigious, efficient, clean well built MPV and taxi can rescue the Proton brand. It may not be glamorous but it’ll work.

Moreover, shared platform vehicles reduce engineering and other costs. I have a hunch this may have been why Geely wanted to buy Proton.

Because four years ago Geely bought Manganese Bronze, the maker of the iconic London black cabs (a missed opportunity incidentally for Proton). The Proton plant in Malaysia would be a perfect place to build electric taxis and MPVs.

Proton is at a critical stage of it’s life. It can be saved but it’ll take guts and a few risks to make it happen. I for one hope it happens.


Which is the most valuable brand in the world?

Ever wondered what is the most valuable brand in the world? Apple right? Nope, now it’s Google. Ever wondered what is the most valuable brand in Asia? Samsung right? Correct.

The most valuable brand in SE Asia is Petronas, valued at US$10.6 billion although that’s probably changed significantly since the oil price tanked.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

Is spending US$12 billion to increase sales by 3.2% a good business strategy?

According to its website, Nestle is “the leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company”.

It also says, “We enhance lives with science-based nutrition and health solutions for all stages of life, helping consumers care for themselves and their families.”

Personally, I like their chocolates (I have a soft spot for dark chocolate KitKats), condensed milk and milk substitutes while our pets like their range of cat and dog foods.

I’m not sure how Carnation and Coffee Mate, or for that matter chocolates enhance my life but let’s not go there. But perhaps they should add ‘and their pets’ to the above claim.

Anyway, the Swiss icon, which is now the world’s largest packaged food group, reported sales of US$89.3 billion in 2016, up 3.2% on an organic basis. Well below the 4.2% growth in 2015 and is the fourth time Nestle has missed its “Nestle Model,” that aims for 5 – 6% growth per annum.

What’s interesting is that in the years 2011 – 2014, Nestle spent a cumulative US$12 billion on advertising. Not marketing, PR, promotions or anything else, just US$3 billion a year on advertising.

That’s a huge chunk of cash. And it’s like they need to spend that amount just to stand still because growth of 3.2% is not much better than standing still. Surely there’s a better way?

How Montblanc Malaysia turned an unhappy customer into a brand advocate

Montblanc is a famous pen brand that prides itself on its heritage, workmanship and quality.

The Montblanc web site says, “Montblanc has been a consistently present beacon in the luxury brand market for nearly a century. Having been celebrated for generations as the paramount creator of writing instruments, we have since branched out in order to offer you exquisite watches, leather pieces, jewelry, fragrance and eyewear.”

It’s a compelling proposition and one that my daughter thought I would buy into.

So she saved up enough money to buy me a Montblanc pen for my birthday. Like any father will tell you, this was a very important gesture for her and me. Although every present from her meant the world to me, it was a step up from the Mickey Mouse socks or The Who coffee mug I was used to getting.

And I cherish my Montblanc pen more than just about anything else. For a while I didn’t take it out of my home office. And then I took it on a business trip to London but was so worried I would lose it, I put it in my briefcase and didn’t use it until I got back to Malaysia.

It stayed on my desk and was reserved for signing cheques, letters and the occasional greeting card. I cherished that pen more than anything. And then one day it broke. I was unscrewing it like it was meant to be unscrewed and the cap snapped.

And it snapped at the point where the cap screws onto the pen shaft. I went on the Montblanc website to find out the warranty information and found this confusing statement, “Montblanc writing instruments are under a 24 month warranty from date of purchase or receipt as a gift, against manufacturer’s defects.

Obviously a manufacturing flaw
Obviously a manufacturing flaw

Manufacturer’s defects do not include lost parts, damage resulting from everyday use, or if the product has been dropped or banged against a hard surface.”

After reading the warranty information I was none the wiser but this being a luxury product, I was confident I could get the pen fixed under warranty but when I contacted Montblanc they told me, very nicely that there was a 2 year warranty on the pen but it didn’t cover my problem.

So basically here I was with a product that was sold as a ‘beacon in the luxury brand market for nearly a century’ and ‘the paramount creator of writing instruments’, but in reality wasn’t fit for purpose due to what seemed to me to be a design flaw.

I’m no pen expert but it was obvious to me that it was a design or materials flaw because there is too much pressure on the cap. The cap material simply wasn’t strong enough to sustain the strength of the screw on the shaft.

Perhaps the screw was made in Europe but the pen top was made in China?

So the branding issue is what should Montblanc do? Do they deliver on their promise that they are a leader in the luxury brand market, admit the issue is their fault, do the right thing and replace the pen or at least the top? Or do they ignore the customer and hope he will go away and accept that luxury lasts 2 years?

Historically a brand would simply quote the terms and conditions of the purchase, which is what Montblanc did. A case of ‘thanks for buying our expensive product that only lasts 2 years. We’re sorry, but it’s too bad’.

This initial experience with Montblanc was a huge disappointment. It bought me crashing down to earth. This luxury brand with impeccable heritage was refusing to deliver on the promises made on its website.

The brand refused to take responsibility for what was obviously a design flaw and told me I had to pay for the repairs.

Like a good citizen I got a quote from a Montblanc shop and they told me the repairs would cost US$125. I was basically between a rock and a hard place. Either pay the US$125 or have half a luxury pen.

Now in the mass economy when branding was transactional, I would have had limited opportunity to voice my frustrations or influence future purchases. I might have written a letter to the editor of my daily newspaper or to the company.

And I could probably influence my family and a few friends to never buy a Montblanc but the brand could live with that.

But in today’s much more competitive, social and relational environment, the consumer now defines the brand and brands need to understand that not only must they deliver on any promises they make, they must also look to every single sale not as a transaction, but as the beginning of a relationship.

That’s the responsibility they have. They might not like it but if they want the customer’s money, that’s what it costs. It’s not easy to maintain those relationships but with relationships comes trust and trust allows companies to charge higher prices.

Smart brands understand that today, if they make a promise they have to live up to it. They understand that there are certain ethics they need to aspire to in order to deliver on their brand promise.

Montblanc promised me luxury and distinguished heritage of close to 100 years but hedged their bets with a 24 month warranty. That’s essentially hypocritical.

I wasn’t happy so took my frustrations to the Montblanc Facebook page where I complained. Initially Montblanc refused to accept responsibility for the matter and referred me to the opaque warranty. This was not a good idea.

So I got ready to launch a rant on Twitter, create videos for YouTube and post pictures on Instagram, write negative blog posts, share the videos, comment on forums and search for discussions on pens so that I could share my experiences.

I mapped out what I was going to say on anti Montblanc websites and Facebook pages that I would create and even use the experience as a case study in my next book.

When faced with complaints, great brands listen carefully and do their research before doing the right thing by their customers. I think that Montblanc initially anyway, acted fast but then reflected.

Because a couple of days later I got a call from Terence Tan, the retail manager of Montblanc in Kuala Lumpur. He asked me to bring the pen to the shop and they would fix it for me at no cost.

Thanks Montblanc, you did the right thing & trust in your brand is restored
Thanks Montblanc, you did the right thing & trust in your brand is restored

I took the pen in and Terence was apologetic and professional. He outlined the process and that I would be called once the pen was fixed. And sure enough he called me personally and told me who to speak to if he wasn’t around because he was travelling in the next week.

In other words, Montblanc supported what it says on the website.

And as a result, instead of all the negativity I mentioned above, I’m writing about my positive experience with the brand. I’m enhancing their reputation, substantiating their brand promise and creating more emotional connections with the brand.

Montblanc can now use my positive experience in its brand building strategy. And this is important because up to 70% of customers rely on customer reviews before making a purchasing decision.

These reviews provide the social proof increasingly cynical and jaded consumers need before making purchasing decisions.

Integrated into the Montblanc brand strategy and shared across the ecosystem, Montblanc has the chance to turn a disgruntled customer into a brand advocate by leveraging on the positive feeling created at minimal cost to the brand.

Because now I’m no longer a component of a transaction, I’m now in a relationship with a brand I care for and who obviously cares for me.

So the next time someone complains about your brand, have a think about the complaint. Look at it from their perspective, not from yours. And think about it from a relational, not transactional perspective.

If you do, you may not only make a sale, you may make and keep a customer.

The Malaysia Airlines tie up with Liverpool may sell tickets, but it won’t rebuild the brand

The English Premier League is broadcast to 70% of the world’s 2.1 billion football fans in 212 countries and territories around the world. Asia and Oceania represents 35% of that global audience.

In China alone, up to 18 broadcasters show nearly every game every week to more than 350 million fans across the country.

As of last year, a number of Asian brands including Thailand’s Chang beer (Everton) and King Power (Leicester City), Japan’s Yokohama Tyres (Chelsea), Yanmar and Epsom (Manchester United), Hong Kong’s AIA (Tottenham Hotspur) and GWFX (Swansea City) could be seen on advertising at grounds and/or on shirts.

Betting firms such as and UK-K8 who are targeting Asia are represented on the jerseys of West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Watford and Crystal Palace.

In the championship, AirAsia sponsors Queens Park Rangers and Malaysia has a relationship with Cardiff city. Last year Malaysia Airlines signed a three year deal to be the official carrier of Liverpool after Garuda Indonesia relinquished the role.

Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?
Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?

Football has become popular with big global brands because of its impressive reach and because traditional channels such as TV are becoming fragmented as new services like Netflix, iflix and Amazon prime as well as Youtube, Facebook and others make it increasingly hard to gain the eyeballs all brands insist they need.

Football gives these brands the opportunity to reach a mass audience as well as be associated with what is obviously a very popular sport.

But in an economy driven not by what a company says it does but by what its customers experience, I question the relevance or validity of this approach.

I also think that if the logic is that by supporting a football team, a brand reaches out to all that team’s fans then surely fans of other teams will not support that brand?

And what if the team does badly? How does the association with a badly performing product reflect on the brand?

Take the case of Malaysia Airlines and Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the greatest, most iconic football clubs in the UK. The club was established in 1892, four years after the original premier league was set up.

The club’s trophy cabinet contains eighteen domestic League titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups, more than any other club.

They’ve also won five European Cups, three UEFA Cups and three UEFA Super Cups which means they’ve won more European trophies than any other English team in history except Manchester United (also 41).

That’s an impressive record but there’s a problem, they haven’t won an EPL title since 1992. Does that matter? Well it should do.

Does a brand such as Malaysia Airlines, which is going through a business turnaround plan to make it more competitive, efficient and effective, want to be associated with a team that hasn’t won anything significant for nearly 40 years?

And over the last few years, Liverpool has developed a reputation for poor winter form. The team won 2 out of ten matches at the start of 2016. In January 2017, Jurgen Klopp’s team lost 3 matches at Anfield in one week and as a result, was unceremoniously dumped out of two major competitions.

The team narrowly missed their worst run of losses at home since 1923 with a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at the end of January but the poor form continued into February with the recent 2-0 defeat away to lowly Hull City, 15 places below them. Only time will tell if last Saturday’s win against high flying Tottenham was the beginning of a new dawn or a flash in the pan.

If the latter, how does that reflect on Malaysia Airlines?

The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts
The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts

Liverpool are now 13 points off the leaders Chelsea and definitely under achieving.

Sure Malaysia Airlines is getting the eyballs, assuming viewers are watching the LED panels around the ground but is it the right environment for the brand? Is being associated with a team that is underachieving going to leave a positive impression?

You could argue that all Malaysia Airlines is doing is trying to raise awareness. But is raising awareness the right way forward? Is there anyone out there NOT aware of Malaysia Airlines?

Before Malaysia Airlines stepped in, Garuda International was the official carrier of Liverpool but after three years and a comprehensive study to determine if the airline was benefiting from the sponsorship, they pulled the plug. Surely if they felt they were getting value for money, they would have stayed on?

Garuda wasn’t the only sponsor to see little value in sponsoring teams in the EPL. In June 2016, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei ended its relationship as “official smartphone partner” to Arsenal after two years, citing “limited visibility.”

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t disclosed the amount it is paying to be the official carrier but Garuda forked out US$9 million (RM40 million) a year for the privilege.

So if Malaysia Airlines is paying the same (probably more but anyway), that’s US$27 million or RM125 million for brand exposure on LED and static boards at each home game, exposure on the Liverpool FC website which seems to consist of the logo at the bottom of the page, in publications and on the Facebook page although a quick look at the Liverpool page failed to find any reference to Malaysia Airlines.

The package is also supposed to include co-branding opportunities, merchandising rights and pitch side access with players and legends.

That’s a lot of money to pay to increase awareness of an airline that is probably known to everyone on the planet. But Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew thinks the deal, “has changed perception radically for us, in China, in Thailand, in the U.K.”

He didn’t explain what the perception of Malaysia Airlines was before the deal and how advertising on LED panels can change those perceptions.

The first game at which Malaysia Airlines appeared was a Liverpool v Manchester United match at the beginning of the 2016/17 season.

Liverpool managed to hang on for a draw, not an auspicious start. During the game, Malaysia Airlines advertised roundtrip fares between Kuala Lumpur and London at a ridiculously cheap £395 (RM2,299).

Branding is not about sales, it's about relationships
Branding is not about sales, it’s about relationships

Confusingly, Bellews credits the passenger load increase on the Kuala Lumpur to London route from 45% in May 2016 to 63% in December 2016 to the Liverpool deal and was quoted in one newspaper as saying, “Old-fashioned sales and marketing works.”

Slashing prices to the bone and spending RM125 million to raise awareness (and to change perceptions) and tell football fans you are selling tickets at £395 when other airlines are selling the same route at £500 isn’t really old fashioned sales and marketing, it’s just old fashioned and more importantly, unsustainable.

And to be frank, it’s hard not to fill a plane from Malaysia to the UK in December as thousands of expatriates head home for Christmas and thousands more Malaysians head to Europe for the long holiday.

Irrespective of the fact that Malaysia Airlines is sponsoring a weak product, there is also the question of whether football fans in Asia, watching matches as they do in coffee shops, bars and roadside stalls at 2, 3 or even 4am really take in the messages on the LED billboards.

And even if consumers do take in and accept the limited messages that can be communicated on a pitchside screen there is another flaw to this process. What if performance doesn’t match any perception created?

Of course in the ‘old fashioned’ world that didn’t matter because the focus was more on acquistion anyway and there was a belief that there were always going to be new customers.

At least that’s what TWA, Swissair and the other 300 airlines that have failed over the past 50 years thought.

Brands such as Malaysia Airlines generally succeed, or fail not based on their advertising, positioning or associations but on operational issues, service capabilities, retention and the experiences of others we relate to.

The problem for Malaysia Airlines is that today, all of the above are played out on Facebook, in the letters pages of newspapers and in the comments sections of popular bloggers.

Dissatisfied customers can change perceptions and damage brands on social media much faster than those brands can change perceptions through pitchside LED screens.

In the ‘old fashioned’ world, brands reached out to the masses. Awareness and sales took precedent over customer development.

I get the feeling that Malaysia Airlines is focussing too much on getting back into the black, no matter what the cost. Selling tickets at RM2,299 and old fashioned sales and marketing tactics may just do that.

But what happens when the carrier wants to increase prices? If Malaysia Airlines has been attracting price conscious customers, won’t they move on to the cheapest carrier?

And if this model is successful, then it will probably be the next advertiser on those LCD screens.

Apple needs to focus on its core business or the brand will be in trouble

Towards the end of 2016 I read an article in Business Insider that had the audacity to suggest Microsoft is more innovative than Apple.

Now I believe that’s a bit of a stretch but there are definately problems at Apple. Since Steve Jobs moved on, the brand has made three critical mistakes. One is that it no longer has direction or if it has direction, it’s the wrong direction – driverless cars? Two it appears to have stopped listening to the voice of the customer and three, it’s products are very nearly not fit for purpose.

The next 'must have Mac?' Probably not
The next ‘must have Mac?’ Probably not

These three things are leading to a perfect storm of problems for Apple. If they are not addressed quickly, the brand will lose its loyal following from the creative sector. Indeed, Microsoft, yes Microsoft is already making inroads into this segment. Consumers are not as loyal to brands as they used to be, especially when those brands aren’t listening to them.

This excellent post from Mark Wilson of Fast Company outlines what is wrong with Apple and what they need to do to save the company.

In a nutshell, he wants the company to focus on delivering getting the existing products right rather than diversifying into new areas, to lose the gimmicks and deliver quality, to get the integration across platforms seamless, as promised. And he has a point.

It’s good to know I’m not the only one increasingly disillusioned with my Apple products.

Is this the best Christmas ad ever?

If you’ve experienced the build up to Christmas in the UK, you’ll know that the launches of the big retailers’ Christmas ads are eagerly awaited. In 2015 we ran a poll of the favourite Christmas ads and even though it was considered sadvertising (take note Petronas with Chinese New Year coming up) by many pundits, the John Lewis ad was a clear winner.

This year John Lewis has for the first time cast a black family as the stars of the ad. Actually that’s not true. The stars of the show are a whole series of animals including the family pet Buster the Boxer.

You can watch the ad here and let me know what you think.

This being Christmas you are encouraged to ignore reality and the fact that the hedgehog would have been in bed since November and foxes are a nuisance (more on that later).

After two days the ad has generated 4 million views on Youtube, 32,000 Likes and 3,000 comments, most of them positive and many of them amusing, ensuring the narrative continues!


The store spent about £1 million on the ad and will spend £6 million on TV spots nationwide. Fans can also download Snapchat filters featuring Buster the dog. Merchandise on sale in the stores includes soft toys, clothing, animal themed children’s books and trampolines. And in the Oxford Street store, there will be a virtual reality version of the commercial.

The dog also has his own Twitter hashtag #BusterTheBoxer and Twitter stickers. But Twitter reactions have been mixed. @Basscrazy66 suggested Santa should be putting the trampoline together.

What about Santa?
What about Santa?

@Gregjames missed the sadvertising approach with this tweet.

I want to be miserable at Christmas
I want to be miserable at Christmas

Meanwhile, @DanielBruce_8 brought a bit of regional humour to the narrative.

This is known as Scottish humour
This is known as Scottish humour

Earlier in November 2016, an A level student in the UK created a fake John Lewis ad that fooled a number of people. Taking sadvertising to a new level, the ad features an unhappy snowperson trapped in a snow globe desperate to get out of the globe so he can enjoy Christmas with a free snowperson. There are rumours the student will soon be interviewed by the head of creative at John Lewis.

Even though it’s only been out a few days, the John Lewis ad has been parodied. Make sure you watch this parody to the end!

According to the creators of this parody, James Herring, Jasper Gibson and Dave Packer, they are “raising awareness of the mild annoyance of urban wildlife experienced by middle class city dwellers”.

John Lewis has announced that 10pc of all toy sales will be given to the country’s Wildlife Trusts charities. What do you think, is this the best ever John Lewis ad? Vote in our poll.

The most interesting thing about the iPhone 7

In April 2016, Apple announced its first ever reduction in iPhone sales. The company played down the decline suggesting it was in line with slowing smart phone sales around the world but the reality is that Android is becoming an unstopable force and consumers are getting bored with the iPhone.

So the launch of the iPhone 7 is really important for the Apple brand. I haven’t played with the iPhone 7 so I can’t say how it is but it needs to be interesting, exciting and desirable and that’s going to be tough to deliver.

What I do find interesting is related to the removal of the 3.5mm circular headphone jack on the left side of the bottom edge of the iPhone 6. Instead of traditional wired headphones the iPhone 7 will work with wireless EarPod headphones which don’t, I am now told, ship with the phone. According to Apple, this move is part of the plan for a wireless future and that makes sense although the rest of the ecosystem is still wired so that might be an issue in many situations you find yourself in.

EarPods - wirelessly wired. Thanks customers
EarPods – wirelessly wired. Thanks customers

Traditionally, when Apple makes such a move – remember when it redesigned the MacBook and MacBook Air computers a few years ago, the MagSafe charger got a refresh too which meant you couldn’t use your old charger with your new laptop. And every Mac user will complain about Mac adaptors for monitors, Ethernet cables and God knows what else – it doesn’t think about the consumer.

Well this time, the new iPhone ships with an adaptor that plugs into the Lightning port which is normally used in its chargers. This means you can still use your expensive wired headphones. But you’ll still have to fork out for a separate adaptor if you want to charge your phone while listening to music.

Apparently, the new lightning EarPod headphones offer a better quality sound than ‘wired’ versions which tend to sound a bit tinny. This is something to do with an inbuilt digital-to-analogue music converter (DAC) present in lightning connector headphones.

What this tells us is that Apple listens to its customers and that’s something a lot of brands need to do. It also tells us Apple values the voice of the customer and that is a major step in the right direction for a brand that hasn’t really needed to in the past. It’s a small but important step for Apple and shows that even the most valuable brand in the world must and is listening to its customers. Are you?

New Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has an explosive start

Rumour has it the new flagship phablet from Samsung has a dodgy battery. Early reports on social media from Korea feature terrible images of burned units fresh out of the box. Samsung was quick to say only about 0.1% of the devices were affected but out of 7 million already sold, that’s an embarrassment they could have done without.

That's going to hurt
That’s going to hurt

The latest news is that they are going to issue a recall of all Galaxy Note 7s. This will be a massive blow to the mighty Korean electronics firm that has been banking on the Note 7 to stop the decline in profits of the last couple of years.

I haven’t played with it but cannot escape the relentless advertising across all media channels. With USB Type C charging (said to be the root of the problem), waterproofing and a futuristic iris scanner that uses your eye to unlock the phone, this was considered a real threat to Apple’s dominance.

With a new iPhone due to be released next week, it will be interesting to see how Samsung manages the fallout and whether it can continue to stay in touch with Apple. I expect Samsung to be very transparent and decisive about the whole issue. The recall suggests that’s the case. It’ll also take more marketing dollars, a lot of grovelling and lots of freebies to those affected.

Harder to win over maybe those who were considering switching from Apple to other devices. A category I include myself in. It just maybe that the winner will actually be Huawei. Huawei has seen a 40% spike in smartphone revenue and now has 9% of the smartphone market. To overtake Samsung, it’ll need to sell about 10 million more handsets. That’s a challenge but dodgy batteries and weak quality control at Samsung will help its cause.

Even brand consultants are human

I wrote a blog post last week about how I was told I could not use the Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA if I wasn’t flying Malaysia Airlines. I also shared the post with a blog that I have a lot of time for and they responded with a very balanced article suggesting I was wrong.

In the post I wrote that gold and platinum members of the Malaysia Airlines FFP programme couldn’t use the lounge but someone also not flying Malaysia Airlines, who had never flown Malaysia Airlines and may never do so again, could enter the lounge if they paid RM200 (US$40).

I explained that this lack of appreciation for loyal customers did not make branding sense.

I was making the point that what other airlines do is irrelevant. That what is normal doesn’t matter because Malaysia Airlines isn’t any other airline going through normal. That Malaysia Airlines needs to work harder than any other airline to rebuild its brand following the twin tragedies of 2014 and that the first place it should start was with members of its frequent flyer programme but that it had largely ignored them.

Brands, especially airline brands are always looking for an edge. And they especially like to be seen to be human, to be caring, to be willing to do something extra. A colleague reminded me of what we call ‘thoughtful gestures’ branding. It’s happening more and more in the era of the long idea because thoughtful gestures have long legs on social media.

Think of all those airline ads that show the captain giving a kid a toy plane, a stewardess adjusting the blanket of a sleeping passenger, the offer to heat up a milk bottle for a baby, etc. All cliches and all used by Malaysia Airlines in its advertising in the past.

No frequent flyer, including me is entitled to anything that’s not in the terms and conditions but if they ask for something minor or simple, such as a free coffee or a pen or a postcard or want to use the bathroom in the lounge then although it’s against the rules, it would be a great opportunity for a “thoughtful gesture” that made an impression and more importantly, may then be discussed on social media and negate some of the negative narrative.

The mistake I made was that I personalized a minor issue and as a result, people focused on my behavior instead of the airline’s attitude.

I copped a lot of abuse and I won’t make that mistake again. Although I can promise you I’m not an unctuous twat and do not consider myself entitled!