First rule of auto advertising – keep it real!


We are carpet bombed with messages from the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep. Little wonder then that studies show we are increasingly oblivious to these messages.

As a result advertising agencies are increasingly hard pressed to cut through all the clutter and make us look, listen and absorb. To try and sell cars, those advertising agencies have for years used CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), think Honda and the ‘greatest ever car’ commercial, sex, think the Renault Megane ‘shake it’ campaign and humour, think Proton and ‘the Pontianak’ in their TV commercials.

Print advertising hasn’t escaped either. I don’t know exactly when automotive manufacturers started to make ridiculous claims in print advertising but I certainly remember when Toyota, in the late 1970s used “Oh what a feeling” to describe driving a Toyota!

I also remember Peugeot talking about the ‘lion leaping from strength to strength’ in the 1990s and the launch campaign for the first Proton MPV the Exora that claimed “You’ll be amazed” in 2009. I’m sorry but if I’m going to be amazed by the Exora then how will I feel about the Aston Martin V12 Zagato? Or, perhaps more relevant, how will I feel about the third version of the Exora due out in 2012?

Most recently I came across an online ad for the Volvo S60. The ad claims there are ‘naughty cars everywhere’ and that ‘naughty cars go everywhere’. The box ad features the price of the car and two links to either get naughty with the car or test drive it.

I decided to click on the get naughty link and was diverted to a landing page where I was encouraged to enter a website address. Naturally I entered my address and was confronted with this cringeworthy statement, “When we said naughty cars go everywhere…. we meant everywhere!”

You are then encouraged to ‘start your engines’ and the gimmick is that you can drive an S60 around your website very own website.

Once you get bored, and for most of you that will be after about 3 seconds, you can then request a test drive, invite a fried to have a go or close the tab, which I did. My memory of this exercise is the smoke coming out of the exhaust and the tyre tracks, not very environmentally considerate.

I don’t know about you but I think this campaign is flawed on numerous levels. To start with it really is a stretch to use the word naughty in the same sentence as Volvo. Secondly, what is naughty about the car? thirdly, what is naughty about maneuvering a car around a website? Finally, after all that effort, the campaign doesn’t collect any information on visitors!

You can see some good but hardly naughty volvo videos here

5 Essential Rules for Social Media and your small business brand


The original version of this article first appeared in the August 26th 2011 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve.

It is not a question of if you will stick your corporate toes in the social media waters, but when. Whether you like it or not, social media is taking the world of business by storm.

In a recent survey by Nielsen, a research company 73% of connected consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam agreed they had been influenced by advertisements on social media.

Firms that continue to believe that social media is a fad or fun or not for business are only doing one thing, giving their competitors an advantage.

Research from Hubspot and MSN shows that companies with a social media brand strategy are seeing a significant increase in awareness, traffic to websites, search engine rankings, and social-media-generated qualified leads, perhaps the most important element of all. Moreover, statistics increasingly show that more and more people like to do business with businesses that have a strong social media presence.

But social media is much more than setting up a Twitter account or starting a Facebook page. Social media activities must be elements of your brand strategy in the same way as advertising, direct mail, email, PR are. The problem with these traditional activities is that they are reactive, you put it out there and wait for something to happen. If nothing happens you spend more money on another idea. If that doesn’t work you try something else.

A social media strategy, if done properly is proactive and can actually offer you all the things your traditional campaign can’t offer you – accountability, retention, a measureable return on investment, effectiveness tracking and more. Data from a 2010 report by Nielsen, a research company showed that social media had better results than traditional marketing activities.

So how should a small business enter the world of social media? The following five rules are relevant to any firm that seeks to develop a contemporary platform to raise awareness and be heard over the noise, acquire customers, increase sales and better serve customers which will in turn ensure customers are retained and not released to the competition.

1. Social media is not a technology issue it is relational and requires cultural changes within organizations.

The social media space is not the place for people with a traditional marketing mindset. Social media is exactly that, SOCIAL and requires you to use social skills to build rapport with consumers so that they may eventually become prospects, customers and possible evangelists. Trying to use a traditional marketing approach in social media and using a hard sell and trying to push a product or service in social media will damage your reputation.

2. Identify who in your organization will be responsible for your social media strategy.
You will need to have a social media strategy and it will have to be integrated with your brand strategy. If you don’t already have someone, you must be looking to hire a social media manager who reports directly to the CEO and not to a marketing or sales director. And because social media is incredibly dynamic and changes are happening 24/7, you are going to have to be prepared to give this person a lot of autonomy to interact with consumers and make decisions, some of which will be financial, that directly impact the relationship with prospects and customers.

In the old days of mass advertising across mass media you had control of the messages related to your brand. Social media is fluid, consumer driven and places the control of your brand in the hands of consumers. Accept that you have to relinquish control.

3. Social media is not a technical initiative, it is a relational initiative
Relationships don’t stop for an hour at lunchtime, at 5pm or over the weekend and nor does social media. Success in social media takes time as firms seek to build the credibility needed for consumers to trust them. Make sure posts are made daily and questions or requests attended to immediately even if raised over the weekend.

Although your social media strategy is not a technical initiative, social media personel need to have at least an understanding of related technology such as Google Analytics, Content Management Systems (like WordPress), and third party social media software like Tweetdeck and HootSuite – so as to assign metrics by which to assess and respond quickly.

4. Define your core audience and messages for those audiences.
Traditional marketing attempts to be all things to all people. This model won’t work on social media. If you intend to educate, identify who you want to educate and do so but don’t try to sell to them. If you have targeted them effectively, they will take the initiative and seek out more information about your organization and how you can provide value to them.

5. Social media is not a volume business
Someone once said that volume is vanity, value is sanity. What this means is that firms should look to increase profitability not sales. Used properly, social media can help you reduce your cost of acquisition and increase profitability. Don’t set out trying to have lots of followers who never buy your product or service. A single follower or friend who is engaged and interacts with you is worth more than a thousand followers or friends who only drop by once a year.

Social media is participatory and is an efficient tool for your organization to learn, exchange and build professional networks so take time to build individual relationships. Once you have a follower or friend or contact, you have their permission to interact with them in a consultative manner. It is not about broadcasting messages but holding conversations.

When a consumer gives an organization permission to speak to them, it is because they like what the organization is saying and want to hear more of it. An organization must engage, gain trust and then solve the problem. But be warned, this means that the organization’s messaging must be relevant just about 100% of the time.

This may take time and you may find it difficult to open up, especially if you and your marketing department, educated on a diet of broadcasting corporate driven messages to as many people as possible, are not used to sharing information, especially with prospects.

However, get it right and you will find that you build relationships and followers quickly, and inexpensively and this will lead to increased sales and more loyal customers who will not only spend more with you, they will share their experiences with your brand with their friends.

Sri Lanka: A Big Miracle


After the domestic travel trade complained repeatedly that it doesn’t spend enough money promoting the country internationally, The Sri Lanka tourism development Authority (SLTDA) announced that it will launch a new tourism campaign in the next few months to increase visibility in key source markets. The campaign is expected to be in addition to existing marketing efforts.

This is going on at the same time as a new tourism policy is being drafted that should include a new tagline that is rumoured to be “Refreshingly Sri Lanka – Wonder of Asia”. This will be the first tagline since “Sri Lanka: Small Miracle” was binned in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s annual marketing budget is about 500 million Sri Lankan rupees (RM1 = 35 Sri Lankan rupees) which is about RM14 million.

SLTDA spends about RM5.5 million on international trade fairs and about RM1 million on sponsoring international travel writers to visit the country. The balance of about RM7 million is spent on advertising and other through the line activities. It is not clear if funding for the new campaign will come from this RM7 million or additional funds will be made available.

I find it hard to understand what the domestic travel trade is complaining about and why the SLTDA is giving in. I get the feeling this is just an exercise to shut up the domestic travel trade. In my opinion, SLTDA is doing very little wrong.

Arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2010 were up an impressive 46% over 2009. Indeed arrivals reached 654,476 in 2010, the highest since the 566,202 arrivals in 2004. Revenue from tourism in 2010 was over RM1.5 billion (US$500 million).

The government is targeting 750,000 arrivals in 2011 and early indications are that that target will be achieved. In the first six months of 2011, about 381,000 visitors arrived in the country.

The record of 2004 was set after the government and the Tamil Tigers agreed a peace treaty. In May 2009 the government defeated the Tamil separatists to end the 30 year civil war and tourism arrivals have risen every month thereafter.

Furthermore, the country’s tourism business has secured US$1.2 billion in FDI already this year and has another US$3 billion of deals in the pipeline.

Surely the travel trade should be very happy with what the SLTDA has done so far on a relatively small budget?

And surely spending money on egocentric ‘look at me’ awareness campaigns that will be lost in the clutter are not the way forward?

And even if they do work, can Sri lanka manage the influx of visitors? And if it can’t what are the potential ramifications? And what does Sri Lanka do after the campaign?

It would make more sense to invest what funds it has into a well researched brand strategy and implement that brand strategy rather than spending money for the sake of it on a tactical campaign that seems to be driven by misguided travel industry workers.

The top 1,000 brands in Asia – so what!


Following the completion of a research project carried out in conjunction with TNS, the Asia Pacific edition of the globally respected marketing magazine, Campaign Asia has named Sony as the top brand in Asia.

According to the study the top 4 positions all went to power house North Asian brands – Sony retained its position at number one followed by Samsung, Panasonic and LG with Canon at five. In fact the top 5 were unchanged from 2010.

At six is Apple, HP at seven, Google at eight and Nestle at nine with Nike at ten.

Facebook was the top social networking site at number 17 whilst Twitter leapt from 123 to sixtieth.

HTC, whose stock has tripled in the last year and is now Asia’s second largest maker of smart phones leapt from 532 to 100.

Interestingly no Chinese brands made the top 100 and only one Indian brand (Amul) managed to do so.

Amul, the largest food products business in India and the maker of ‘the big daddy’ of butters and the number one ice cream in India, was the best performing non-Japan or Korea brand, coming in at number 89.

At 123, Louis Vuitton was the highest luxury brand and surprisingly luxury brands fared poorly. Despite listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange recently, luxury brand Prada came in at a disappointing 348th, only two places above CIMB and down from 252.

Although Maggi (22nd) place and Tesco (96th) will be familiar to Malaysians, the top Malaysian brand is Marigold at 131, down from 129. Other Malaysian brands include Malaysia Airlines at 163, Maybank at 172 and F&N at 238. Old Town coffee also deserves a mention at 245, coming in almost 40 places above Maxis at 284. Celcom, Maxis main competitor was further down at 395.

Sticking with Malaysian brands, Boh tea was down at 417, Firefly, a budget airline was at 462, up from 518.

The highest new entry was Hankook tyres of Korea at 246. The highest new entry Malaysian brand was Life, a sauces/condiment maker at 718 followed by Kimball, another sauce/condiment maker at 825. Surprisingly Proton, the Malaysian national car was also a new entry at 916.

The survey was carried out in ten Asian markets: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Ages of the respondents were from 15 to 64 and approximately 300 respondents from each country were surveyed.

Participants were asked only two questions:

“When you think of the following (product or service) category, which is the best brand that comes to your mind? By best, we mean the one that you trust the most or the one that has the best reputation in the (product or service) category.”

“Apart from the best brand you entered, which brand do you consider to be the second best brand in the (product or service) category?”

14 major product and service categories were covered in the survey:
Alcohol and tobacco
Financial services
Automotive
Retail
Restaurants
Food
Beverages
Consumer electronics
Computer hardware
Computer software
Logistics
Media
Telecommunications
Travel and leisure
Household
Personal care.

In addition to these major categories, a further 72 sub-categories were included!

The final rankings were determined based on the total number of mentions each brand received across all categories and countries.

Then the data was weighted on two levels: the first to reflect the population composition within the markets covered, and the second to reflect the competitiveness of the categories included in the study.

Now I don’t know about you guys but if there is one thing I have learnt over the years it is that markets such as Malaysia and Japan or Thailand and India have very little in common, especially when it comes to food, alcohol (60% of the Malaysian market is Muslim and therefore alcohol is forbidden) and other culture specific products.

Furthermore, I don’t know how they included all the categories and sub categories but I can only assume the answers were aided. Nevertheless, imagine a questionnaire that lists 14 potential answers and then a further 72 options to those answers! How accurate are the responses going to be?

I also think that the sample size and the demographic – only 300 participants per country and a massive demographic of 15 – 64 is simply too big to provide results that are actionable or relevant.

And we don’t know the gender of the participants yet gender will be crucial in many of the listed categories and in how we communicate with prospects, with what content and across what platforms.

And looking at the brands, someone in India is not going to name Proton as the best (another thought, define best?) automotive brand because the Malaysian national automotive brand has yet to go on sale in India.

Frankly, I don’t really understand what is the point of this survey and what it means? How is it relevant to a consumer or company in Malaysia when it lists brands not available in the country? How can a company leverage its position? What must a company do to move up the list, perhaps to the top? How relevant is the ranking?

If the survey must be done, it would be better if it were country specific and related to each category alone. Rather than asking two (aided) questions, it would make sense to develop questions based on the product needs in that country. Questions will also need to be developed based on the category.

And instead of looking at traditional approaches that rely on demographics, in the social economy, it would be better to work with social media communities. Results could then be correlated and geographic comparisons made although they still won’t offer actionable data to the brands.

What do you think?

What Malaysia must do to build a Nation Brand


Traditionally, Tourism Malaysia has had the responsibility of raising the awareness and promotion of Malaysia. And Tourism Malaysia has worked hard to build awareness of the country as a tourist destination and on the whole, it has been reasonably successful.

But in an increasingly competitive world, Malaysia is not just in a global competition to attract tourists. It is also in a global competition to encourage talented Malaysians to return to the country, international talent to live in the country and international investment. Malaysia also needs to move away from its image as a supplier of commodities to the provider of more valued added products and services and increase its influence in Asia and on the world stage. As if there weren’t enough, it is also in a domestic battle to forge a national identity bought into by multiple races!

A strategic tool to achieve the goals of attracting talent, increased revenue through expanded tourism and more valuable exports is Nation Branding or country branding. Australia, India, Norway, Oman and Qatar are all making a concerted effort to attract the world’s attention, interest and revenue by embarking on Nation Branding initiatives.

In this competitive environment, complicated by bickering politicians and individual agendas, tactical rather than strategic initiatives, fragmented and outdated communications, a lack of integration and communication between organisations and dwindling global funds available for investment, Malaysia has a lot to offer.

It is a progressive, innovative and stimulating country in which to live, work and visit. Malaysians are enthusiastic for development and have a natural ability for entrepreneurship. Individual races have capabilities in specific areas important for the growth of the country. For such a young country, it is remarkably open and many times it has been called a model Islamic country. It has numerous natural resources that should ensure quality of life can be high. Residents and visitors can enjoy the benefits of increasingly advanced infrastructure combined with a vibrant, diverse culture and a reasonably well trained and educated work force.

But, unfortunately, Malaysia does not have a clearly defined image or the visibility internationally that it deserves. Part of the reason is that it lacks a national Brand that resonates with Malaysians and enjoys wide acceptance internally and is effectively and consistently communicated externally.

As a result, international perceptions vary widely. Some believe it is an undeveloped country rich in such natural resources as rubber and timber; others look at the Petronas twin towers and fail to see many differences between Taipei, Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and other Asian metropolises. This lack of a consistent Nation Brand persists despite the efforts of successive Prime Ministers, international events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 1998 Commonwealth Games and increased visitors to the country.

The need for successful Nation Branding is recognized at the highest levels.

Most recently, the Prime Minister, via his website and with the assistance of Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia has outlined the need to shape the country moving forward and asked for help from citizens. Although technically not a citizen, I have three children growing up as Malaysians so I have a vested interest in the success of the country.

So what should Malaysia do to start building the Malaysia Nation Brand?

Five key factors are required to achieve the prime minister’s goal as an international “corporate nation.” These include:

• Widespread agreement and acceptance on what Malaysia stands for, and what makes her unique in the community of nations. The agreement and acceptance is based on communication and understanding among all levels of government and all facets of society.

• The identification of industries most likely to complement Nation Branding initiatives and a clear process for investing in and sustaining that investment and developing those industries.

• Clear, consistent and coordinated communications to domestic and international audiences by public and private sectors. A long-term plan with goals and measurements is critical. Ideally, these communications must be tailored to specific segments.

• Successful execution of brand messages. This is not just a communications exercise. The public and private sector must facilitate international and other economic involvement, while tourist-related industries and areas must perform according to expectations.

• Leadership. Current branding efforts are hampered by a variety of uncoordinated tactical efforts, each promulgating a different message. Leadership is required to ensure that Malaysia both speaks “with a single voice” and has the necessary long-term commitment.

The following are the key steps required in the development of the Malaysia Nation Brand and they are as follows:

1) Carry out a brand audit. Who do we think we are? Who do our stakeholders think we are? What do we have? What do we want to become? What do we have? Do we have the skill sets required to sell it? Are our communications communicating this effectively? Does the content of our communications resonate with target markets or are we using a one-size-fits-all strategy to communicate with everyone? Are we using the right platforms? Who are key stakeholder influencers? How do we communicate with them? What do stakeholders want from us? Can we deliver? If so how?

2) Analyse and review the data collected in step one and identification of key industries to help drive the Malaysia Nation Brand.

3) Develop the nation brand framework. This stage includes the development and articulation of the vision, mission and values of the brand as well as the development of a positive & competitive identity that offers economic, experiential and emotional value to each target audience

4) Develop a holistic and comprehensive visual and verbal brand. Sadly this is where most nation brands start. Using a creative driven approach, they look to spray advertising across as many platforms as budgets will allow and pray that it sticks in at least some of the places. This ‘spray and pray’ approach to branding is destined to fail nearly every time.

5) Develop the brand strategy. Only AFTER the above steps can the brand strategy be developed. Normally a plan to drive the brand forward, it outlines how to position Malaysia as a unique, different and attractive country for key stakeholders such as tourists, investors, strategic partners and talent and includes, branding, marketing, sales and other imperatives as well as measurement, budgets, responsibilities and more. Individual country brand strategies should also be included for key markets. The brand strategy also outlines requirements to clearly communicate relevant messages to the target constituents and stakeholders in multiple countries.

6) Make sure all initiatives systemically connect the Nation Brand to Malaysia’s core industries, corporate brands and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector brands

7) Measure, improve, refresh and keep relevant.

Building a nation brand is not easy. It requires commitment and perseverance and the will to stick with something even when it may not be going according to plan. Follow the elements above and we will have a much better chance of building a Malaysia Nation Brand.

Suggestions to improve a travel website


One of my favourite business sites, Bnet has an interesting case study of a site that offers bespoke or customised trips in China. The site is not doing as well as the owners expected.

The article asks the question “Why doesn’t this website draw more visitors” and there is an outline of the situation with the issues and readers are invited to comment. I tried to add my comments but as has happened before, I couldn’t add them so I am including them below.

The look and feel of the site is drab and reminds me of websites from 10 years ago. The content is too ‘traditional’ and rather predicatable.

If they are not happy with the number of visitors, then SEO is obviously an issue. So many companies spend a fortune designing a site and then sit back and wait for the orders to flow in. If only it were so easy…

So what would I do to make things happen?

They need to improve the writing. Although this won’t improve traffic to the site, it’ll keep visitors on the site once they are there.

I’d talk to existing customers and ask them what improvements they would like to see. I’d also talk to prospects that have visited the site and made enquiries but have not booked and identify why they didn’t book.

Before that, they need to invest more in driving traffic to the website, especially if as stated, 10% of the marketing budget generates 70% of enquiries. I’d also investigate and measure the number of leads generated from those 1,650 page views, source of visits, conversion rates from all channels, lost prospects and retention rates.

Other thoughts
1) The target market doesn’t have time to wait for flash to load. Furthermore, many of them are probably accessing from smartphones between appointments or via laptops whilst at airport lounges with poor internet speeds. Keep the information simple and bin the flash. Also you need a mobile version of the site.

2) So many companies think a website will make sales for them. It won’t, it is nothing more than a brochure to generate interest. Once an enquiry comes in, start building a one on one relationship with those prospects.

3) The form is too long. The target market is the wealthy but the wealthy are careful about sharing information, especially at the prospecting stage. If I buy you can have that data but not yet. Let’s stick to email communications for now. And maybe twitter.

4) Social Media initiatives aren’t engaging enough and there is too much broadcasting. Moreover there appear to be comments by readers/fans to which there hasn’t been a response.

5) Although I didn’t read the Blog articles, the headlines on the home page would suggest they are press releases not blog posts.

The key in any customer facing exercise is to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are looking to communicate with. And the best way of doing this is to talk to the people that visit your site, those that do business with you as well as those that don’t.

Repetition no longer solution to brand building


One of the problems with a mass marketing approach to communications is that they assume that prospects can be made to believe, through advertising repetition of the same message, what offerings can mean to them. It’s a variation of positioning and in the mass economy, when firms could control how offerings were portrayed, it may have worked.

But consumers have been misled, lied to, abused, manipulated, let down and so on. As a result, they no longer believe what most companies say, no matter how many times they say it.

Today, other customers define brands and their opinions and experiences will determine if consumers try a brand. Once they do, it is up to the company to know and understand those consumers and communicate with them with content that resonates with them to keep them.

Failure to do so will determine the success of the brand and not repeating the same message to anyone and everyone.

Why you should start building your Brand today


This article first appeared in the Friday 29th April 2011 edition of The Malaysian Reserve/International Herald Tribune

Does this statement sound familiar? “I know I need to start thinking about building my brand but I don’t know where to start so it can wait.”

I’ve heard this statement a lot recently and if it is a general feeling throughout the business community, then we’ve got a problem.

We’ve got a problem because as Malaysia becomes an increasingly wealthy country it will increasingly become a target for global brands that have seen their penetration in more traditional markets reach saturation point.

Moreover, free trade agreements and stagnant manufacturing or services based economies are also encouraging global brands to take notice of countries like Malaysia.

In the last twelve months, major global brands from the agriculture, automotive, aviation, biotechnology, education, fashion, food, hospitality, logistics, property, transportation and other sectors that in the past have barely considered Malaysia, are now establishing offices here.

Even Unilever owned brand Marmite, a quintessentially British savoury spread most often used on toast, now has sales in excess of RM20 million in Malaysia, mainly because it makes a bowl of congee a little more interesting!

And as these global brands take note of Malaysia they will invest substantial funds to establish their brands here and once those brands are established, it will be difficult for Malaysian products and services to compete with them. Unable to compete, over time, these Malaysian brands will fail.

So Malaysian firms really must begin the process of building brands now, rather than later. The good news is that beginning the process of building a brand or revamping an existing company has many benefits. Some of the most significant include the ability to charge more for products and services as well as a reduction in costs. Furthermore, changes in technology and communications mean that Malaysian firms might not have to invest significant funds into mass communications.

A word of warning though. Any branding initiative should begin with a careful analysis of the organization, its processes and systems, especially those that are customer facing and whether or not it has a customer centric culture, what it stands for and whether these elements are relevant today. Be ready for bad news but see it as feedback and an opportunity to improve not as criticism.

And once the brand is ready, communications should focus not on broadcasting how wonderful the brand is across traditional mass media channels, but on engaging prospects with content that resonates with them and delivering economic, emotional and experiential value to consumers and across all touch points.

Here are six more reasons why you shouldn’t wait to start to build a brand.

Reason No 1: Branding unifies your organization & motivates staff
Your people will want to be part of a respected and recognized brand because personnel who can identify with and support a brand’s culture, values and behaviour are better motivated, more loyal and engaged, both internally and externally.

As a result, your people will have pride and an interest in the company they work for and what they do for that company. Morale will improve, productivity will rise and resignations will be reduced. Moreover, a culture that strives to deliver value to customers and on customer terms will prevail. This in turn will lead to increased sales.

Reason No 2: Branding integrates & enhances brand touch points
This is really important. Organisations with weak or non-existent brands more often than not, make promises they cannot keep, focus on acquiring customers but pay little attention to existing customers and underestimate the importance of the customer experience. By developing a brand and building processes and systems into the brand delivery system, every single touch point between your organization and the consumer will be geared towards delivering a positive experience. Positive brand experiences will go a long way towards building customer loyalty, key to profitability.

Reason No 3: Branding reduces costs
What better incentive can there be for building a brand? Branding requires a brand strategy and a strategy will anticipate multiple scenarios and prepare the organization for outcomes, reducing the likelihood of expensive cost over runs or unexpected expenses.

Furthermore, a well recognized and well respected brand attracts talent, reducing the need for time consuming recruitment campaigns and expensive head hunters. A brand also reduces marketing costs. Less established products or services can spend up to 10% of revenue on marketing, brands often spend as little as 0.8% up to 2% on marketing.

Reason No 4: Branding justifies a price premium
Yet another major incentive for anyone still not convinced they should be building a brand. Branding allows you to charge more for your product or service because people will pay more for a name they can trust and have confidence in.

Reason No 5: Branding shortens the sales cycle
A strong, well respected and recognized brand creates trust and an emotional attachment to the product which also helps to make purchasing decisions easier. Over time, this influences the speed at which a prospect or customer makes that purchasing decision. This in turn allows a company to build customer loyalty and create brand ambassadors to sell the brand on their behalf, shortening the process further.

Reason No 6: Branding blocks competition
By focusing on building a brand rather than carrying out a series of transactions, you will ‘ring fence’ your brand and stop the competition from poaching your customers. As interactions with your brand increase, customers will automatically think of you when thinking of your category, thereby ignoring competitors.

In an increasingly competitive and noisy environment where better established global brands with deeper pockets are starting to flex their muscle, it is imperative that Malaysian firms, large and small start to build their brands now, before global brands get a foot hold in the country and it is too late.

Effective email campaigns must be part of your brand strategy


You’ve probably never heard of unsolicited bulk Email (UBE) or for that matter, unsolicited commercial email (UCE) but you have of course heard of junk mail or spam, the more common moniker.

The earliest known spam was a message sent in 1978 and the earliest known commercial spam message was sent in March 1994. This latter event coincided with the opening up of the Internet and the amount of spam has grown exponentially since then and the forecast is that seven trillion spam messages will be sent in 2011, making up about 85% of all emails sent worldwide.

This constant carpet bombing of consumer inboxes with irrelevant messages has had a detrimental effect on email marketing and now, with the advent of social media, our belief and trust in email is wavering. Nevertheless, email is still an effective tool in the communications of any brand strategy. It can be used as a marketing, sales, retention and CRM tool and response rates to personalized emails have been reported to be as high as 62% although 2-4% is the average. Still impressive.

But it is critical for marketers to ensure that their emails are relevant to the target market, well written and succinct enough to gain the attention of the reader in the roughly three seconds they have before the reader hits the delete/spam button.

It is also critically important to ensure before the campaign begins, that you know what the purpose of the campaign is and, most important of all, that your database is clean and up to date.

I am constantly stunned at the amount of shockingly written, poorly thought out and irrelevant emails that land in my inbox. I’m equally stunned at the amount of times I receive the same email from the same organization.

For instance this email, from an organization that recently spent RM15 million (US$5 million) on a ‘rebranding’ exercise, is exclusively for Mastercard owners yet I don’t have a mastercard!

Furthermore, the email is addressed to ‘undisclosed recipients’ and contains no cover message or other form of personalization. Finally, to the detriment of the brand, it has been sent to me an incredible six times in less than a month!

Takaful Malaysia which refurbished its 13 platinum branches and outdoor signs and billboards during the rebranding exercise should have also looked at its communications processes and systems, including qualification, lead and list management and other elements. As its stated aim is to ‘make the company more appealing to the younger age group, it should also review its creatives! But I digress!

What should Takaful Malaysia and other companies, who are thinking of carrying out email campaigns do to ensure those email campaigns create leads and prospects rather than brand antagonists?

Here are 10 recommendations that will help them and others get the most out of email:

1. Target your message
It’s critical that the subject line grabs the attention of the reader and encourages them to open the email. The best way to do this is to personalize the subject line. The Takaful Malaysia subject was the name of the product. Few people buy products. A better option would have been “Can I help you protect your family?”

2. Segment your target markets
Keep list sizes to a manageable amount. Don’t send gazillions of messages and then be unable to respond to them in an acceptable time frame (24 hours). Segmenting your targets will stop this happening.

3. Target messages
Keeping list sizes to a manageable level will allow you to develop multiple messages for multiple segments, critical to successful tracking. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

4. Use a Salutation
The whole point of the exercise is to get a response, not to make a sale. If you met someone at a convention, you wouldn’t start pitching to them the moment you are introduced and it is the same with an email campaign. Be contemporary, slightly informal and inviting. Start prospecting emails with a greeting and, depending on the product or service, the contact’s first or last name, such as “Dear Mr Smith” or “Hi Fatima.”

If you don’t have the first and last name, don’t send the email until you have the correct information. The majority of emails without a name will go straight to the trash folder.

5. Keep Your Email Short
Lay the content out so that it is easy to read and keep the first email short to ensure it is skimmed. You want the prospect to read the entire email but they won’t stick around for long so make it a fast, easy read.

Keep the email to three paragraphs of no more than three or four sentences. You can also close with a one-line sentence.

6. Track each segment within each campaign
One of the great advantages of email campaigns over traditional advertising campaigns is the ability to calculate an exact CROI (campaign return on investment).

But don’t limit your calculations to response and conversion rates. Depending on the goals of the campaign, track demographics, territories, consumer data, page visits, click-throughs, time spent on pages, and other elements. Use this information to influence future email campaigns with more efficient and effective content.

7. Have a hook
Business owners and C level executives are busier than ever. They don’t have time to waste so have an instant hook. We are in difficult economic times and businesses are looking to save money, especially small businesses so an obvious hook would be related to saving money for a business. Ensure content resonates with target markets.

8. Content is still king
Mention specific issues relevant to target segments. There is so much information available that it is easy to identify issues affecting segments. It may take a little more preparation but it will be worth it in the long term.

9. Don’t go overboard on design
I’ve received emails with video clips, multiple graphics, embedded links, audio and so on. These are all distracting and time consuming when opened on a mobile device at an airport. Keep it simple.

10. Email marketing should form part of a brand strategy
Many firms conduct email campaigns on a whim, without any real thought or planning. This is a bit like driving a Ferrari in first gear, the car does everything you want it to but is it getting the best out of the car?

Incorporate your email campaigns into your brand strategy. Identify your quiet periods and implement an email campaign to boost sales in that period.

Email is still the most effective way to reach a lot of new prospects quickly and inexpensively. Email campaigns also have impressive response rates.

But email campaigns, carried out in an amateur way, can have a negative effect on your brand. However, if you follow these email best practices, prospects will take notice and respond, increasing your sales and building your brand.

Brand communications is no longer about broadcasting a company position across multiple mass communication platforms.


In today’s always on world, an important part of any brand strategy is the communications strategy but if Asian brands are going to be taken seriously, Asian CEOs must understand that times have changed and that we are living in a new world order. And in that new world order, the success of a brand is in the hands of the consumer not the corporation.

Today CEOs must understand that how consumers source information about brands and where they source that information from, has changed dramatically over the last 5 – 10 years. Where previously they learnt about brands from television commercials, newspaper advertisements and the recommendations of friends, today they learn about brands from Facebook communities, Twitter lists and YouTube channels.

Gartner estimates that mass marketing campaigns now have only a 2% response rate and this is declining annually. Despite this, Asian CEOs, so long in control of their brands and reluctant to lose that control, continue to try and shape brand perceptions by broadcasting positions repeatedly across traditional media via multiple and repetitive campaigns.

But Asian CEOs need to accept that in today’s noisy, crowded, dynamic, mobile market place, a brand cannot be shaped by repetitive communications campaigns that try to appeal to as many people as possible in the hope that someone will buy and communicated across traditional media. And those CEOs must understand that the success of their brands is too important to be left in the hands of marketers and advertising agencies.

According to Gartner, by 2015, at least 80% of consumers’ discretionary spending will be influenced by marketing across social and mobile platforms. And it is imperative that CEOs do not allow marketing departments to continue the mass market model of invasive campaigns that try to push a one size fits all corporate position onto consumers.

So if building a successful brand requires more than a traditional approach to marketing where reaching anyone and everyone and making them all aware of the brand with a generic message broadcast multiple times across multiple channels is not the way forward, what should Asian CEOs do if they want to challenge the global western brands?

The first thing is that this new world order is good news for Asian CEOs because it means they can stop wasting funds on expensive creative driven initiatives that require deep wallets to fund advertising campaigns repeatedly across traditional media in the hope that they will resonate with consumers and lead to a possible sale because the reality is, very few of them are noticed, let alone remembered.

Try this experiment. If you advertise in a daily newspaper or on TV, ask yourself which ads you remember from yesterday’s newspaper or on TV last night. Be honest. I doubt it is many. Personally I remember the ads from the Sunday paper because I was stunned at how many pages featured supermarkets and hypermarkets having a ‘cheap off’ on chicken wings, grapes and cases of beer.

And these are the very same newspapers that featured advertisements for Patek Philipe and Rolex watches, Lexus and Audi cars and other luxury products and services the week before!

And even if you remember newspaper ads or TV commercials, how many of the products or services advertised, have you interacted with? And of those how many have led to a purchase? And even if they have led to a purchase, what did the company do to ensure you come back again? I suspect they didn’t do anything and instead, after they spent all that money getting you into their store or to buy their product, they let you leave without getting some personal information in order for them to start to lay the foundations for a relationship!

In this era of smart phones and the half a million applications that can be used on them; In this era of social media with five hundred million Facebook users (6 million in Malaysia) of whom 50% are active every day and one hundred and forty million daily tweets on Twitter, many of them generated by Malaysia’s 1.1 million members; the proliferation of leisure time activities and abundant choice at malls and more, Asian CEOs must understand that the answer to brand building is delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers and on their terms and across all touch points.

The global economic situation is a golden opportunity for Asian brands to take market share from established Western firms struggling to overcome cash flow issues and poor brand penetration. But it is up to CEOs to understand that they have to review traditional practices and take an interest, indeed responsibility for the brand and ensure brand departments understand that it is no longer enough just to advertise in traditional media and hope a brand will succeed.

CEOs must ensure too that at the heart of any new strategy must be the organization, making sure every brand touch point focuses on delivering value and communications departments must take social media seriously and understand how to deliver more engaged communications. And this will have to be done in a much more integrated, dynamic and fluid manner.

And whereas in the past, a series of the same full page ads repeated in daily newspapers or a number of prime time TVCs was generally sufficient to build brand awareness which would lead to a sale. Indeed, many consumers would actually watch a commercial and take a note of the brand and where they could purchase it. Those consumers would then go to the store, look for the brand and buy it. If the brand was unavailable they would take time out to come back again and again until they could make a purchase.

Today those same consumers don’t bother taking note of the brand names because they’re carpet bombed with messages throughout the day, every day. Many of those messages are making outrageous claims or are totally irrelevant to them. They are also too busy multi-tasking during the expensive commercial breaks. Furthermore, they’ve been let down so many times after believing those claims that they now often ignore them completely. And because consumers have so much choice and so many information channels, they don’t need to pay attention to messages broadcast via mass media any more.

Now consumers use social media and other tools where they inhabit communities that they relate to and trust, to seek information about brands. So it is in these communities where brands must learn to communicate and engage with consumers and deliver value that resonates with those consumers enough to make them want to own the brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t advertise but I am saying that if your organization is not on brand and all marketing initiatives are not integrated to allow you to deliver on the brand promise. And if your organization is unable to deliver value across all touch points and if you don’t use every opportunity to engage with consumers and collect data to help you get to know your customer and start to build a relationship with your customer, your advertising efforts will be wasted and your brand will not survive these extraordinary times.

In this crazy, always on, competitive market place it is these relationships that are going to help build a successful brand and not newspaper ads or TV commercials, no matter how cool they are and no matter how cutting edge is the technology used in the commercial.