Volvo needs to quickly join up its branding dots

Back in February 2016, Volvo VP of global marketing Thomas Andersson talked to marketing week about the new global vision for Volvo after the launch of their rather cliche ridden yet compelling emotive ad questioning the motivations of automotive manufacturers around the world.

You can read the full interview here. To be honest, I found it a bit confusing. Andersson says, “We want to have a strong social message as if we just went down the same old route as our rivals [with celebrity campaigns] we would just be one of many, we wouldn’t be adding anything new. I believe the public want brands to stand for something important.”

The interview ends with a reference to the brand’s association with Avicii. I don’t know what this is exactly but do associations with DJ’s communicate importance?

Another comment that got my attention was ““Social plays such an important role when it comes to early adopters. They want to engage with Volvo but if we don’t respond quickly they will lose interest and move on. There’s a huge opportunity for us to engage more quickly and be there when people want to talk to us, and these changes enable that to happen.”

Yet the above video was deemed ‘unlisted’ on Youtube and carried a warning to “Be considerate and think twice before sharing.” I’ve never seen that before and seems to go against the very point of posting a video on Youtube. Unsurprisingly then, the video has only been viewed 1,771 times. I was surprised though to see that there was no attempt by Volvo to respond to the three comments.

Not long after I came across this digital ad from Volvo here in Malaysia. I couldn’t make sense of the ad, can you?

What is the point of this ad?
What is the point of this ad?

The Volvo brand has been tinkered with too often and it’s good to see them getting back to their safety roots. I think there is mileage in this approach. But they need to join up the global dots quickly. Local implementation is good but it still needs to be monitored and linked back to the global strategy.

Building a country brand requires more than just a well executed advertising campaign

If you are responsible for a country or destination brand, read on.

As cheap air travel and the package tour (as well as the devaluation of the Spanish Peseta and the abolition of currency controls in the UK) helped jump start international travel in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the world was still a fairly predictable place and countries were, on the whole inhabited mainly by citizens of that country and not by the multicultural citizens living in most cities today.

Moreover, due to the social and economic structure of Western countries, consumers were only just beginning to have disposable income that allowed them to experience the concept of leisure time.

At the same time, mass media was becoming increasingly influential as consumers purchased more and more TVs and radios.

So, with more disposable income, more leisure time and the establishment of commercial television, it was now possible to reach large swathes of a population reasonably quickly and relatively inexpensively.

In this environment countries put their faith in creativity to build brands, hoping that an exotic image, tagline or promotion would resonate with prospects and increase visitor arrivals.

And generally, because of the cultural and social predictability of countries, the same message could be used to communicate with everyone.

Moreover, with few conduits to increasingly wealthy consumers who had more disposable income than ever before and with limited competition in the market place, this type of creative driven branding often raised the profile of countries enough to attract visitors.

Countries and destinations such as Spain, the UK, Kenya, Florida, Greece, The Algarve, Singapore and Italy as well as many other destinations used this approach. And in this mass market economy, mass media – TV, Print, Outdoor, with its huge reach, was the logical vehicle to enhance the impact of creative-driven branding with reach and repetition.

bemuda

italy

Early tourism ads worked because markets were similar, new, eager and easy to reach
Early tourism ads worked because markets were similar, new, eager and easy to reach

But that mass-market economy no longer exists. Today’s consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with those creative images, taglines and promotions. And many of the messages have become so similar that it is virtually impossible to differentiate one from another. And of course, consumers have also become fed up with countries failing to deliver on promises made.

Same images, sames messages = irrelevant

Despite this new world order, countries, agencies and consultants continue to try and build country brands by using ‘cool’ advertising, creative or symbolic logo’s with pretty colours, catchy taglines and so on.

But these activities are nothing more than advertising campaigns and do very little to build a nation brand. And even the one’s that have made us sit up, take notice and seek more information are more often than not soon forgotten or overtaken by a new campaign from a competitor destination or the recommendation of a friend.

But most worrying of all, these advertising campaigns lull countries into a false sense of security. ‘Visitor arrivals are up so everything is good in the world’. The problem is that an advertising campaign might draw the attention of visitors to a destination but it doesn’t build a destination brand.

An advertising campaign may be important but it is part of what should be a well researched and planned brand strategy that takes into account all brand related activities.

These include internal buy in and a thorough understanding of external stakeholder requirements for value and other elements such as content development, social media, PR and most important of all for a country, crisis management. Traditional communications pushed out across traditional and digital media, may still have a role to play, but they are not a total solution.

Sadly, too many countries and destinations have short cut the process to try and get their ads out quickly. This has resulted in the demise of the brand strategy. Yet failure to invest in such a brand strategy can be detrimental to the long term success of the brand.

A case in point. The Maldives has invested more than US$10 million in the last three years on advertising itself as a luxury destination. But in 2012, political turmoil saw arrivals from the lucrative European markets fall, with the UK registering a 12.2% drop. If it weren’t for a sharp rise in low yield arrivals from China, the Maldives would probably have registered a major drop in arrivals.

To the detriment of the country, participants or perhaps victims of the political turmoil in the Maldives called for a boycott of the tourism business and attempts by the new government to develop the tourism business are constantly thwarted by opponents.

One example was when the Twitter hashtag #sunnysideoflife (the official tagline) was hijacked and brochures entitled ‘The cloudy side of life’ threw scorn on tourism players and drew the readers attention to human rights abuses and police brutality against Maldivians.

This year has seen further negative press after a 15 year old girl raped by her stepfather and sexually abused by other men was sentenced to 100 lashes for having pre marital sex.

So far the Maldives government hasn’t responded, leading one to suspect they don’t have a brand strategy with a crisis plan to deal with such a situation. What is certainly true is that this complicated issue will not be solved with an advertising campaign.

In 2012 Jakarta initiated an advertising campaign across Asia in an attempt to attract visitors to the capital and largest city in Indonesia. The campaign was poorly planned, conceived and executed. You can read more about the Jakarta campaign here.

Based on the advertising campaign and the website, it is fairly safe to assume these two elements were not part of a brand strategy.

Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?
Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?
Lack of integration and poor content suggests little or no planning
Lack of integration and poor content suggests little or no planning

India is famous for its ‘Incredible India’ campaign launched in 2002. By 2009, India was spending US$200 million advertising the country. This iconic advertising campaign is still going strong and in November 2012 at the World Travel Market in London and to great fanfare, India announced a new advertising campaign headlined, “Find what you seek”.

Early 'incredible India' ads - excellent execution
Early ‘incredible India’ ads – excellent execution

Officially launched by the new Indian minister of tourism at a hotel in London in front of 400 guests, the new Incredible India campaign highlighted to consumers ‘that they will find whatever they are looking for from a holiday in India.’

The Minister of Tourism India launches the new Incredible India campaign, a week later 10 years of advertising were lost due to a lack of planning for disasters

It was also announced at the launch event that the goal of the campaign is to increase international arrivals by 12% annual till 2016.

Little more than a month later, in December 2012 in Delhi a woman was brutally gang raped and left for dead on a public bus. The story made headlines around the world.

And then in March 2013, a Swiss woman was gang raped whilst on a cycling tour of Madhya Pradesh and soon after, a British woman was attacked in Delhi and only avoided further suffering after jumping from a hotel window to escape.

Within a matter of weeks, tour operators were reporting a 35% cancellation rate from women and a 25% drop in all arrivals with multiple cancellations from the lucrative markets of Australia, the UK, Canada and the United States.

Much of the outrage toward these events is related to the treatment of woman in India and numerous stories that would not normally feature on international news are now making headlines globally including the stoning, arrests and murder of Indian women. None of these events will be addressed by advertising.

If you are responsible for developing a Nation, country or destination brand, don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security over a ‘successful’ advertising and promotions campaign telling the world how great is your country or destination.

To build a strong brand amid increasing international competition and unforeseen circumstances that are carried across social media and possibly across mass media as well, destinations must have in place a well defined brand strategy that covers all potential scenarios and doesn’t just focus on communications.

A brand strategy has other benefits. Here are five more reasons for developing a brand strategy:

1) A brand strategy clearly defines the organisation values and promises and ensures stakeholders understand what is required of them to deliver on those promises and values. For a nation brand this internal branding is critical to the success of the brand.
2) Staying with the internal brand, lots of tourism boards and CVBs attend trade shows but if I had a pound for every time I’ve been to ITB or WTM and seen poorly trained personnel representing countries or states, I’d be a very wealthy man. Trade shows cost a lot of money. A brand strategy will ensure training occurs at the best possible time.
3) A brand strategy ensures the brand is ready for every eventuality, with a crisis plan to address issues such as those that have happened in India, the Maldives and most recently, Boston.
4) A brand strategy ensures all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction. If one state is targeting visitors at the same time as another state, resources are being wasted. A brand strategy will ensure integration and engagement, not individual tactics.
5) A brand strategy ensures time isn’t wasted on stand alone tactical initiatives implemented at the whim of a government servant or other person who should know better.

Far too many countries or destinations give the responsibility of building their brand to creative advertising agencies. These agencies are called advertising agencies for a reason. They do advertising.

5 facts about developing a brand strategy in the social economy

1) Research is more important than ever.
Research has always been important but it was cumbersome and time consuming. Not any more. Today, the right research can be developed and implemented and results analysed quickly and efficiently.

Brand building - don't run before you can walk
Brand building – don’t run before you can walk

It’s easy to find those people who are likely to like your product. It’s even easier to talk to them. But too many companies don’t bother, preferring to chase the holy grail of more new customers through corporate driven messages.

And don’t forget your existing customers because they are your best source of information. Talk to them, find out what they are looking for, what they value and match attributes to their requirements for value.

2) Mass market branding with a focus on the 4 Ps is no longer effective.
Brands today are built on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value. Not on creating some cool position and communicating it across as many channels as possible for as long as possible.

Deliver that value with stories that resonate with target markets and existing customers. Build relationships with customers by allowing access to the brand, personalizing all elements of all interactions, through relevance, experiences and emotions.

Ignore the social element of the social economy by trying to speak to everyone with one corporate driven message and you will fail.

3) Focus on developing more profitable relationships, not a more profitable product. Brands evolve when companies start buying for customers instead of selling to them. This is especially true in times of economic hardship.

4) Branding is an organisational issue not a departmental responsibility.
And the organisation is the responsibility of the CEO. The CEO needs to be involved in the development of the corporate brand.

Your brand is too important to be left to a marketing department that still believes in the corporate driven message over the engagement of the consumer.

And once you’ve built a brand, don’t rest on your laurels, continue to innovate or you will be left behind.

5) Retention is key to brand building.
Companies no longer sell products, customers buy them. And once customers have bought a product, companies must do everything possible to hang onto those customers. After all, you’ve investment a lot of money to gain a customer, why let them go?

Especially as the more time a customer spends with you, the more money they will spend with you.

Isn’t it time you valued – not measured — customer satisfaction?

Recently I’ve met a couple of companies who couldn’t explain why they implemented a customer satisfaction survey and how they used the results! I hope this is the exception, not the rule.

If you’ve carried out a customer satisfaction survey, you probably did it because you want to deliver great customer service and believe the satisfaction survey will give you something to benchmark future results against. If this is the case, you are not alone.

Many companies regularly measure customer satisfaction. They send out surveys or call asking questions about satisfaction with service, product usage and more. Most people will have encountered the satisfaction survey at the bank counter that encourages immediate responses, the results of which can impact the manager’s bonus.

Others may have received a call from a car workshop after a service or an email from an online service provider.

But, unfortunately, the results of such measurement are unactionable. That means customer satisfaction surveys do a poor job of linking cause and effect.

As an example, a traditional survey might ask, “How satisfied were you with the product/service?” And then give 5 options from “Very satisfied” to “Very dissatisfied” but where’s the cause and effect?

If customers are dissatisfied with the product, what caused it? Was it a poor sales or other service experience? Or was it because the teller gave the wrong information? An unfair ‘returns policy’? Complexity? A lack of add-ons?

Part of a typical satisfaction survey, how measureable are the results?

Many customer satisfaction surveys measure the wrong activity at the wrong time, often with the wrong customers. If a walk in customer to a branch of a bank is a frequent visitor who takes up a lot of time making withdrawals or engaging expensive, trained personnel with minor transactions, should the bank care if they are satisfied or not?

Another failing of customer satisfaction surveys is that they are divorced from the costs of satisfaction. Yes, customers can be satisfied, but do you really want to satisfy every customer no matter what it costs?

Many organizations apparently do and some think good satisfaction scores are considered more important than profits. At least one Malaysian firm boasts of “exceeding expectations.” Not unexpectedly, setting the satisfaction bar so high inevitably leads to excessive expenses, hurting profitability.

And it is also misleading. According to Frederick Reichheld, writing in the influential Harvard Business School publication, 90% of industry customers report that they are satisfied or very satisfied. Impressive figures but why is it then that repeat purchases remain in the 30% – 40% range? Surely if so many customers are satisfied, shouldn’t they be making repeat purchases?

But most telling of all, in numerous surveys, 60% – 80% of customers have reported they are happy with service, before moving to a competitor!

Harvard Business Review - even completely satisfied customers can leave

Another issue with satisfaction is that as consumers become more empowered, the less likely they are to be satisfied. According to a survey by Accenture and the Marketing Society, the percentage of people whose ‘expectations of service quality are frequently or always met’ declined from 53% in 2007 to 40% in 2009. If this trend continues, it is unlikely that expectations will ever be met and therefore, what is the relevance of a satisfaction survey?

Companies can also influence or manipulate satisfaction scores with the timing of the questions. For instance, if an airline upgrades a traveler from economy to business class on a long haul flight and then calls the next day to ask if the passenger was satisfied will produce a predictable answer.

What you really want to do is to value satisfaction, not measure it. Valuing satisfaction means putting an actual cost figure on the satisfaction that is required to keep a customer as a customer.

After all, you spend large amounts of money on advertising, sales and other branding tactics to acquire a customer and then when you do acquire him, you ask if he is satisfied with the service. Wouldn’t it make sense to know why he became a customer and what it will take to keep him as a customer?

The importance of keeping a customer as a customer is ignored in almost all satisfaction surveys. Yet why would you want to satisfy a customer if 60% – 80% are likely to defect to a competitor with the next purchase?

Companies committed to growing profitability instead of expenses are already making the move to valuing satisfaction.

One of the first companies was Starbucks. Starbucks prides itself in providing a unique customer experience. In many ways, its brand is based on this customer experience. But Starbucks success meant longer queues that created unhappy customers. So, to ensure continued growth, Starbucks sought to measure satisfaction with the customer experience.

Starbucks strives to deliver value

Starbucks decided to talk to customers. Its customer research discovered that the average “unsatisfied” customer stuck with the company for a little more than one year, made 47 visits to its stores during that period and spent a total of approximately US$200. Not bad, really, for an “unsatisfied” customer.

But look at the value of a “satisfied” customer. The average “highly satisfied” Starbucks customer patronized the chain for more than eight years, made almost double the amount of visits (86) per year and spent over US$3,000 over that average eight-year time frame.

What was the primary difference between “unsatisfied” and “highly satisfied” customers? The amount of time the customer had to wait in line. Now that Starbucks knew the value of satisfaction, it could make the appropriate financial decisions.

Indeed, once the connection was made between marketing metric and financial outcome, calculating the investment and its potential payoff became easier. Based on Starbucks’ estimate, marketing would have to invest US$40 million annually worldwide to sufficiently reduce wait times and help convert those unsatisfied customers into highly satisfied ones. That’s no small amount, even for Starbucks.

If you were the CEO of Starbucks, what would you have done?

Actually, the data made the decision quite easy. Since the research had shown that each highly satisfied customer was worth US$3,000 over eight years and each unsatisfied customer was worth US$200 for one year, all Starbucks had to do was calculate the discounted cash flow and determine how many customers must be converted from unsatisfied to satisfied customers to generate the US$40 million in incremental revenue needed to cover the investment. The calculation revealed that Starbucks would rapidly recover its investment in satisfaction.

So take a close look at your own customer satisfaction surveys. Are they just telling you how “happy” customers are at a particular time and place and based on a specific transaction? Or do they provide actionable data about customer value?

Do they let you know their standards for product and service performance? Do they let you know how customers hold you accountable? Do they provide data that lets you make financial investments in customers that will bring the greatest financial return?

What’s needed today – and unfortunately is missing among companies that depend on creativity to build their brand – is a correlation between marketing metrics and financial outcomes.

Don’t limit your bottom line with feel-good customer satisfaction surveys that just look at customer good will. Instead, measure the value of their satisfaction. The result will not only tell you the causes of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but, much more importantly, provide the hard financial data to determine what to do about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Anholt comments on the Public Relations efforts of Malaysia

Simon Anholt, the originator of the term nation brand and for many years an authority on managing national identity was interviewed by BFM radio in Kuala Lumpur recently. You can hear the interview here.

The interview was also covered by the online media and you can read about it here.

My thoughts on this issue are as follows

No disrespect Datuk Seri, but Malaysia and her future is much bigger and more important than Datuk Seri Najib Razak, UMNO and BN. Indeed, I am sure Datuk Seri Najib would be the first to agree with me.

Politically, the facts are that citizens of Malaysia voted for the government and gave that government a mandate to rule and represent the people. If about 35% of the population didn’t vote for a party within the government coalition and voted instead for another party (assuming they did vote – if they didn’t they should keep quiet) they have to accept that their party lost, and get on with working to build a global nation for their children and grand children.

Recently, the Malaysian government, elected by the people to manage the country on behalf of the people, decided to use traditional media, as part of what I hope is an integrated, multi pronged country brand communications strategy to help improve the image of the country.

It is unlikely this is an isolated tactic but part of multiple, integrated initiatives that are planned and coordinated by a plan that measures and leverages results.

If the government decides to work with a company that appears to have impecable credentials (and FCB media have them in spades) but appears to mislead the government then that government must dispense with such companies and its services, which is exactly what the Malaysian government has done with FCB media.

It is an unfortunate event but I sincerely believe that the government is not to blame for the debacle.

What perhaps should be questioned is not that the goverment tried to improve the image of the country – how can that be a bad thing and show me a country that doesn’t want to improve its image – but what were the justifications for using FCB media, what were the channels used and are they as effective today as they were say 25 years ago, what was the scope of work, what did FCB promise, was it necessary to pay such large sums of money to FCB, what did FCB use that money for and what metrics were used to calculate ROI?

On the face of it the amount spent appears to be excessive but without a breakdown of the expenditure we can’t be sure. And although it is not justification for spending so much money, show me a country that doesn’t waste taxpayer’s money? Only today, the UK has announced it wasted £11.5 BILLION on a National Health Service project that has been abandoned despite the huge sums spent.

Personally, I’m surprised that Simon Anholt has chosen to make such damning comments about one tactic that is, I assume part of a larger more integrated and holistic Malaysia country brand strategy.

I’m also surprised at his suggestion that countries can only make themselves more relevant by ‘making themselves more useful’. And the way to do this is by tackling a list of predictable issues – climate change, women’s rights, terrorism and financial insecurity – currently being addressed by many countries already.

I also think it is a little naive to think that Malaysia isn’t playing its part in some or all of those issues already. In fact, one could argue Malaysia has successfully combatted terrorism for longer than many countries except perhaps Northern Ireland.

I’m also surprised that he cites becoming a ‘widely recognised and widely appreciated country’ as goals. These are rather wishy washy goals and probably irrelevant as it wouldn’t be difficult to identify millions of people worldwide who recognise Malaysia and the country is probably ‘widely appreciated’ by hundreds of millions of people already.

You can read my earlier post on how Malaysia should build a nation brand here

BRAND AUDITS: Key for consistency and integration

How effective are your branding activities? Are they aligned for the future?

Unfortunately, most branding initiatives revolve around a creative campaign developed by an advertising agency. Depending on budget, the creative campaign will be implemented with a one-size-fits-all message communicated to all and sundry and across multiple mass media platforms for as long as budget allows.

The model essentially revolves around hope – hope that lots of people will see the campaign, hope that amongst those people will be the target markets, hope that the message will resonate with those target markets, hope that those target markets will remember and hope that if they remember they will act. So basically, the ‘strategy’ is one of hope. Chances are if it isn’t, the agency will, if you haven’t already fired them, propose more of the same.

For most brands this approach is an exercise in futility. Wouldn’t it be better to first get an understanding of where your brand is, what your stakeholders want from your brand, what you are doing right (and wrong), the channels they are most likely to interface with, their influencers and more?

Internal and external brand and communications audits can both help determine how effective your branding activities have been and, more importantly, what they need to accomplish in the future.

Brand audits have multiple advantages. They provide a benchmark to evaluate the current brand position. Carried out every 2 years they can evaluate progress toward branding goals. They also unify an organization. Too often, everyone has a different definition of branding.

A brand audit can provide a consistent, universally accepted definition that ensures that everyone is marching to the beat of the same branding drum. Finally, a brand audit can help eliminate the all-too-common disconnect between what companies believe their brand to be and what customers perceive it to be.

An internal brand audit takes the brand temperature from corporate executives and other personnel. One-on-one confidential interviews probe to determine each individual’s perceptions of the brand, branding goals, evaluation of past branding activities, knowledge of key corporate or brand messages and other key points.

What are the current branding and customer processes, and how can they be improved? One great question to ask is: “Imagine it is five years from now, and the company is celebrating historic financial and market success. How did the company arrive at this point? What are some of the activities that brought us to such success?”

A brand audit can cover a wide cross section of departments but must have the customer and the customer’s needs at its core. Is relevant customer data being added to corporate databases? Is customer information shared with other areas of the company? What initiatives are on the horizon that will affect certain customers and how will this be addressed?

A minimum of 25 minutes is required for each interview, but they can take up to an hour. Questions can be prepared beforehand, but the most valuable insights often result from free-ranging discussions on relevant topics.

A key component of a brand audit is a communications audit, which is especially useful for larger firms with multiple divisions or departments that get involved in branding activities.

A communications audit looks at all the visual material that represents a brand – the brand identity, press releases, ads, brochures, Web site, logos, etc. Analysis then determines the amount of consistency and integration in appearance/design, messages and their relevance to target markets and adherence to corporate standards. Ideally, a brand manual is in place to provide a benchmark.

The role of social media in corporate communications is increasingly important and a social media audit must be included in the communications audit. Communications across social media require different skill sets to traditional marketing and this is scaring some companies away but it must be addressed.

Internal brand and communications audits often reveal a stunning amount of discrepancies that result in mixed messages, incompatible branding efforts or even disagreement about branding goals.

An external brand audit looks at how various stakeholders (or, more accurately, constituencies) view the brand. Such constituencies include customers, prospects, media, distributors/retailers, regulatory bodies and suppliers.

Sometimes, an external brand audit is combined with a loss analysis to determine why a contract or other business went to a competitor. These constituencies are asked their perceptions and experiences with the brand.

Sample questions can include: “Why did you buy the first time?” “Why will you buy again?” “How useful and relevant are corporate communications?” “How responsive is our support?” “How do our competitors compare to us?” One revealing question we’ve used in the past is: “If you were running our company, what would you do to better meet your requirements?”

The number involved in brand audits can vary greatly according to time, cost or other constraints. Even as few as 5 – 10 interviews may produce actionable insights.

The success of a brand audit will be determined by the people involved. They must understand branding imperatives, be familiar with the relevant products and company and have superb questioning, listening and analytical skills.

Results of brand audits must not only be shared as widely as possible but also incorporated into internal and external branding efforts, including employee communications, advertising and PR.

It is especially important to use the results to drive changes in sales, service, support and other customer-facing activities.

Finally, remember to use brand audits as guidelines for improvement, not as sticks for punishment.

Direct Mail, Email and your brand

Direct Mail and Email marketing are critical components of any branding strategy for either a business to business or business to consumer brand. And it is a growing business. But the quality of Direct Mail and Email marketing in Malaysia and the mining and management of the databases used is horrendous.

If you own a company and you want to destroy any equity there may be in your brand, prepare a badly written product sheet on your desktop and when you are finished, don’t bother to spell check the document.

Print 50,000 copies and shove them in all the letterboxes of as many office or apartment complexes in the Klang Valley as you can. While you are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring (assuming you included it on the flyer – and believe me, some don’t), your ‘DM campaign’ is being thrown in the rubbish bin by the lift, used as a place mat for lunch or simply thrown on the floor by the mail boxes. Hardly an inspiring ‘moment of truth’ first time experience for your brand and potential customer.

Another way to damage your brand is to send the wrong material to the wrong people. I have three kids, two under the age of 13. Yet this year they have both received two offers from credit card companies. These offers state that applicants must be at least 18 years of age.

A lot of firms are moving away from DM to save money on the printing of their flyers or brochures and looking at Email marketing. Although figures are unavailable for Malaysia, the Direct Marketing Association in the UK informs us that 90% of companies are now using email marketing.

There is no doubt that a well thought out and planned email campaign can be effective and profitable. But too many firms don’t do this and instead are simply adding to the seven trillion spam messages expected to be delivered to inboxes around the world in 2011.

I signed up with a local event organiser for information on forthcoming branding and marketing seminars that they organise in the region. Within a week my inbox was inundated with emails related to human resources, accounting, insurance, motivation and other topics I have nothing to do with and no interest in. These emails are trashed with the same irritation as the ones for Viagra, lottery wins and Nigerian banks.

Despite my repeated requests to be unsubscribed from their list, I continue to receive multiple emails. I cannot simply mark the email as ‘junk’ because they are using a Gmail account and this will send all mail from Gmail addresses to my trash. The name of the company is ingrained in my subconscious, but for all the wrong reasons and it is now a matter of principle that we will not sign up for any event organized by this firm.

I have received about 10 emails in the past month from an insurance company that recently spent RM13 million (US$4 million) on a rebranding exercise. The emails are not personalized, the attachment is of a flyer that is dull and states in two places that the offer is exclusively for Mastercard holders yet I don’t have a Mastercard.

I really lose faith in financial institutions and other companies when they make such mistakes. Think of the money wasted on the cost of the name, flyers, administration and so on.

The rewards for good campaigns are significant. The Direct Marketing Association reports that more than RM550 billion was spent on direct marketing advertising (including email marketing) in 2008 and sales generated from that were an astonishing RM6,450 billion! There is no question then that DM can be effective because it allows consumers to read about the products and services before deciding to explore further, or even buy.

But it has to be done properly. It is not enough simply to create a campaign and send it out. It is also important that the content resonates with the target market. And you still need to ‘sell’ the product. Just because you have got into the prospect’s inbox, doesn’t mean the prospect will buy.

The key for all direct marketing or email marketing is get the customer information right in the first place and keep it updated accurately thereafter. If you are collecting a lot of leads but don’t have the resources to input and clean the data, then outsource. There are many firms offering such services and it will be money well spent.

There is an edict within Direct Marketing industry that says, “Right offer, right person, right time.”

So it’s time for Malaysian firms, from SME up to main board, to end all this untargetted, uninspiring, untrackable, unproofed direct mail and start building brands with quality marketing collateral.

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.