SIX tips from Fusionbrand on how to avoid the same fate as Tourism Malaysia

Yes it looks like an irresponsible adult allowed a petulant child with a grudge against the creative fraternity loose on a very old software programme and yes, it should never have made it past the idea stage. It’s the creative equivalent of a train crash featuring trains carrying toxic chemicals or nuclear weapons. But does it matter? In the short term, perhaps. Long term, maybe. But it never have happened.

I’m talking of course about the Tourism Malaysia VMY2020 logo (see pic) launched at the end of January 2018 by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, the Malaysia Minister of Tourism and derided by much of Malaysia, graphic designers worldwide and respected media organisations such as the Daily Telegraph, the BBC and the South China Morning Post.

How to make sure you don’t end up with one of these

Despite the negative reaction of, well everyone, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the reality is the new logo (if it survives and I don’t think it will) won’t have an effect on visitors contemplating whether or not they should visit Malaysia in 2020 (and the years before and after 2020).

In fact after being featured on social media and a host of international news channels and publications, it may have provided Malaysia with yet more free publicity.

Admittedly not the kind of publicity Malaysia really wants but it’ll take more than negative publicity about a crap logo to attract or stop foreigners from visiting the country.

Nearly every business/school/institution and many individuals have a logo. We see logos on business cards, buildings, billboards, buses, lamposts, food packets, print ads, TV ads and just about everywhere else you can stick one.

And they sell computers, clothes, cars, cosmetics, finances, food, schools, fashion and fags, alcohol, appliances, airlines and holidays, and just about anything else in between.

There are good logos and bad logos, some change on a regular basis, think Google, others stay pretty much the same for years, think Apple or Nike. We’re told logos must be unique yet instantly recognisable.

They must have colour because certain colours convey certain meanings yet they must be instantly recognisable and have the same impact in black and white.

We’re told that each element of the logo has meaning. A logo designed with sharp, straight lines communicate a strong, trustworthy brand.

Curved lines on the other hand communicate a caring and supportive product or service. The rationale for combining curved and straight lines is an ambitious company.

And we’re told that everyone should have a logo because they represent the brand and make you stand out from the crowd. But crowds behave differently today and are influenced in different ways.

The illustrative style that we recognise as logos today is nearly 150 years old and harks back to a time when Western civilisations moved out of the fields and into the factories. Most of those factories are now here in Asia where we’re living our lives a little differently today than we were back then.

The main role of the logo, traditionally anyway, has been to create awareness about a business or in this instance, a destination (and not the country) and help to build a positive image about the business/destination.

Logos evoloved to become a symbolic reflection of what the busines/destination wanted to communicate to audiences. And when logos changed, it was meant to be part of an overall strategic shift in direction for the brand and would be one of many elements of that new brand strategy that had to be communicated in a joined up, integrated manner.

But over the last 20 years, businesses have got lazy or perhaps greedy. Too many businesses have changed logos in isolation, without incorporating the change into a new strategy.

They’ve updated the brand identity and called it a rebrand without making any improvements to the organisation. And then they’ve watched, surprised when nothing changes.

The London 2012 logo dodged a bullet

Sometimes when a logo changed slightly and the reaction was negative, the brand got away with it. Remember the London Olympics logo? Other times, such as the GAP logo change in 2010, the consumer response was deafening and GAP had to backtrack quickly. But overall, because these changes were ad hoc or tactical, they made little difference to the business delivery.

Another classic example is oil behemouth BP. Back in 2000 the firm decided they wanted a new logo that communicated ‘green growth’. Despite spending over US$200 million it was considered a massive failure because the opinion of most people was that there was nothing green about the business of oil. No matter what the company tried to make us believe.

Our new logo tells you we’re not in a dirty business so you must listen

And then in 2010, the largest offshore oil spill the history of the oil business put paid to the concept of the green growth oil company communicated via its logo. For many, that’s when logos lost their relevance.

With the proliferation of countries competing for the same visitors, too many destinations play safe and compete with the same look and feel, making it difficult for potential visitors to differentiate them.

Add to this mix the powerful impact of social media on the travel industry and visitors now use the Internet for research purposes and get most of the information that influences their decision making from content generated by people like them and not logos.

The rise of the ‘me too’ destination logo dilutes the importance of the logo in the visitor’s decision making process

The focus has shifted away from the identity of the destination to the experiences of other like minded people in that country. Against this backdrop, it’s hardly surprising then that the importance of a logo will not be what it was.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), global tourism generated $7.6 trillion for the global GDP. More than 105 million international visitors arrived in South East Asia in 2015 and that figure is growing at an average of 8% every year.

Many of those visitors will visit Malaysia not because of the logo but because Kuala Lumpur International Airport is an increasingly important hub for low cost carriers servicing destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and more. And any trip to SE Asia will include visits to other countries in the region.

So in terms of the impact the logo will have on visitors to Malaysia, it will be negligible. However, it will help shape perceptions of Malaysia as a country and much of the debate across social media was how embarrassing the logo is for Malaysia.

So in terms of the reputation of Malaysia, there will be a perception impact and that will probably add to the negativity about the country. If most of the content consumers read about Malaysia is negative, then perceptions will become negative. And those perceptions can only be influenced and changed with a brand strategy that includes all stakeholders and not with tactical activities such as a new logo, advertising or events.

For Malaysia, what’s done is done. What can other countries, states, regions, cities or towns do to ensure their efforts aren’t ridiculed in the same way?

Here are 6 lessons that can be learned from this fiasco. They should be applied to any destination branding initiative.

1) Set up a nation branding task force.
Every country or state/city/place should have one. Malaysia used to have one and in 2008 the task force commissioned Fusionbrand to develop the Malaysia nation brand but the plans were canned when a new administration took over and a new department was set up under the new Prime Minister’s Office. This department embarked on a badly researched project about 5 years later that revolved around a tagline and a logo and not a strategy and as a result, lasted little more than a month.

2) Nation branding is strategic not tactical.
Nothing related to the nation brand can be done in isolation. To avoid similar failures, anything related to the nation/state/region/city brand must go through the nation branding task force. And that includes important ministries such as the Tourism ministry. Even state tourism boards and other stakeholders must share with the nation branding task force.

3) Test identity concepts before launch.
No man is an island. But sadly in Malaysia, if a senior person proposes something it is rarely challenged internally, even by marketing professionals hired supposedly for their knowledge. Anything creative should always be tested internally and with multiple consumer segments and the task force. I know it’s time consuming and expensive but which is worse, a delay in the launch or becoming the laughing stock of the world?

4) Have a plan for your identity launch.
Don’t expect to wing it. And be prepared for serious back lash from consumers because most of us hate change. Not many new logos were well received initially. But many of them are now very familiar, think Pepsi, Citi, Accenture, Qantas. After a certain amount of fumbling, the Minister stated, “I have launched it. Nazri Aziz never backtracks. This is what will be used for the world, only one logo, no other logo.” Would a clearly defined, sensible rationale have been a better way to announce the new logo? Absolutely.

5) Social media is your friend not your enemy.
I get the impression, perhaps wrongly that Tourism Malaysia was completely unprepared for the reaction to the logo. Especially on social media. Social Media CAN effect change so learn to work with it. But remember it is not a soapbox. Simple consumer research at the logo development stage on Facebook and Twitter would have saved Tourism Malaysia and the country, a lot of embarrassment.

6) Logos / taglines etc should not be confused with branding.
Malaysia has had a tough time over the last few years with the country struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment. It’s hard to find current arrivals figures but the general consensus of opinion is that visitors from wealthy countries or high spending tourists are not visiting as they used to. A lot of this is because there is confusion over what constitutes branding and the Malaysia tourism brand has little differentiation. Brand identities / taglines / positioning statements / advertising campaigns and other marketing tactics are not branding. They may create awareness but that rarely convert to arrivals.

As I’ve stated already, I don’t think this farce will have much of a positive or negative impact on arrivals. But it’s impact on Malaysia’s brand? That worries me but that’s a discussion for another day.

Fusionbrand is Malaysia’s premier strategic brand consultancy. For more information on how we can help you get your branding right the first time, please call +60379542075.


Do Nation or City Brand rankings offer any real value?

Florian Kaefer who owns the excellent Place Brand Observer Blog drew my attention to a cracking Blog post written by Eduardo Oliviera on the Place Brands Blog.

In his post, Eduardo writes extensively on the number of country and city brand indexes and barometers as well as newspaper ‘best place to be’ and ‘best place to swim’ tables and their rankings and notes that they all use different methodologies and algorithms. Unsurprisingly the rankings differ from one to another and he wonders whether their rankings offer any real benefit.

He says, “The practice of place branding continues this ‘ranking fetish’. People seem to set great stock in rankings or lists such as ‘best of’ or ‘top 10′. But in reality these rankings don’t have as much power as people think. They simply divert focus, resources and effort from what is truly important in place branding.”

He goes on to say, “In the same line of reasoning investors are influenced in their decisions both by very material, quantitative issues (in particular costs and labour force) but also by the reputation of places.”

About the only part of his post that I disagree with is that last comment because as long as the place doesn’t have a seriously bad reputation – and even then there are investors willing to invest – if it offers specific value to an investor that investor will invest.

I’m preparred to get off the fence and say these rankings are meaningless. They have zero impact on a nation or city brand. You cannot create place brand reputation but you can influence it. It grows organically thanks to multiple components that can be influenced and often steered by the very people and other stakeholders invested in the place brand.

Ultimately it has to offer economic, experiential and emotional value to the relevant stakeholder, both internal or external and if it does it can overcome serious setbacks. Which is why countries like America can invade Iraq and upset the Muslim world and still be the number one destination for overseas education for students from Islamic countries.

It has brand credit that has built up over time and it will take a lot to erode that credit. But that credit is intangible and doesn’t need to be measured. What city and nation brands have to focus on is delivering that economic, experiential and emotional value, based on the individuals requirements for that value and they will build a brand that will be the best place to invest, eat in, sleep in, skateboard in and so on.

To engage consumers, Jakarta needs to improve its communications

As the world attempts to shake loose the shackles of the economic meltdown, competition for tourists from both established and new markets is gathering pace.

But the new environment is an even more competitive one. There are almost 200 countries worldwide and over 100,000 places in Asia alone, actively seeking to attract and retain tourists.

As a result, it is increasingly important that destinations seeking domestic and international visitors have a well researched, structured, long-term strategy for increasing visibility & engaging the right segments to generate arrivals.

One relative newcomer to this tourism marketing battleground is the city of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, located on the island of Java and the capital of Indonesia. If you haven’t been to Jakarta I recommend you go as soon as possible because it is a fascinatiing destination.

I spotted this ad in a Malaysian daily recently.

Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?
Does this ad make you want to get more information on Jakarta?

It would appear that the people at the Jakarta tourism and culture department are looking to attract visitors to Jakarta with the promise of great shopping. However, as a consumer, without knowing anything about the rest of this campaign I can tell you that this ad needs work.

Firstly, what is the headline trying to tell us? Is it telling us that time is irrelevant? This is an existential argument and possibly true but in this situation not relevant. Perhaps it is saying, “don’t worry about time when you go shopping in Jakarta”? Or to be more specific, when you go shopping for shoes because after looking at this ad, am I wrong to assume Jakarta is a great place to buy shoes?

There is no call to action, the image of the shoe boxes looks photo shopped onto the main image and there isn’t a website address to gather more information.

So I took it on myself to google (other search engines are available) “Enjoy Jakarta” and arrived at the official Jakarta travel website where I couldn’t find any information on enjoying Jakarta, shopping or even shoe shopping.

Not the best introduction to what Jakarta has to offer
Not the best introduction to what Jakarta has to offer

I spent some time on the site and for what it’s worth, I found the site very slow, difficult to navigate with limited information and English that needs proof reading before pubication. When I clicked on the “Why Jakarta” tab on the drop down menu, the information provided was hardly compelling and unlikely to attract investors. And talking of investors, is this a tourism site or a business site?

Not the most compelling of arguments
Not the most compelling of arguments

Moreover, I found the information above the fold didn’t match the information below the fold and when I clicked on Wine and Dine in the footer, all I got was a list of restaurants which to a first time visitor would mean nothing.

This won't mean much to anyone
This won’t mean much to anyone

Today, audiences rely less on traditional media to source information, making them increasingly hard to reach. Furthermore, consumers are less inclined to see or be interested in a corporate driven message delivered across traditional media.

But as the reliance on traditional media diminishes, opportunities arise in new and social media. Where before, companies were dependent on content from the media owners, today they can create their own content that resonates with specific consumers and their interests.

Consumers too are developing their own content and it’s important that destination brands such as Jakarta understand this and provide channels for consumers to create and share content.

It is good to see Jakarta looking to encourage visitors to this exciting city but it will take more than the print campaign and website reviewed in this article to be successful.

Destination branding for small cities

Back in 2007, Destination Branding consultant Bill Baker released one of the best ‘how to’ books for city branding practitioners, mayors, planners, governors and anyone else tasked with or interested in the branding of cities.

‘Destination Branding for Small Cities: The Essentials for Successful Place Branding’ was so successful that he has updated it and you can find the updated version on amazon here

Bill Baker, defining the city branding process from the trenches

Bill understands better than most that city branding is much more than a logo, tag line or a communications exercise. With more than 30 years experience branding destinations, Bill outlines and explains the complexities of developing a place brand, the research needed, the stakeholders involved and the importance of developing a well defined strategy.

With plenty of case studies and comments from other practitioners (My contribution is below), this book should be required reading not only of practioners and government servants but also of students of marketing and branding.

Here’s my contribution to the book:
Singapore and Hong Kong have built internationally respected brands. This was achieved not by using creative taglines or cool advertising campaigns, but through their holistic approach to the process of branding.

Other Asian cities can benefit by emulating their practices through a better understanding of the elements required to build a destination brand and by having a more customer-centered approach.

Unfortunately, when it comes to destination branding, too many Asian cities have a top-down focus with a fixation on taglines or a brand essence or a one size fits all communications campaign that develops what it thinks is an interesting message that tries to speak to everyone, but really speak to no one.

As an example, in an attempt to boost tourism, the State government of Perak in Malaysia announced that the state capital, Ipoh would be known as the ‘City of White Coffee’.

Ipoh – city of white coffee. Would this tempt you to visit Ipoh?

A State executive said at the time, “Ipoh should have its own identity and branding just like Shenzhen (China) that is known as the “Shoe City” and Paris which has long been known as the “City of Fashion”. This shows a lack of understanding of what is destination branding and is an unrealistic expectation and hardly a concept to drive significant tourism growth.

I wrote an article about how to brand Ipoh, a beautiful city with massive potential and only a couple of hours north of Kuala Lumpur at the end of 2010. You can read the article here.

Similarly, the large Indonesian city of Surabaya has developed the tagline, ‘Sparkling Surabaya’ in an attempt to communicate the sparkling of the city as a centre for jewelry.

Surubaya tagline

In addition to being rather naive, the idea was controversial because citizens felt that the concept did not fully represent their city. A more thorough branding process might have helped avoid this situation.

On the other hand, the branding of the city of Zamboanga in the Philippines as ‘Asia’s Latin City’ has gained wide endorsement because it speaks well to the city’s culture and strong Latin influence, and appeals to external audiences as well.

The globally accepted principles of place branding are certainly valid in Asia however, the level of their application is very patchy at best.

Few demonstrate what can be considered ‘best practice’, and too many are influenced by basic misunderstandings concerning the practice and processes required, and how a city brand should be communicated and perform.

In general, too many see city branding as simply a tourism driven creative advertising campaign or a new slogan pushed out across traditional media.

Branding states requires integrated strategic initiatives

I believe that traditional brand communications driven by traditional processes such as creativity, placement, repetition, positioning are being dragged, kicking and screaming, to the branding graveyard. Brand communications, as a numbers game of releases distributed, ads run, awards won and so on, that focussed on outputs, not outcomes, are finished.

But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for superbly executed advertising, as part of a integrated, organisational driven, consumer influenced brand strategy.

When the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership launched a strategic initiative that has at its centre, a campaign developed to remind individuals that wearing seat belts is important, the county realised that repeating well executed advertising on TV was going to be expensive and unlikely to reduce the number of road accidents in the county. However, the ads are good and were viewed over a million times in two weeks. My personal favourite is here

But the ads are only part of the story. The initiative also includes Operation Crackdown, a residents driven initiative developed with the residents of the area in mind. Essentially, the initiative calls on Sussex residents to contribute to the safety of their communities by reporting instances of anti-social/dangerous driving.

These initiatives are part of an integrated strategy that also includes educating businesses by offering companies a complete managers’ safety pack of handbook, driver information and posters to display in public areas. There are also opportunities for businesses to apply for specialist help to devise their own occupational road risk strategy, or to have existing safety initiatives examined by the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership.

There are also other campaigns that focus on children. Schools across the county participate in a quiz. Cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians are also targetted via multiple channels.

Operation Crackdown received 1,608 speed complaints from across Sussex, between March 2009 and March 2010. Extensive data will be collected and analysed on an ongoing basis and used to improve the strategy.