Where are all the global Asian Brands?


I came across an article posted on the Insead business school blog that asked the question, “Where are all the Global Asian Brands?” The author, Brand strategist Martin Roll argued that ‘emerging market companies have grabbed market share by doing things faster and cheaper.’ He also said that those Asian companies now need to build brands to stay competitive. I can’t argue with that either.

In the article he says that most Asian firms believe that branding is about logos and advertising and that Asian firms must create value for customers if they are going to survive and thrive in the new world order. Again, I can’t argue with this and he goes on to state that there is a lack of strong brands in Asia.

He says this is for four main reasons

1) A transactional approach to business rather than one based on relationships
2) The prevalence of small businesses in SE Asia that prefer short term wins over long term returns
3) Weak legislation and enforcement to protect Intellectual property
4) The traditional, family based, hierarchical structure of businesses in Asia that doesn’t appreciate the importance of intangible assets.

I agree that boards, or certainly CEOs should guide brands and I agree that many Asian brands are poorly managed, especially on the soft skills side.

Isn't Sony a global Asian Brand?
Isn’t Sony a global Asian Brand?

I believe however that this is mainly because demand has outstripped supply and as a result branding has not been a priority. Yes there are structural issues in many Asian firms and they will be found out however, many Asian firms are quite nimble and I am confident they are beginning to change, especially as more Western brands look to Asia as their own markets stagnate.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being pedantic and I don’t know what is Martin’s definition of an Asian brand but there are nevertheless plenty of global Asian brands from the aviation, automotive, transportation, Oil and Gas, entertainment, travel, banking, property, technology and other sectors.

Chang sponsors Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs
Chang sponsors Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs

Think of all the countries that are brands and their national airlines. The numerous LCCs, Proton, Haier, Sony, Petronas, Star cruises, YTL, Alibaba, Temasak, DBS, Maybank, SingTel, Tiger beer, Brands, Sampoerna, Lenovo, Jardines, Zalora, Chang Beer, Red Bull.

What is more important in my mind is that these companies became global brands in an economy that no longer exists. Where the political, social, cultural and communications ecosystem was very different to what it is today.

The danger Asian firms face is not one of inertia or fear it is one of using the wrong tools and techniques to try and build their brands. To challenge the established Asian brands and compete with cash rich Western firms and their massive marketing budgets, Asia’s challenger brands such as ZTE, TCL, CIMB, Hisense, Xiaomi, Ogawa, Jobstreet, Oppo, U Hotels and many more will need to be more focussed on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value.

Xiaomi. Delivering value at every touchpoint but spending very little on traditional media
Xiaomi. Delivering value at every touchpoint but spending very little on traditional media

If they try and compete, dollar for dollar with those established Asian firms and aggressive Western brands they will fail. Asian firms must be nimble, agile and ready to adopt new technologies and encourage their customers to be part of the brand’s DNA. Only then will we continue to see more global Asian brands.

Good experiences will help build the Malaysia Nation Brand


I read an interesting article on the Malaysia Nation Brand which can be found here.

But I was particularly taken by one of the reader’s comments.

As someone who has worked on a number of elements of the Malaysia brand and who has written numerous articles on it, I believe I can add value to this discussion.

Firstly, it is incredibly hard to write about the Malaysia Nation Brand or any other Nation Brand in an article of a thousand words or so! It’s a thankless task which is why many experts have trouble writing a relevant or coherent book on the subject!

And, because the world is so dynamic, what is a ‘cutting edge’ tool today maybe obsolete tomorrow and a tactical solution recommended yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the contributor. He appeared to state that maintenance in Malaysia is not a problem and insinuated that it was irrelevant anyway because it had no bearing on the Malaysia Nation Brand.

The author of the article responded saying that maintenance is very important and forms part of the confusing image of Malaysia. The author goes on to say that poor maintenance of buildings contributes to the experience and therefore the success of the brand.

Let me state here that maintenance is a major cause for concern in Malaysia, especially at Government venues but also at privately owned venues.

Last Saturday and Sunday, I was at the Bukit Jalil indoor stadium for a world class sporting event (ATP Tennis) and the place is a sad, shabby, tired mess. Walls are filthy, the place smells, doors are broken, clocks don’t work, ventilation is poor and navigation complicated. I won’t event mention the toilets. Furthermore, the TV sets are old and either not working or showing a picture that looks as if there is a snow storm going – the list of poor experiences is endless.

As I left I looked up at the beautiful main stadium and could see numerous holes in the roof, abandoned scaffolding and other signs of neglect. And we all know this scene is replicated around the country.

If we want to build a nation brand, it will require more than a tagline, a brand essence or a glossy advertising campaign. To build a Malaysia Nation Brand will require a massive change in mindset. Part of this will require an understanding that positive experiences create positive memories which lead to positive word of mouth and an improved Nation Brand.

Because it is the experiences people have when they interact with numerous touchpoints that they will remember and communicate to others.

World class sporting events are a major way of improving a brands image and the organisers should be commended for bringing in this prestigious event. But the authorities should also do their part and make sure the experience is unforgettable, for the right reasons.

If you are interested I wrote an article on the Malaysia Nation Brand and you can find it here.

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.