Malaysia getting ready to be major player in world’s largest service sector industry

One of the most interesting elements of the New Economic model (NEM) announced by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak was related to tourism.

I quote directly from his speech, “…the tourism sector has not been exploited to its potential. More can be done to attract new markets from Europe and the Americas to complement the markets from the United Kingdom and Asia.

We have some of the oldest forests in the world, rich with flora and fauna and diving experiences acclaimed to be unforgettable. Malaysia can lead in providing environmentally sustainable eco-tourism adventures that are much sought after by the advanced markets.

We should aim to provide services which will attract high-end tourists who seek exclusiveness and high value services. We must also be creative as we consider new areas of tourism. From medical tourism — a high-potential growth sector — to eco-tourism, luxury market tourism and visitors related to our growth as a regional education hub. Malaysia’s tourism future is bright if we have the vision and creativity to support its diverse growth potential.”

World’s largest service sector industry
As the PM said, Malaysia has long neglected the business of tourism, despite the fact that it is, according to the World Bank, the fastest developing industry in the world. Moreover, according to the World Tourism Organisation, 2006 (the last year before the sub prime crisis) was a record for world tourism with 842 million tourists visiting other countries, up 4.5% over the previous year. Tourism is now the World’s largest service sector industry.

Furthermore, according to the World Tourism And Travel Council (WTTC), 12% of exports, 9.3% of international investments, 8.3% of the world’s places of work and 3.6% of world internal gross product account for a share of tourism and its relevant sub industries.

Using the satellite accounting approach, which attempts to calculate the extent to which other economic sectors contribute to and benefit from tourism and passenger traffic, the WTTC also estimates that the travel and tourism industry in 2008 was valued at approximately US$5.9 trillion or 9.9% of global GDP.

Tourism is also a popular industry with governments because it impacts every level of society from the sundry shop owner who sells a tourist a bottle of water and a map to the car hire company, locally owned hotel and airline.

With hundreds of miles of pristine coastline, breathtaking islands and the oldest rain forest in the world, Malaysia should have a better developed tourism industry and it will be interesting to see what incentives the government offers investors and developers to encourage them to invest in the infrastructure and products needed to move Malaysia up the value chain in this beneficial industry.

49 million visitors by 2020
I managed to get my eyes on a copy of a report preparred by a respected international consultancy and commissioned by the government to provide data for the NEM. Unfortunately one of the key recommendations was to increase the number of arrivals to Malaysia to 49 million by 2020.

It has been a common thread in announcements made in Malaysia that volume is key and we need to be attracting hordes of foreigners to Malaysia to consider our tourism business a success. But this advice is poorly thought out. One example, imagine the impact of 49 million tourists, many of them blue collar Europeans who consider it their God given right to walk around without a shirt on (men) or only in a bikini (women) and quite often with a beer in their hands, on a place like Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bahru.

What we need to do is move away from this volume is best approach and look more at a value is best strategy that aims to attract smaller numbers of higher value visitors. This will also help with the infrastructure and talent issue as we do not have the people available to staff the 500 or 600 room hotels required to support 49 million visitors.

Breathtakingly beautiful island
One of the best natural destinations in Malaysia is Redang Island in the South China Sea. This breathtakingly beautiful island has slowly had it’s natural attractions such as the coral destroyed by boats dragging anchors, careless swimmers and greedy fishermen.

But the concept of volume over value ruled and so little was done until recently when the Terengganu state government announced that it will no longer approve any applications for cheap Chalet style resorts as it wants to make Redang a destination for high net worth visitors. This is a a sensible move that will also help save the marine environment and attempt to prevent further environmental damage.

It is a sensible move that the state government, and hopefully the federal government will offer financial support, wants to upgrade this amazing destination. But the state government should also understand that it is not just about changing the names of the resorts, upgrading facilities, spending large sums on awareness advertising and increasing the rack rate by 300%. There will need to be a significant investment in the upgrading of the resorts and also supporting infrastructure.

Here are 5 other recommendations:

1) Carry out research with stakeholders, prospects, customers and others to determine the way forward.
2) Work with carriers and others to improve domestic and international connectivity.
3) Find the right partners. Malaysia doesn’t have a domestic 5 or 6 star hospitality company that is recognised globally. Work with a globally respected and recognised resort management company.
4) Redang is a small part of the potential of Terengganu. The state must develop and implement state destination brand masterplans. The brand masterplans must incorporate measureable and relevant promotional strategies that are not based on traditional marketing techniques but leverage the power of social media.
5) In line with federal initiatives, reduce costs of doing business and offer exciting incentives for investors, above and above usual free utilities for 5 years etc.

We’ve heard about incentives for the tourism industry before but the government has never really pushed them. I have a hunch that this new administration is different and that this is a small first step in a revolution that is long overdue.

Asian companies need to stop following the herd

I’ve said it before, but I feel the need to say it again, according to Ernst & Young, up to 90% of products fail to become brands, despite US$1.5 trillion spent on marketing every year. Despite massive marketing budgets, global brands with extensive reach and high brand recall, numerous brands have died a painful and often avoidable death. Despite those massive marketing budgets, brand loyalty is decreasing and customer dissatisfaction is increasing.

So why do companies insist on investing massive amounts of money in marketing even though it is proven to be inneffective? There are a number of reasons – ego, inertia, fear of the unknown and fear of change, herd mentality and more.

But for the smart companies, think Dell, Amazon, Google, McDonalds, Walmart, Public Bank, Toyota, yes Toyota and many more, the halcyon days of inneffectiveness are over for marketing people and smart CEOs and CFOs expect, no demand greater accountability and more sustainable results from their marketing investments.

When branding was little more than a creative driven concept where a logo was used to make a name stand out and the world was much larger and competition was limited, the four Ps and old world communication goals such as reach, positioning and awareness were often enough to build a brand, then branding was little more than a subset of marketing.

But that US centric mass economy era no longer exists. The world is a much smaller, competitive and very different place today and branding has taken on a much more important role within the organisation. Moreover, consumers are more enlightened and cynical and no longer pay much attention to traditional marketing efforts.

The definition of a brand today is here

Key areas are retention (95% of marketing efforts are aquisition focussed yet very little is spent on retention so as 1 customer is expensively aquired, an earlier one also expensively acquired, walks out the door to the competition. Many companies lose money on the first sale. In the case of technology, it could be the first million sales. Brands are built on the 2nd, 3rd 4th and so on sale).

Organisational excellence (if you don’t do everything effectively and efficiently and on personalised customer terms, you won’t survive). Economic, experiential and economic value for customers (on their terms) and measurement.

It’s not only marketing that is now part of branding, it is also the supply chain, customer service, accounting, sales, purchasing and so on.

The world has changed and if you own a company, you need to change with it. You owe it to your shareholders, your customers, your staff and yourself. It is time to stop wasting money on proven inneffective marketing and start investing in your brand.

A is for Advertising

This is a good place to start a compendium of branding terms because unfortunately, it is where many companies start their brand building. And that’s a shame, no tragedy because it is an expensive exercise in futility to try and build a brand using advertising alone.

Advertising can be traced back to around the late eighteenth century when the first print ads appeared in the USA. However, they were rarely much more than extensions of the editorial copy and newspapers were reluctant to allow ads that were bigger than a single column. Even magazines preferred to print all the advertisements at the back of the publication.

Mass advertising only really began in the second half of the nineteenth century when firms began to produce greater quantities of more and more products thanks to improved production techniques. Soon after manufacturing, other businesses such as department stores and mail order firms jumped on the bandwagon and by 1880 advertising in the US was estimated to be in the region of US$200 million. This grew to almost US$3 billion by 1920.

In the mass economy of the 1930s to the 1990s that coincided with the growth of mass circulation magazines, advertising companies proliferated. At the same time, companies wanting to stand out from the competition determined, quite rightly that the quickest way to grow was to raise the profile and awareness of the company’s product or service by informing or reaching as many people as possible in the shortest time.

The most common way to do this was via advertising, especially via TV advertising. The business of advertising is based on a model of repetition across mass media. OK, creativity is important, initially anyway, but once you get over the wow factor, the idea is to repeat the same message through as many channels as possible for as long as possible.

Budget played (and still does) a significant part in what sort of advertising an agency may recommend. It is important for you to know that from the advertising company point of view, the size of the available budget will determine two main points, 1) who works on the project (in terms of seniority and talent) and 2) what channels will be utilised. A larger budget generally results in TV advertising becoming part of the recommendations.

Other platforms include print advertisements, billboards, lamp post buntings, banners, taxi, bus and tube trains, coffee shop tables, flyers, leaflets and more. The introduction of the Internet has seen a proliferation of banner ads, tower ads, unicast ads, contextual ads, takeover ads, interstitial ads, floating ads, and other options to an already noisy, crowded and complicated marketplace. It is important to note that none of these initiatives are branding, they are all advertising and advertising is a tactical initiative not a strategic initiative, like branding.

In the mass economy and unfortunately still to this day, once a campaign has launched, probably to much fanfare, the client waits with anticipation to see the promised sales spike. Meanwhile the agency submitted any well executed commercials to one of the numerous creative shows that offer awards for creativity.

As mentioned earlier, repetition is important and with enough frequency, and perhaps a little vague targeting, this repetition was expected to encourage enough consumers to walk into a store or other outlet and choose or request the advertised product.

The model worked, to some degree fifty years ago but in today’s crowded marketplace, using advertising alone to build a brand is leaving too much to chance. It is simply too difficult to stand out from the crowd. Can you remember the last ‘great’ TV commercial or print ad that you saw? And even if you can, have you bought the product?

Quite often, the promised sales spike didn’t happen, unperturbed and with a straight face, the agency would ask the client for more money, arguing that it is the client’s fault as it should have made more money available in the first place for increased frequency. If you have gone this route, I suggest you bin the advertising agency and call a brand consultant.

Should you still use advertising? Absolutely because advertising will help your company project a vision of the relationship you can deliver to the customer. The ads also help you to educate customers about the value that you can offer them. Advertising must also communicate trust. Unfortunately this is forgotten by most advertisers, especially in South East Asia where outrageous claims made in advertising are rarely backed up in reality. In Malaysia for example, after years of being let down by claims made in advertising, only 14% of Malaysians now believe what companies tell them in their advertising.

But instead of seeking to increase awareness of your product or service with as many consumers as possible, ensure your advertising seeks to communicate with those consumers that are most likely to adopt your product or service.

Make your advertising relevant to those consumers you have targeted. Core messages must be related to those consumers interests, needs and/or desires. So rather than a one-size-fits-all approach in your communications, it is essential for messages to be about offering value to those specific customers and making their life better as a result. How to identify those consumers and what is relevant to them will be explored in brand audits and targetting.

The goal is to ensure a consumer incorporates an offering into their personal or business lives.

Adoption will ensure your brand is seen as the best, hey perhaps even the only choice. This won’t happen on its own. It is a process built on operational excellence, superb sales incorporating ‘top of game’ customer service and the ability to match offerings to the consumers individual requirements for value, on an ongoing basis. To build a brand retention is key and retention requires relationships and without relationships, adoption is not achievable.

And this is good news for Asian companies because the fact is Asian companies, and especially those from South East Asia, simply don’t have deep enough pockets to compete with international brands using outdated one-size-fits-all, mass economy tactics.

If a consumer cannot afford your brand, he won’t buy it

Brands are defined by the economic, emotional and experiential value they provide to a consumer. If you can’t match the attributes of your brand to those requirements for value, consumers won’t buy it. Cost is a critical element.

No matter how much you spend on expensive TV commercials that the agency says will reach the most consumers and create awareness of your product the quickest, if a consumer cannot afford your product, he won’t buy it.

It doesn’t matter how much you spend positioning your product in the mind of consumers. If those consumers can’t afford your product, they won’t buy it.

Even if you manage to completely differentiate your product from other products, if a consumer can’t afford your product, he won’t buy it.

Case study: Use research to form the foundations of a tourism brand strategy

A powerful country brand developed from a meticulously planned strategy that has at its heart the concept of providing specific value to specific identified segments and meticulously executed and measured can yield massive benefits for investment, domestic industries and culture.

And for most South East Asian countries, tourism will have a prominent role to play in their country brand strategies. And so it should be as most governments recognize the contribution of tourism to stimulating economic growth across all sectors of society.

It also helps that tourism is also considered to be the world’s largest industry with revenue of over US$500 billion. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates International tourist arrivals for 2009 to be at 880 million. Although this was a 4% drop over the previous year, Asia and the pacific saw the first signs of recovery with positive growth in the last 2 quarters.

Going forward, the UNWTO expects international arrivals to reach 1.56 billion by 2020. Of these, almost 400 million are expected to head for Asia and the pacific.

But because of the tendency of politicians to seek a quick fix, most Asian tourism brand strategies look no further than creative advertising campaigns that look the same as many other destinations and are soon lost in the muddle of messages currently carpet bombing consumers.

One country in South East Asia has recognized the futility of this approach and commissioned us to develop a brand strategy based on trade and consumer requirements for value. Client confidentiality doesn’t allow me to reveal the country involved however I am able to share the methodology and some of the results and findings.

The project took just almost 2 years from appointment to implementation of the strategy however some urgent recommendations were implemented earlier.

The tourism office is tasked with marketing the country both domestically and internationally. Our focus was internationally. They were facing a number of challenges including:

1) The increased effectiveness of competitor marketing strategies. All regional competitors are investing heavily in tourism products and developing segment focused branding campaigns.

2) Growing ineffectiveness of mass marketing, especially generic print & TV advertising. Increasingly fragmented media and an increase in leisure time activities are making it harder to reach consumers via traditional channels.

3) The increase in the influence of the Internet on the destination decision-making process, especially the increased influence of peer-to-peer networks. Figures released by The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in November 2004 showed that 19% of holidaymakers booked their holiday online – six times more than in 2000. By 2008, this figure had grown to 67% (Online shopping survey). Only about 13% of those surveyed said they would use a travel agent. The Internet is also growing in importance as a communications medium through P2P networks with 34% of respondents to a Mintel survey choosing their destination on the basis of a face-to-face recommendation

4) Poor repeat visitor rates. Repeat visitors not only represent an increased return on the initial marketing investment but also tend to stay longer and spend more. Additionally, they represent a low-cost source of referrals and other word-of mouth advantages. Currently, the country has a below average number of repeat visitors compared to two main competitors which represents a threat to future growth.

5) Lack of awareness and knowledge of the country worldwide. What has been the impact of the country advertising? Has it been effective in improving the perception of the country? How much is it contributing to tourism in the country?

Our research showed that there were about 600,000 competing communities in Asia and more than 1,000 regional and national economic development agencies, all competing for visitors. This made it easy for even the most compelling messages to get lost amid all the destination claims.

We recommended to the client that in this cluttered environment, effective branding depends on data and knowledge about current and prospective visitors and not simply trendy creative campaigns featuring mass marketing tactics across all major channels.

Moreover, choosing the most effective branding strategy depended on sound market & customer research to determine current attitudes and perceptions toward the country among travel agents, previous visitors to the country and those that had never visited the country.

By understanding the sources of those perceptions and attitudes, the client would be better able to evaluate current branding efforts, develop strategies to target high-impact segments with the most potential more effectively, drive internal education and other program development, leverage the emerging medium of Web 2.0, develop benchmarks to measure branding progress and ensure that resources were used cost-effectively.

The research could also be used to pinpoint, prioritise and drive online community-based branding. A core requirement as consumers spend more time in those communities.

Other key requirements included communicating knowledge of current branding and target market imperatives among personnel, as well as ensuring knowledge and data transfer.

After extensive discussions with the research division and others and to provide a 360-degree approach to understanding the brand, FusionBrand developed and conducted a multi-phase, six-month international research project that incorporated multiple research methodologies.

These methodologies included:

• 39 focus groups (FG) in thirteen locations in twelve countries comprised of 3 segments:
o Travel Agents
o Travelers who have visited the country in previous 3 years
o Travelers who have not visited the country but have traveled long haul in last 3 years
• Online surveys
o 12 countries
o Worldwide via client website
• Mystery shops in specific countries plus home country
• Internet CGM (consumer-generated media) monitoring & analysis
o 22 million blogs
o 60,000 usenet forums
o 6,000 discussion forums
o Plus podcasts, web sites etc.
• Internal brand audit in HQ and at tourism offices worldwide
o One-on-one, in-depth interviews with domestic & international staff
• External brand audit
o In depth interviews in specific countries
o 3 segments
o Tourist operators & agencies
o Media representatives
o Local tourism associations
• Communications audit (print)
o Brand analysis of print materials
o Comparative analysis of 11 regional competitor materials
o Framework for evaluation, scoring & future design developed
• Communications audit digital
o Own sites
o Brand evaluation based on Internet & customer relationship best practices
o Social Media initiatives

The countries were located in the following regions:

• Asia
• North America
• Europe
• Middle East
• Australia

The research project completely designed by FusionBrand was not only comprehensive, but innovative as well. For example, the Internet monitoring had yet to be accomplished by any destination, while the digital communications audit looked at what is necessary to advance into the emerging era of Internet 2.0.

Output was comprehensive and extensive and included:

• Recording and analysis of relevant input in complete reports
• County-by-country reports concerning perceptions and experiences with the country, including key influencers on travel destination selection
• Brand workshops for client personnel incorporating research results to ensure a corporate-wide understanding of the country brand strategy
• Analysis of Internet and marketing collateral relevance and effectiveness in segment-based branding
• Review of social media initiatives
• Quantitative benchmarks concerning experiences, perceptions, influencers and preferences of target segments
• Detailed insights concerning five key target segments identified in conjunction with the client

Each report not only included the findings from the research, but also prioritised recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the research.

Over 300 actionable recommendations
More than 300 actionable recommendations were made. These recommendations were incorporated into a comprehensive, segment-based brand plan that was developed over six months. The brand plan had a strong emphasis on the internet and social marketing and included strategic planning for marketing, advertising, both online and traditional, public relations, direct marketing, web and other programmes and outlined goals, messages, target markets, measurements, activities, timelines, responsibilities and budgets.

The benefits include consistent messaging and images among target markets, synergy among multiple programs, and elimination of uncoordinated activities that were wasting resources. Crucially, the brand plan also provides tools to evaluate program results.

In addition, in conjunction with representatives in country, country specific brand plans were developed. The Country Brand Plans are primarily focused on specific marketing activities within those countries. These activities include, but are not limited to, PR, local trade shows, agent recruitment and communications, cultural events, advertising, segment specific publications, promotional events, etc.

Although the brand strategy was for 2009, urgent recommendations such as consolidation and improvements to web sites and the appointment of regional PR companies were implemented immediately.

A key element of branding is consistency and yet, during the communications audit, the lack of consistency was evident. A strong recommendation was made for a corporate identity brand manual to be developed immediately. The manual was conceptualized and completed by FusionBrand in 4 months, during the writing of the 2009 brand plan.

Throughout the research and planning process, workshops were designed and presented to client personnel to keep them abreast of the process and educate them.

The project has been deemed a success with many targets met ahead of or on schedule. Furthermore significant savings have been made in a number of areas such as a reduction in collateral printing and a move to print on demand. Finally the destination has appeared on more than one ‘must visit’ destination for 2010 for the first time in its history.

More effective brand communications required to build the Volvo brand in Malaysia

Building a brand in any country requires more than a series of tactical initiatives to create awareness and ‘get the name out there’. It takes a meticulously planned and integrated strategy that incorporates the participation of numerous stakeholders and initiatives, both internal and external. Internally to ensure the whole organisation is on brand and externally to ensure communications and content resonates with target markets and are communicated via relevant channels. There’s more but for the purpose of this article that’s enough for now.

And what if the brand is to penetrate other markets? There was a time when all it took to do this was a continuation of the positioning tactics carried out in the home country, perhaps with a few language changes in print media and perhaps some dubbing of TV commercials (TVCs). An over simplification perhaps, but essentially correct.

But as we all know, the world is very different today.

Building western brands in Asia
To build a Western brand in Asia today, as many international brands are finding out the hard way, takes an even more robust and integrated brand strategy that has at its core organisational excellence. Only once has that strategy been developed can the brand strategy be executed. And part of the brand strategy, a small but critical part, is the communications campaign.

This is particularly true of the automotive industry that has seen a number of well known European and other Western brands find it hard to repeat the successes at home in new Asian markets. There are other issues such as high duties etc but many European brands perform below expectations, despite large marketing budgets.

One of those is Volvo. Despite an extensive presence across most media, in 2009, out of a total industry volume (TIV) of just under 537,000 units, Volvo only sold 600 cars in Malaysia, South East Asia’s largest passenger market. This gives Volvo about 0.15% of the market. Although this is a slight increase over 2008 when Volvo sold 524 cars, it is way below the 2007 total of 752 units. Interestingly, in 1999 Volvo sold 839 cars, giving it 0.3% of the market. So Volvo’s market share of the Malaysian passenger car market has halved in 10 years. I think I know why.

Last Thursday, 28th January 2010, a half page full colour ad in the New Straits Times, (NST) Malaysia’s ‘premium’ newspaper caught my eye. The ad features the Volvo V50 and a headline “There’s more to life with Volvo.” The ad goes on to sell space and luxury using images of a kayak, a windsurfer and a mountain bike. The ad lists, in really small print, a number of dealers in key cities. There is no website address.

Last Friday 29th January 2010, Volvo ran another half page ad in the same publication, this time a spot colour ad. This ad features a Volvo XC60 parked on a snow covered road with the occupants, a man and a woman in warm fur collared winter parkas sitting in a pile of snow staring out at a snow covered landscape. This time the headline is “Volvo owners get more out of life!”

If I’m not mistaken, the traditional rule of thumb has it that you have approximately 3 seconds to grab a readers attention with a print ad headline, perhaps less in today’s noisy, cluttered world. I don’t know how effective the Volvo ads have been but I did notice that the offer in the second ad has been extended, rarely a good sign. I also noticed that there is no tracking mechanism in the copy. And, in case you can’t read it, the tagline in the print ad reads “Volvo owners get more out of life!” So the ad is targetting both existing and potential customers.

Coincidentally, there is a Volvo billboard outside my office, at the busy intersection of a very busy highway. The billboard ad features the Volvo XC90 Diesel. This time the headline is “Winner of fuel efficiency award.”

Sitting in my office in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where the recent hot spell has seen the temperature top 40 degrees centigrade on more than one occassion and the humidity is often around 90%, I tried to figure out a couple of things.

1) What was the relevance of these communications to potential and existing Volvo owners in Malaysia?
2) Why are they using images featuring snow to sell a service in the tropics?
3) Why is an ad targetted at existing Volvo owners also trying to get the attention of non Volvo owners?
4) Where is the consistency?
5) Is this part of a planned out, integrated strategy or a series of one off tactics?
6) Why would anyone get out of a nice warm car and sit on wet cold snow to admire the view?

OK, ignore the last one.

Hemorrhoids and Frost bite
Well as far as I can tell, more out of life for the couple featured in the second ad is likely to be hemorrhoids and frost bite. I don’t mean to be fecetious, but what is the relevance to the Malaysian market? There are some marketers who insist that to build a brand you need to be first in a category and perhaps Volvo wants to be first in the frost bite category but I think not.

More confusing is the content. The main copy of the ad is encouraging existing Volvo owners to bring their cars in for servicing, repairs or to buy accessories and be entered into a competition to win vouchers that can be redeemed for more accessories and parts. Shooting off on a brief tangent, the takeaways I get from that copy, as a non Volvo owner are, in roughly equal amounts:

1) you are going to be spending a lot on parts and accessories so here’s a little help or
2) these cars are built so well that you will never actually win anything because nothing needs to be repaired but the model sold is so basic you’ll be spending a lot on accessories. Interestingly Volvo also offers a 3 year warranty/100,000km for cars sold in Malaysia so if you’ve got a new car you may have to wait 3 years to receive your prize!

Seriously though, The Volvo communications are confusing. Furthermore, according to the Star newspaper, 86% of Malaysians don’t trust advertising. So that means the print ads mentioned earlier are targetted at only 14% of Malaysians. Moreover, with an entry level Volvo S40 at around RM170,000 (US$48,000) it is off the radar of the average Malaysian so a mass media approach is a waste of valuable funds.

There are a number of other things Volvo can do to halt the slide in its market share and build a profitable brand in Malaysia.

1) Separate the acquisition strategy from that of the retention strategy.
2) An indifference to retention branding is short-sighted. Michigan State University estimated that US$1 spent on acquisition generates US$5 in revenue, while every dollar spent on retention creates US$60 in revenue. Bain and Co has estimated that increasing retention by 5% can increase profits by 25%. Companies have a 5 – 15% of selling something to a new customer, but a 50% chance when selling to an existing customer. But retention branding requires a completely different strategy to acquisition branding.
3) In the mass economy the brand communications goal was to increase awareness. This evolved into persuasion but the ultimate goal today is adoption. Adoption ensures the brand is seen as the best or, better still, the only choice. But adoption of a brand is not an event it is a process built on the back of organisational excellence and reinforced by the ability to deliver relevant solutions on customer terms.
4) Volvo cannot expect adoption if messaging is inconsistent and fragmented. If print campaigns and billboards are to be part of the brand communications, keep them consistent. Announcing fuel efficiency awards is not going to drive traffic to showrooms.
5) Review communication tools and explore social media options. I believe there is no benefit at all for a luxury product like Volvo to advertise in a daily newspaper in Asia.
6) Understand social media is for communities and those communities must be relevant. The only opportunity for interaction on the Volvo website leads the viewer to an international site. Volvo owners in Malaysia will want to be part of a community here, and learn about issues and opportunities in Malaysia, not in Istanbul.

The purpose of this article is not to embarrass Volvo. So if anyone from Volvo reads this article, please view my comments as feedback, not criticism. There are a number of automotive manufacturers making similar mistakes but Volvo caught my eye!

You cannot build a brand with advertising alone

86% of Malaysians don’t trust advertising. The Star) . 78% of Malaysians trust the recommendations of other consumers. There are more than 1,500,000 Malaysians on Faceboook. 80% of affluent Malaysians (those with a household income (HHI) above RM5,000) use social networking sites. Nine of the Top 20 websites in Malaysia are social networking sites. These consumers are the new world order. They are online for many hours a day and pay little attention to traditional mass media. Despite this, Malaysian companies continue to poor billions (RM6.45 billion in 2008. Adoi) into mass market advertising in the mistaken belief that what they are doing is building a profitable brand.

Advertising was much more relevant in the past when the mass media was limited to only one or two TV stations, few radio stations, a couple of national newspapers and the occasional billboard. Limited leisure time pursuits meant consumers spent a lot of time interfacing with the mass media. Finally, there was little competition so high product or service standards were unimportant. With frequency and timing, mass media advertising generated enough ‘awareness’ to justify the budget.

With limited competition and consumers who were willing to accept low standards or didn’t know any better, such awareness could result in sales and for some, it was enough to build a brand.

Using advertising to build a brand is ineffective
Unfortunately, using advertising to build a brand will not work anymore. Mass media has disintegrated into niches or communities. Consumers have been carpet bombed by so many messages – up to 3,000 a day and for so long, that they have learned to block most of those messages. The favoured reaction of advertising agencies to declining responses and lack of effectiveness is to increase frequency but this doesn’t help because it just adds to the cacophony.

In a media saturated world, awareness is just background noise that means very little. For most companies, and there are very few exceptions, in an age when information on every product and service is widely available, and consumers have more choice, are better informed, and more powerful, creating awareness is not going to build a brand. For instance we’re all aware of Mazda, Alfa Romeo, Eon Bank, Pan Am, Airbus, Ritz Carlton and many other multi national global brands, yet most of us will go through life without ever buying something from these companies.

Indeed, many companies have realized, sadly after spending millions on advertising, that advertising can raise awareness (and even that outcome is not a given), but still fail to transform an offering into a brand. Settling for awareness, when so much more is possible and required is a total waste of valuable funds.

But this doesn’t mean that advertising is no longer important. Advertising is, and will probably always be, important to branding. But its role has changed. Advertising can no longer be a tactical initiative to ‘reach’ as many consumers as possible to ‘get the name out there’.

Advertising must do more than try to create awareness. Advertising must work to ensure consumers adopt offerings into their lives. Adoption enables an offering to be seen as the best option. But this adoption also needs organisational excellence and the ability to match offerings to client requirements for value. Advertising cannot be expected to do this on its own. And it is wrong of advertising agencies to give the impression it can but it is also wrong of business owners to expect advertising agencies to be solely responsible because advertising is not a silver bullet.

It may seem like I am stating the obvious, but advertising must also communicate trust. This is the key element in any relationship. Prospects won’t make that critical initial connection without trust. And for trust to grow into loyalty, the key to brand building, companies must deliver on the promises made in the advertising. If you don’t deliver on the promises made, your target market is reduced by 86% and you are trying to sell to the 14% of Malaysians who trust advertising.

Some of the claims being made by property developers, automotive distributors, airlines and others in their advertising are often bordering on the ridiculous. Consumers, already pressed for time and cynical, are doubtful as soon as they see the advertising. If you foster doubt from the moment of the initial contact, you’ve wasted every dollar spent on that campaign. If you are making claims you must follow through with them across every touchpoint. And don’t expect it to happen overnight. It takes time to build loyalty.

Understand that building a brand requires not just advertising but also a significant investment in building loyalty and organisational excellence and the money you spend on advertising may be money well spent. Failure to do so and you may as well pour it down the drain.

Acquisition versus retention

The image below is a rather amusing yet fairly typical example of the importance most companies place on retaining customers. FusionBrand anecdotal research suggests that companies invest 85 – 95% of their marketing resources into the acquisition process and only 5 – 15% into the retention process. Can anyone explain why?

After all, according to Bain and Co, a firm has a 15% chance of selling to a new customer and a 50% chance of selling to an existing customer. Wouldn’t it make sense therefore to invest more in retaining customers than acquiring them? Furthermore, once a prospect becomes a customer, it is a lot easier to build a relationship with that customer, using content that is relevant and interesting to them, and not via the mass economy blitzkrieg popular with most advertising agencies.

Your thoughts?

How not to sell a London property to Malaysians

I spotted the sign below on a lamp post in Damansara this morning. In case you can’t read it, the content is as follows:

London – Condo
Good Buy & Invest (sic)
West London £220k
Call for Preview

I cannot believe that a genuine UK property developer or estate agent would encourage a company to sell million Ringgit properties with signs on lamp posts. After all the UK property market, and in particular the London market is benefitting from substantial investment and has hardly been affected by the global financial crisis.

Commercial property
Jones Lang LasSalle expects the total direct investment in commercial real estate in the UK to be around £23 billion (RM125billion) for 2009. Prime yields in the West End are 5% and in the city, around 6.25%. That’s impressive compared with a bank rate of, well about 0%.

Residential Property
Meanwhile, the residential market is also performing strongly. International buyers increased by 25% in 2009 compared to 2008. Most of the investment is coming from Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Knight Frank estimates demand from new buyers is “almost 25% higher than a year ago” and “prices have now risen 13.8% in the nine months since March.”

In fact, most of the investment is coming from the overseas market. Foreign buyers account for 80% of the investment, the highest ever. Indeed, the average over the last 10 years has been closer to 46%. The latest sources of this overseas investment include Oman, Libya, Lebanon, USA, Korea and Ireland.

UK property roadshow
Little wonder then that Malaysian firms want to get in on the act and sell UK property. I can’t find any figures on the total Malaysian investment in the UK or London property market however, the recent launch of a luxury development at Imperial Wharf, London, Malaysian buyers purchased £9.25 million (RM56 million) worth of luxury apartments and penthouses over the 2-day road show in Kuala Lumpur.

Olympic games
With more than 10,000 Malaysians studying in the UK and a number of companies keen to make the UK their European HQ, there are going to be plenty of willing buyers. Especially with the Olympics to held in London in 2012.

Wrong way to sell
But this is not the way to sell those properties. It dilutes the value of the property, negatively impacts the credibility of the local representation and makes it harder for future efforts to sell UK properties here in Malaysia. But worst of all, it portrays Malaysia as an amateur in a professional world.

Updated: 11th January 2010. I have since called the number on the bunting. I spoke to a nice guy with a pleasant attitude. I asked him where the property is. He stated the property was in South Ealing. As I know this area well I asked for the exact location and I consider it to be more Brentford than Ealing. He asked for my email address and promised to email me more information.

That was last Thursday, I have not received anything as of today.

Case study – How a Malaysian Company built its brand from the inside

Senior executives at a Malaysian technology related firm were frustrated. Sales growth was not meeting expectations, despite the firm’s 20-plus year track record, strategic partnerships with top international firms, excellent service and high profile advertising campaigns.

To boost sales, the firm had explored common alternatives – price cuts and an expensive marketing campaign. But although such actions had a short term impact in the past, there were no long term benefits and they hurt profitability. So the senior executives decided to look at another option – increase sales effectiveness by reviewing sales processes and tools, increasing the sales close rate and shortening the sales cycles.

Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, the firm specializes in boosting supply chain and other efficiencies through both product sales and software and other integration. With offices in Singapore, Thailand and other Asian countries, the firm has a blue-chip list of customers that includes some of Malaysia’s largest companies. Sales had grown steadily over the previous decades, but the firm was now facing price-based competition from China at the same time as it was weighing opportunities to go public.

After looking at the issue, senior management determined that the sales problem was not due to a lack of leads. The firm received a steady supply of leads from word-of-mouth and customer referrals, as well as from its strategic partners. The sales staff also cold-called regularly for leads.

The main issue was converting those leads into sales. Qualified leads languished in the sales pipeline for months or even years. Too often, active senior management involvement was required to close sales, which took time away from expansion, financial and operational issues. The sales force constantly pressured management for price cuts to make sales. Even when sales were made, opportunities for sales to other divisions or branches were rarely leveraged. Too many sales were for low-margin commodities and replaceables, when the firm wanted more profitable service, maintenance and IT integration contracts.

Management had earlier tried to address these issues with automation (providing laptops to the sales force and installing a low-end CRM system), new sales compensation schemes, re-organization (creating a department just for telephone sales) and other steps. But sales still were not meeting expectations.

Traditional sales training
So the managing director decided that the best solution was to upgrade the skills of the 15-member sales force and other customer facing departments, and requested bids from multiple training companies. The most common proposal focused on sales training that emphasized lead development and closing skills. However, such training was generic to almost any industry.

Another, more expensive option, was a comprehensive approach that included revamping its sales processes and skills around the company’s offerings and requirements of its customers. After careful consideration, the company decided that an improved sales process and customized training provided the most value, and contracted with the sales development division of Malaysia’s leading customer driven brand consultancy, FusionBrand.

Sales audit
The first step was an in-depth sales audit that sought to uncover issues hampering sales as well as opportunities for improvement. FusionBrand conducted hour-long, confidential interviews with senior management, sales managers and many sales personnel. All sales material, including brochures, proposals, quotations, sales scripts, pipeline reports and other information, was reviewed and analyzed. Current as well as “lost” customers were interviewed for their critical perspective on the sales process and their reasons for buying/not buying.

The sales audit resulted in a comprehensive sales process analysis that identified strengths and weaknesses in the sales process as well as in the sales material. For example, the sales pipeline report, a key tool for sales forecasting and supplier orders, was both out of date and contained inaccurate information, making it difficult to prioritize resources and estimate future sales. The sales process analysis included numerous specific recommendations for improving sales processes, reports, collateral and proposals.

Many graduates of training courses complain that the material studied was not relevant to their industry or customer requirements. This issue did not arise because FusionBrand carried out a sales audit first. Information learned during the sales audit was then used to develop two customized sales training courses that incorporated actual customer, product and sales situations. Furthermore, the number of attendees was limited to 12 to ensure that each sales person gained maximum benefit from numerous role-plays and hands-on exercises.

The first customized, two-day course focused on sales basics, ranging from lead development, time management and closing. Special attention was paid to dealing with price-based objections. About four weeks later, the second customized course was held in 5 half-day sessions over a three-week period to minimize the impact on sales time and provide more opportunities for review and retention. This course focused on “strategic sales.”

Many training courses assume that sales can be made in a single sales call. However, only commodity, low-margin products can be sold in one call. More advanced offerings inevitably require strategic sales, characterized by longer sales cycles, multiple corporate decision-makers (ranging from finance to IT to actual users) and complex requirements. Such strategic sales require understanding differing requirements for value among various departments as well as internal political issues at the prospect. Using an existing prospect that was difficult to close, each attendee developed a focused sales strategy and delivered a PowerPoint presentation designed to win over all departmental decision-makers involved in contract approval.

Sales manual development
The final phase of the multi-month effort was a sales manual. A sales manual includes standardized information on sales processes, compensation (eg, commission schedules), reporting, requirements, resources (ranging from key telephone numbers to report and presentation templates), sales tips and more. The sales manual gives the company more consistent management by acting as teaching tool for sales managers with new staff and ensures more consistent operations and reduces training time.

Results have been achieved in both sales and other departments. Ordering is based on more accurate pipeline data, which has reduced inventory, freeing up capital for expansion. Morale has improved, sales personnel are more confident and less inclined to reach for a calculator at the first objection and offer discounts. The company has made its sales and presentations more customer-centric. Most importantly, sales have accelerated and sales cycles are starting to decrease.

Other internal branding initiatives were embarked on to ensure the successes were communicated and integrated throughout the organization.

Companies invest a lot in marketing to generate leads. But even all the leads in the world mean nothing until they are converted into a sale and, ideally, a long-term customer. That is why investing in your sales organization, processes, and personnel is crucial for ensuring that customer requirements for value – whether at the MD or user level — are consistently understood and addressed by the brand. Such understanding is hard to achieve from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sales training class.

A sales process audit, customized sales instruction and sales manual can give companies the framework and structure to close more sales more often – without having to compete just on price. This in turn will build a comprehensive, well respected and, most important of all, profitable brand.