You still need a plan to build a brand

A business needs a plan or as I prefer to call it, an organisational framework.

But the content of that plan and the way the plan is executed is changing.

That is because the world is so fluid.

Today, personnel have to be recruited not for their ability to sit an exam based on a course that is perhaps 2 or more years old (ancient history in today’s business environment) but on whether they have the skills and confidence to see events as they are and to have the confidence to make decisions and take risks based on what’s in front of them at a specific time.

Freedom to act, for the benefit of the business, within a framework.

Trust, collaboration, personalisation, flexibility, communication, value, pragmatism will build brands not ads, logos, creativity and deep pockets.

Why it pays to build a brand

As they enter the season of contract negotiations, many Asian and Malaysian firms are finding their margins squeezed by the Western brands for which they manufacture products.

As they go through this painful process, the question of whether they should explore the possibility of developing their own brands will come to the fore once again.

It is well known of course that the cost of building a brand can be substantial but failure rates are high too – as high as 90% according to Ernst & Young.

But the rewards of developing a brand successfully are difficult to ignore and Apple is considered by many to be the poster boy of successful branding.

Almost bankrupt 15 years ago Apple’s stock reached US$369.89 in August 2011 when its market capitalisation hit US$342.8 billion. This put the tech superpower ahead of the previous richest company Exxon, whose stock fell to US$68.78 with a market cap of US$334.41 billion.

Although Apple only held the position of richest company in the world for a short time, it was some achievement.

The demand for Apple products continues and the company sold four million of the iPhone 4S in the first four days after the launch in November 2011.

Such demand allows the company to charge a premium for its products. But how much profit does Apple make on iPhones and is it really beneficial to build a brand?

A recent report from technology research firm iSuppli would suggest the answer is a definate yes.

iSuppli has carried out extensive research and recently announced that a 16GB iPhone 4S costs US$196 (RM616) to make whilst the 64GB costs US$245 RM770).

In the UK the iPhone 4S costs UK pounds 499 or RM2,520 out of contract. The iPhone 4S is not on sale in Malaysia yet but in Singapore an out of contract 16GB iPhone 4S will cost S$948 (RM2,526) and the 64GB will cost S$1,088 (RM2,669).

Nice margins indeed!

Individual component costs of an iPhone

Google+ Brand Pages is another critical social media tool for corporate brands

Back in June 2011, Google launched Google+ to counter the increasingly powerful and influential Facebook. According to Google, 40 million people have signed up for Google+ which equates to about 8 million new users a month. Not a bad effort but a long way to go to reach the 800 million Facebook users.

The launch of Google+ saw a number of complaints from consumers, especially related to applications whose functionality was changed or users being forced to give up pseudonyms to continue sharing.

Corporations also complained because they were unable to connect and build relationships with consumers, something they have been able to do and do successfully on Facebook.

Some companies did try to create business pages on Google+ but they were rejected, with a request to wait.

Well the wait is over with the launch today of Google+ Brand Pages. Now firms can connect and engage with consumers through corporate pages. Although Google+ Brand Pages doesn’t operate that differently from Facebook, it will have to form a part of any corporation’s social media strategy.

One neat feature not available on Facebook is Google+ Direct Connect. Simply by putting “+” in front of a brand’s name before making a Google search, will ensure searchers are directed to the firms Google+ page.

Google’s open approach also means that a brand can now have a business page that is integrated with Google search, Ad words, Google places and YouTube.

Critically, I also expect Google+ profiles to have a significant impact on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and search results. And once Google starts to provide metrics for pages via Google analytics, we may see Facebook’s crown slip.

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.

Malays drinking Guinness

Here’s a lovely old print advertisement from 1968.

The ad features a young Malay professional enjoying a pint of Guinness and some satay whilst his admiring and approving wife looks on.

The copy tells the reader that Guinness gives you energy when you are tired after work and that there are nutritional benefits to drinking Guinness. And the tagline reminds you that Guinness is good for you.

It’s a fairly innocent ad, typical of the period but what is most surprising is that it features Malays! How times have changed!

For brands, now more than ever, content is king but who generates that content?

I think it was Bill Gates who coined the phrase “Content is King” back in the mid 1990s. He was right then and he is right today, possibly even more so today.

In today’s economic climate, traditional media owners, desperate for content but unable to afford to produce it themselves, are increasingly looking to independent production companies to generate that content.

But ever more cynical consumers are skeptical of content distributed via traditional media channels, especially in Malaysia where the mainstream media is acknowledged as being controlled by the government. Even content on respected platforms such as the BBC, CNN and CNBC has come under scrutiny recently after questions were asked about content produced by UK company FBC media

At the same time, or perhaps as a result of this, consumers are now changing the way they interact with brands, both during the evaluation stage, purchase stage and, critically after the purchase.

In the past, despite the major investment required to attract a new customer, the brand owner would be happy to sell them something and let them go. If they didn’t come back, it didn’t really matter as there were an increasing number of consumers to replace the initial customer and competition was limited. Moreover consumers expected little from the brands they bought.

Now after a purchase, consumers want to be involved with brands and mindful of the lack of genuine information available, want to influence others. Thanks to social media, they can do this and will share information, thoughts and opinions about their acquisition, long after the actual purchase.

Those consumers also believe they have a right to a role in the development of the brand going forward. This means that increasingly we are seeing consumers create content that defines brands and not the brand owner.

So content is still king, but it is now created by consumers. The key is to influence that content in the same way as traditional media once did.

Do you agree?

Repositioning won’t solve Nokia’s problems

In 2002, Nokia was Britain’s number two super brand; by 2010 it was 89th. But Nokia doesn’t have a branding problem.

Although I no longer use a Nokia, I still have some brand loyalty and track the performance of the Finnish mobile phone behemoth and although it’s global share of mobile sales dropped below 30% for the first time since 1999, it still sold 450 million handsets in 2010, outselling Apple 10 to one.

10 years ago, in 2000, Nokia sold 128 million handsets out of a total of 405 million, giving it just under 32% of the market and with margins of 20%, Nokia was well placed in the sector as Motorola and Ericsson struggled.

By the end of 2003, Nokia had increased its share of the global handset market to 34.6%. By the end of the first quarter, 2004, that share had slipped to 28.4%. This 20% drop in market share was despite a year-over-year increase of mobile shipments of 29.3%. Nokia found itself in this potentially dangerous position because it was slow to introduce clamshell style phones and colour displays.

Fast forward to 2007 and Nokia was once again humiliating competitors in the handset stakes, and in particular Motorola. In the first quarter of 2007, Nokia shipped 92 million units, a 20.6% growth compared with Motorola’s 47.5 million units shipped during the same period. 2007 also saw handset sales break through the one billion units level with a total of 1.17 units sold, a 16% increase over the 990 million phones sold in 2006.

Nokia’s global market share climbed to 38% whilst Motorola’s slumped to a dismal 13%. Analysts thought at the time that Nokia’s share of the global market could climb to an all-time high of 40% by the end of 2007.

On 2nd August of that year, Nokia announced an astonishing 57% increase in second quarter operating profits to US$3.2 billion. And when the definitive metric for measuring brands is profitability, Nokia sizzled again with operating margins for the combined mobile device business of 20.9%. The company also had US$9.5 billion in cash and no debt.

But 2007 saw the launch of the iPhone and suddenly the mobile phone became a smartphone. By the third quarter of 2007 the iPhone had 20% of the smartphone market, way behind RIM with the Blackberry at 39% but more than the smartphone sales of Motorola, Nokia and Palm combined.

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

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

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

Under pressure in a market it once dominated and essentially still does, Nokia has panicked. Realising the key to smartphone sales is the OS, it has mucked about with Symbian, a perfectly good OS with no more flaws than the iOS.

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

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

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

This delay meant that the N95 and N97, both good smartphones in their own right and with email, music players, the Internet and GPS as well as a slide out Querty keyboard were supposed to compete with the cool iPhone.

Next up, the beautiful N8, launched in 3Q2010. Engineering porn in my opinion with a 12 megapixel camera used by professionals. But the N8 was outsold 6 to one in Europe and did even worse in the gadget hungry, fast growing Asian markets.

Then it tried a completely new Linux based OS called MeeGo but it’s corporate heart wasn’t in it and MeeGo only got a year.

Now, in what could be seen as a last throw of the dice, Nokia has teamed up with Microsoft and is launching the partnership with a US$112m global brand repositioning campaign, which will see the launch of its first phone running on the Windows 7 operating system in October 2011.

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

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

Although I don’t know the objectives of the six month reposition campaign, one assumes it is an attempt by Nokia to try and regain lost market share from rivals Android, Apple and Blackberry.

But this won’t happen because some ad agency or agencies have created a position that they intend to push out, no doubt primarily across traditional mass media because that’s where most of the eyes are supposed to be and it pays the highest commissions.

And I’m sure the same message will be communicated in all countries, irrespective of local cultures, smartphone habits and so on.

And of course there will also be a nod to digital and social media. And with US$100 million to play with there will no doubt be an attempt at a clever Old Spice type viral campaign.

But the problem is, Nokia’s issues cannot be solved with a communications campaign that will no doubt generate lots of interest but will not change the fact that the Windows OS is an unpopular OS.

Nokia doesn’t have a brand problem, it has an organisational problem that cannot be solved by a repositioning campaign.

Nokia products don’t come close to delivering the experience Android, RIM and Apple smartphone products offer. And that won’t change with seven. Especially as Nokia has had very little influence over the first Windows 7 devices.

And if you can’t offer a compelling experience, you won’t solve the problems Nokia has.

Nokia would be better off taking that US$100 million and giving it to the Symbian crew to improve what is almost a very good OS capable of competing with Android and iOS.

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
Consumer electronics
Computer hardware
Computer software
Travel and leisure
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.

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.