There is still a place for creativity in the age of the Internet

Have you ever wondered how powerful the Internet really is? Have you ever wondered if video can really help increase sales? Have you ever wondered how to sell something for more than it’s worth? Would you like to turn US$499 into US$150,000 with a little bit of creativity? Then watch this video.

Proton must fast track core branding activities

Proton Edar CEO Hisham Othman stated recently that the company “Would pay greater attention to product quality and customer service”.

That’s a suitably vague statement that can be open to multiple interpretations and I’ll be commenting on it in greater detail soon. In the meantime, here is a useful graphic from Teletech that should help Proton accelerate the project.

Proton must accelerate its customer service programme
Proton must accelerate its customer service programme

Consumers have changed, has your marketing strategy?

Doe this sound familiar?

You need to spend time creating a position that is driven by the corporation.

Once created, the position must be communicate across traditional media (with a nod toward social media, but a nod only) to as many people as possible and hope that some of it sticks.

If it doesn’t, create a new position and repeat ad nauseum. Hopefully you will get it right. If you don’t, well you can always discount. This model was developed by Jack Trout in the 1970s. I wrote a blog post about it here

Sadly, despite US$1.5 trillion spent annually on marketing, 70% of today’s manufactured goods will be obsolete in six years (Industry Week magazine). There are estimated to be more than 30,000 new product introductions in the US alone every year, and that’s just in the packaged goods market. According to AC Nielsen, up to 90% of products fail to become brands. This means that as many as 27,000 of those new products will fail.

Today’s consumer has changed the way he lives his life and moreover, markets are so fluid, spending time developing a position and watching your competitors is the fastest route to business oblivion.

The key to success is the sales force and their ability to build your business through collaborations and by matching products/services to individual customer requirements for value and then maintaining those relationships and your brand communities team who develop brand evangelists and influence influencers.

And with social media and modern technology, that is not difficult. A lot less difficult than creating a position and pinning all your hopes on, well hope.

Should you use celebrities to promote your brand?

There are lots of differing views on the use of celebrities to sell brands but if you have the money, it makes sense to explore this option.

But tread carefully because celebrities after all are human and humans get injured or worse, make mistakes – think Tiger Woods, who was unceremoniously dumped by Tag Heur, Gatorade, Gillette, ATandT and Accenture, soon after the details of his infidelities emerged in late 2009.

Firms the world over spend hundred of millions of dollars getting endorsements from celebrities. And studies would suggest the returns are worth the investment – and the risk. Which is probably why Rolex has announced that Tiger Woods will now endorse its watches.

Indeed, a report last year by Anita Elberse for CNN found that sales of brands in consumer product categories jumped an average of 4% in the six months after an endorsement deal was announced.

Interestingly the report also noted that stock prices went up about 0.25% on the announcement and would generally react favourably each time the athlete won an event in his field.

As an aside, although Tiger Woods lost those endorsements, he is still the most endorsed athlete in the history of sport. And justifiably so if a report from Kevin YC Chung is anything to go by. According to the report, from 2000 – 2010, just the golf ball division of Nike earned an additional profit of US$60 million after acquiring 4.5 million customers after Tiger Woods began endorsing Nike products.

Of course Celebrity endorsements are not cheap. In 2000, Nike paid Woods US$100 million for a 5 year endorsement deal. Tennis player Anna Kournikova has multiple deals with Omega, Berlie Lingerie, Prince racquets and Canon. Kournikova also signed a US$50 million six year deal with Adidas. Fortuitously for Adidas they wrote a line into the contract that insisted on Kournikova winning something. This she rarely did but she still earned US$3 million from the deal.

Probably the biggest endorsement deal ever done was between Adidas and David Beckham. The lifetime deal cost Adidas US$161 million back in 2003. But at least it stops Nike from getting their hands on the globally popular football star.

Sometimes however all it takes is a little bit of good fortune related to a celebrity to generate massive sales. Victoria Beckham let it slip in an interview recently that despite the healthy state of her and husband David’s bank account, David was more than happy buying his socks from Marks & Spencer.

Since she made the statement, Marks & Spencer claim they have seen a more than 30% increase in the sale of men’s socks! And the cost of this celebrity endorsement? US$0.

A definition of branding that will help you to build a global brand

This article first appeared in the 30/09/2011 edition of The Malaysian Reserve

Over the years, companies have invested phenomenal amounts of money in marketing and advertising activities such as sales calls, direct mail, TV, outdoor, indoor, print and other advertising, brochures, leaflets and more. Indeed, according to Nick Wreden in his book Profit brand, How to increase the profitability, accountability and sustainability of brands, over US$1.5 trillion is spent annually on marketing (including advertising) worldwide and yet according to McKinsey, a management consultancy, up to 90% of products fail to become brands.

With little or nothing to show for these significant investments, companies looked to other disciplines and soon Branding was considered the way forward and the last 10 years has seen a major change in the resources committed to Branding.

As a result of this interest, hundreds of traditional books and ebooks have been written on the topic of Branding. Thousands of newspaper and magazine column inches have been dedicated to the discipline. Workshops and seminars have been held all over the world, all promising to teach business people how to Brand. These presentations are often uploaded to slideshare and Youtube videos have appeared, all with content related to Branding.

Many companies, including I suspect, yours have explored the concept and many have actually embarked on what they thought was a branding or rebranding exercise. Indeed, only recently, Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) announced it had gone through a rebranding exercise and even the Prime Minister attended the press launch of the new ‘brand’.

At the press conference, Malayan Banking Bhd President and CEO Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar unveiled a new logo and explained that the bank would be spending RM13 million on the implementation exercise across the Asian region and that it would take about a year.

On the face of it and with the only evidence a new logo, this does not look like a rebranding exercise. This is more like a brand identity makeover or corporate identity reengineering, nothing more.

Another financial institution recently made a similar announcement and stated that it would spend RM15 million on a rebranding exercise. Soon after I received nine emails for a product that I didn’t understand and with a tagline that offered an exclusive deal for MasterCard holders even though I am not a MasterCard user.

Other well-known companies from the transportation, media and distribution industries have recently announced rebranding exercises that have actually been little more than a new advertising campaign.

The reality is that the new Maybank logo and identity will probably not make a difference to the brand and how consumers and organizations view the brand or the profitability of the brand. Think about it, when was the last time you signed up with or changed your bank because of a competitor’s logo?

This confusion is not Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar’s fault. If we have to point fingers, we should probably point them at the marketers and advertising agencies responsible for muddying the branding waters.

It is because they have confused business owners and consumers with their contradictory interpretations that there is still a lot of confusion about Branding, the concept of Branding, what constitutes a Brand, what is Branding and how to build a Brand.

But this article is not about pointing fingers it is about identifying a definition of branding that will help Malaysian SMEs and other companies use scarce funds effectively and efficiently.

So what is a good definition that Malaysian companies can use as a foundation for their branding efforts?

We created this definition in 2004 and it still rings true today:

A brand is a long term profitable bond between an offering and a customer.

This relationship is based on offering economic, experiential and emotional value to those customers.

And it is backed up by operational excellence and consistently evaluated and improved.

 

We have used this as a foundation to build Malaysian brands and all of them have benefited from using this to take their brand forward. But what does it mean and how can Malaysian companies like yours use it as a foundation for their branding efforts? To do this, we need to break the definition down into three parts, as per the paragraphs above.

The first paragraph relates to two key elements, profitability and retention. One of the reasons that advertising, marketing and other traditional communications campaigns are so ineffective is that too many companies spend an absolute fortune getting a customer into their shop or showroom and then after the customer buys something, they just let them walk out the door! Isn’t it incredible that firms let customers walk out the door without attempting to at least try to build some sort of bond with them?

If you don’t why should the customer come back again? Don’t kid yourself that your product (there are some exceptions) is so unique that they will ignore other products and fight off all the attempts to lure them into competitor stores even though you have absolutely no relationship with them.

Profitability is an important branding metric, much more important than reach or awareness. It is estimated that up to 15% of a firms customers are unprofitable. You need to know who are your unprofitable customers and get rid of them.

If you have a car that won’t start and you send it to the garage and the mechanic says the engine is broken so you take the car to the paint shop and paint the body, will it help to fix the engine problem? Of course it won’t. It is the same with a brand. If you are receiving numerous complaints about the quality of your products or the time it takes to be served at a branch and you ask an advertising agency to create a new logo and you put that new logo on all your company materials, it won’t solve your quality or service issues or make your brand any better.

But if you carry out research with your customers and identify what are their requirements for economic, experiential and emotional value and then match your product attributes to those requirements for value you will make sales. And if you’ve laid the foundations for retaining those customers, as mentioned earlier, then you will be on your way to building a brand.

And by developing this emotional connection with your customers in which you deliver economic, experiential and emotional value, which incidentally will be done across multiple touch points such as when they use the counter service, through your correspondence and marketing collateral, the way you handle enquiries, your packaging, in one on one meetings with your representatives and so on, there will be no interest or need for them to take their business elsewhere.

In fact you will be surprised at the effort they will put into returning to you. And provided you keep your product or service relevant and continue to interact with those customers across platforms and channels that they engage with then you will be building a brand.

Operational excellence is a key ingredient in your quest to build a brand. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on marketing, sales, advertising etc if your organization isn’t efficient and effective it will struggle to deliver value and ergo, build a brand.

Finally, it is important to continually improve to stay relevant so you must track, evaluate and improve your brand on a continuous basis.

Instead of looking at branding as a creative exercise or short term tactical communications exercise, look at it as a holistic strategic initiative that requires internal and external research, investment in retention and not just acquisition, investment in the organization and a desire to constantly improve.

Follow these rules and you are more likely to build a global Malaysian brand.

Build a brand with the basics

Right near my office at Phileo Damansara in Petaling Jaya, a luxury German auto manufacturer has two billboards advertising its top of the range luxury autos. One is a saloon and the other is an SUV. I like this particular SUV so much that if I was still putting posters up on my bedroom wall, the SUV would be front and centre.

This company also has a number of billboards at other locations around the city of Kuala Lumpur and in the suburbs featuring a smaller version of the SUV (for which there is a 1 year waiting list) and other versions of the saloon. It also spends a lot of money on print ads and recently advertised their top end coupe in a Malaysian daily and a Malaysian business weekly.

Cars in Malaysia are expensive as import duties can go as high as 300% for luxury vehicles. The full page full colour ad with standard automotive blurb also stated the price of over RM1,000,000 (US$333,000). At that price, there are probably no more than a handful of people in the country who can afford the car. Even if there are a 100 or even a 1,000 people in the country who can afford the car, full page ads in national newspapers are probably not the most cost effective channels to communicate with those people.

Now I’ve actually approached this particular organisation in the past to ask if we can come in a make a capabilities presentation. We didn’t get past the marketing manager who basically said that as sales were very good there was no point meeting us.

Judging by recent reports, the company is certainly doing well after the launch of new models in 2008. In fact, the company claims to have been Malaysia’s fastest growing luxury car brand in that year with sales up an impressive 102%. Moreover, sales continued to climb in the first 6 months of 2010 with sales up 66% over the same period in 2009. Impressive figures and the company now claims to have about 5% of the luxury market in Malaysia.

Anyway, seeing this billboard on a daily basis with the telephone number prominently displayed, was beginning to get on my nerves. So I decided to call the number. After all, if you advertise your products on a billboard and display your telephone number, one can only assume that you want prospects like me to call you.

And if a prospect calls that number you better have the processes and systems in place to ensure that the person receiving the call passes it on to the right department. And you better have the right processes and systems in place to ensure that the next person in the process does what they are supposed to do. In this particular case, call the prospect back. Especially when we’re talking about a luxury product.

So anyway, I called the number and asked for information about the top of the range SUV. The receptionist was very pleasant and explained that she would get someone from the sales department to call me back. I gave her my mobile number and waited for the call. That was last Thursday, today is Sunday and I still haven’t heard anything. Bear in mind this vehicle costs over RM500,000 (US$166,000).

Generally the point of billboards is to create awareness. A telephone number is there in the hope that the keen, desperate consumer who wants the product so much that he will take the time to record the number and follow through with a call. Of course most of us just ignore billboards and the messages on them. Indeed, it’s rare for a prospect to call. But there are always incoming calls that may just result in an easy sale to one person who may become a customer for life so if you don’t have those basic processes and systems in place to take the information and pass it on, what is the point of advertising?

Here are some more tips that will help this company improve its profitability, the most important metric for branding:

1) The era of the global ad buy is over. Different markets require different communications strategies. Whilst it may make sense to create awareness of a luxury product via national papers in relatively wealthy western markets, it is a waste of money in developing markets where the demand for luxury products is limited to only a few.

2) Brand building is about the long term. When you launch new products they will, if you are extremely lucky, fly off the shelves or out of the showroom. But this is the exception, not the rule. And anyway, this doesn’t mean that you can become complacent, sit back, put your feet up and relax. Your competition will soon catch up and your moment in the limelight will soon be over.

3) The whole point of mass market advertising such as billboards and newspaper ads is to create awareness with mass markets. That is why weekend copies of daily newspapers are full of ads for hypermarkets, supermarkets, discount stores, sales and so on. But luxury products require more than a mass market tactic to make a sale. If you must use these old fashioned tools, use them to develop a database of prospects so that you can qualify those prospects and invite them to your showroom if you think they have potential.

4) Many companies will have a system in place to act on incoming enquiries. But who is responsible for ensuring those enquiries are acted on? The system must also ensure incoming enquiries are reported to sales management so that they can follow up with the sales department.

5) Brands are built on offerings of economic, experiential and emotional value. That journey begins with the first contact. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, if you can’t deliver that value, prospects will go elsewhere.

Now I’m going to call BMW to get more information on the X5.

Should you measure Brand Equity or Customer Equity?

Malaysian and Asian firms can save themselves a lot of effort and resources by focussing on customer equity as they attempt to build brands.

It’s almost 20 years since the launch of the landmark book “Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the Value of a Brand Name” by David Aaker. David Aaker name may not be as familiar as others in his industry, but he is credited with developing the concept of “brand equity”.

The release of “Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the Value of a Brand Name” came at a time when companies were desperately seeking new ways to increase the value of their brands by assigning a value to them or, measuring the intangible assets of the company such as reputation or channel relationships, that were previously ignored by traditional accounting systems. This became known as Brand equity.

On the face of it, “Brand equity” appeared to quantify intuitive recognition about the value of brands that in turn helped to rationalize marketing expenditures. It was also shorthand for a brand’s two key strengths – its relationship with purchasers and mental image among both prospects and customers. And it provided a means to rank winners and losers in branding wars – MAS vs Singapore Airlines, Maxis vs Celcom, Coca-Cola vs. Sarsi and so on.

Brand equity is now considered one of a number of factors that increase the financial value of a brand and the term is used freely to say the least. Nevertheless, despite its popularity, the concept of “brand equity” has numerous shortcomings, especially in an age when customers not organizations, are determining the success or failure of brands. Indeed, the pursuit of brand equity can even warp executive decision making and lead to lost profits and opportunities.

One shortcoming is that although the term is widely used, no common definition of brand equity exists.

In fact, in his book Building, Measuring and Managing Brand Equity, published about seven years after David Aaker’s work, K.L. Keller lists NINE definitions of Brand equity, some of which actually contradict one another. This lack of a definition means that no universally agreed upon measure exists.

Delve deeper into any methodology concerning a “brand equity” calculation, and it quickly becomes apparent that the effort has all the intellectual rigour of a fence post – a dash of corporate history, a gaggle of retail outlet numbers, a touch of stature here and some strength there, a little bit of ‘brand esteem’ topped off with an extra helping of distribution sales, a sampling of questionnaires and so on.

This lack of a common methodology means that two experts examining the same brand come up with widely divergent calculations. Furthermore, it is impossible to compare brands across different countries, industries or perspectives.

This imprecision – at a time of global economic uncertainty when shareholders are demanding more accountability and C level executives insist on both sophisticated measurement and accountability – means “brand equity” lacks validity as a benchmark for executive decision-making. After all, how can executives make effective decisions when it’s impossible to understand – and agree upon – consistent numbers?

As if C level executives didn’t have enough to think about, this imprecision causes other problems as well. If “brand equity” increases by 10%, what caused it? Was it the latest advertising campaign? Or was it a new product launch? Perhaps it was more aggressive sales? Or maybe it was the discounts at critical times to reduce inventory? Better service? “Brand equity” does not provide any insights about cause-and-effect.

Second, “brand equity” does not indicate market or financial success. Look at some companies with great “brand equity” – Pelangi Air, Perwaja steel, Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), Kodak, K-Mart, MV Augusta, MAS, – that have either disappeared, faced or are facing financial difficulties. Indeed, “brand equity” as a guiding star leads companies to focus on product maximization at a time when leading companies recognize that a focus on customers is critical to success.

Finally, and most important of all, “brand equity” is irrelevant to customers. Customers buy on value, service, price, convenience or other reasons, but never make a purchase decision based on the relative “brand equity” of two offerings.

Ask yourself, did you ever walk into Cold Storage, Armani or Isetan and buy something based on its brand equity? No, of course you didn’t. Hold that thought, why should you pay attention to an issue that customers ignore? Because everyone else is? Because you were told to in marketing classes that were probably developed in an era before Facebook, twitter, ecommerce and more?

So what should you focus on? The answer is “Customer equity”.

Customer equity has one universally recognized definition – the lifetime value of customers. This value results from the current and future customer profitability as well as such intangible benefits as testimonials and word-of-mouth sales.

Customer equity incorporates customer loyalty to buy again and again, the faith to recommend a brand and the willingness to forgive the inevitable mistakes that every firm makes.

While “brand equity” is impossible to calculate consistently, customer equity can be easily calculated on the back of an envelope. All that’s required are numbers that every company already is – or should be – calculating. These include revenue, customer acquisition (or marketing) costs, costs of goods/services and retention rates.

Ideally, depending on the industry, companies should also track leads and referrals, and be able to determine the profitability of specific products or services. By adding up revenue (or profits), subtracting relevant costs and incorporating retention rates, companies can determine the current – and future – profitability of every customer.

And because customer equity is easy to calculate, it will be understood by everyone from the boardroom to the warehouse, making it much easier to unify personnel behind the brand.

“Brand equity” is all about a product or an organization. But in the customer economy, brands that attempt to push products onto customers that don’t want them will fail. Even if you spend millions creating awareness of your products. Today, building a successful brand requires customers that are profitable.

Customer equity supports and measures the activities that encourage customers to buy more, more often. Increasing “brand equity” does little for a firm and decades of good will can be wiped out overnight (think BP), but increased customer equity reflects increased retention and word-of-mouth sales, key elements of a profitable brand.

Customer equity has other advantages as well. Because retention and customer profitability are tracked, it’s easy to make a direct link between marketing, service and other programs to increases (or declines) in customer equity.

Customer equity also enables the segmentation of very profitable, not so profitable and unprofitable customers. Knowing the relative profitability of customers not only helps promote retention of the best customers but also substantially improves the investment required and effectiveness of marketing as well as reducing marketing costs.

In today’s customer economy, “Brand equity” provides few if any tools for those responsible for attracting and keeping satisfied customers. In The Loyalty Effect, the author Frederick Reichheld wrote, “Customer equity effectively explains success and failure in business…. The companies with the highest retention rates also earn the best profits. Relative retention explains profits better than market share, scale, cost position or any other variables associated with competitive advantage.”

Do brands have value? Absolutely, and David Aaker has left an impressive legacy. But attempting to measure this value provides little benefit and distracts a company away from the critical task of retaining profitable customers.

Because ultimately, it’s these customers – not a fallible calculation of a dated concept – who are responsible for brand value and long-term corporate success.

Asia is the darling of luxury brands

As the effects of government stimuli wear off and with the global economy heading towards a double dip recession that will impact the traditionally wealthy economies of Europe, the US and Japan more than most, luxury brands have been looking to Asia for salvation. And they’ve probably found it.

Despite the recession, the consultants, Bain & Co predicts luxury industry sales of €158bn in 2010, up 4% after a drop of 8% in 2009. And these sales will, on the whole be driven by Asian operations.

25% of worldwide sales
Shiseido, Japan’s largest cosmetics company anticipates sales of high-end cosmetics to grow 20% a year in China over the next 3 years. In fact, China is driving the luxury business and is now the second largest market for luxury goods, accounting for 25% of worldwide luxury sales. More than the US, Europe and Japan who each account for about 20%.

According to Capgemini there are more than 345,000 Chinese millionaires and many of them are keen to snap up luxury products that offer a little bit of exclusivity and heritage.

India crucial for long term success
But the Chinese market is not the only market helping luxury brand ride out the recession(s). In India, Porsche Design recently opened its first store in New Delhi, joining Prada, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Mont Blanc who are all setting up operations in the capital of the republic. Louis Vuitton now has 5 stores in India.

Luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co reported recently that sales at Asian stores open more than 12 months, with the exception of those in Japan, rose 21% during its most recent quarter. The Asia-Pacific region is driving expansion, with stores scheduled to open in Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

China has the highest sales per square foot
Mainland China is at the heart of Tiffany’s Asian expansion, with the number of stores there due to rise from the current 12 to as many as 30 by 2015. Chinese stores have the highest sales per square foot of US$3,800 compared to US$3,000 in other stores.

French luxury giant Hermes reported strong growth in sales in the first quarter of 2010, boosted mainly by sales in Asia but not including Japan.

LVMH, the company behind luxury brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Moët Chandon recently reported a 11% increase in 1Q 2010 sales. Watches and jewellery sales rose by 33%, wines and spirits by 18% and fashion and leather goods by 8%. Sales of Dom Perignon and other LVMH owned champagnes shot up by 33% in the same period.

Watches and timepieces, there is a difference you know, have also had a bumper start to 2010 and the mood at Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewellery fair, was bullish after positive announcements from Bréguet, Blancpain, Omega and Longines whose sales were up 46%, 48%, 50% and 49% respectively in January and February 2010.

Mobile phones
Due partly at least to the fact that it doesn’t have many high end high margin devices, Sony Ericsson has been plagued by declining sales for years and hasn’t made a net profit since 2Q 2008.

However the firm moved quickly to develop high end phones and launched the Xperia X10 and Vivaz last year. The result, the company reported a net profit for 1Q 2010 of €21 million, compared with a €293 million net loss a year earlier. Analysts were expecting a €128 million loss.

US leather goods maker Coach has relied for years on the domestic market and Japan. However, after a slow start, it is ramping up operations in Asia and expects sales in China to rise to US$250 million by 2012, up from almost US$100 million this year.

Luxury brands will have to make significant changes to the way they operate in Asia. And they must learn to understand Asian consumers, learn how to build relationships with them, what are their influencers and how best to engage them. If they, they will find salvation not in the short term, for some time to come.

How to sustain a family retail brand

The picture below was taken in 1912 in Oxford, UK a city about 60 miles to the North West of London. It features Gill & Co, an ironmongers and a branch of J. Sainsbury, a food store.

Gill & Co was established in 1530 during Henry VIII’s reign. At the time it was the first ironmonger in the country. It has been in business ever since and has witnessed the English Civil War, two World Wars, a couple of global economic depressions, three recessions, the birth of the railway, the car, powered flight, electricity, the Internet and more.

Originally the firm supplied ironware and related products for Oxford residents however as times changed it tried to reinvent itself and also stocked equipment for chimney sweeps (think Mary Poppins), farming equipment, tools and gardening supplies. Although Gill & Co moved locations, it was always a one store operation in Oxford.

In 2010, after 480 years in business Gill & Co is closing down, beaten into submission by large DIY and home improvement suppliers like B&Q the 3rd largest DIY retailer in the world, largest in Europe and the largest in China and Homebase.

Sainsbury’s, at a mere 141 years old, a relatively new brand was established in 1869 in Drury Lane. Although now at the centre of the theatre district, this was once a very poor area of London.

Sainsbury has also witnessed much, including 2 world wars, 2 depressions, a couple of recessions, the automobile, manned flight, the moon landings and more. Sainsbury soon became an institution, offering high quality products at low prices. By 1882 Sainsbury was selling it’s own label brands.

Although lacking the heritage of Gill & Co, Sainsbury invested heavily in its staff, employing women as managers when it was unheard of in the early 20th century and developing its own training school to train managers.

Sainsbury also invested in new stores and although at times it has had a rough ride, today it employs more than 150,000 people, has 800 stores in the UK and there are on average more than 19 million customer transactions in Sainsbury’s stores every week and the company has a 16% market share.

It has diversified into non-food products and services and non-food is growing 3 times faster than food. It has a bank with operating profits of £19million and its Internet home delivery shopping service is responsible for 100,000 deliveries every week.

Asia has many small family businesses. In fact in Malaysia, Small Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) make up 99% of Malaysia’s total registered businesses. Hanoi in Vietnam has over 90,000 SMEs.

These organizations have a critical impact on the business of a country. In Japan, known for its heavy industry, approximately 70% of the Japanese work force is employed by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and half the total value added in Japan is generated by SMEs.

Asian SMEs, many of them well established with years of heritage cannot sit by and hope that they will be safe from bigger, more aggressive retailers. They need to start planning for the future now before it’s too late.

Here are 5 recommendations for Asian SMEs to help them become a Sainsbury

1) Keep an eye on retail trends, especially in your space
2) Talk to your customers, not just about the weather/politics/sport. Ask them what their needs are, what they would like you to stock, when they would like you to open and so on
3) Build a database of customers and their preferences. If you do sell up, this will help you secure a better price for your business
4) Leverage what you have against the big retailers in your space. You can’t compete on price and probably can’t compete on choice but you can compete in other areas – convenience, personalization, customization, free alterations, returns, speed of delivery and more
5) Develop a brand strategy that includes succession planning. If you have sent your kids to university overseas, are they going to come back and work in your hardware store? If you don’t think so, look to create strategic relationships with other players in your space now before it is too late.

Even iconic brands need to do the basics

Since the first iMac came out back in the 1990’s, I have been a loyal mac user. I’m now on my third generation of iMacs, and currently have 7 macs in my office as well as 2 iPhones. At home my family uses 3 mac laptops, 1 iMac, 3 iPods and 2 iPod touch. We also have 3 airports at home and one in the office.

Last year I convinced my technologically challenged wife to buy a mac and she now has 8 top end iMacs, three laptops and two iPhones and an airport in her office. About a year ago I referred a friend to my mac representative who sold him six iMacs and a couple of iPhones.

Service not a priority in Malaysia
Service and looking after existing customers are not a priority for Malaysian firms. But my mac representative was a diamond in the service rough of Malaysia. He would come out to my house at 10pm to replace an airport fried by one of the 250 thunderstorms we get annually in this tropical paradise.

He would bring a replacement airport, install it, reconfigure all my kit and sheepishly give me an invoice. Of course the next morning I would take the invoice straight to my accounts dept and stress that it must be paid immediately.

Unfortunately he has moved on to pastures new. It’s a massive loss to me because his service was exceptional and could not be faulted or replicated. In fact he was brilliant.

So until I find a replacement and I expect that to take some time because he truly was unique, I have to suffer the ignominy of taking my computers to the Apple store.

I did this recently after dropping a laptop. Because one of the key components of building a brand is experience, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if local resellers were on brand.

As far as I can tell, for such a small country, the mac landscape in Malaysia is a competitive one. There are a number of stores around the Klang Valley.

Machines is probably the largest premium reseller with 6 stores across the Klang Valley and one in Johor. Their flagship store is at KLCC. You can find their neat website here

Another company is Smack. Smack is an authorised reseller. You can find their price driven site here

In fact, according to ‘where to buy’ on the mac site there are 83 resellers, in Malaysia. This includes those authorised to sell iPods. That’s a lot for a company that only has about 10% of the PC market.

So it’s a very competitive environment. One in which you would expect resellers to do what it takes to hang on to clients for as long as possible. An environment in which you would expect resellers to do what they can to take business away from other resellers.

Walkins are potential customers
I took my laptop to a mac store in a nearby mall. Now think about this, here is a relatively new store, less than a year old. In walks a foreigner with an old laptop that has a problem. He has never been to that store before. If FusionBrand were working with this retailer, he would understand that this guy represented an opportunity to gain a customer. And as he was unfamiliar and did not register when his name was entered into the database yet was a mac user, he was obviously a customer of a competitor.

I went to the counter where there were 3 or 4 guys standing around not doing much. None of them smiled so I said good morning and explained the problem. After a brief discussion the sales person asked if I could come back the next day because the technician was off that day.

I didn’t bother to ask why a technician would be off mid week. I said that as I didn’t really want to make another trip could I leave the laptop with him? Reluctantly, after discussion with his colleague he said yes but that it was company policy to charge RM100 (US$30) to carry out a diagnostic.

This isn’t much money but the salesman in me says this is the wrong way to do business. Here is a potential new customer with a long record of buying macs (they don’t know this of course because no attempt has been made to build rapport with me). Surely it would be a great idea to score some PR points by sitting down with me and getting to know me before charging an irrelevant diagnostic fee?

Anyway, long story short, I was bored by now but to put the boot in, I said I would go to the other store nearby. He shrugged and handed me the laptop.

I went to the other store in a mall nearby (next to a Starbucks with wifi, neat). Now I have been to this store before and it was where my super salesman worked but the turnover is high and I didn’t recognise the guy working there. Nevertheless, when I walked in I was greeted with a cheerful hi. I explained the problem and the guy told me to leave it with him and he would call me when he found out the problem. That was on Friday. On Monday, I got a call from him with some bad news. It’ll be interesting to see if he attempts to sell me a replacement when I go to collect the laptop.

Poor service
Now this is not a rant about poor service, I’ll leave that to others much better qualified than I. This is an attempt to show companies that branding is more than advertising, logos and so on. Building rapport, gathering data, qualifying prospects, engaging them and building towards a sale are all critical components of branding. Because many brands, especially Asian ones, won’t have the resources that Apple has.

Here are 5 things to do that will help to build your retail brand

1) Every walkin is not only a potential customer, but possibly a customer who is currently with a competitor. Be nice to them.
2) Develop 5 or 6 conversational fact finding questions that will give you the data you need to make informed decisions on how you want to proceed with the prospect.
3) The 1980s are gone and with it the concept of ‘company policy’.
4) Going the extra mile will ensure loyalty and loyalty is critical to profitable branding
5) Train sales personnel to sell because a lot of people want to buy but don’t know how to and so need a little help.