Stop Advertising Start Branding – the first book to help Malaysian, Singaporean and other Asian firms build brands that not only survive but thrive

Stop Advertising, Start Branding is the controversial new book by Malaysia based brand consultant Marcus Osborne. It’s already attracted flattering reviews with one reviewer calling it “South East Asia’s business book of the year.”

Marcus Osborne says, “If you are spending more on advertising yet struggling for sales, it could be because you are still using the advertising driven tactics of the mass economy when competition was limited, there were few TV and radio channels, magazines and billboards and visiting the cinema was not the positive experience it is today.

Stop Advertising Start Branding. Asia's business book of the year
Stop Advertising Start Branding. Asia’s business book of the year

He continues, “Today’s consumers are overwhelmed with data, information and choices. Malaysian households receive 200 TV channels, 24 hours a day. Singapore, with a population of no more than 5 million has 252 Free to Air or Pay-TV channels.

The advertising noise in Singapore is deafening whilst back in Malaysia there are more than 20 commercial radio stations broadcasting up to 20 minutes of commercials every hour, ads are on lampposts, shop lots, taxis and buses and billboards jostle for attention at every junction. Newspapers often have an ad to copy ratio of 60%-40% compared to the accepted norm of 30%-70%.”

“Such a barrage of messages does not include the more than 40 billion web pages and 20 million blogs on the Internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media and games. How can a consumer’s mind process so much data? Obviously it can’t. In fact it shuts much of it out which accounts for falling sales despite increased ad spend.”

Stop Advertising, Start Branding explains how to build a brand in this new environment. It’s about getting the fundamentals in place. Assuming your product or service is fit for purpose (and a lot are not) you start the brand building process by making sure your organization has clearly defined brand values that are real and achievable and can be articulated clearly to personnel and those personnel must be shown how to integrate those values into their every day operations.

Consumers in Malaysia are being ambushed by firms trying to get their attention.
Consumers in Malaysia are being ambushed by firms trying to get their attention.

Those personnel must know what is required of them to ensure the brand is able to deliver on any promises made time and time again, to different segments, all with different requirements for value and at every touch point. For many companies, this requires a 180 degree change in management style and can be difficult, especially for companies who look at staff as a cost not an investment.

Once the organisation is ready the implementation really depends on the industry. But new content must be constantly created and new tools and channels used properly. Millions of Singaporeans, Malaysians and others use Facebook but most brands simply advertise on Facebook or post images of the CEO at events and often ignore messages asking for help or information. This is rarely the right approach because Facebook requires firms to engage consumers with compelling content that will build interest.

Old school tactics such as advertising, roadshows and promotions still have a role to play but often, much of the advertising doesn’t make sense whilst many of the people representing firms at roadshows or promotions aren’t trained properly and simply go through the motions.

Stop Advertising, Start Branding explains that all the awareness in the world doesn’t mean a thing unless it translates into a profitable relationship. With plenty of local and international case studies the book shows that companies that focus strongly on building robust foundations for their brands, provide compelling content and develop relationships with customers based on delivering value to those customers, are more likely to succeed than brands who rely on advertising.

It isn’t as exciting or as `cool’ as TV commercials or huge billboards on major highways that 500,000 people see each day, but it’ll be more profitable.

About Marcus Osborne. He has lived and worked in Malaysia since 1994. He has helped build brands in Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. His blog is the leading branding blog in Malaysia. Stop Advertising, Start Branding is his first book. It is available from all good bookshops in SE Asia and the UK or from

He has written numerous articles for multiple publications and contributed a case study on the Malaysia Nation Brand to Nation Branding. Concepts. Issues. Practice. By Keith Dinnie. Contact him at marcus at fusionbrand dot com or +6 03 7954 2075.


Together we are rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand

Two days ago I posted this blog post about what I called a minor yet significant step by Malaysia Airlines to rebrand by engaging me.

I was asked by some people why the email I got has anything to do with the Malaysia Airlines brand. I explained that in the social economy of today where consumers not companies define brands, it is the little things that brands do when interacting with consumers and how those consumers share their thoughts on those experiences, that build strong brands today.

I used as an example how much money Malaysia Airlines had spent over the previous 10 years on advertising whilst driving the brand experience into the ground. This meant that the brand had no equity in the bank and that if anything were to go wrong, it may struggle to rebuild its brand.

From the outside it looked like management had come to believe that the brand was defined by the company and as long as the company kept creating messages that the management liked, the brand would one day bounce back.

And then came the tragic events of 2014. The out of touch management didn’t have a clue how to address the issue and could not engage with relatives and other stakeholders. I compared their reaction to that of Tony Fernandez following the terrible Air Asia Indonesia accident of the same year and how his response was so ‘human’.

Following the twin events and with no equity in the bank because few customers were talking positively about their experiences with the brand, Malaysia Airlines had to be bailed out by the government and is still lurching from one problem to another.

I explained that whilst the interaction I had with Malaysia Airlines was small it was nevertheless a step in the right direction and if it was part of a strategic plan to start delivering value in key customer facing areas, it was a step in the right direction to save the brand.

I went on to explain that brands are not built with a big idea, a creative campaign or a one off interaction. They are built organically, over time and through little interactions at nearly every touchpoint. This isn’t rocket science but it is amazing how many firms still think they can build a brand through a creative programme.

And then today I read this article about a Virgin employee who works at San Francisco airport. Over the years he has adapted flight information boards to include famous quotes, jokes and irreverent announcements.

branding is not about the big idea, its about experiences
branding is not about the big idea, its about experiences

Rather than discipline the employee Steve Freitag, Virgin actively encourages him to make passengers smile. Passengers who encounter Steve Freitag will envariably talk about the experience and tell their friends.

No big idea thought up over a six month period and then turned into a slick advertising campaign. Just a real person doing real things and making life better for a minute for those people flying with Virgin.

In the case of my little experience with Malaysia Airlines it meant that instead of clicking my heels and the airport and wasting time I could ill afford to waste, I could spend an extra 45 minutes in the office.

And here I am sharing my experience with you through this blog and on Twitter and Facebook. And some of you are sharing my story with your friends. And together we are rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand.

Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysia nation brand

Place branding is a generic term for all the elements of a nation or country brand, cities, states and regions and even destinations within those areas. In South East Asia alone there are more than 600,000 destinations competing for investment, talent and tourists. In an effort to match their destinations to stakeholder requirements for value, smart places are developing brands that investors, talent and tourists embrace.

Our company Fusionbrand is working on a brand for one state government in Malaysia and in the past have worked with other state governments, tourism boards, enterprise zones and the Malaysia Tourism Board. It’s always a privilege when we win a destination or place branding project because such projects have a major impact on society.

Many nation brands are victims of the politicians need for quick wins
Many nation brands are victims of the politician’s need for quick wins

The Place Brand Observer heard about our work and got in touch with me in February and suggested an interview. The Place Brand Observer is a fantastic resource for anyone responsible for branding nations, cities, states and regions, public diplomacy and reputation management.

The site features insights into the industry, interviews with experts in destination branding from around the world as well as tutorials and case studies of successful branding of countries, regions, cities and destinations. It’s a meeting place for the brains and the brawn of the place branding industry. If you are involved in place branding or simply want to know more about the industry, I strongly recommend you sign up for their excellent news feeds.

You can read the full interview here . I thought it was a really good interview and we discussed data driven branding, country brands, Malaysia airlines and the link between the legacy carrier and the country. I hope you find the time to comment, good or bad!

Lexus fails with its website

There is a lot going on in the world of website design and development and it can be hard to keep up. As a result, some CEOs believe the only way to stand out is to give creative people free rein over the design of their website.

Now I’ve written about Lexus before and I mention them in my book (which incidentally you can buy from the Fusionbrand website) because they are spending a lot on marketing but don’t seem to appreciate the importance of the experience in the consideration process. Plus, every time I see a new billboard or print ad it seems to be telling me something different. There isn’t any consistency in their communications.

And then I saw a digital ad this morning and clicked on the link and came to this Lexus Asia website. In my opinion (and don’t forget all comments on this site are my opinion) this website is a serious contender for the worst website of 2016.

At least TRY to make your content real and believable
At least TRY to make your content real and believable

People today are time poor and impatient. They don’t want to sit around and wait for your complicated video to load (unless they are given an option to look at the video). And once they’ve watched the video they don’t want to have to burn up a lot of grey matter listening to a lot of nonsense and figuring out how to navigate around the site.

The Lexus Asia site looks good but is terribly complicated. It also looks different to the Malaysia site and uses a completely different approach to the Lexus Malaysia site which also has it’s own tagline.

Now following my terrible experiences with BMW, I’m actually in the market for a new SUV and I went to the site to arrange a test drive for the weekend but left angry and frustrated and without a test drive.

So if you designed the Lexus Asia website, here are 5 free tips that you might want to cut out and put on your wall.

1. Your website must be consistent and responsive. This means it must look the same on any screen and adapt to a users screen size to ensure a seamless experience. Your site isn’t the same on a smart phone, losing the consistency that is key to successful brand building.
2. Your website must be easy to navigate and have a clear, easy to follow layout. Get anywhere in three clicks or less is the general rule of thumb.
3. Flash is very last year and search engines don’t like them and some older browsers even block flash.
4. Your site should be free of clutter.
5. Make sure your video scripts make sense – “Luxury is stiff. It’s very lobster.” Seriously?

The Lexus site was overwhelming. Beautiful and creative perhaps, but it’s only there to get visitors in for a test drive, not to win an award. Oh wait, maybe that’s it!