Customer loyalty builds brands

One of my favourite branding blogs is truly deeply from Australia and I recommend it to anyone even if you are not based in Australia.

This morning the author David Ansett Tweeted a link to a post from last year called customer loyalty, the holy grail for brands. It’s a short, thought provoking post.

We want to be part of all the brands we live with
We want to be part of all the brands we live with

It never ceases to amaze me that despite all the stats pointing to investment in retention and loyalty are key to building a profitable brand, most brand owners invest the majority of their marketing dollars in acquisition tactics that belong to a world that no longer exists.

The belief that advertising can build a brand in the social economy is laughable yet where do brand owners go when they want to build a brand? The nearest advertising agency. it’s ludicrous because if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Advertising agencies only have advertising so all roads lead back to advertising and the problem with advertising is that NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION.

And this is where I disagree with David’s comment that “It is increasingly difficult to build long term relationships with hard won clients and customers”. I disagree because it has never been easier!

We know where everyone is, physically and digitally, we have their names, their addresses, both digital and physical, we know what they like, what they dislike, we know who their friends are, who they like, who they don’t like, who influences them, we know what winds them up and most important of all, we know that they want us to be part of their lives.

Yet most brands ignore building loyalty or give it a cursory nod in the form of generic, meaningless loyalty programmes that often provide ‘deals’ that are worse than what the customer can get himself.

Good customer service builds brands
Good customer service builds loyalty

Firms prefer instead to focus on acquisition and then, when there is a problem and brands fail to address the issue or worse, ignore the customer completely or address it in an amateurish, arrogant manner, brands wonder why those customers leave and angrily share their frustration across social media.

It has never been easier to build long term relationships with our clients and customers to improve loyalty, it’s just that most brands are going about it the wrong way.


A definition of branding that will help you to build a global brand

This article first appeared in the 30/09/2011 edition of The Malaysian Reserve

Over the years, companies have invested phenomenal amounts of money in marketing and advertising activities such as sales calls, direct mail, TV, outdoor, indoor, print and other advertising, brochures, leaflets and more. Indeed, according to Nick Wreden in his book Profit brand, How to increase the profitability, accountability and sustainability of brands, over US$1.5 trillion is spent annually on marketing (including advertising) worldwide and yet according to McKinsey, a management consultancy, up to 90% of products fail to become brands.

With little or nothing to show for these significant investments, companies looked to other disciplines and soon Branding was considered the way forward and the last 10 years has seen a major change in the resources committed to Branding.

As a result of this interest, hundreds of traditional books and ebooks have been written on the topic of Branding. Thousands of newspaper and magazine column inches have been dedicated to the discipline. Workshops and seminars have been held all over the world, all promising to teach business people how to Brand. These presentations are often uploaded to slideshare and Youtube videos have appeared, all with content related to Branding.

Many companies, including I suspect, yours have explored the concept and many have actually embarked on what they thought was a branding or rebranding exercise. Indeed, only recently, Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) announced it had gone through a rebranding exercise and even the Prime Minister attended the press launch of the new ‘brand’.

At the press conference, Malayan Banking Bhd President and CEO Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar unveiled a new logo and explained that the bank would be spending RM13 million on the implementation exercise across the Asian region and that it would take about a year.

On the face of it and with the only evidence a new logo, this does not look like a rebranding exercise. This is more like a brand identity makeover or corporate identity reengineering, nothing more.

Another financial institution recently made a similar announcement and stated that it would spend RM15 million on a rebranding exercise. Soon after I received nine emails for a product that I didn’t understand and with a tagline that offered an exclusive deal for MasterCard holders even though I am not a MasterCard user.

Other well-known companies from the transportation, media and distribution industries have recently announced rebranding exercises that have actually been little more than a new advertising campaign.

The reality is that the new Maybank logo and identity will probably not make a difference to the brand and how consumers and organizations view the brand or the profitability of the brand. Think about it, when was the last time you signed up with or changed your bank because of a competitor’s logo?

This confusion is not Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar’s fault. If we have to point fingers, we should probably point them at the marketers and advertising agencies responsible for muddying the branding waters.

It is because they have confused business owners and consumers with their contradictory interpretations that there is still a lot of confusion about Branding, the concept of Branding, what constitutes a Brand, what is Branding and how to build a Brand.

But this article is not about pointing fingers it is about identifying a definition of branding that will help Malaysian SMEs and other companies use scarce funds effectively and efficiently.

So what is a good definition that Malaysian companies can use as a foundation for their branding efforts?

We created this definition in 2004 and it still rings true today:

A brand is a long term profitable bond between an offering and a customer.

This relationship is based on offering economic, experiential and emotional value to those customers.

And it is backed up by operational excellence and consistently evaluated and improved.


We have used this as a foundation to build Malaysian brands and all of them have benefited from using this to take their brand forward. But what does it mean and how can Malaysian companies like yours use it as a foundation for their branding efforts? To do this, we need to break the definition down into three parts, as per the paragraphs above.

The first paragraph relates to two key elements, profitability and retention. One of the reasons that advertising, marketing and other traditional communications campaigns are so ineffective is that too many companies spend an absolute fortune getting a customer into their shop or showroom and then after the customer buys something, they just let them walk out the door! Isn’t it incredible that firms let customers walk out the door without attempting to at least try to build some sort of bond with them?

If you don’t why should the customer come back again? Don’t kid yourself that your product (there are some exceptions) is so unique that they will ignore other products and fight off all the attempts to lure them into competitor stores even though you have absolutely no relationship with them.

Profitability is an important branding metric, much more important than reach or awareness. It is estimated that up to 15% of a firms customers are unprofitable. You need to know who are your unprofitable customers and get rid of them.

If you have a car that won’t start and you send it to the garage and the mechanic says the engine is broken so you take the car to the paint shop and paint the body, will it help to fix the engine problem? Of course it won’t. It is the same with a brand. If you are receiving numerous complaints about the quality of your products or the time it takes to be served at a branch and you ask an advertising agency to create a new logo and you put that new logo on all your company materials, it won’t solve your quality or service issues or make your brand any better.

But if you carry out research with your customers and identify what are their requirements for economic, experiential and emotional value and then match your product attributes to those requirements for value you will make sales. And if you’ve laid the foundations for retaining those customers, as mentioned earlier, then you will be on your way to building a brand.

And by developing this emotional connection with your customers in which you deliver economic, experiential and emotional value, which incidentally will be done across multiple touch points such as when they use the counter service, through your correspondence and marketing collateral, the way you handle enquiries, your packaging, in one on one meetings with your representatives and so on, there will be no interest or need for them to take their business elsewhere.

In fact you will be surprised at the effort they will put into returning to you. And provided you keep your product or service relevant and continue to interact with those customers across platforms and channels that they engage with then you will be building a brand.

Operational excellence is a key ingredient in your quest to build a brand. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on marketing, sales, advertising etc if your organization isn’t efficient and effective it will struggle to deliver value and ergo, build a brand.

Finally, it is important to continually improve to stay relevant so you must track, evaluate and improve your brand on a continuous basis.

Instead of looking at branding as a creative exercise or short term tactical communications exercise, look at it as a holistic strategic initiative that requires internal and external research, investment in retention and not just acquisition, investment in the organization and a desire to constantly improve.

Follow these rules and you are more likely to build a global Malaysian brand.

Is Positioning still relevant today? Part two

Recently I wrote a blog post questioning the relevance of positioning today. You can read the full post here. A fellow blogger called Pepita responded with some well thought out and pertinent comments. Below are her comments, taken from the comments section and re posted here together with my responses embedded within the questions.

Pepita: You state chat a model that was developed for the US mass market in the seventies is not applicable to other countries or through time. Why does a market have to be similar in order for a model to work? All markets have the same elements (competitors, customers, manufacturers etc.) don’t they. If you extend your statement to other theories it is the same as saying that economic theories cannot be applied in Malaysia because they were thought up by Americans or English in another era. This reasoning in my opinion is flawed.

Marcus: I think that one of the reasons so many products fail to become brands (According to Ernst & Young this figure is 90%) is because companies assume that a model that works in one market will work in another. The mass economy was powered by mass market products that were standard and mass media was used to sell those products in multiple markets. As a simple example, for years British car manufacturers had a monopoly on the Malaysian market even though their cars were build in the UK and shipped here with UK specifications. So, a customer in the tropics was expected to buy a car with a heater. Limited choice meant customers had to accept this and British cars had over 90% market share. Then someone imported an American car with aircon. To this day, British auto manufacturers (of which there aren’t many) have been unable to make up that lost market share.

Pepita: Bad claims or outrageous claims developed by agencies for the clients doesn’t mean that the concept of positioning is no good. It means that agencies did poor work.

Marcus: Ries and Trout developed the concept of positioning because audiences were receiving multiple and confusing messages from more and more companies. Positioning’s goal is to create a ‘position’ in the consumers (any consumers) mind that is a reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the offering. If you are first in that category even better. If you are not first, the goal was to create another new category. Positioning, according to Ries and Trout is about being ‘first in the mind than first in the marketplace’. Companies had to shape information communicated to consumers. Mass media was the obvious vehicle with its massive reach. For this they used and still do use agencies. The outrageous claims were a result of the pressure to create those new categories or influence perceptions. If companies didn’t like the work created by agencies they are able to reject it.

Pepita: I am not sure what you mean by your statement that positioning is only suitable for mass markets. As long as there is competition and there are customers you can use the concept. Even if there is no competition you can still position your company or your brand.

Marcus: You are right, as long as there are customers and there is competition, you can attempt to position your brand. Even if there is no competition you can still try to position your brand.

Pepita: Mission and vision, values, BHAG’s; there are tons of stuff in business that are immeasurable. Or they are measurable but aren’t measured. Does that mean that the concept doesn’t hold? I don’t think so.

Marcus: Generally speaking, in today’s customer driven marketplace where customers not companies define brands and with the tools available to marketers to collect data and use that data, positioning, with one or two exceptions is no longer relevant. Brands are built through retention (you have a 15% chance of selling to a new customer and a 50% chance of selling to an existing customer) not acquisition yet positioning tends to focus on acquiring new customers not retaining them.

Pepita: Wikipedia is no official standard. It could be my opinion or yours; whoever comes last. So dimissing positioning because you do not like the definition in Wikipedia is a sophism. Skipping that and going back to Ries & Trout, the wrote a book on bottom-up marketing and always had the consumer/customer/prospects in mind.

Marcus: I’m not trying to deceive anyone. I googled the ‘definition of positioning’ and got 12 million responses. The beauty of the Internet and tools such as Wikipedia is that we seek references and definitions from others through these platforms. Opinions shared across social media and other peer to peer networks play an increasingly important role in building profitable brands. Positioning simply cannot address these voices, opinions, concerns and so on.

Pepita: You state positioning is one way communication. The company is telling the customer how the products are positioned. I think that you are confusing claims with positioning again. I hope companies would be smarter than to communicate their positioning to their target audience. Who cares?

Marcus: I agree, nobody cares or pays any attention yet positioning, according to Ries and Trout is about, “what you do to the mind of the prospect.” Once it is created, the position has to be communicated via communications and claims are made in those communications that reflect the required position.

Pepita: To me positioning is both competition and consumer/customer driven. That is the way I work and I know that others do too. And Ries & Trout say the following: “To find a tactic that will work, you have to leave your ivory tower and go down to the front where the marketing battle is being fought. Where is the front? In the minds of your customers and prospects”.

Marcus: A couple of responses to this, firstly, using the actions of competitors to determine your brand strategy is a complete waste of time and resources as you will forever be playing catchup. Secondly, my mind is so full of clutter that you will have trouble finding any space to position your product! Much of that clutter is made up of negative connotations related to claims made by brands when trying to position their products in my mind. This is probably a universal state which is why we have the sad statistic from Ernst and Young above.

Pepita: Of course the world has changed significantly over the last 40 years but that doesn’t mean that theories and models aren’t true or usable anymore?

Marcus: Actually, although this is a sweeping generalisation, I don’t think you should be using models developed in one market 40 years ago to build a brand in another market. It would be nice if it could be done but the reality is the agencies want firms to because it makes it easier for them and also marketing professionals. But more importantly, consumers have changed, the way they source and gather information, their influencers and so on. Furthermore their requirements for economic, experiential and emotional value are very different and vary considerably from country to country.

Pepita: You state that positioning uses mass market channels. To me positioning is a strategic concept and not equal to marketing communication. So what you really seem to be saying here is that mass market channels aren’t of this day and age. I agree with you there, but it has nothing to do with the concept of positioning.

Marcus: As I mentioned above, positions have to be communicated. Most agencies recommend mass media to do this because of its reach. But this is an agency issue.

Pepita: Advertising can cost a lot of money. You are equaling positioning and advertising. Positioning is a strategic concept and Advertising is a possible form of execution of the strategic positioning for a company or a product.

Marcus: Again, positions have to be communicated. Don’t forget, this is a blog post not a book! I’ve only got so many words to play with. The most common method to communicate positions is via mass media advertising.

Pepita: Of course tennis rackets have changed throughout the years because of the possibilities technology offer, but since 1873 tennis has been played with a racket. The concept of the tool is still the same. People still play tennis with a racket. If I apply this analogy it would mean that the theory of positioning can be innovated and developed throughout the years, and still be a tool to be used.

Marcus: I don’t see how positioning has been innovated and developed throughout the years.

Pepita: You state some undeniable facts. Markets and consumers have changed. Communication channels are of another era. But your arguments for positioning being outdated and unusable are – in my opinion – flawed and have not convinced me. I also miss an alternative. It would be great positioning for your agency: The brand agency with the alternative to positioning!

Marcus: Nice idea for a tagline, thank you! So much has been written and so much time spent learning about the power of Positioning and the 4 Ps by a whole generation of marketers. But the world is a very different place, the way consumers live their lives and their knowledge and the tools available mean that we have to think past using increased budgets to build brands.

There is no silver bullet to building strong, profitable brands. Every brand is different as are its customers. Some brands are B2B, some B2C. But there is a process to building a strong profitable brand. It requires a focus on research, organisational excellence, planning, personalisation, retention and doing business on customer terms. It’s not particularly sexy and won’t see many brands staring down from billboards, much to the delight of brand owners and ad agencies, but it will go a long way to building strong, profitable brands.

Because without profitability, a brand is irrelevant.

Build a brand with the basics

Right near my office at Phileo Damansara in Petaling Jaya, a luxury German auto manufacturer has two billboards advertising its top of the range luxury autos. One is a saloon and the other is an SUV. I like this particular SUV so much that if I was still putting posters up on my bedroom wall, the SUV would be front and centre.

This company also has a number of billboards at other locations around the city of Kuala Lumpur and in the suburbs featuring a smaller version of the SUV (for which there is a 1 year waiting list) and other versions of the saloon. It also spends a lot of money on print ads and recently advertised their top end coupe in a Malaysian daily and a Malaysian business weekly.

Cars in Malaysia are expensive as import duties can go as high as 300% for luxury vehicles. The full page full colour ad with standard automotive blurb also stated the price of over RM1,000,000 (US$333,000). At that price, there are probably no more than a handful of people in the country who can afford the car. Even if there are a 100 or even a 1,000 people in the country who can afford the car, full page ads in national newspapers are probably not the most cost effective channels to communicate with those people.

Now I’ve actually approached this particular organisation in the past to ask if we can come in a make a capabilities presentation. We didn’t get past the marketing manager who basically said that as sales were very good there was no point meeting us.

Judging by recent reports, the company is certainly doing well after the launch of new models in 2008. In fact, the company claims to have been Malaysia’s fastest growing luxury car brand in that year with sales up an impressive 102%. Moreover, sales continued to climb in the first 6 months of 2010 with sales up 66% over the same period in 2009. Impressive figures and the company now claims to have about 5% of the luxury market in Malaysia.

Anyway, seeing this billboard on a daily basis with the telephone number prominently displayed, was beginning to get on my nerves. So I decided to call the number. After all, if you advertise your products on a billboard and display your telephone number, one can only assume that you want prospects like me to call you.

And if a prospect calls that number you better have the processes and systems in place to ensure that the person receiving the call passes it on to the right department. And you better have the right processes and systems in place to ensure that the next person in the process does what they are supposed to do. In this particular case, call the prospect back. Especially when we’re talking about a luxury product.

So anyway, I called the number and asked for information about the top of the range SUV. The receptionist was very pleasant and explained that she would get someone from the sales department to call me back. I gave her my mobile number and waited for the call. That was last Thursday, today is Sunday and I still haven’t heard anything. Bear in mind this vehicle costs over RM500,000 (US$166,000).

Generally the point of billboards is to create awareness. A telephone number is there in the hope that the keen, desperate consumer who wants the product so much that he will take the time to record the number and follow through with a call. Of course most of us just ignore billboards and the messages on them. Indeed, it’s rare for a prospect to call. But there are always incoming calls that may just result in an easy sale to one person who may become a customer for life so if you don’t have those basic processes and systems in place to take the information and pass it on, what is the point of advertising?

Here are some more tips that will help this company improve its profitability, the most important metric for branding:

1) The era of the global ad buy is over. Different markets require different communications strategies. Whilst it may make sense to create awareness of a luxury product via national papers in relatively wealthy western markets, it is a waste of money in developing markets where the demand for luxury products is limited to only a few.

2) Brand building is about the long term. When you launch new products they will, if you are extremely lucky, fly off the shelves or out of the showroom. But this is the exception, not the rule. And anyway, this doesn’t mean that you can become complacent, sit back, put your feet up and relax. Your competition will soon catch up and your moment in the limelight will soon be over.

3) The whole point of mass market advertising such as billboards and newspaper ads is to create awareness with mass markets. That is why weekend copies of daily newspapers are full of ads for hypermarkets, supermarkets, discount stores, sales and so on. But luxury products require more than a mass market tactic to make a sale. If you must use these old fashioned tools, use them to develop a database of prospects so that you can qualify those prospects and invite them to your showroom if you think they have potential.

4) Many companies will have a system in place to act on incoming enquiries. But who is responsible for ensuring those enquiries are acted on? The system must also ensure incoming enquiries are reported to sales management so that they can follow up with the sales department.

5) Brands are built on offerings of economic, experiential and emotional value. That journey begins with the first contact. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, if you can’t deliver that value, prospects will go elsewhere.

Now I’m going to call BMW to get more information on the X5.

Branding requires you to get to know your customers

This is the start of an ad hoc series of personal experiences I have with brands and some recommendations to help improve the experience.

Running a small retail business is tough, particularly in today’s climate. It’s even tougher in the competitive retail wine business in a small muslim country with high taxes on alcohol. Key to building a profitable business will be the relationship between the company and their customers.

Yesterday evening I walked into my local wine shop where I have shopped off and on for 5 years and was greeted with a “Hi, we haven’t seen you for a long time.” I mumbled a reply and the clerk nodded and carried on reading her magazine. This is not the first time I have gone ‘AWOL’ but the reason for my absense is the same. I haven’t been there for a while because about 3 months ago I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse and bought 5 cases of wine from another company.

Although I got a great deal on the wine there is no reason why my regular wine shop couldn’t have given me the same deal. But of course they didn’t know about it because they don’t make an effort to collect data on me. They just hope that I will come by every now and then and buy something. And if I don’t, never mind, there will be other new customers to replace me. To a certain extent this is true but wouldn’t it make more sense to look at ways to encourage those people who are already customers to come back again? And get to know those that come on a regular basis to increase share of wallet and develop brand ambassadors?

Here are 5 useful tips for any small retail business looking to be more profitable

1) You have a 15% chance of selling to a new customer and a 50% chance of selling to an existing customer. Distribute your resources accordingly.
2) Invest in database software that will allow you to store data about your customers
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for contact information from new and existing customers
4) Invest time in keying in customer data that you can use to determine buying patterns, product preferences and so on
5) Train your staff to get to know your customers.

A solid brand is built from the inside out

The chances are that you have discussed branding, what it is and whether it is important. You’ve probably agreed to ‘look into it’ and assigned someone from marketing to research brand consultants.

Marketing will probably google something like ‘brand consultants’ or ‘how to build a brand’ or ask friends or associates if they can recommend anyone. If your marketing department is staffed with ex advertising agency personnel, they may get on the phone to ex colleagues.

Unfortunately, advertising agencies is where many companies start the development of their brand. Senior management and the marketing department together with an advertising agency and often without any input from other departments such as sales, will spend a considerable amount of time developing the “marketing mix.”

A tagline will be created, colours discussed and so on. This is important but not at this stage. A good brand is built from the inside out. Before the creativity starts, carry out a brief internal brand audit. Ask yourself questions such as, “Do our employees know what we do?” “Do our employees believe in the product/service that we offer?” “Do they understand the role they have to play in the brand mission?” “Do they understand the importance of our customers?” “Do our staff ‘live the brand’?”

Here are 10 other initiatives that will help you lay the foundations for a brand.

Step 1: Review your organizational structure
Customers control relationships with businesses like never before. Manufacturing costs have fallen to record lows. Transactions are cheaper and faster than ever. The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate and do business. Yet despite these cataclysmic changes, companies continue to integrate in the same old traditional ways.

Employees report to superiors and information is channeled up and down hierarchical chains not across departments, hampering coordination and improvement. To succeed in the future, brands must understand that the customer is king, focus on processes not functions and develop a retention based not acquisition based culture.

Step 2: Recruit talent not bodies
Too many companies leave recruitment to the last minute or try to save money by increasing the work load of already overburdened staff. Look to recruit people that will enhance your organization based on your long term vision.

Step 3: Build a credible corporate vision
In collaboration with staff, create a vision that benefits employees, shareholders and customers. And make it realistic! Brand values must be based on providing value to customers. The reasons for and the role of the organization and individual staff in providing this value and the benefits to the organization and staff must be crystal clear to all.

Step 4: Train new and existing staff immediately, consistently and regularly
The only thing that all brands have in common is that customer loyalty is a result of employee loyalty. The foundations for any internal branding initiative must therefore start with personnel understanding the importance of the role they have to play in the evolution of the brand. In addition to improving skills, training also gives staff the confidence and attitude the organizations requires.

Step 5: View staff as an investment not an expense
Too many companies see staff as an expense and as a result do not invest in them because they are frightened the staff will leave. If you create an environment that is rewarding and encourages personal growth and has clearly defined career paths, your staff will not leave.

Step 6: Give personnel room to grow
Everyone makes mistakes but few people make them deliberately. Once you’ve invested in the right people and trained them, show them you believe in them by supporting them and trusting them to get things done, even if they make mistakes along the way. And if they make mistakes, give them the responsibility to correct the mistake.

Step 7: Encourage freedom of expression at meetings
If you only want to hear people support what you say or agree with what you have done what is the point of them attending meetings? To build a great brand, individuals will contribute and good managers will need to be open and aware of those individuals and give them the freedom to benefit the brand by challenging senior management.

Step 8: Understand that in general the sales department is the frontline of your company
No matter how much you spend on advertising, the first touch point most prospects will have with your brand will be via the sales force. It may be in a shop, a showroom, at an exhibition and so on. If that first meeting with your sales force is unsatisfactory, the prospect will not return. Train your sales force to represent your brand and reward them for doing so.

Step 9: Think long term
Whilst it is possible to build a brand more quickly than perhaps twenty years ago, building a profitable brand takes time and commitment. Take a long term approach to your business rather than a short term deal making mentality.

Step 10: Measure all activities
Wherever possible, measure. But before you do, ensure measurement definitions are standardized to ensure consistency and communicate them corporate wide. And when you measure, share the results across the organization and seek feedback and recommendations for improvement from staff. And then help them implement those recommendations and measure them.

Luxury branding in developing markets requires a different approach

Patek Philippe, the eponymous luxury Swiss watch, or should I say, timepiece brand is known for running the same advertising campaign for years. Although the images may have changed, the tagline “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” has remained consistent, usually along with a jaw droppingly handsome and immaculately dressed and coiffured ‘father and son’ portrait.

For the target market, the aristocracy and the wealthy of the world, and those that aspire to the class, the ads say many things, including ‘buy one and you’ll be like us and ‘You have class and you know class’.

The ads are a wonderful example of luxury branding – a great product manufactured with precision engineering, immaculate heritage, an aristocratic client base and creative genius in the advertising that communicates on a level that the target market will connect with and explains, in the limited time available to garner interest, the timeless character of the brand. And I am sure the quality of service at the point of sale will be equally as impressive.

PP has recently launched a new global print advertising campaign that focusses on the values of the company established by two Polish immigrants, Frantisek Czapek and Antoni Patek in Geneva in 1839. I’m not sure if this campaign is to replace the old one. I for one hope not.

The latest campaign revolves around the personal letter concept and has the current president, Thierry Stern waxing lyrical about the steps involved, the time taken and care and attention to detail invested in the production of a PP timepiece. He talks about ‘polishing steel wheel teeth and pinion leaves with wooden leaves and countersinking wheel holes’ and the fact that these efforts are ‘inspired by functional not just aesthetic objectives’.

He goes on to mention the Patek Philippe Seal, an ’emblem of horological excellence’ that appears to be an internal ‘quality benchmark’ that claims to be ‘beyond existing standards of the Swiss watch industry’.

The ads are set to appear in ‘quality daily newspapers and influential trade publications’ around the world and will also appear at the point of sale.

The first ad (I think) appeared in Malaysia in the New Straits Times on 15th April 2010. I can understand (although I don’t agree with the tactic) the mass market approach of running an ad in the New York Times or the London Times, South China Morning Post etc or any other developed country where there is significant market potential.

But I can’t understand the purpose of running the ad in a developing country such as Malaysia. A quick search of the net finds a rather old PWC report, that states ‘the mean monthly gross income per Malaysian household increased from MYR2,472 in 1999 to MYR3,011 in 2002, denoting average growth of 6.8% per annum’. So if we use that growth rate to bring us up to 2010, the mean monthly gross income per Malaysian household is now roughly RM5,096 or US$1,358. Don’t forget that is gross and does not take into account the impact of the economic crisis.

Another search of the Internet would suggest that the cheapest PP watch is around US$4,000 and the most expensive sold some time ago for about US$11,000,000 (that’s RM36 million in real money). The majority of PP watches appear to be in the US$10,000 to US$35,000. At those rates, the potential market in a country the size of Malaysia is tiny and an ad for such a luxury product in a daily newspaper is essentially a waste of money.

Just to put things into context, the ad after the PP ad is for Honda and the ad after that is for Panasonic household appliances such as an Alkoline ionizer, hair styler and hair dryer and men’s shaver (inner Blade and outer foil).

So what should PP do in developing markets like Malaysia?

Here are 5 suggestions

1) Rethink the one-size-fits-all mass market approach to building a brand, especially in developing markets. The consumers who can afford your products can be engaged much more effectively in other ways.
2) Build a database of prospects and customers. But all markets require different strategies and data collection techniques will be different.
3) Build relationships with your existing customers. Existing customers are often ignored by companies scared of asking too many probing questions. And certainly timing is important. But well trained luxury retail staff can build relationships with wealthy customers who are likely to be successful businessmen and politicians and their opinions will carry a lot of weight with prospective customers.
4) Advertising is important, but choose your channels carefully. Mass circulation newspapers and magazines are for shavers and hypermarkets.
5) Content is important too. I’m not sure anyone really cares what is hidden away inside the shell of a product with almost 200 years of heritage. After all, if the quality was a given in the previous campaign, why must it be addressed now?
6) Integrate your digital commuications with mobile channels to engage with prospects and customers interactively when they are on the move.

Building a brand is hard enough. PP has done it successfully for 200 years. But treating every market the same and using mass marketing tactics that belong to an era that no longer exists, will make it hard to do it successfully for the next 200 years.

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.


Companies have to stop trying to sell stuff to prospects and customers and start coordinating all the resources it has to supplying or satisfying specific customers specific requirements for value.

Consumers don’t want products (or services) they want the products/services they like immediately and personalised. But personalisation in its present form is primitive because of cost, technology, time and lack of appreciation by CEOs. Right now personalisation is nothing more than a colour, sun roof or memory size. Consumers will want to actively shape the offerings and information they receive. It’s already happening in the aircraft/shipping/hospitality etc industries. Hey, even Barbie has 6,000 customisation options!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has bought something that wasn’t quite what I wanted but was bought more in frustration at not finding what I wanted exactly. After a week it was gathering dust in a store room. In the future, with advanced build to order capabilities, even complex products will be produced specifically for one customer and buying products that don’t quite fit the bill be a thing of the past.

This will also have an impact on communications. Existing customers will no longer visit websites, they will have direct access to their own landing page.

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.