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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participants were asked only two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to build a brand in Asia today


Building brands has evolved from the one dimensional, top down era where the company controlled the relationship and essentially managed that relationship using broadcasts across mass media such as TV, Out of Home, print and radio with messages and content created to tell you what the company wanted you to know into the bottom up, customer economy.

In the bottom up customer economy, brands and their success or failure are defined and determined by customers. Those customers will create content and messages and disseminate that content and those messages across multiple platforms and to communities who are interested in their opinions. Now, how you interact with consumers is on their terms.

This is not revolution, simply evolution in the branding space. Brands are to blame for this loss of control because they have consistently misled consumers or over promised and under delivered. Brands can no longer be built using one-size-fits-all messages broadcast across traditional media channels to anyone who will listen. Basically because no one is listening.

Sure, there is still a place for messages, campaigns, and so on but because there are so many sources of information, so much clutter, these messages don’t have the impact or influence they had 20 or 30 years ago. In the digital age you can spend as much as you want on traditional media and reach everyone in the country but if they are not listening they won’t buy your product or service.

If a brand wants to be successful it must learn to communicate with multiple segments, and messages must be targeted and must be dynamic, using content and channels that resonate with those segments. But brands must move away from the traditional demographic approach to researching those segments. After all, how many 15 – 24 communities are there on Facebook? And content must constantly be revised and updated with new content.

And organizations must ensure that they deliver on promises and that promise must deliver economic, experiential and emotional value to each of those multiple segments. In the consumer business, this is most often done, initially anyway, in the store. Because in the customer economy, no matter how much you spend, if your staff don’t know how to build rapport with your prospects then they may buy once but rarely will they become a loyal customer. And without loyal customers, you won’t have a brand.

So if you are looking to build a brand, forget about reach, awareness, positioning and brand equity and trying to be all things to all people and start thinking about delivering value to specific segments and building customer equity.

Twitter users increasingly influential


Twitter estimates that there are 26 million monthly Twitter users online in 2010. This is not that significant compared with the 500 million using Facebook.

But it’s not the numbers that matter, it’s the quality of the users that count. Twitter users are far more influential than other online users. In fact, a recent study by ExactTarget considers Twitter users to be the most influential online.

Quote “While the number of active Twitter users is less than Facebook or email, the concentration of highly engaged and influential content creators is unrivaled — it’s become the gathering place for content creators whose influence spills over into every other corner of the internet.”

The study, conducted in April 2010 found that the main reason consumers follow brands they like on Twitter is to gather news and information about the company and its products and to learn about future sales and likely discounts. Interestingly the study found that brands are still not participating in conversations with followers, reducing the opportunity for the brands to build relationships with consumers that cannot be duplicated, like the sales and discounts.

Reasons for this might be because brands are seeking social media advice from advertising agencies who prefer to recommend traditional broadcasting of messages from the brand rather than engagement with consumers that gives more responsibility for the brands development to the consumer.

How to sustain a family retail brand


The picture below was taken in 1912 in Oxford, UK a city about 60 miles to the North West of London. It features Gill & Co, an ironmongers and a branch of J. Sainsbury, a food store.

Gill & Co was established in 1530 during Henry VIII’s reign. At the time it was the first ironmonger in the country. It has been in business ever since and has witnessed the English Civil War, two World Wars, a couple of global economic depressions, three recessions, the birth of the railway, the car, powered flight, electricity, the Internet and more.

Originally the firm supplied ironware and related products for Oxford residents however as times changed it tried to reinvent itself and also stocked equipment for chimney sweeps (think Mary Poppins), farming equipment, tools and gardening supplies. Although Gill & Co moved locations, it was always a one store operation in Oxford.

In 2010, after 480 years in business Gill & Co is closing down, beaten into submission by large DIY and home improvement suppliers like B&Q the 3rd largest DIY retailer in the world, largest in Europe and the largest in China and Homebase.

Sainsbury’s, at a mere 141 years old, a relatively new brand was established in 1869 in Drury Lane. Although now at the centre of the theatre district, this was once a very poor area of London.

Sainsbury has also witnessed much, including 2 world wars, 2 depressions, a couple of recessions, the automobile, manned flight, the moon landings and more. Sainsbury soon became an institution, offering high quality products at low prices. By 1882 Sainsbury was selling it’s own label brands.

Although lacking the heritage of Gill & Co, Sainsbury invested heavily in its staff, employing women as managers when it was unheard of in the early 20th century and developing its own training school to train managers.

Sainsbury also invested in new stores and although at times it has had a rough ride, today it employs more than 150,000 people, has 800 stores in the UK and there are on average more than 19 million customer transactions in Sainsbury’s stores every week and the company has a 16% market share.

It has diversified into non-food products and services and non-food is growing 3 times faster than food. It has a bank with operating profits of £19million and its Internet home delivery shopping service is responsible for 100,000 deliveries every week.

Asia has many small family businesses. In fact in Malaysia, Small Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) make up 99% of Malaysia’s total registered businesses. Hanoi in Vietnam has over 90,000 SMEs.

These organizations have a critical impact on the business of a country. In Japan, known for its heavy industry, approximately 70% of the Japanese work force is employed by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and half the total value added in Japan is generated by SMEs.

Asian SMEs, many of them well established with years of heritage cannot sit by and hope that they will be safe from bigger, more aggressive retailers. They need to start planning for the future now before it’s too late.

Here are 5 recommendations for Asian SMEs to help them become a Sainsbury

1) Keep an eye on retail trends, especially in your space
2) Talk to your customers, not just about the weather/politics/sport. Ask them what their needs are, what they would like you to stock, when they would like you to open and so on
3) Build a database of customers and their preferences. If you do sell up, this will help you secure a better price for your business
4) Leverage what you have against the big retailers in your space. You can’t compete on price and probably can’t compete on choice but you can compete in other areas – convenience, personalization, customization, free alterations, returns, speed of delivery and more
5) Develop a brand strategy that includes succession planning. If you have sent your kids to university overseas, are they going to come back and work in your hardware store? If you don’t think so, look to create strategic relationships with other players in your space now before it is too late.

Even iconic brands need to do the basics


Since the first iMac came out back in the 1990’s, I have been a loyal mac user. I’m now on my third generation of iMacs, and currently have 7 macs in my office as well as 2 iPhones. At home my family uses 3 mac laptops, 1 iMac, 3 iPods and 2 iPod touch. We also have 3 airports at home and one in the office.

Last year I convinced my technologically challenged wife to buy a mac and she now has 8 top end iMacs, three laptops and two iPhones and an airport in her office. About a year ago I referred a friend to my mac representative who sold him six iMacs and a couple of iPhones.

Service not a priority in Malaysia
Service and looking after existing customers are not a priority for Malaysian firms. But my mac representative was a diamond in the service rough of Malaysia. He would come out to my house at 10pm to replace an airport fried by one of the 250 thunderstorms we get annually in this tropical paradise.

He would bring a replacement airport, install it, reconfigure all my kit and sheepishly give me an invoice. Of course the next morning I would take the invoice straight to my accounts dept and stress that it must be paid immediately.

Unfortunately he has moved on to pastures new. It’s a massive loss to me because his service was exceptional and could not be faulted or replicated. In fact he was brilliant.

So until I find a replacement and I expect that to take some time because he truly was unique, I have to suffer the ignominy of taking my computers to the Apple store.

I did this recently after dropping a laptop. Because one of the key components of building a brand is experience, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if local resellers were on brand.

As far as I can tell, for such a small country, the mac landscape in Malaysia is a competitive one. There are a number of stores around the Klang Valley.

Machines is probably the largest premium reseller with 6 stores across the Klang Valley and one in Johor. Their flagship store is at KLCC. You can find their neat website here

Another company is Smack. Smack is an authorised reseller. You can find their price driven site here

In fact, according to ‘where to buy’ on the mac site there are 83 resellers, in Malaysia. This includes those authorised to sell iPods. That’s a lot for a company that only has about 10% of the PC market.

So it’s a very competitive environment. One in which you would expect resellers to do what it takes to hang on to clients for as long as possible. An environment in which you would expect resellers to do what they can to take business away from other resellers.

Walkins are potential customers
I took my laptop to a mac store in a nearby mall. Now think about this, here is a relatively new store, less than a year old. In walks a foreigner with an old laptop that has a problem. He has never been to that store before. If FusionBrand were working with this retailer, he would understand that this guy represented an opportunity to gain a customer. And as he was unfamiliar and did not register when his name was entered into the database yet was a mac user, he was obviously a customer of a competitor.

I went to the counter where there were 3 or 4 guys standing around not doing much. None of them smiled so I said good morning and explained the problem. After a brief discussion the sales person asked if I could come back the next day because the technician was off that day.

I didn’t bother to ask why a technician would be off mid week. I said that as I didn’t really want to make another trip could I leave the laptop with him? Reluctantly, after discussion with his colleague he said yes but that it was company policy to charge RM100 (US$30) to carry out a diagnostic.

This isn’t much money but the salesman in me says this is the wrong way to do business. Here is a potential new customer with a long record of buying macs (they don’t know this of course because no attempt has been made to build rapport with me). Surely it would be a great idea to score some PR points by sitting down with me and getting to know me before charging an irrelevant diagnostic fee?

Anyway, long story short, I was bored by now but to put the boot in, I said I would go to the other store nearby. He shrugged and handed me the laptop.

I went to the other store in a mall nearby (next to a Starbucks with wifi, neat). Now I have been to this store before and it was where my super salesman worked but the turnover is high and I didn’t recognise the guy working there. Nevertheless, when I walked in I was greeted with a cheerful hi. I explained the problem and the guy told me to leave it with him and he would call me when he found out the problem. That was on Friday. On Monday, I got a call from him with some bad news. It’ll be interesting to see if he attempts to sell me a replacement when I go to collect the laptop.

Poor service
Now this is not a rant about poor service, I’ll leave that to others much better qualified than I. This is an attempt to show companies that branding is more than advertising, logos and so on. Building rapport, gathering data, qualifying prospects, engaging them and building towards a sale are all critical components of branding. Because many brands, especially Asian ones, won’t have the resources that Apple has.

Here are 5 things to do that will help to build your retail brand

1) Every walkin is not only a potential customer, but possibly a customer who is currently with a competitor. Be nice to them.
2) Develop 5 or 6 conversational fact finding questions that will give you the data you need to make informed decisions on how you want to proceed with the prospect.
3) The 1980s are gone and with it the concept of ‘company policy’.
4) Going the extra mile will ensure loyalty and loyalty is critical to profitable branding
5) Train sales personnel to sell because a lot of people want to buy but don’t know how to and so need a little help.

Louis Vuitton in a spot of bother over print ads


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK has received complaints that print ads for Louis Vuitton created by Ogilvy and Mather suggest that the products were made by hand.

Certainly looking at this ad that shows a woman creating the lines for the folds of a wallet

and also this ad that appears to be a woman stitching a handbag

It is easy to see why there have been complaints. Especially as the copy states, “infinite patience protects each overstitch… One could say that a Louis Vuitton bag is a collection of fine details.”

However, according to marketingweek Louis Vuitton defended the campaign by saying that “their employees were not assembling pre-packed pieces but were taking individual handcrafted and hand-sewn parts through a range of hand-made stages to reach a final item.”

Louis Vuitton added that the use of hand sewing machines and associated tasks were “part and parcel of what would amount to ’handmade’ in the 21st century”.

So handmade doesn’t actually mean handmade in the traditional sense?

If that is the case does that mean then that the iconic hand made Hermes Birkin bag that can cost anything from US$10,000 to well over US$100,000 isn’t actually hand made?

Does this mean that the animal skins used in a Birkin bag are not actually spread out on the floor of the processing room and screened by a number of artisans before being measured and cut by hand as required?

Does this mean that the bottom of the handbag is not sown by hand to the front and back with waxed linen threads?

Does this mean that the handle of the Birkin bag is not manually stitched until the shape comes to the fore?

Does this mean then that the artisans don’t use sand paper to smooth rough edges? And does it mean therefore that hot wax is not applied to the handles to protect them from moisture?

And all the effort that goes into the front flap, the metal and lock is not actually done by hand?

Does it mean that the craftsmen in France that all work out of the little lane in Paris don’t actually exist?

And advertising agencies wonder why 76% of consumers don’t believe that companies tell the truth in advertisements. In Malaysia that figure is 86%!

The number one element in any relationship is trust. If a brand wants to build a relationship with a consumer, that consumer must be able to trust the brand.

An element of doubt in communications is not a good way to build trust.

Self service can help brand profitability


The other day, one of our computers froze. This is a scary moment for most companies and it was even more scary for us as we use Apple computers and it was the first time this happened in 7 years. More worrying, this particular PC is running some expensive design software and auto-save was off!

We had two options call tech support and wait 24 – 36 hours for them to come in or check out the Apple support site and see of we could solve the problem ourselves. We chose the latter and 20 minutes later the PC was up and running.

Enabling prospects and customers to answer their own questions is nothing new, but few Asian brands use it effectively. Yet it can have a significant impact on profitability. Forrester found that the cost of a customer sales or support call cost as much as US$33. The same report found that even email support can cost as much as US$10 per response. Yet Web-based self help averages US$1.17 per incident. And this doesn’t take into account the impact on reputation due to lost productivity by the customer.

Customers benefit too. In our case, we work to tight deadlines, sometimes spending the whole weekend in the office. If this had happened on a Saturday night, with a Monday delivery deadline, we may have lost the account.

One word of caution though. Self-service is not an excuse for avoiding service.