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

I was invited to participate in a conversation on Recovery Branding for Tourism. You can watch the video here.

I think the video is worth watching, but if you don’t have time, I’ve added my responses to the questions below


On the personal front I’m Marcus Osborne. I’ve lived in Malaysia since 1994, I’m married to a Sarawakian and have 3 kids all born in Kuching and they all are very proud of their heritage.

On the professional front, I co-founded Fusionbrand in 2003 after a career in marketing & sales in Europe the Middle East and SE Asia.

We founded Fusionbrand because we saw how the branding landscape was changing and that although branding was becoming more complex and necessary, most firms thought it was related to positioning, taglines, logos etc.

Then and even now, most firms see branding or rebranding as a cosmetic tactical exercise like changing a logo, developing a tagline or creating a new advertising campaign. We also noticed that a lot of businesses were stuck more in a trading mentality and didn’t invest enough in the brand experience or technology to assist them with brand building.

We determined that with an economy growing at up to 9% a year, this didn’t matter but we realized that as growth slowed and the world was getting smaller, more dynamic, more competitive, that cost was no longer a good enough differentiator and that building brands around delivering value would not only block local and international competition but also lower operating costs and increase profits.

So we established Fusionbrand and built the business around two primary pillars


The Brand

A brand is the visual, historical, topography, environmental and cultural assets of the business or destination. It’s important you base these not on what you want the destination to be but on the reality of what it has to offer. For destination brands today, authenticity is key so it’s about leveraging the natural assets into something that’s of interest to key segments.

This becomes the destination’s DNA and it must have at its heart the goal of consistently delivering memorable experiences to consumers at every stage of their journey from the initial research to becoming part of the consideration set and then to become the chosen destination, through the visit and afterwards as well.

It’s really important therefore to have the buy in of all stakeholders, especially the front liners who often benefit the most. If stakeholders aren’t on board, it doesn’t work. This is often the hardest part, especially when, if they won’t adjust, then they have to be excluded.


Branding is about how we bring the brand to life, throughout the customer journey. Both through the narrative we create around the destination and its assets and how we encourage others to participate in the development of that narrative.

The narrative can take many forms and be communicated through multi channels but the DNA has to be consistent in terms of how the brand is represented. This consistency is more important than how creatively it is presented.

Most campaign driven marketing projects are a straight line whereas smart branding uses technology to connect with the consumer from the outset using a variety of tools and build a relationship that includes staying connected with them long after their first visit.

To be successful, you need to have a solid brand in place before you attempt branding. There’s no guarantee of success but technology allows us to measure the effectiveness of everything we do.

And you need a fair amount of luck as well.

The benefits of branding are significant – lower acquisition costs, better reputation, improved visitor numbers, higher repeat visits or purchases, increased investment and more.

Fail to do it and at best you get left behind which is why most Malaysian states aren’t attracting visitors, even those with outstanding natural assets.

At worst you spend millions every year trying to develop a creative campaign that will stand out in a crowded market place dominated by destinations with far deeper pockets.

And of course if something like a pandemic or other disaster happens, everything you’ve spent on traditional media is essentially wasted.

  1. From your perspective, could you give us the overview of the current situation in our Tourism Industry?

The industry has been hit hard, really hard. Look at hospitality, even before the MCO, in the first 3 months of the year 170,000 hotel bookings were cancelled.

The hotel industry alone is reported to have lost RM3.5 billion in the first 6 months of the year. That’s unsustainable. All related industries have been impacted and it’s not over yet.

But you only need to look at the social media pages of the minister to see she is working tirelessly to stimulate domestic tourism & its working because there has been a fair amount of revenge tourism since the MCO was partially lifted although that has been a double edged sword because a lot of destinations and hotels weren’t ready for the surge in visitors.

Moving forward, what I’d like to see is a more strategic approach to stimulating domestic tourism. There needs to be a plan outlining initiatives as well as new incentives from the government to stimulate demand and regular briefings from the communications team at MOTAC on what is being done and its impact.

From Sarawak’s perspective, I can see that STB is trying hard to stimulate domestic demand & I like how quickly the Sia Sitok programme was developed although if I’m not mistaken, its only available for those living in Sarawak. If this is still the case, I suggest it is extended to West Malaysians.

At the same time STB seems to be moving away from mass advertising to developing branded content. This long term focus will help the state rebound quicker once the pandemic is over as potential visitors will be increasingly familiar with the state.

Because the way destinations are researched these days means experience related content is critical as it drives visitors to a website or blog which allows a tourism board to start the relationship building process through the use of email marketing and other tools. It also allows tourism boards to develop revenue streams by using affiliate marketing.

There’s a real possibility that as governments look for ways to reduce costs, pay for COVID economic stimulus packages or decide agencies now have to generate their own revenue streams, technology will help tourism boards achieve this.

Used correctly, technology allows tourism boards to have more control over their messaging. When visitors to a website or blog don’t sign up for newsletters or leave contact information they can still be reached with retargeting, allowing the destination to stay relevant for longer.

I also think the private sector needs to understand that it’s not just the job of the government to drive visitors to Malaysia, the private sector needs to contribute as well. This is going to require a mindset change.

            2. What are the prevalent branding practices during this pandemic (tourism or other industries) and what do you think of them?

On a Sarawak level, there seems to be a pivot away from international markets to domestic ones. This is necessary but I think content creation related to experiences needs to be ramped up. And improvements can be made to how social media is used.

On a national level there doesn’t seem to be much marketing with the exception of Desaru that is advertising a lot online but the website is buggy and doesn’t provide enough information or seamless opportunities to purchase products. Desaru could learn from the One and Only marketing experience.

From what I can see, just about every other state seems to have gone into its shell. This is sad because destinations can use the pandemic to forge long term bonds with domestic tourists now that could last for years, even generations.

Digital is underused & under appreciated

Digital can be used to build interest in destinations, forge relationships with travellers and close deals. But it’s important to appreciate that digital is not a broadcast platform. It’s a platform for connecting with people. This requires structural change and a move away from how things have been done for the past 40 years.

Today, destination brands must be constantly connecting with audiences to get the most out of social media. There is the potential to build DTC relationships that will benefit destinations in the long run. But this means digital infrastructure has to be changed as the old rules, even before Covid no longer apply.

Industry wide structural issues

However there are other structural issues that have to be addressed as well. There are not enough ‘best in class’ products in Malaysia. My theory is too many products are created from the wrong perspective. The goal is not to create a product. The goal is to create an authentic experience that delivers economic, experiential and emotional value.

For example a homestay is not about creating a building in a kampung and calling it a homestay. A homestay is about creating an authentic experience. Everything about it should mirror the reality of the kampung. If it doesn’t it fails.

            3. What are the new norms for tourism branding?

COVID has given us an opportunity to evaluate the national and state tourism industry as well as the agencies that are responsible for the development of the industry and the marketing of Malaysia and states.

And this is timely because there’s a problem with the industry. Tourism arrivals have been flat for ten years. Unsavoury practices within the industry are destroying Malaysia’s brand equity and need to be addressed because they won’t go away. Now is the time to take a long hard look at who manages the industry, how it is managed and where it is going because things must change.

A road map for investment needs to be developed around pillars that will drive the industry forward for the next 20 years. I think one pillar that should be explored thoroughly is tourism investment zones.

Until there’s a vaccine, it’s going to take a long time for international travel to pick up. Corridors will be the first step and marketing teams will have to adapt. We’re already hearing about a corridor between Perth and Langkawi. That’s a great development but it’s a small step.

With the right approach, we could see charter flights into Sarawak from certain locations but we need the products to attract visitors from those sources. This requires a pivot away from what we’ve done for the past 20 years.

Transparency is a critical success factor

Transparency is going to be really important. Who knows what the psychological impact of covid is going to be but we can sure that with all the uncertainty around the pandemic and the poor handling of the fallout by many important sources of visitors to Malaysia like the UK, transparancy will play a big part in generating traveller confidence in a destination.

Other new normal branding initiatives will be the use of visitor tracing apps in the supply of information. Leverage on the excellent work done by the Ministry of Health by providing information on health and safety in marketing collaterals and define protocols while providing easy access to real time information.

Those travellers who are exploring medium and long haul trips will look for ease of access to COVID related information around a destination. And they’ll cross reference it against what they can find online. Those that are transparent and open.

So destinations that use a multi channel approach to their branding and provide real time COVID updates, provide hot lines for visitors, seamless advice on what to do if there is a surge in numbers etc on a regular basis will build trust and give potential travellers the information they need to make travel plans. And once travel begins, make sure it’s a touchless travel experience to further build confidence.

These are new norms and confidence is key. Building confidence takes time. Now is the time to start.

On a tactical level, I think we’ve seen the end of the hotel buffet which is probably a good thing!

            4. What essential element(s) should industry players be aware of when strategising their recovery branding?

Well the pandemic should go away but it won’t be an on/off lightbulb moment. It’s more likely to fade away, so there’s time to get ready. If they haven’t done so already, industry players should be doing or do the following:

  1. Review your operations, especially marketing departments and how they operate
  2. Review existing products & determine whether they are fit for purpose for a post Covid environment
  3. Build a strategy around what you have, not what you or stakeholders want to have
  4. Use down time to reskill your teams around delivering memorable experiences at every stage of the customer journey both online and off
  5. Look to renovate, invest in new materials, equipment etc. The industry will come out of this and when it does, the competition will be intense
  6. Create a brand plan. If you don’t have a plan everything you do is guesswork. Fusionbrand, a destination brand consultancy has noticed that firms with a brand strategy that incorporates a crisis plan are dealing with the COVID environment better than those who don’t have a plan
  7. Government & the private sector must move away from mass media marketing to creating content that builds organic narratives and collect data
  8. Data will be key. The post COVID travel environment will be different, so invest in data collection tools and use data to build direct relationships with target markets. Especially important for those destinations or products that don’t have the massive marketing budgets of competitors
  9. Reduce the number of stakeholders in the industry
  10. Industry players should be objective in their decision making. Collaboration between stakeholders is important to get out of this. This is not the time for stubbornness!
  11. Explore tourism investment zones, ideal for places like Sematan in Sarawak for instance
  12. Stay fluid. Community managers will play a big role as they keep followers involved and informed on developments in the relevant destination
  13. The fastest way to restore traveller confidence is by being accessible and transparent. Put protocols in place now to deal with a surge in social enquiries

         5. New norm vs conventional ways. Do you think industry players would return to the conventional ways of doing things once this situation died down?

I hope not! We’ve been doing it wrong for some time. Which is why visitor numbers to Malaysia have remained around 25 million for the last 10 years.

The majority of people who visit, love Malaysia but products are not good enough to encourage return trips. There are exceptions but overall the quality and variety is simply not there. And many of the products are not marketed properly.

Moreover, regional competitors are constantly creating new offerings while Malaysia’s tend to stay the same. Plus the management of many of Malaysia’s tourism products leaves a lot to be desired.

Moving forward, there are not enough new products coming onto the market. This needs to change. Let’s hope it isn’t ignored once things get back to normal.

And there needs to be more synergy between TM & state tourism boards. Local destinations don’t market themselves aggressively enough.

And moving forward, I want to see the private sector investing more in the industry. If this requires policy change then so be it.

            6. How can branding for a destination like Sarawak be done effectively now during the pandemic and after it has blown over?

It’s important to appreciate that branding is a strategic initiative. So although COVID has taken a toll on every destination, there should still be a road map in place to drive the industry forward and build the destination’s reputation. Much of that will remain although if the marketing focus was on mass media, that needs to change.

Tactically, getting West Malaysians to visit is the right approach for both the long term and the short term but it’s going to take time and they need to be nudged repeatedly before it’ll start happening.

But Sarawak can’t ignore international markets. I understand a new tourism master plan is being developed and this is good news for the industry. It’ll have to be ruthless as currently there are too many stakeholders in Sarawak so this master plan should streamline this and it needs to move away from the campaign approach of small tactical initiatives to a long term strategy.

And that strategy must be built around a clear brand proposition that is authentic and they must use this to unlock growth around 3 pillars, products, content & relationships. Those products should be built around 5 – 10 niche sectors, invest in them to ensure they are best in class.

Substantial investments need to be made in the tourism infrastructure. New products created for the right target markets.

Sarawak has a lot of potential but not as a shopping/mainland Chinese mass tourism destination. There will be business from China but not volume business. It’ll never be a mass market destination for anyone & shouldn’t try to be.

Sarawak will never have the accessibility that other destinations have but that shouldn’t stop Sarawak from becoming a globally respected destination. Something it could be in 5 – 10 years.

More importantly, the tourism master plan must propose a task force is created to implement the master plan because too many plans have been created only to gather dust on a shelf.


Thinking of hiring a cheap freelancer to design your website? What’s the real cost to your brand?

Last week we lost a project to build a corporate website to a freelancer who quoted 5% of our figure. How can we compete with that?

On the face of it we can’t. Freelancers are popular because they are cheap. But as I was reminded while discussing this loss, last year we bailed out three companies who had chosen a freelancer and then had to spend a lot more money after he went missing in action.


If you find a good freelancer, he’s worth his or her weight in gold. But they are increasingly hard to find. And if you find a bad one, you could be in a lot of trouble. And not just with your boss.

Freelance web designers tend to create websites. But the goal is not to create a website. The goal is to create a website that compels as many visitors as possible to take action. That may be to fill out a contact form, sign up for a newsletter, buy a subscription and so on.

Because a lot of freelancers have a background in design, the design tends to lead the process and a lot of business owners are seduced by great design even though website design should follow content structure. The design is there to aid the engagement of the content.

The content and referring channels, are what influence search engines and not the design. Have an amazing looking site and lousy content and you might as well not bother.

And of course a good website is linked to tools that allow you to collect data you can use to improve content and engagement. Finally, a good website provides a little more control around the next step in the visitors journey which will be social media.

The 3 projects we salvaged last year eventually cost about the same as we had quoted originally. But after taking into account the business lost during 6 months without a website, cheap becomes expensive.

Error again

2 weeks ago we were contacted by a start up who hired a cheap freelancer last November. The site still hasn’t gone live. 5 months is a lifetime for a startup and it’s not just the money wasted on the freelancer. Reputation, credibility and sales have been compromised.

Another entrepreneur we’re helping has lost first mover advantage after hiring a cheap freelancer. In the four months it took him to create a terrible home page with dreadful content and questionable hosting, a competitor has launched a rival business. What has hiring a cheap freelancer cost him? What extra money will he have to invest to recover lost ground?

Many freelancers sell themselves cheap to get the business then try to figure out how to do it. They may be great designers but have lousy project and time management skills. This will negatively impact your business.

Many won’t refuse work, from anyone, ever. And while they may be a web designer, many of them will be asked to develop wedding invitations or websites for friends and friends of friends.

Nothing wrong with that of course except that when they get overloaded they tend to look after their friends and their friends of friends before their top paying customers. That’s illogical but perhaps it’s better to lose face with a stranger than family or friends, even if the stranger is paying 10 times more than the friend and, equally important but often overlooked maybe an influencer.

Freelancer quotes tend to be based on free templates built on WordPress or Wix. WordPress is a great platform with an intuitive CMS but the danger is you’ll have a ‘me too’ website that can look dated very quickly.

A freelancer may design what is easiest for him, not what you the client wants. There’s a good chance they’ll use free stock images and often use the same images for every project.

If a freelancer considers you to be ‘difficult’, they may go MIA mid way through the project. This can be hugely frustrating, especially if the site isn’t live. Talking of the website being live, once it is, what happens when there are updates to plugins?


One corporate site that we built wanted to maintain the site on their own. Then it came time to update a plugin. They made a mistake and the whole site went down. Not good. Luckily we had stressed the importance of daily backups so the damage was limited.

Who and where your website is hosted is very important. While your freelancer may be a great designer, does he understand the hosting process? Does he know the difference between a ‘bad neighbourhood’ and a good one?

Smartphone penetration in Malaysia is above 80% so it may make sense for you to design for mobile first, rather than desktop first. Make sure your freelancer has the necessary skills.

But most important of all is populating the website. Who is developing the content? Often the freelancer will tell you he’ll do it. Don’t let him. Plus you’ll need regular new content to keep the site relevant. Who will create that content and how will it be uploaded?

A lot of planning should go into the development of a corporate website. Whether you are a start up or established business, cheap can often have a high price so think carefully before you hire a ‘cheap’ freelancer.

Enrich is not a channel to sell as much as possible, it’s a channel for the brand to build relationships

So I’m checking in online for a flight on Malaysia Airlines and I noticed that my Enrich membership (that’s the MAS Frequent Flyer Programme (FFP)) has been downgraded from gold to silver.

That in itself is hardly a surprise because I rarely fly with them anymore (the 3 – 4 business class business trips I take to the UK from Malaysia each year are now on a competitor carrier where I’m a gold card member) but what surprised me is the way my demotion was, or in this case, wasn’t communicated to me.

After going through old emails, I don’t think I received any communications telling me I would be or had been downgraded. No gentle nudge or reminder to travel to retain the gold status. No email to ask what could MAS do to help me remain a gold card holder. Nothing. Just a stealth like downgrade. And I presume that’s standard operating procedure for anyone downgraded?

I can’t remember how long I’ve been a gold member but I suspect it’s around 10 years, maybe more. But as I’ve documented extensively elsewhere in this blog, I’ve been flying with Malaysia Airlines for more than 30 years and was one of the few to fly MAS in the days after MH370 went down. So I feel, perhaps wrongly that I have some relational credits in the bank.

Now I’d like to reiterate that I’m not complaining about being downgraded because I knew it was coming. I’m just reminded how few brands understand the concept of loyalty, of retaining a customer once they’ve acquired them. Of doing what they can to salvage a customer before they leave.

Harvard Business Review would argue that not all customers are worth keeping. And Malaysia Airlines most probably would argue that I’m definately not worth keeping. Even though I manage the travel budget of my family of five as well as my company and influence a number of other business owners.

According to Harvard Business Review, “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” Meanwhile Accenture reports that 80% of ‘switchers’ feel the company could have done something to retain them.

I switched my long haul allegiance to another carrier years ago and am definately one of the 80%. Malaysia Airlines has done nothing to stop me switching. And has done nothing to try and win me back once I have switched.

They put a lot of effort into encouraging travellers to join Enrich, the Frequent Flier programme. But once a member, communications are fairly standard and lack personalisation. Even a customer experience email sent to me after a flight was addressed ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

Malaysia Airlines needs to move away from a transactional approach to branding

The email was written in an old fashioned style (who says ‘we will duly respect your style?”), littered with grammatical errors and despite stating the survey was only valid for 7 days, the link which was sent to me on 8th October 2017, was working today 10th April 2018. The email offers me an opt out option if I don’t want to receive the surveys but there isn’t a link to make this happen.

The email signed off ‘We are professional, progressive, connected and open‘ That’s a bold, ambitious statement, very hard to measure and almost impossible to live up to.

I get a lot of emails from the frequent flyer programme and they are almost always trying to sell me flights, packages, destinations, discounts on third party products and services and I get that but these are all transactions. The airline is simply carpet bombing the database with offers and hoping that enough of them will stick.

The focus seems to be about selling enough of everything to as many people as possible and in the shortest period of time. There is zero attempt to build a relationship with the recipient despite the fact that it’s the FFP. It simply reduces MAS to nothing more than an object or a commodity.

But as Malaysia Airlines should have realised post MH370, objects can’t be differentiated emotionally and besides consumers have no emotional connection or loyalty to objects.

I am sure MAS understands this because that’s why it has a FFP programme. Unfortunately, it’s stuck in the past when it comes to using the FFP. Malaysia Airlines needs to stop looking at members as customers and start to see them as partners.

What are the lessons for MAS and other brands? If you collect customer data, store it and use it properly. Instead of trying to sell something to everyone, use the data base properly. Link offers to customer value requirements. Preempt negative situations. Don’t simply downgrade members, find out how to keep them happy. Personalise correspondence. Encourage participation.

Instead of selling to them, collaborate with loyalty programme members. Build relationships by providing solutions to members’ needs. Successful brands are built on openness and Malaysia Airlines says it’s an open company. Prove it.

5 reasons why advertising doesn’t work

I recently wrote an article on the state of advertising which you can read here. The post went viral and I have been criticised a lot, especially on Linkedin and you can read the comments here.

I still don’t think advertising is effective. Here are 5 more reasons why advertising doesn’t work

1) I’m not looking to replace advertising. Advertising needs to get its s*** together because it is losing credibility. Moreover, much of it is ignored by consumers who spend their lives multi screening and simply tune out when they see ads.

2) Far too many companies advertise for the wrong reasons, often simply because of their ego. They get a kick out of seeing their brand on a billboard or their friends telling them they saw their brand on a billboard.

Or they advertise because everyone else is advertising but for most of them their advertising never makes an impact. I’m not talking about Unilever, Nestle and the other 8 companies that own 80% of the world’s brands because they have the kind of deep pockets most firms can only dream of. I’m talking about the rest of the companies that make up most economies.

3) My personal belief is that because so many advertising campaigns are too short and don’t run for long enough, the vast majority of advertising is a complete waste of money and that money would be better spent on brand building rather than advertising.

4) Technology has changed the way we live our lives yet we’re still doing things (in terms of advertising) the way we always did. Airlines continue to sell themselves with pretty girls and big smiles and white teeth and with a pretty child holding a teddy bear (OK no child with teddy bear in this example but you get the point).

Exotic destinations use white sandy beaches, purple seas and clear blue skies, banks use ridiculously handsome couples and children and cars use all of the above. It’s boring, unbelievable and doesn’t match the experiences of others who have been there.

And we can read about their experiences online or from our friends. And those experiences, not advertising influence our decisions.

5) Firms would be better off focussing on core branding competencies – a) strategic (inspire & aspire) – trust, credibility & communities, leadership & segmentation. b) Communications – building the narrative collaboratively and social engagement through multiple platforms. c) Execution – on brand organisation able to deliver on promises, data collection and use, monitoring &messaging and d) connection, engagement and collaboration with relevant communities and influencers.

How we do that depends on the organisation, the industry, the customers and budgets and other constraints. Advertising is bandied around as a silver bullet. Want to increase awareness? Advertise. Want to change perceptions? Advertise. Want to increase sales? Advertise. Want to increase share of wallet? Advertise. Got a crisis? Advertise. But there is no silver bullet.

Building a brand takes a strategic approach to multiple actions and requires commitment and buyin from everyone. Advertising is a tactic and for most brands – there are some exceptions, such as a new movie launch, or an exhibition or property launch – it simply doesn’t work and money spent on advertising would be better spent on building a brand.

Real world examples of how to cost effectively use Social Media to build your Brand

To build a brand you need to get a number of things right both internally and externally. And then you need to develop a long term profitable bond between your offering and your customers.

The best way of doing that is by delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to those customers and on their terms. That’s universal and there are no shortcuts. Of course how you go about delivering that value depends on your firm, your industry and your customers.

Historically firms have tended to try and use creativity to communicate a corporate driven message to as many people as possible, whether potential or existing customers in the hope that enough of them will see/hear the message, respond to it and buy into it so that the firm can get through the year.

Does it make sense in the social economy?
Outdated and doesn’t make sense in the social economy.

According to Harvard Business Review and many other respected institutions, this model is obsolete. It’s also incredibly expensive with one expert saying it requires US$10 billion and ten years to build a brand in Europe this way.

Sadly that doesn’t stop millions of brands spending billions of dollars on an outdated and ineffective model that few of them can afford to sustain. This is particularly true of brands in Asia.

Nevertheless, there are some smart brands out there and social media provides an excellent platform to showcase their tactics. Instead of wasting marketing dollars on expensively produced and immediately forgetable advertising campaigns, these smart brands are investing more money on retaining customers than acquiring them.

Of course this makes branding a bit more complicated because it means these brands need to get to know their customers and their needs and not just shove a message down their throats and expect them to accept it. Unsurprisingly making such an effort isn’t that popular with many brands, especially here in Asia. Sure they talk about how they want to understand their customer needs, some even say they love their customers but those claims rarely translate into reality. As a result Asian consumers tend to be less loyal to brands.

OK, rant over! A couple of great tactical campaigns have come to my attention recently and there are a lot of brands around the region that can learn from these activities. They required an investment in researching customers, understanding them personally and then providing simple solutions that resonated with those customers. The investment was minimal but the exposure is exceptional and ongoing.

The first example is from Canada’s TD Bank. For a week in July, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in branches across Canada became Automated Thanking Machines and in addition to dispensing money, they spoke to and engaged customers, thanked them for banking with TD and delivered personalized gifts.

The bank gave out flight tickets to one customer so that she could fly to Trinidad to visit her daughter who had cancer. Another lucky recipient won savings accounts for her children each with C$1,000 deposited in the account.

Another customer won a trip to Disneyland and a Baseball fan won the right to throw the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays match, lots of merchandise and met one of the players. Phone and online customers were also given deposits directly into their bank account.

The response was phenomenal and four months later it continues to gain valuable coverage in social media and in the mainstream media with the UK’s Daily Mail covering the story in August.

In the first 4 months the video was viewed 17,500,000 times on Youtube, gained 50,000 Likes and 5,000 comments that generated extensive conversation that is still ongoing. On Facebook the TD Bank page has generated almost 550,000 Likes.

More recently, KLM wanted to reach out to customers travelling through the world famous Schiphol airport in a personalized way by giving friends and family the chance to say an extra goodbye. Working with the airport, the carrier identified families saying goodbye to each other at the airport and approached them with the chance to create a nice surprise for the traveller by personalizing the cover on their seat headrest.

In the first week the video on Youtube has already been viewed 208,000 times with 150 Likes and 30 comments. On Facebook the campaign has generated 16,500 Likes, nearly 2,000 shares and 550 comments. As the campaign gains momentum those numbers will, err soar skywards.

Social media allows brands to engage customers and allow them to participate in the development of the brand narrative in a way that those brands using a traditional approach can only dream of.

It’s very hard for a lot of brands to understand they can no longer control the message and instead they must pass on some of the control to consumers and let them develop it.

Once the campaign gains traction other consumers share it across the ecosystem and with the right management and before you know it, a minimal investment has generated far more brand goodwill and sales than any traditional advertising campaign is ever likely to do.

A starting point for social media usage in your branding strategy

If you intend to create a social media strategy in house then this infographic is a useful tool that will help you determine how to use the most popular social media tools and where to focus resources. It’s not perfect and it is US centric but local research has shown consumers in South East Asia are not that different in the way they engage with social media.

Thanks to Buffer social for the excellent infographic

10 things to do to save the Malaysia Airlines brand

If Malaysia Airlines (MAS) makes it to 2015 and beyond, 2014 will probably be remembered as an annus horribilis for the beleaguered brand. In fact it may go down as an annus horibilis for the Malaysia Nation brand but we’ll discuss that another day.


MAS weren't ready for the ferocity of the global media
MAS weren’t ready for the ferocity of the global media

Certainly the first half of 2014 has been desperate for MAS with missed revenue targets, ineffecitve advertising campaigns universally mocked by the industry, reports of alleged sabotage, police investigations, negative press about the customer experience and of course the tragic circumstances surrounding MH370 and the subsequent weak handling of the global media by the airline.

The once mighty airline, an early poster boy for national carriers is struggling on a number of fronts with two big questions 1) Can MAS survive and 2) should it be allowed to fail? being asked in coffee shops, boardrooms and even in schools.

Mass media advertising does not build brands. THe sooner MAS understands this, the better
Mass media advertising does not build brands. THe sooner MAS understands this, the better

The answer to 1) is yes, and to 2) is no.

But to survive, someone is going to have to get very, very tough because MAS is in a mess. Since 2007, MAS has made 3 cash calls to the tune of RM7 billion (US$2.1 billion) and over the last 3 years has accumulated losses of RM4.1 billion (US$1.2 billion). Whatever they are doing isn’t working.

Morale is low, bookings are down especially from normally busy and profitable routes to and from China, the unions are throwing their weight around even though the airline is terribly over staffed – you only need to go to KLIA to see so many staff sitting around doing nothing and I heard one story recently of a new person who arrived to find someone asleep (with a pillow) at his desk.

Just to get an idea of the situation, Singapore airlines (SIA) has a fleet of 104 aircraft (MAS 107), flies to 62 destinations (MAS 61), has revenue of RM36 billion (MAS RM58 billion) and is staffed by 14,000 people (MAS 20,000) and yet in 2012 made RM1.150 billion ( during the same period MAS lost RM400 million).

SIA is flying to the same amount of destinations, operating the same amount of aircraft and using at least 6,000 less employees to do it. It turns over only about 60% of what MAS turns over yet makes an impressive profit.

Or is it this?
What is the MAS brand identity? Is it this?

What is the MAS brand identity? Is it this?
Os is this the MAS brand identity?

MAS needs a new strategy but cutting costs is not the way forward. In the interests of nation building and to ensure morale and belief in Malaysia doesn’t plummet further and to turn MAS around quickly, the firm needs to carry out a number of key initiatives immediately starting with

1) All suppliers have to accept that their existing agreements must be cancelled and be given the opportunity to submit new proposals that are acceptable to the airline. If they cannot agree terms, new tenders must be issued.
2) Moving forward, all procurement activities must be done transparently.
3) The unions have to understand that 5,000 staff must go. The government must underwrite any redundancy packages for 12 months to encourage staff to leave and reskill these staff to ensure they find work immediately.
4) Training of staff, especially front line staff has to be ramped up because these people are key to the success of the brand and at the moment their customer engagement skills are simply not good enough. But training providers must be recruited transparently.
5) MAS must review it’s sales policies, processes and systems. Right now they are not leveraging effectively on key opportunities such as the Enrich database.
6) MAS marketing and advertising is stuck in a time warp of mass media mediocrity. It needs to stop wasting huge amounts of money (I was told RM400 million in 2013) on irrelevant advertising campaigns and review it’s marketing approach now.

You can't build a brand using mass media so stop trying to do so
You can’t build a brand using mass media so stop trying to do so

7) MAS must understand that customers build brands not advertising departments. The new strategy must focus on the customer and delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to its customer segments and on their terms.
8) MAS appears to have 3 brand identities at the moment. It’s a mess and needs to be revamped quickly and there has never been a better time to do it as the MAS brand identity is tired and old and associated with MH370.
9) Successful airline brands today are innovative, creative, nimble and move fast. I remember being in discussions about updating the uniform in 2003. 11 years later it is essentially the same.
10) Years ago MAS aggressively marketed it’s Enrich programme and encouraged anyone to sign up. But the programme is antiquated and a mess. Children get offers to sign up for credit cards, there is limited segmentation and personalisation and opportunities to reward and leverage brand loyalists and identify and nurture influencers are missed.

Used properly, the MAS FFP is a potential revenue gold mine
Used properly, the MAS FFP is a potential revenue gold mine

There is an obsession at the moment that cutting costs is the way to make MAS profitable. It is the wrong approach. However by understanding the importance of branding and spending money on the right brand strategy and integrating that brand strategy with the corporate restructuring plan, significant savings can be made and crucially, those savings (obviously) save the company money but will also generate more income by negating the competition, increasing share of wallet and allowing MAS to increase not decrease ticket prices.

Volvo truck commercial goes viral, but will it help build the brand?

In 2011 Volvo posted its largest year-on-year increase in truck sales for the North American market. The market saw an impressive sales volume increase of 75%.

Since then the company has struggled to compete in a tough economic environment and even though 2012 saw the overall truck market in North America rise 52%, Volvo, owned by Geely, China saw sales drop by 6%. The company recorded double digit drops in China and Sweden and predicted a tough 2013.

At the same time, there is a boardroom fight going on between Chief Executive Stefan Jacoby and Vice Chairman Hans-Olov Olsson that often gets bitterly personal.

In Malaysia the company has faired better with 2012 sales up an impressive 42% from 2011. I haven’t seen any advertising campaigns for Volvo trucks in Malaysia but the latest commercial has gone viral and will no doubt get some coverage here.

The commercial features Jean Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two Volvo trucks driving backwards into the sunset to an Enya tune. It’s an impressive stunt and JC is in excellent shape but will the commercial make a difference to Volvo truck sales?

Will this impressively produced commercial get potential customers to review their purchasing options? Will it get logistics companies to revise their transportation tenders to include the line, “All vehicles must come with the equivalent of Volvo’s Dynamic Steering System”?

Surely such a unique and impressive bit of technology needs to be experienced by a potential driver/buyer first hand?

Of course I don’t know the full extent of the Volvo truck brand strategy going forward but to me, whilst the exploits of JC are impressive I find them a distraction, damaging the attempts by Volvo to draw my attention to a cool bit of kit. Do you agree or am I just an old cynic?

10 reasons why you should use video to build your brand

Video is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it is now a ‘must have’. Here’s why:

1) According to Google, YouTube uploads have increased from 40 hours per 60 seconds in 2011 to 100 hours per 60 seconds in 2013.
2) As attention spans decrease, video is twice as effective at getting a viewers attention.
3) Video flot states that 20% of visitors to a site will read content in the form of text but 80% of visitors to the same site will watch the same content in video.
4) Visitors to a site who view a video stay 2 minutes longer on the site and are 64% more likely to make a purchase than other visitors.
5) 78% of people watch a video online at least once a week and 55% watch one everyday. threemotion
6) 80% of Internet users recall watching a video ad on a website they visited in the past month. 46% took some action after viewing the ad. Online Publishers Association
7) 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text
8) 500 years of YouTube video are watched every day on Facebook, and over 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter each minute. YouTube
9) Video results have appeared in almost 70% of the top 100 search listing on Google in 2012. Marketing week
10) Cisco reports that 90% of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017.

And if you are still not convinced, have a look at this impressive video from visually

by alboardman.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

New phones, new owner won’t save the Nokia Brand

In 2002, Nokia was number two in the list of super brands in Britain. by 2010 it was 89th.

In 2010 Nokia, sold 450 million handsets, outselling Apple 10 to one. In 2012 the firm sold 16 million of its flagship Lumia handsets. In the same period, Samsung sold 384 mobile phones while Apple sold 125 million iPhones.

By 2010 Nokia’s mobile phone market share had slid from 36.4 percent share in 2009 to 28.9%. Nokia still sells more mobile phones than any other company but consumers no longer want mobile phones, they want smartphones.

And at the heart of the smartphone is the operating system. By January 2011, Google’s Android, and its Chinese versions Tapas and OMS had become the top smartphone platform in the world with an 888% year-over-year growth.

Nokia’s Symbian system was a very close second with Research in Motion a distant third and Apple’s iOS way back in fourth. Microsoft’s mobile operating system barely warranted a mention with 4% of the market.

Under pressure in a market it once dominated Nokia panicked. Realising the key to smartphone sales is the OS, it began to muck about with Symbian, a perfectly good OS with no more flaws than the iOS.

But because of the now huge size of the organisation, issues bought up during the testing of touch screens and browsers were often ignored.

Desperate, Nokia launched the N-Gage with too few poor quality games and terrible network connectivity for multiplayers, the phone was blown away by the PSP and DS.

Next came another disaster, the Ovi. Nokia’s answer to the iTunes Store was an unmitigated disaster. In 2007, Nokia restarted its touchscreen development after deciding in 2006 that touchscreens were essentially a gimmick!

This delay meant that the N95 and N97, both good smartphones in their own right and with email, music players, the Internet and GPS as well as a slide out Querty keyboard were supposed to compete with the increasingly dominant and cool iPhone. Sadly they didn’t get anywhere near it.

Next up, the beautiful N8, launched in 3Q2010. Someone described the N8 as engineering porn with a 12 megapixel camera good enough for professional photographers. But the N8 was outsold 6 to one in Europe and did even worse in the tech savvy, gadget hungry and fast growing Asian markets.

By now frantic, no hysterical Nokia tried a completely new Linux based OS called MeeGo but it’s corporate heart wasn’t in it and MeeGo only got a year.

In October 2011, in what was seen by many to be a last throw of the dice, Nokia teamed up with Microsoft and launched the partnership with a US$112m global brand repositioning campaign launch of its first phone running on the Windows 7 operating system.

This was a big mistake. Microsoft’s Phone 7 had already launched in Q4/2010 on about twelve handsets from a number of manufacturers. During the quarter it achieved a meagre 1.5 million sales, earning it about a 2% market share and worse than Windows Mobile which had 4%.

During the same period, the latest version of Symbian (the all new user-friendly touch screen version that powers the N8) was launched on 3 Nokia smartphones and sold 5 million units. All Symbian products sold a respectable 32 million units.

The six month repositioning campaign, that was meant to regain lost market share from rivals Android, Apple and Blackberry failed and was soon consigned to the overflowing but ever popular positioning graveyard in the sky.

Yesterday on 21st October 2013, in a valiant but misguided attempt to steal some of Apple’s thunder, Nokia unveiled 2 new 6 inch window smartphones. These new smartphones are well designed and as always, have great hardware including a sensational camera, an app that displays the contents of the phone on a PC and more than one microphone.

Right phone, wrong OS
Right phone, wrong OS

These new phones, developed before the decision to sell the handset business to Microsoft for US$7.4 billion was made, could give Android and iOS phones a serious run for their money. Except there is a problem. The problem is that these great products run on Windows mobile. And Windows is a dying brand. Widows mobile owns only 4% of the global market. And that is unlikely to change.

Windows is a dying brand
Windows is a dying brand

Today, Windows mobile products don’t come close to delivering the experience Android and Apple smartphone products offer. And that won’t change. And if Nokia can’t offer a compelling experience, Nokia (or Microsoft) can’t save the Nokia brand.