This is not a piece about the latest technological advances, gimmicks toys or 5G, 8K, robotics, foldables, AI and other buzz words. It’s about preparing your business to compete in 2020 and beyond!
So what will be the big branding shifts in Malaysia in 2020? Here are ten developments that will help you take your company from innocuous business to sustainable brand:
1) Seismic shift away from using traditional media to create instant sales to relationship branding to ensure long term success: In 2014, in a global attempt to unseat Apple at the head of the consumer electronics table, Samsung spent a heart stopping RM50 billion, yes RM50 billion on marketing with a large chunk of it on advertising. It failed.
For twenty years Proton spent in the region of RM10 – RM25 million annually on traditional creative driven marketing. During that period, Proton’s market share fell from 85% to 16% and it had to be bailed out by the Chinese.
In 2018, Unilever slashed RM1.2 billion dollars from it’s annual marketing budget. The impact on sales? Zero.
And then there’s Malaysia Airlines. In the lead up to the tragic events of 2014, Malaysia Airlines spent over RM1 billion on traditional media telling us about Malaysian Hospitality. In fact it is still using hospitality to sell seats but lost nearly RM800 million in 2018.
Everywhere you look, businesses that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a traditional, creative driven approach to marketing are struggling to stay competitive, repeatedly bailed out by the government or have already gone out of business.
In 2020, the old rules of marketing will no longer apply. Replaced instead by relationship branding. Relationship branding focusses the organisation on establishing a personal relationship at every touch point with every customer, all the time.
Based around a business with a deep understanding of the organisations’ abilities (and limitations), relationship branding will seek to build deep, meaningful relationship with prospects and customers by delivering outstanding individual value and memorable experiences at every touch point throughout the customer journey and beyond.
2. Co-creation is the new innovation:Fusionbrand, one of Malaysia’s most established and respected brand consultancies is working with a local fashion house to build a community around it’s best customers. Each customer is encouraged to participate in the design process by voting for designs online.
Designs that ‘win’ will be developed and marketed in the same way as designs developed in house. This simple but effective example of co-creation will help build relationships with prospects and customers while encouraging participation in the success of the brand and at the same time, generate discussions that will be far more effective than traditional advertising.
This more collaborative and transparent approach to branding is nothing new but it’s rarely done properly. Yet ask yourself, if you are in a positive, fulfilling relationship, where your partner treats you as a partner, are you likely to end it? Of course not. In 2020, successful businesses will look to build relationships not sell products.
3. Develop social media strategies to leverage its power, not treat is as a tactical after thought: 2018 was the year Malaysians finally understood the power of the internet and in particular, consumer generated media (CGM) when they used it to peacefully topple an authoritarian government that had ruled for more than 60 years.
In 2019 Malaysians experimented further by repeatedly challenging the newly elected government while flexing their muscle on numerous issues such as the economy, education, immigration, transportation and taxes.
The taxi industry, utilities providers and other monopolies incurred the wrath of the increasingly confident Malaysian consumer. They and many others are under increasing pressure to perform and will come under further pressure throughout the year.
One Malaysian property developer saw its reputation practically destroyed because of the power of social media and more importantly, its inability to represent its brand effectively online in a crisis.
This provides an outstanding opportunity for businesses that understand social media and how to develop a strategy to leverage its power. To do so, firms will need to be more genuine, authentic, accessible, transparent and human. One way to do this is by creating and managing online communities where customers interact with each other, often to the detriment of the brand. Attributes that don’t come easy to Malaysian CEOs but they really don’t have a choice.
The irony is that such transparency and collaborative approach is beneficial to the brand. The Ogilvy Loyalty Index found that such customers are worth six times the value of a “typical” customer while a McKinsey study found that these customers accounted for two-thirds of online sales.
4. Enhanced customer connectivity: With consumers increasingly choosing to shut out the more than 5,000 messages they receive every day, companies must accept that they need to look for more innovative ways to engage with and stay connected to customers if they are to stay ahead of the competition in 2020 and beyond.
The good news is that consumers are more willing than ever to share information and this, coupled with the increasing affordability of tools that provide better capabilities for segmented messaging mean there is no longer the ‘no budget la’ excuse for not integrating technology into any brand strategy.
Moreover, advances in geolocation collection and activity-tracking, mean that companies can provide personalised, custom content and offerings as well as anticipate needs and potentially prevent potential issues at a fraction of the cost of even 5 years ago.
A word of warning though. Enhanced connectivity means more interactions so personnel need to know how to represent the company and what tone of voice to use. Marketing automation and chatbots are not a solution on their own. It’s how you use them that matters.
5. Social branding: Increasingly, companies will understand that brands have social as well as economic value. This is a lesson that companies such as the Body Shop, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s have long recognized. Think #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Movember for examples.
In 2020, companies will increase sponsorships of a wider variety of social movements. Sights like RankABrand are sharing information on how sustainable brands are. Expect Malaysian companies to pay greater attention to corporate governance, recognizing the strong effect that transgressions can have on their brands.
6. Product placement will not go away: As advertising becomes less effective, better enforcement of the PDPA act, do-not-call lists and more robust spam filters, companies will have to work smarter to get their products in front of consumers. Look for an expanded emphasis this year on product placement, not only in TV and movies but also in songs.
7. Blogs will get the recognition they deserve in 2020: Blogs are hardly new but they aren’t used properly in Malaysia or rather they weren’t up until 2018 when they helped bring down the government. An online tool powerful enough to help influence and change the voting habits of Malaysians while making obscure Swedish gamers international superstars and multi millionaires will be used extensively in 2020 to move product.
While there are many bloggers in Malaysia, not many of them are consistent. In 2020, we’ll see blogs begin their rise as a cost effective tool for internal and external community relationship builders.
Smart brands will recognise the power of good blogs such as syedoutsidethebox, Bangsarbabe and of course this one! The power of Blogs to fuel word-of-mouth, which accounts for 30-50% of all brand switching will be truly recognised.
8. Training and upskilling: 2020 will be a tough year economically, making competition even more intense. Moreover, international brands are now targetting Malaysia making it harder to find talent willing to join Malaysian businesses.
This means Malaysian companies will have to invest more in their personnel, treating them as an investment not a cost.
9. Brand audits will become fashionable: In 2020 smart companies will invest in hard hitting brand audits that identify what is right (and wrong) with the brand and provide a benchmark for future strategies.
Understanding where is the brand today, providing a clear vision and mission as well as making sure everyone within the organisation understands what is the brand, its values, what is its purpose and what their role is in delivering memorable experiences will be the key to moving from price driven businesses to brands so expect to hear a lot of talk in 2020 about brand audits [LINK].
10. Fast-forward to the end of 2020: Keep an eye on immersive communications. Talked about since 2005 or so, immersive communications has struggled to cut through the noise, mainly because businesses don’t want to make the investment, preferring instead to try and shout louder than everyone else because everyone else is shouting.
Branding is often not about new stuff, it’s about doing the fundamentals better than anyone else. Get that right, while delivering on promises made and you’ll see your brand succeed where others fail in 2020.
If you’d like to learn how to make your business a brand, contact us today
The Skytrax awards are based on the responses of 21 million participants from 100 nationalities. It is touted as the largest annual airline passenger satisfaction survey in the world.
I have a number of issues with satisfaction surveys, the primary one being that they don’t really provide any actionable insights. J.D. Power, a research company carries out an annual satisfaction survey of US airlines and their 2019 survey shows travellers are more satisfied than ever with airlines.
Yet high levels of satisfaction don’t translate into increased profitability as airline stocks underperform most markets, mainly because as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall.
And many of those surveyed probably travel once a year in economy. Business class passengers’ account for only 5.4% of international travel, yet are responsible for 30% of airline revenues. On some flights business class passengers account for 75% of profits.
Little wonder then that Malaysia airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates are going all out to attract premium class passengers as we head into the lucrative end of the year holiday season. But which one of them flying to the UK deserves your hard earned money?
We compare the business class offerings of these three of the main carriers.
Online airline booking experience
If you want an easy to navigate, seamless experience with an online booking engine that is clear and transparent with an intuitive interface then Emirates clinches this important part of the process as all the information is clearly laid out, allowing you to make changes without too much effort or repetition.
The Qatar Airways sites is easy to navigate although the font is a bit small. They lose a point for the outrageous ‘no show’ penalties while Malaysia Airlines loses a point for the limited number of flights offered but wins it back for being the only one to offer direct flights, shaving at least 3 hours off the journey time. Emirates 4. Qatar 3. Malaysia 4.
Check in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
There’s nothing to choose between the three, which is a massive lost opportunity for MAS because KLIA is its home airport and should be used to really make a powerful first impression.
Check in staff for all three carriers also need to be trained to have more enthusiasm for their jobs and be constantly reminded they represent the brand at the start of the relationship with passengers.
It may be a process for them but it isn’t for the brand or the customer. It’s a key touch point in the relationship building process and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially by Malaysia Airlines. Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.
Emirates, Qatar Airways & MAS lounges at KLIA
All three lounges are on the ‘mezzanine’ level at KLIA and are all harder to find than they should be, especially the Plaza premium lounge. This is not unique to KLIA as most airports appear to hide their lounges.
When flying Qatar and Emirates I took the early morning flights that left around 0200hrs. Qatar doesn’t have its own lounge at KLIA so uses the Plaza Premium lounge. Which is anything but premium.
From an experiential branding perspective, this is a massive fail on the part of Qatar Airways. I don’t know why they haven’t invested in their own lounges, not just at KLIA but at other airports around the world.
Emirates lounge is small and intimate with a limited but superior range of hot and cold foods and beverages including premium non vintage champagnes. The lighting is calm and the environment relaxing. Staff are attentive and knowledgeable.
Understandably the MAS lounge is the largest but it wasn’t the most impressive. The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s the unmistakable smell of Malaysian food.
It reminded me of walking into a food court. Nothing wrong with that perhaps but the Emirates lounge in Dubai doesn’t smell of Mandi while the Qatar Airways lounge at Doha don’t smell of Machbus.
While some business class lounges around the world are creating daylight boosting zones, ‘Hue lighting’ rooms and amber or blue lighting throughout, The Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA was rather dull and uninspiring. Emirates 4. Qatar 1. Malaysia 2.
Lounge to gate experience at KLIA
Walking from all the lounges to the respective gates should be straight forward but it isn’t due to a lack of effective way finding. While this isn’t the fault of the carriers, they should be able to influence the airport operator. Walking out of the Malaysia Airlines lounge, there is no sign directing you where to go or even how to get down to the ground floor.
The main security checks for all flights are at the departure gates. I think this is unique to KLIA and absolutely bonkers. At Dubai, Doha and Heathrow, by this stage it’s just a passport check.
So as a business class passenger on the national airline you queue with everyone else. This should be at an earlier stage of the journey where there are fast track lanes for business class passengers.
National carriers need to leverage every opportunity they can and home advantage is supposed to work for them, not against them. Malaysia Airlines really needs to get on top of this by working with stakeholders such as Malaysia Airports to create a memorable experience, for the right reasons. Malaysia Airlines loses another point here because KLIA is its home airport. Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.
Business class environment on MAS, Qatar and Emirates
My Emirates flight was a Boing 777 while the Qatar flight was an Airbus A330 and the MAS flight an Airbus A350. So not exactly ‘apples to apples’ but close enough.
Emirates business class is bling central. It’s shiny, bright with huge TV screens and thousands of movies, TV shows, games, flight information and more. It’s world class and has won numerous awards.
The Qatar cabin is less ostentatious and a little more refined with equally impressive TVs and movies, TV shows, games and flight information. It’s also won many awards especially with Skytrax.
The Malaysian Airlines cabin is functional. It’s more Toyota than the Porsche of the others. The TV is smaller, of poorer quality and there are less new movies. Overall entertainment options are significantly less than the others.
I’m not comparing seats because that would only make sense if I compared exactly the same seat on each aircraft.
Wifi is free on Emirates and Qatar and costs US$2 – US$25 on MAS, depending on the package. Bearing in mind the quality of Wifi on flights is still patchy, charging business class passengers is not a good idea and MAS would be better offering it free. Emirates 4. Qatar 4. Malaysia 2.
Comparing inflight service on MAS with Qatar Airways & Emirates
I’ll focus on key experiential points here and not do a food review! The mix of passengers on all the carriers was essentially the same – Westerners, Arabs, Malaysians and a mix of others so they need to cater to all tastes.
Order a pre meal drink on Emirates or Qatar and it’s served together with a variety of warmed premium nuts in a bowl.
On MAS the nuts are the same as economy class and are served in the bag. Another bag of nut mix is also served the contents of which was a serious disappointment.
On Emirates and Qatar, every pre dinner drink order was a personal event and served by a ‘waiter’. I saw a number of passengers order cocktails, champagne and other drinks and the glassware is elegant and the whole experience is similar to a 5 star hotel cocktail bar.
The pre dinner experience on MAS is functional. It isn’t bad, it’s just not in the same league as the competition but it is competing with them for the same passengers so it really needs to be.
While the food is comparable, MAS really lets itself down with the way it serves the food. Emirates and Qatar prepare meals in the galley and serve them individually, MAS pushes the food trolley along the aisle, like in economy.
I was sitting in the back row so had to put up with the trolley clanking every time it went over a ‘lip’ on the floor next to me.
Oh, and on the MAS drinks trolley were some heavily flavoured and hugely sweet ‘juice drinks’ popular in Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia but not really anywhere else.
Watching MAS cabin crew peel back the seal on one of those containers didn’t make me feel like I was in an exclusive cabin. Pedantic perhaps but paying attention to these little things is what differentiates great brands from the rest.
MAS did deliver the main course personally so I didn’t have to put up with the trolley!
MAS losses a point over its coffee. The world loves good coffee. Arabs have been drinking coffee since the 15th century. Europeans have had a coffee culture for 400 years. There are 700 Starbucks stores in South East Asia, 140 of them in Malaysia. 75% of Australians drink fresh coffee every day.
Order a coffee on Emirates and you’ll receive a freshly brewed mug of Ethiopia’s finest beans. Same on Qatar, on MAS it’s Nescafe. Now I know Malaysians like Nescafe but the typical international business traveller from the East or West is more likely to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of java.
At the end of the meal on MAS, out came that bloody trolley again. And this time there was a rubbish bag on top and as the steward cleared plates, he emptied left over food and rubbish into the bag. Sorry but that’s simply not good enough on business class and another point lost.
All three offer a ‘mattress’. Qatar gets a special mention for providing The White Company pajamas. I didn’t use them but I took them home!
Like I say, it’s not that MAS business class is bad, it’s just that the other carriers have raised the bar when it comes to service. So it’s inevitable passengers will compare experiences. Emirates 4. Qatar 5. Malaysia 2.
Cabin crew attitude on MAS, Emirates & Qatar Airways
Cabin crew are some of the most underrated and under appreciated people in the aviation business. They need a wide variety of skills. They need to be professional yet friendly, polite and caring, have great communication and customer service skills while at the same time an empathetic nature.
They need to be flexible enough to deal with multiple cultures, have high levels of tolerance, be organized, firm and calm while managing multiple activities and all at 38,000 feet!
Little wonder then that cabin crew can make or break an airline brand. And it takes real talent to become good cabin crew. Asians have a natural charm and historically, Asian carriers have led the world in providing memorable experiences and it’s no surprise that Emirates and Qatar hire mostly Asian cabin crew from at least 15 Asian countries.
Emirates cabin crew lead the field in terms of professionalism. They are attentive and yet unobtrusive. The crew member looking after me introduced herself at the start of the flight and made herself visible without interrupting me. She made me feel special and important.
The service, personalization and ‘nothing is too difficult’ attitude was bang on the money.
There isn’t much to choose from between the Qatar cabin crew and Emirates, perhaps a little more refined but really nothing much in it.
MAS staff were professional and attentive if a little hurried. I felt they wanted to get the meal over with while the others seemed to actually enjoy their work.
When I complained about not being able to have a proper cup of coffee on MAS, the crew member – who was senior and obviously experienced – dealt with me sincerely, sympathetically and professionally. Emirates 5. Qatar 4. Malaysia 4.
Arrival in London
Most airlines seem to be happy to be rid of you the moment you leave the aircraft. However, flying Emirates business class entitles you to a limousine to any destination within about 70 miles of Heathrow or Gatwick.
This limousine option is outstanding value and ensures the last leg of the journey leaves a lasting, positive impression. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned this service to people. Neither MAS or Qatar offer a limousine and for some I know it’s a deal breaker. Emirates 3. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.
The post experience experience
None of the airlines try to build a personal relationship with you. I was travelling Qatar for the first time and yet there was a lack of personalisation in follow up communications. It was my first flight to London on MAS for about 5 years and I had mentioned it on social media but again, no attempt was made to build rapport with me although I was sent an email asking me to complete a questionnaire. Emirates carpet bombs me with numerous emails containing special offers but doesn’t do anything to build rapport with me. This a missed opportunity for all the airlines. Emirates 0. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.
Malaysia Airlines comes in a distant third and that’s a pity because in the mid 1980s, before The Emirates or Qatar even had their own airlines, three airlines – Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines – invested heavily in their people to make the experience of flying with them memorable.
It worked and those airlines became the ‘poster boys’ of the commercial aviation business.
MAS began to lose sight of what it is in the 1990s and stumbled along until the twin tragedies of 2014. In the months and years after 2014, costs were slashed and it became nothing more than a low cost carrier masquerading as a national airline.
There is no doubt that it has made significant headway since those dark days but it still has a long way to go. To make the transition, management has to understand they are not selling flights they are selling experiences.
Looking at the MAS staff behave, my gut feeling is they are trying their best but the MAS training is inadequate in the face of such dynamic competition. And how the management react to the recent FAA ruling will be key to the next stage of the carriers evolution.
Splitting Emirates and Qatar isn’t easy. Qatar’s rise as a global carrier of repute has been meteoric and it is winning awards almost every day. Loads out of Kuala Lumpur are impressive but it isn’t investing as heavily in the experience as Emirates and that’s why it came in second.
Emirates is the benchmark for all airlines. The crew really seems to be in touch with the company values and living those values on board. Having said that, I hear there are rumblings of discontent amongst frequent flyers.
Emirates has undoubtedly reached the top but in many ways, that’s the easy part. Staying there and continually improving will be tough, especially if competitors up their game.
Emirates is a clear winner.
If you’d like to know how Fusionbrand can make your business a world class brand, please contact us on +60192233090.
We’re looking for an accounts executive who doesn’t mind doing a bit of administrative support work. The position is advertised on WOBB, a popular job portal in Malaysia.
Last week we offered the job to an applicant and he accepted. The package meant a 25% increase over his previous salary and working with us meant he didn’t have to commute from KL to Kuantan every day. He seemed happy.
Then at 0625 on the morning of his first day, we received a text from him. Here’s his verbatim message:
Well my friend, we thank you for your apology and we’re sorry such a tragic event happened just when you were supposed to start a job that you feel is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I appreciate you may be telling the truth although my gut feeling is that you are not. We’ve heard similar, though less dramatic stories before. Just today, we had another no show. She finally answered our messages 5 hours after the appointed time to say she had car trouble yesterday and forgot to inform us she wouldn’t be coming.
We get 100s of applications for nearly all the jobs we advertise. And we go through every one of them. Based on a number of criteria, we shortlist the ones that we want to know more about.
As you can imagine this is a time consuming process and for a small business, time is a premium. We communicate with candidates via text or email and if we’re happy, invite them for an interview and set aside an hour to get to know them.
Of course emergencies happen, cars break down and candidates receive other offers. In such a situation, all any business expects is to be notified. It’s called common courtesy or professionalism.
Now the more forgiving of my colleagues consider you have a special talent to be able to come up with such a creative excuse.
But to me you are unprofessional, immature, disorganized and ignorant. You lack confidence, courage and charisma. I don’t know why you left it so late, perhaps you fear failure or are simply indecisive.
By preferring to create an elaborate tale or distorting the truth rather than informing us of your change of situation, you’ve shown us what sort of person you really are.
I feel sorry for you because you have missed a fabulous opportunity to grow as an individual, to contribute to the growth of your country, feed your family and mature as an individual.
I will be eternally grateful to you because you’ve done Fusionbrand a massive favour by not joining us. You were definitely not a good fit. You’ve also opened the door for someone else to take this opportunity to grow as an individual and contribute to our growth.
To those people reading this who are applying for jobs with any company, be professional, confident and courageous. If you change your plans or decide to decline an offer, simply tell the company that has invited you in for an interview that you have accepted another offer.
It really is that simple. Don’t ignore it and hope it’ll go away. Don’t ignore phone calls and shy away from such ‘confrontation’. You’ll respect yourself for doing so and your reputation will be intact.
Last week we lost a project to build a corporate website to a freelancer who quoted 5% of our figure. How can we compete with that?
On the face of it we can’t. Freelancers are popular because they are cheap. But as I was reminded while discussing this loss, last year we bailed out three companies who had chosen a freelancer and then had to spend a lot more money after he went missing in action.
If you find a good freelancer, he’s worth his or her weight in gold. But they are increasingly hard to find. And if you find a bad one, you could be in a lot of trouble. And not just with your boss.
Freelance web designers tend to create websites. But the goal is not to create a website. The goal is to create a website that compels as many visitors as possible to take action. That may be to fill out a contact form, sign up for a newsletter, buy a subscription and so on.
Because a lot of freelancers have a background in design, the design tends to lead the process and a lot of business owners are seduced by great design even though website design should follow content structure. The design is there to aid the engagement of the content.
The content and referring channels, are what influence search engines and not the design. Have an amazing looking site and lousy content and you might as well not bother.
And of course a good website is linked to tools that allow you to collect data you can use to improve content and engagement. Finally, a good website provides a little more control around the next step in the visitors journey which will be social media.
The 3 projects we salvaged last year eventually cost about the same as we had quoted originally. But after taking into account the business lost during 6 months without a website, cheap becomes expensive.
2 weeks ago we were contacted by a start up who hired a cheap freelancer last November. The site still hasn’t gone live. 5 months is a lifetime for a startup and it’s not just the money wasted on the freelancer. Reputation, credibility and sales have been compromised.
Another entrepreneur we’re helping has lost first mover advantage after hiring a cheap freelancer. In the four months it took him to create a terrible home page with dreadful content and questionable hosting, a competitor has launched a rival business. What has hiring a cheap freelancer cost him? What extra money will he have to invest to recover lost ground?
Many freelancers sell themselves cheap to get the business then try to figure out how to do it. They may be great designers but have lousy project and time management skills. This will negatively impact your business.
Many won’t refuse work, from anyone, ever. And while they may be a web designer, many of them will be asked to develop wedding invitations or websites for friends and friends of friends.
Nothing wrong with that of course except that when they get overloaded they tend to look after their friends and their friends of friends before their top paying customers. That’s illogical but perhaps it’s better to lose face with a stranger than family or friends, even if the stranger is paying 10 times more than the friend and, equally important but often overlooked maybe an influencer.
Freelancer quotes tend to be based on free templates built on WordPress or Wix. WordPress is a great platform with an intuitive CMS but the danger is you’ll have a ‘me too’ website that can look dated very quickly.
A freelancer may design what is easiest for him, not what you the client wants. There’s a good chance they’ll use free stock images and often use the same images for every project.
If a freelancer considers you to be ‘difficult’, they may go MIA mid way through the project. This can be hugely frustrating, especially if the site isn’t live. Talking of the website being live, once it is, what happens when there are updates to plugins?
One corporate site that we built wanted to maintain the site on their own. Then it came time to update a plugin. They made a mistake and the whole site went down. Not good. Luckily we had stressed the importance of daily backups so the damage was limited.
Who and where your website is hosted is very important. While your freelancer may be a great designer, does he understand the hosting process? Does he know the difference between a ‘bad neighbourhood’ and a good one?
Smartphone penetration in Malaysia is above 80% so it may make sense for you to design for mobile first, rather than desktop first. Make sure your freelancer has the necessary skills.
But most important of all is populating the website. Who is developing the content? Often the freelancer will tell you he’ll do it. Don’t let him. Plus you’ll need regular new content to keep the site relevant. Who will create that content and how will it be uploaded?
A lot of planning should go into the development of a corporate website. Whether you are a start up or established business, cheap can often have a high price so think carefully before you hire a ‘cheap’ freelancer.
This morning, I read with interest Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah’s comments about the price of pepper.
You can read the full article here but the crux of it is that he’s talking about the dramatic price drop and appears upset (rightly so) that the solution offered by the Primary Industries Ministry and the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) was to plant more pepper.
He said that he had asked for the Federal government to provide subsidies for pepper farmers but no allocation was included in the Federal budget so the State government would have to provide the bail out instead.
Unfortunately the Minister’s solution isn’t right either. Sure, it may assuage the farmers in the short term but in the long term, the problem will return every time the price drops.
And with pepper production rising in many countries, the price is likely to remain depressed which means the farmers will require more handouts next year.
This leads to a dependence on the government because farmers will grow used to being bailed out. This is not effective use taxpayer’s hard earned cash and will slow the state growth, let alone build a globally competitive industry or for that matter a self sufficient industry.
Mature economies look to add value to their commodities. So that when the price of the main ingredient fluctuates, they have a buffer. One potentially lucrative way of adding this value is building global brands.
Sarawak Pepper is acknowledged as the best in the world and 90% of Malaysia’s pepper comes from Sarawak yet it is basically sold as Malaysia Pepper. Sarawak pepper still has some existing brand equity but it is rapidly being eroded.
The commodity business is a zero sum game. It’s like the Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) business, whereby firms manufacture equipment for other firms who then use their branding skills to sell the product at a premium.
This has proved to be a popular business model in Malaysia but as the country is now finding out the hard way, you can make money in the short term, but in the long term OEM is little more than a commodity business with very low margins and little growth potential.
But the biggest drawback is that there is always a competitor somewhere who can produce the same thing as you at a cheaper price and who can get it to market quicker.
Because the only relationship is a contract based on a cheap price, customers have few qualms about moving to those competing companies or countries offering cheaper deals.
We’re already seeing how Malaysian commodities such as Palm Oil, Rubber, Timber and Pepper, as well as OEM, especially in the electronics sector are finding it ever harder to compete in the face of competition from aggressive challenger economies such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.
The time has come to start adding value to the commodity and OEM sectors in Malaysia. Companies in more mature Asian markets, such as Japan and Korea saw the lack of a future in competing on price.
In the late 1990s, when Eric Kim was executive vice president of global marketing at Samsung, he saw the writing on the wall, “We were nobody. We were down at the commodity level.” Samsung understood that they had to make the move from OEM to Original Brand manufacturer (OBM) and make it fast.
Moving from a commodity grower or Original Equipment manufacturer to a grower of ingredients for a global brand or becoming an Original Brand manufacturer (OBM) has huge benefits not only for the company but the country as well.
Today, Korea is admired and Samsung is imprinted on consumer DNA as one of the world’s leading brands. In flat-panel screens, Samsung is the market leader. In smart phones, Samsung sold 300 million units in 2017, compared to Apple’s 200 million.
Huawei, Haier, LG Electronics, BenQ, Lenovo and other firms have accomplished what many Malaysian firms need to do – make the jump from OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to OBM (original brand manufacturer).
The motivations are clear. Brands are more profitable. According to one report, the world’s top 100 consumer goods and retail companies generated sales of US$3.6 trillion recently and profits of US$228 billion.
Meanwhile, the top 100 OEMs in the Asia Pacific region that supplied products to those top 100 companies reported a relatively meagre US$85bil in sales, with total profits of US$4bil in the same year.
Making the move to OBM will also help with Malaysia’s bold attempts to move the country up the value chain to developed status. Other advantages include greater national employment and influence, increased opportunities for strategic alliances and leverage to open new markets.
Compared to the brutally competitive world of OEM, OBMs also have greater control over their destiny. How many Malaysian OEM’s have folded in the last 10 years after a major customer has sought lower costs elsewhere?
What happens to Sarawak’s pepper farmers if the Koreans and Japanese confectionary manufacturers source from Vietnam?
The good news is that thanks to long-established relationships with such major Western brands as Motorola, Dell, Texas Instruments, Ralph Lauren, Airbus, Tommy Hilfiger, Marks & Spencer and many more, Malaysian OEMs have the manufacturing, logistical and quality control potential required to compete in world markets.
But more Malaysian firms have to take the plunge otherwise they will lose out. And the government needs to focus not on bailing out farmers but showing them how to build brands that can conquer the world.
However, making the jump from commodity producer, the global branding dominance or from OEM to OBM is not as simple as spending millions on advertising.
It requires a substantial commitment of time and resources to establish channel relationships and share-of-mind in target markets. And the move is not without risk. Remember when Acer tried to breach the US market but had to withdraw, wasting an investment of almost $10 billion.
Key success factors include:
Change government & corporate thinking: Although Asian consumers are the most brand-conscious in the world, Asian Ministers and business owners devote much more time to advertising and discounting than branding.
Branding is seen as a cost, not an investment, and branding initiatives don’t get much further than billboards, TV commercials and annual sales (4 times a year).
Think long-term: There is no quick fix. It took Samsung five years to move from commodity to brand. Five years is a minimum, although specialty B2B markets may only require three.
Understand branding: Many Asian leaders believe that a new logo, large discounts and heavy advertising is branding. Actually, branding requires the ability to develop emotional and experiential as well as economic relationships with customers.
Ensure execution: Quality is a given. But is the distribution broad enough to support a national branding campaign? Where do consumers call for support? Are staff trained to deal with unhappy customers? How are returns handled?
Commit the resources: Consumer branding doesn’t come cheap. In 2016, Samsung spent US$10 billion on marketing its brand and products to consumers all over the world.
Bertolli, the global Virgin Olive Oil brand regularly spends US$10 million on advertising in the USA where its brand holds a dominant share (37%) of all the olive oil consumed in America and a market worth over US$1 billion. You do the maths.
Start with niche markets: Haier tried to break into the US market using a traditional advertising campaign. After a fortune in advertising driven branding was wasted, they carried out a brand audit as recommended by Fusionbrand.
After the audit, Haier spotted a gap in the hospitality and student markets and started selling small refrigerators to college students and hotels in the US. Now it sells all types of white goods, and in 2017 paid US$5.6 billion for GE Appliances.
Understand targeting and segmentation: The mass market is dead. Now there are as many markets as there are satellite TV channels, ranging from Chinese, Malay, English to Islamic. As a result, one-size-fits-all branding campaigns will not work.
Learn from failure: Honda’s first effort to export motorcycles to the U.S. ended in failure when Americans didn’t like the design. It carried out a brand audit, incorporated the feedback and successfully re-entered the U.S. market.
Invest in design and innovation: Copying existing products is a ‘strategy’ destined to failure as it faces pricing and branding obstacles. We all know how Apple became the biggest company in the world but it didn’t invent the smartphone or for that matter the tablet. But it made them good through innovation and design.
Malaysia is at a monumental cross roads. It has to move from grower and exporter of commodities and from OEM to producer of some of the world’s greatest brands.
The Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak could save the tax payer a lot of money, make the Sarawak farmers very rich and do his government a big favour. Not by giving hand outs to farmers. But by helping them make Sarawak pepper a global brand.
Marcus Osborne is CEO of Fusionbrand, Asia’s leading data driven brand consultancy headquartered in Kuala Lumpur.
In the mid 1980s, I was working in the Middle East and when it came to taking leave, we had 2 travel options. Head West for Europe or East for Asia. Whichever direction, the airline recommendations were always the same – try to fly on Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Malaysia Airlines.
Why, because those airlines offered top quality service. Something the European carriers, with the exception perhaps of Swissair, were unwilling or unable to do.
Emirates arrived in 1985, Oman and Qatar Air in 1993, Etihad in 2003. Prior to that, the only Gulf carriers were Saudi Airlines and Gulf Air. Thanks to their owner’s deep pockets, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar accelerated the establishment of their brands with massive investments in brand experiences.
Since then, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have done their best to compete but Malaysia Airlines (MAB) was left far behind and today, is a mere shadow of the great brand it once was.
To many, if it wasn’t for the Business and First class offerings, it’s essentially already a low cost carrier. Nevertheless, in its communications at least, Malaysia Airlines continues to give the outside world the impression it sees itself as a world-class carrier.
In March 2018, Malaysia Airlines launched a campaign titled “Malaysian Hospitality Begins With Us”. The campaign aim was to ‘reinstate and demonstrate MAB as the national icon and represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers.’
MAB’s group CEO Izham Ismail said during the launch “that the airline’s diversity, heritage and culture are the foundation and reference of the brand promise, and that MAB aims to provide a Malaysian experience in travel through Malaysian hospitality.”
These bold and practically impossible to live up to statements were supported by the usual professionally produced advertisements and videos shot in high definition with smiling cabin crew in brand new aircraft telling us about ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and how it is a culture that ‘runs through the organization’.
The website, the first destination for many potential passengers has a special section for ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and in this section announces “Welcome’, or as the locals would say, ‘Selamat Datang’. That’s how it begins, the experience that is our hospitality. Warmth and generosity are the hallmarks of how we treat anyone we meet. That’s what we’re known for as Malaysians, and more importantly as an airline.”
It goes on to say, “Our hospitality begins with our experience. As we strive to deliver the best experience possible, everything we do is guided by our principles of hospitality.”
Now in some ways I think this is quite clever. Because if Malaysians are known for their warmth and generosity, then they only need to leverage on the natural capabilities of employees to deliver a potentially world class experience.
But it also means that every crew on every flight, will have to be on top of their game non stop if they are to deliver a high level of service at every touch point, every time. And that delivery must meet the very diverse needs of very diverse passengers.
And of course, the concept of ‘warmth and generosity’ may be difficult to deliver. Warmth yes, but generosity? What does that mean? Do you hug every passenger and give them a US$100 bill? Or do you upgrade everyone who asks?
Don’t forget, the aim is to ‘represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers’. With such a promise, there can be no half measures. And of course you can be sure plenty of people will be waiting for the first fail.
Is Malaysia Airlines delivering on the promises above? Despite the glossy high-end corporate videos, two videos have emerged recently to suggest it isn’t.
On their own, these videos could be dismissed as ‘one off’ rants by disgruntled customers but watched together and added to the explosion of negativity on the MAS Facebook page and a pattern seems to be emerging.
This suggests to me that whatever training cabin crew are receiving is not linked to the big promise and whoever is responsible for measuring the effectiveness of that training, isn’t doing their job properly.
Let’s take a look at the videos. The first one was uploaded to YouTube on November 20th 2018 by travel and aviation vlogger Josh Cahil who is based in Germany and has 23,000 followers on Instagram and close to 10,000 followers on Twitter.
His YouTube video where he claimed he was bullied by “extremely unfriendly” MAS cabin crew on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London has been viewed more than 280,000 times and generated more than 2,600 comments.
International media in the UK and Australia picked up the story as well and in Malaysia it was covered by Says.com not to mention other news portals.
I have a suspicion this video was created some time ago because it features the Malaysia Airlines A380 and as far as I know, they aren’t using that aircraft on the London sector any more.
But what both these videos do is show how Malaysia Airlines is unable to deliver on the bold promises it makes in its marketing. They also show the futility of spending large sums of money on big ideas and not linking that promise to the departments responsible for delivering on that promise when all it takes is one passenger to have a bad experience and share that experience across social media and the whole expensive, one size fits all campaign is ruined.
This mass economy approach more suited to 1988 than to 2018 is built around the belief that with a large enough investment, an airline can make potential and existing passengers believe each bold statement it makes and that if it doesn’t deliver on that statement during their particular interaction with the brand, the passenger should just be grateful anyway.
Following the Josh Cahil video, Malaysia Airlines initiated an investigation and according to Cahil, the group CEO sent him a template apology and offered him a refund, which he asked them to donate to a charity supported by them.
The problem was that by this stage, the story was dominating social media conversations. Even corporate driven tactics on social media were being ambushed with negative comments.
In fact the majority of MAB’s attempts to use social media in a positive way are being hijacked by negative comments. And when this happens, the firm doesn’t seem to grasp the link between what the commentators are saying online and what is happening offline.
This is the dangerous spiral many brands are finding themselves on today. They don’t invest in the right training to deliver the experiences consumers demand offline.
There are a variety of reasons for this and some of them sinister. Most common is that the scope of work for a campaign is created in isolation and by people who don’t understand the importance of delivering a ‘best in class’ customer experience.
Which means that if the scope of work for the project is wrong, it is doomed to failure before it even starts.
In despair or because they now have a channel in which to express their frustrations, consumers go online where they passionately vent those frustrations. And often they do it in the very space the company thinks it owns such as on a Facebook page, further diluting the ability of the brand to deliver on the brand promises made in the very expensive corporate driven messages it believes are defining its brand in the way it wants to be defined!
And if that wasn’t bad enough, when passengers vent those frustrations online, the people tasked with representing the brand simply don’t have the skills or for that matter the responsibility to respond in a suitable manner.
This exasperates the negativity around the brand, causing brand equity to plummet to such an extent that it can be almost impossible to escape the spiral into brand obscurity.
So what can Malaysia Airlines do? If they are serious about building a national brand that can compete with Asian and Middle Eastern competitors then it needs to understand the following
1) Forget about the big idea
Smart Brands understand the concept of the big idea belongs to the 1970s and much as the world has changed significantly since then, so should the way brands engage. Malaysia Airlines must focus budgets not on telling people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality but on showing people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality.
This requires a comprehensive overhaul of the marketing, advertising, customer relationship and social media strategies. Fusionbrand recommends this be carried out through a brand audit as soon as possible.
2) The right experience training
Judging by these videos and the comments across Social Media, Malaysia Airlines see training as a box to be ticked. A review is required to identify if there is an understanding of what constitutes world class service.
If the training providers have been hired for the wrong reasons and don’t have the skills to deliver the type of training required to compete with sector leaders, how can Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and for that matter ground crew, deliver a world class service?
3) Social Media
There’s no escaping social media but too many brands don’t give it suitable attention. Malaysia Airlines must start investing funds in social media instead of big idea promises it cannot keep.
I don’t know what’s happening at MAB, but too many companies think social media is the perfect place for interns because they are young and have an Instagram account themselves. After all, what could be hard about posting on Facebook and Twitter, right? Wrong.
Social Media is about many things. For brands, it’s about cultural, social and other nuances. Being responsible for a brand online is not something you do, it’s something you are.
Malaysia Airlines needs to link what it says and does offline with what it says and does online. Quickly, before it’s too late.
Taxis are ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur, just as they are in most cities in around the world. Unfortunately, years of poor public transport, viable alternatives, ineffective regulation and little or no oversight has created an industry that is a Frankenstein monster that has lost sight of it’s actual purpose. In other words, it has grown fat and lazy.
Generations of visitors to Kuala Lumpur have put up with a terrible product. Drivers would stop at taxi ranks and ask each person in the queue where they wanted to go.
Once the driver found someone going where he, the driver wanted to go he would quote an (inflated) fare and the potential passenger could take it or leave it.
If none of the waiting passengers wanted to go in his direction or refused to accept the quoted fare, he would drive off, only to sit in traffic with an empty cab. (That particular stunt always baffled me.)
Getting a receipt for a journey was an exercise in futility. Meter rules were flouted, tourists and residents ripped off and on more than one occasion, this writer was driven by a Pakistani native who’s long beard and salwar kameez did not match the clean shaven, tie wearing Malay in the id on the dashboard identification.
There were exceptions but they were few and far between. A vast majority of the drivers appeared oblivious to the concept of customer service or for that matter, safety, personal hygiene, honesty, integrity and warmth.
To celebrate this accolade, taxi drivers complained to the government and rioted in the streets, attacking the vehicles of Uber drivers and in some cases dragging customers out of Uber cars and into taxis. Who needs customer service when you’ve got brute force and violence?
Citizens voted with their feet and despite being more expensive, Uber became the preferred mode of transport for most KLites.
All it took for this revolution was a taxi business that did what it said on the tin – ie picked people up when they wanted to be picked up and sent them to where they wanted to go at the agreed price in a nice, pleasant environment, normally delivered with a smile.
Recently there has been talk of rebranding the KL taxi business? Can this issue be fixed with a rebrand and if so, how? The short answer is that done properly, a rebrand has a very strong chance of success but if the wrong approach is taken, it’ll be an expensive and futile exercise.
And why is that I hear you ask. Well we need to first understand what constitutes branding. Only then can we appreciate what constitutes a rebrand.
To answer this, we first need to look at what isn’t a brand. In a nutshell, a brand is not a new logo or brand identity. Imagine the Apple logo. Would changing the logo from an Apple to say a sausage change anything about the brand? Of course not.
And rebranding is not launching the new logo or brand identity with a new website, new tagline and new advertising campaign that makes outrageous claims that are almost impossible to live up to and more importantly will be viewed with scepticism by consumers.
A rebrand is a three stage process that begins with a comprehensive review of the business. In this case, it will probably be painful but it needs to be done to benchmark future effectiveness of the brand strategy.
It’ll look at processes and systems related to the brand. What’s good and bad about it, explore segment specific perceptions, the technology used, communications, experiences and much more while identifying areas for short, medium and long term improvement.
Once this brand audit is completed, the findings are used to develop the internal and external brand strategy.
The internal strategy will improve dated systems and processes related to hiring, training and firing of drivers, define driver rules, develop codes of conduct and develop best practices for key touch point linked to customer requirements for value.
The adoption of technology will play a key role in providing a better product and in due course, contributing to the process of changing the perceived professionalism of the taxi industry. Tools are already on the market that allow the sharing of the resources of Grab and taxis to the benefit of both businesses and users.
The external strategy will focus on activities around 6 core attributes necessary for the success of any brand. Those attributes are warmth, humility, integrity, competence, accessibility and transparency.
Disruption is the scourge of every business today and actually has been for many years. Think how the hospitality, banking, aviation and retail industries have had to keep reinventing themselves.
KL’s taxi drivers shouldn’t be frightened of change. By using these attributes as the pillars of their industry, they have a lot going for them.
The external strategy will also leverage weaknesses in the Grab model. A narrative needs to be developed around what taxi drivers contribute to the economy, as opposed to what Grab doesn’t contribute to the community.
If there are questions about how much tax Grab pays, the taxi model will be extremely transparent and the amount of tax paid by taxi drivers will be developed as a societal narrative.
If insurance and safety are key concerns when it comes to using Grab, the taxi industry can use this to it’s advantage by inculcating a culture of safety with the drivers (instead of the often blatant abuse of traffic rules) and water tight insurance policies that cover passengers.
If Grab has a weakness when it comes to passengers with disabilities, the taxi industry will specialize in working with such groups. If the Grab pricing models are contentious, the taxi models will be clear, fair, transparent and impartial. At all times, taxis will be well maintained.
Some European cities have used regulatory vetoing to block disruptors. But in KL there was a serious market failure when it came to the needs of the customer.
So with the damage done, the free market has already decided so such action won’t work in Malaysia and the taxi drivers should stop trying to force the government to take the same approach or for that matter by trying to force the government into action with random acts of violence.
However, KL’s taxis can rebuild trust and belief in the brand. But they’ll need to adopt an organizational approach to a rebrand. If they do so, over time, perceptions of taxis and taxi drivers will improve.
A service driven culture will increase the revenue of taxi drivers while making KL a better place to live.
Ironically, taxi drivers have the potential to become the disruptors they fear, to influence cultural and political change in KL, Malaysia and possibly the region.
So yes it does make sense to rebrand KL’s taxi business. And just like the Malaysian people have proven to the world there is still some mileage left in democracy, Kuala Lumpur’s taxi drivers can prove to the world that this ancient industry has plenty of miles left in it.
Fusionbrand is Malaysia’s only Strategic Brand consultancy. You can reach the author Marcus Osborne on marcus (at) fusionbrand (dot) com or call 03 7954 2075 and ask for Gurmeet.
Q. THE BARISAN NASIONAL INVESTED HEAVILY IN TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATIONS BEFORE & DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. WAS THAT THE RIGHT WAY FOR TODAY’S BRANDING ENVIRONMENT?
A: As the dust settles on the extraordinary 14th General Election, the well known brand guru who allegedly ran the Barisan Nasional (BN) advertising campaign, the advertising agency involved and a number of other communications executives must be scratching their collective heads at what went wrong.
No one knows for sure how much Barisan Nasional spent on marketing in the lead up to the 14th General Election. I’ve heard RM20 million to RM2 billion with the reality probably somewhere in between. I did hear from a reliable source that RM20 million was spent online which is a lot of money for a short campaign period.
We’ll probably never know because there aren’t really any fund disclosure laws in Malaysia but we do know GLCs were asked to and did contribute.
So with so much money, a high profile brand guru, global advertising agency resources and total control of the mass media, what went wrong?
I will try and answer that question by putting it into some sort of historical marketing context.
The years from 1950 – 1995 can be characterized as the mass marketing economy. It was the golden age of advertising and the early days of branding.
During this period political parties could define, or “position,” themselves and use the mass media to reach and influence mass markets of relatively ‘docile’ citizens.
Don’t forget, up until the mid 1980s, Malaysia only had 2 TV channels and only one of them showed commercials. There wasn’t much to do after a hard day of work and so most citizens were watching those 2 channels. And both of these channels were owned and controlled by the government.
Limited satellite TV came to Malaysia in 1995 but there were no more than 5 channels. Reaching as many consumers as possible was still achieved through mass marketing tools such as TV, radio, billboards, newspaper advertising and the Bas Mini – provided you weren’t too worried about brand association!
Over the next 20 years things got exciting as media evolved quickly and today we have more than 300 TV options. Throughout this communications revolution, Barisan Nasional used mass media to push its messages to the public. And as history shows, it was very successful.
Then came the Internet and Malaysians took to this new platform very quickly. But the real turning point was social media. Social media radically changed the way brands communicate with citizens.
But crucially, from a political perspective, for the first time Malaysians had a platform that wasn’t government owned and that they trusted enough to use to voice out their concerns and frustrations about how the country was being administered.
Q. BUT DIDN’T BN USE SOCIAL MEDIA EXTENSIVELY?
A: Yes they did. But Barisan Nasional seemed to be under the impression it could simply move it’s broadcast message online and continue using this new media in the same way as they used the mass media they controlled.
In the lead up to GE14 BN went on Twitter in an aggressive, controlled approach using infographics, memes, images justifying government policies and lambasting the opposition’s promises.
The Digital Forensic Research (DFR) Lab of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank was quoted by Reuters as saying, “over 17,000 bots tweeted content related to the Malaysian election” immediately after the election date was confirmed.
According to the DFR lab, anti Pakatan tweets with the hashtags ‘#SayNoToPH’ and ‘#KalahkanPakatan “were used around 44,100 times by 17,600 users from 12th – 20th April 2018 and 98% percent of the users appear to be bots.”
Soon after, Twitter suspended 500 accounts posting spam or malicious content about the election. Salleh Said Keruak was contacted by the media but he did not respond to text or calls asking for comments, despite his official position as the communications minister.
Other social media images included well attended ceramah and of course ‘random’ individuals carrying “I love PM” signs and waving UMNO flags. While it made sense for BN to be on Twitter because the site is the most active platform for political debate in the country, and at times the approach was well structured but it didn’t understand the basic rules of voter engagement.
Consumers behave differently on social media. They are part of communities populated by people just like them who were just as unhappy as them. BN thought they could beat them into submission the way they had in the mass media environment.
Q. SO YOU ARE SAYING THEY USED SOCIAL MEDIA BUT THEY DIDN’T USE IT PROPERLY?
A: Exactly. Malaysians are not confrontational but push them into a corner and they come out fighting. Social Media provided that corner. This required a new, more collaborative approach to engagement but Barisan Nasional carpet bombed social media the same way it had carpet bombed traditional media for more than 60 years.
Barisan Nasional put a huge amount of resources into mass media techniques that were successful when the mass media yielded power over passive audiences willing to accept the word of the politician as final. However, Malaysians proved that mass media tactics don’t work on social media and they are no longer passive when it comes to politics.
Q. BUT CERAMAHS AND OTHER EVENTS WERE WELL ATTENDED. DOESN’T THAT SUGGEST THEY WERE POPULAR?
A: I think we all know that a well attended Ceramah or BN events doesn’t necessarily equate to popularity. Sure voters attended the events and listened politely to political messages at Ceramah while nodding appropriately. And of course candidate visits to constituencies were on the whole, well attended but they always are, especially when there is free food.
As matters became desperate towards the end of the campaign period, many of these visits came with blatant cash handouts, some of which were filmed on smartphones and shared across social media and whatsapp groups.
In the past these cash handouts were often enough to sway those on the fence but this time citizens sought third party verification on social media before making decisions or forming opinions.
And that verification came from people like them. Whether that be in Facebook communities of like minded individuals, in the comments section of articles about election related issues or in whatsapp groups.
For the first time ever, voters were informed and opinionated and social media was awash with people like them. It was like a wave the country has never witnessed.
Barisan Nasional was oblivious to these developments partly because their controlled media online such as The NST, Berita Harian and The Star were pushing out the government message but didn’t allow comments from readers at the end of the articles.
It showed a huge lack of appreciation for how the landscape was changing. But also meant the ruling party was unable to gauge less partisan feelings and address issues important to voters.
Barisan Nasional was basically stuck in 1985. It believed that all it had to do was create a party driven message and position that message in the minds of citizens.
Q. SO YOU ARE SAYING BARISAN NATIONAL SPENT FAR TOO MUCH ON ADVERTISING?
A: Far too many creative companies are given responsibility for building brands. And a recent ‘brand consultant of the year’ award went to an advertising agency! That’s like a car winning ‘motorbike of the year’! It’s confusing for everyone.
Branding today is much more than cool ads, cool logos, cool design, a great tagline all communicated using beautiful advertising. And this election proved that beyond a doubt.
Barisan Nasional put a lot of emphasis on logos during its time and for GE14 created the tagline “Utamakan Yang Perlu, Hebatkan Negaraku” which was soon shortened to the Trumpesque “Make My Country Great”.
It was extremely naive of the BN President or those advising him, to believe that an artificially contrived message, created without consultation of major stakeholders and retrofitted around an elitist party was going to make Barisan Nasional instantly acceptable, recognizable, trusted and voted for.
Some in the industry have questioned the advertising campaigns that focused on the achievements of the BN government and yet more often that not, featured a larger than life image of the Prime Minister.
The campaign was almost presidential yet didn’t seem to talk to anyone particular. For all the discussions about the impact of the youth in this election campaign, the reality is they aren’t going to vote for someone who, as one 22 year old told me, “looks like a friend of my dad’s.”
One industry veteran said the campaign looked really attractive and professional, but he didn’t know who they were talking to. It looked to him like the ads were created to please the Prime Minister.
Another industry professional thought that the campaign was, “run like an Obama campaign but in the style of Clinton with its heavy dependence on contrived messaging and negative comments about the opposition.
Q: SO BARISAN NASIONAL DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IT TAKES TO BUILD A POLITICAL BRAND?
A: Branding today requires a product that is fit for purpose. Internally, everyone within the organization must be ‘on brand’ so that they are all pulling in the same direction.
BN should have known through a brand audit what were the issues that were affecting the voters and how to address them. I think some research was carried out and there were also suggestions that the disgraced political consulting company Cambridge Analytica was involved.
But when research is managed internally or with those close to the ‘CEO’, the results may be influenced by the short term goals of those involved.
And of course participants don’t always provide truthful information if they don’t trust the source of the questions or what the data will be used for. And just to ram home this point about the flaws in internally carried out research, if the findings are not good, there is a temptation to sugar coat the results or present them in a less than legitimate manner.
BN’s messages had all the hallmarks of the contrived, ‘they’ll listen to what we want them to hear’ approach to branding. They spoke to everyone while saying nothing to anyone. There was a real lack of empathy for the audience.
When asked about the economy, 1MDB, GST, education in other words, the issues important to voters, they kept quiet or gave stock, pre prepared responses.
Arul Kanda was sent out to talk a lot without saying anything with his one man monologues on 1MDB but he changed nothing. BN could not gather feedback through neutral or semi neutral channels because it had closed them all off. And views of citizens through comments in Malaysiakini were dismissed as the ramblings of a few opposition planted extremists.
But citizens are not stupid and the majority of people saw straight through much of what BN was saying. BN has a track record of over promising, especially at election time, and under delivering afterwards. Many others were caught blatantly lying and in this day and age people will not put their trust in liars to run the country.
Q: SO DO YOU THINK BARISAN NASIONAL HAD A STRATEGY?
A: Barisan obviously had a narrative determined in advance. But instead of being based around issues that matter to the voters and tested first, it was very much based around how wonderful is the president and what they have done for the country.
As former Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz said, “the old objective was to “present a picture much rosier than it really is”. However, what was needed now are transparency, responsibility and honesty.”
That may be stating the obvious but as was patently clear during the campaigning period, BN was only ready to present a picture it wanted to present around it’s own narrative. BN only had a push plan and no pull plan. It seemed there was no real interest to address the many elephants in the room.
It was as if BN thought it could buy voters whereas they should have been trying to win their trust. And when it got really difficult, and BN was losing ground to the opposition there was no Plan B and instead, BN fell back on paying out cash, the demonization of the Chinese, the age of the opposition leader and numerous other petty, often personal matters to try and boost support.
BN made mistake after mistake. Initiatives such as weaponising Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Yunos and demonizing the DAP were perceived as negative and backfired.
The Barisan Nasional leadership, on the whole a wealthy elite, many of whom ‘inherited’ their positions and have never even worked in the private sector, were completely out of touch with their core voters.
If you spoke to any hard core UMNO members in the 6 months before the election, many of them were edging towards the fence because they were losing confidence in the leadership and it was easy to see the disparity between what BN said and what they did.
In the election campaign, some of the senior Barisan Nasional representatives would turn up for a Ceramah, spend 10 minutes screaming at the audience and then leave. This drove a bigger wedge between them and the people.
And throughout the whole campaign, there seemed to be nothing holding all these tactics together, except a old fashioned approach of presenting a fake picture of success.
Q: SO WHAT SHOULD BARISAN NASIONAL HAVE DONE TO BUILD ITS BRAND?
A: Political branding today is about six key attributes – warmth & humility, integrity & transparency and competence & accessibility. None of those attributes can be communicated with logos, advertising, taglines etc.
These attributes require engagement and interactions, the building of trust through legitimacy and a real, human side that can’t be faked. It might be flawed, that’s fine but it can’t be faked. BN was a million miles away from these attributes.
The opposition party, a fragile coalition of fragmented parties under the Pakatan Harapan banner and led by a 92 year old man, was prohibited from using a common logo and constantly under threat from the authorities.
Their events were disrupted, election posters defaced and their supporters were even threatened. Throughout the whole campaign however, they maintained their dignity, showed an approachable naturalness, campaigned on a ticket of integrity and transparency, were always accessible and came across as competent and knowledgeable, especially in matters of fiscal importance.
Their communications resonated with small, niche segments and because of that it had it’s own organic legs. According to one source, Pakatan Harapan spent a mere RM800 on Social Media during the entire election campaign. All that content you saw and probably shared got to you organically.
Compare that with the alleged RM20 million spent online by Barisan Nasional during the campaign period. Most of which was spent on passive content such as banners or negative content against the opposition with only a small amount assigned to branded content and native advertising.
Q. WHAT LESSONS CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS BRANDING DISASTER?
A: The main lesson has to be that political parties can no longer construct a brand around a party driven strategy and expect voters to embrace it because the party tells them to.
Trust is more important than ever. And now that voters have got a taste and better understanding of their power, they will be more inclined to use it. Underperform and you will be out of office.
The attributes above take time to be absorbed by voters. Those who you want to convince may want to be convinced but it won’t happen immediately. For people to believe what you tell them you must first connect with them on an emotional level.
And this will inevitably happen through various touch points with your brand. And remember the success of everything that you say online will be defined by what you do offline.
Governments are going to have to deliver. Ministers will have to know what they are doing, tenders will have to be open. If political parties aren’t providing the value diverse voter segments require, you aren’t going to stay in power for long.
Sure you may win some votes but you won’t get to the stage where you have a political brand that doesn’t require huge investments in marketing. You’ll always be struggling to get votes (or in this case offering more and more desperate incentives, many of them financial) and always be discounting, always wondering if today will be your last.
Another lesson that all brands can learn from this is to understand that branding is relational not transactional. It is no longer about selling one idea to as many voters as possible but instead is about building and nurturing relationships with communities of like minded individuals.
There has to be significant substance to the political party brand. And it has to be truthful with its point of view on issues. And this applies to Pakatan as well. Malaysians have flexed their muscles and seen how powerful they can be. Right now Pakatan is riding a wave of popularity but already citizens are asking questions.
Brands cannot be manufactured. They have to be real, they have to have substance and they have to be legitimate. The always on world that we live in doesn’t take kindly to liars.
The Barisan Nasional campaign was deconstructed every day in social media. For the first time in Malaysia, an election was fought not in the coffee shops of the Kampungs of the rural heartland but in the virtual coffee shops of Facebook and Twitter.
Historically, children from the kampungs went home and were influenced by their parents when it came to voting. This is no longer the case as many children living in the cities and overseas and returning home to vote, explained to their parents the extent of the apparent rot in Barisan Nasional and the hope for the future that Pakatan seemed to offer.
Moving forward, there is no question that political branding is moving through unchartered waters. Not just in Malaysia but around the world.
It’s no longer enough to just say ‘we are the best choice and if you vote for the opposition you will bring doom and gloom to you, your family and the nation.’
And we can expect to see a lot more Malaysians registering to vote as they realise they can make a difference. Millennials, with their fluctuating loyalties will become the power brokers in the next two elections.
These citizens are oblivious to the noise of the election billboard, are unlikely to see the party political broadcast on TV3 and don’t have the time, interest or concentration span for a 60 year old giving them a lecture at a Ceramah.
Q. ANY OTHER BRANDING TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS ELECTION?
A: A key branding takeaway from this election is that more substance, less communication will resonate with voters. One of the reasons Tun Dr Mahathir is so popular is because he comes from an era when politicians were seen as patriots, who were passionate about their country and made personal sacrifices for the nation.
He’s also popular because he’s a diminutive, old ‘doctor’ who is hardly threatening. And when he does bring up the opposition, he does it in a seemingly unconfrontational, more human manner, with a bit of humour.
Some of the BN representatives appeared almost bitter and aggressive when they spoke about him. And of course when a young person attacks an old person, there’s only going to be one winner. It was all very shallow and personal.
Another takeaway is that from now on, the political battleground is digital, it actually helped Pakatan because it meant they didn’t need to reach every corner of the country.
While BN created an arms length, slick, PM driven campaign with a lot of chest thumping, Pakatan was embracing voters, or more importantly Pakatan supporters were embracing voters in the digital coffee shops with informal, instantaneous responses to issues.
Trust and loyalty are the foundations of every brand and they always have been. Malaysians are smarter and better informed than they have ever been. They have shown they will no longer tolerate patronizing, incompetent politicians.
Politicians will have to earn the voters trust. They will have to be at the heart of every political party’s approach. Fail to learn that lesson and your days in power will be numbered.
Q: FINALLY, WHY DID YOU WRITE THE CONTROVERSIAL BOOK: STOP ADVERTISING, START BRANDING?
A: I got the idea for the book when I saw a print ad for Singapore from 1971 and then a week later I saw another one from 2016. Except for some minor changes such as the addition of a website in place of a tear off strip, they were virtually identical.
And soon after I read an article from Ernst & Young about how US$1.5 trillion was spent annually on marketing yet 80 – 90% of products failed to become brands.
I realised that even though the competitive environment and consumers are very different today than they were 50 years ago. That management, manufacturing and distribution have made substantial advances in the same period and we’re moving towards Industry 4.0, branding initiatives were still based around tactics from the Industry 2.0 era, even when used on new platforms.
The more I researched the topic, the more it appeared that reliance on outdated tactics from the past were the reason behind so much wasted money and so many branding failures.
So I decided to write a book about how to move away from the traditional style of trying to build a brand and save a lot of companies, and political parties, a lot of money.
Marcus Osborne is CEO of Fusionbrand Sdn Bhd headquartered in Kuala Lumpur and can be reached on marcus at fusionbrand dot com
Everyone at Fusionbrand is convinced that 90% of advertising is a complete waste of money.
And in Asia it’s not helped by the fact that most CEOs think they are creative directors and most agencies won’t bother challenging CEOs in case they lose the business that they won because invariably, they were the cheapest.
And as we all know, when your only differentiator is cheap, you are always looking over your shoulder for someone who has quoted cheaper than you have.
And besides, there’s no point being creative when many CEOs think they know everything about creativity or think creativity is copying someone else, creatively.
This billboard in KL can only be an example of a CEO thinking he knows best because I cannot believe any CD would allow this. I’m shocked to be honest that the Nissan brand approved it.
For the record it says the new Serena is a miracle! The woman’s head appears to be completely random. Perhaps a nod, pun intended, to the headroom?
A disgrace that does nothing but add to the advertising noise.
We had a great time today with creative writing, advertising and journalism students at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The discussion revolved around “Branding in the era of industry 4.0” and we talked about what Malaysian brands must do to to thrive in new economy and more relevant perhaps to these guys, how the advertising industry is changing and what they need to do to help those brands stay relevant.
Fusionbrand would like to thank you for having us over & thanks for the lunch too!