18 Jun Brand Power: Where are Malaysia’s Global Champions?
Thanks to its transformation programmes, Malaysia is now leaner, more focused and better prepared for the future. But what is next for our corporates and institutions? While it is acknowledged that we have strengthened the foundations of our many organisations, the world races on. If these newfound efficiencies are not rapidly leveraged in our path towards global championship, then the potential for regression in the way we compete and sustain advantage in markets at home, and around the world, will remain high.
In a digitally driven and fast-converging global economy, public and not just consumer audiences determine business reputations and market values where performances reflected in stock prices are sometimes beyond the full control of companies and organisations. In the boardrooms of the branded today, it is not just stock movements that are actively being tracked. Of equal importance is the impact of social media commentary as a parallel barometer on the health of companies, products and services.
Given that business agility remains important to corporate success, a critical aspect not yet dominant in our institutional mind-set is how to relate business performance with market perception, or stock price with consumer sentiment. The solution to strengthening this linkage is brand power – the ability to attract, manage and sustain market support better than the competition.
Malaysian companies are already strong, but when not reinforced with the right foundations, the best of structures can break down. Similarly, the strongest of businesses can quickly lose dominance without the support of loyal markets at home and elsewhere. The crucial next step, which will define our future efforts and legacy as a nation, is not just continuous transformation, but the bastion of brand power.
To effectively compete on the world stage, we need to build the essential pillars of brand building in form (identity), character (credibility) and delivery (experience). In other words, we cannot create brands only at design, marketing or communications, but to elevate brand building towards the policy level of the organisation to be championed by boards as a business strategy. If the future of any enterprise depends on the growth and retention of favourable markets, why is stronger brand learning and investment not a board policy to be instituted and monitored for strategic impact?
Brand aware. Not brand-driven.
The answer to this question is stronger brand commitment and knowledge, where most of us are brand-aware, but not yet brand-driven. As consumers, when we think of a brand, we recall a visual or a jingle: a name, symbol, tune or a combination of all to identify the producer or retailer of a certain product or service. In their tangible forms, brands are recognised through the familiarity of logos, colours, marketing materials and other physical or digital expressions.
However, we also know that a brand is more than just a name and a logo. We connect with the brands we support as we like what we see, what we feel, and what we remember in our experience with them better than the others. Whether it is a bank, a detergent, a favourite apparel brand, a mobile service provider, or the way we choose to transport ourselves, we remain faithful to our chosen brands through the trust built and the promise of delivery between customer and producer.
But what has this brand affinity got to do with the making of Malaysia’s global champions? And why should companies be more brand-driven? Consider this. If market goodwill drives bottom-line performances through the way consumers applaud and differentiate organisations for their products and services,
- Board: Why is the building of brands (which includes the corporate or institutional brand) not embedded in business policy to guide and converge management thinking within current business planning objectives and processes?
- Management: Why do we not invest enough in what our consumers see feel and experience in our offerings – especially in markets populated by those with the power to attract and retain market support? Why do we not enhance our competencies to confidently enter and grow markets the same way as the branded?
Barriers to better branding.
For us here in Malaysia, the barriers to better brand building and goodwill management are many.
- Absence of essential brand pillars.
As a developing economy, there is the tendency to adopt mature-market knowledge and practices to shorten learning curves in everything we do from strategic planning to production, operations, marketing, distribution and sales. While much of our success has been premised on the production and marketing of goods and services comparable to the best in the world, not many have achieved competitiveness through brand power without convergence of the essential brand pillars – board policy, commitment, investment and knowhow.
- Stage of market readiness.
In transitioning from production to market orientations, there is the urgent need to evolve developed market practices to one which better suits our stage of market readiness for greater brand success.
- For example, brand responsibility still resides with product development, marketing or communications, and not yet conceptualised and designed at strategic levels of the organisation.
- Products and services are often developed without brand thinking, thereby negating the effectiveness of marketing and promotional support when left too late.
- Finally, brand investments beyond marketing and advertising are seldom adequate to get the product or service ‘brand right’ at the downstream phase in marketing and distribution.
- Brands as an expense, not strategic assets.
Without policy-driven investments to ensure the evolution of a ‘living brand’ with the potential of becoming a market winner, measuring the impact of brand investments on business performance is seldom executed. This constraint continues to hamper better brand thinking and commitments at many of our organisations.
With investment in brand building generally limited to advertising and promotions (A&P), in emerging markets, not many with the exception of the few in Asia (Toyota, Samsung, Sony, Honda, Hyundai, Canon, Nissan, Panasonic, Kia, Huawei, Lenovo) have made it to the Top Interbrand 100 as brand-driven global champions in 2016.
In a regional 2016 exploration of consumer attitudes, AirAsia (41) was the lone ‘Made in Malaysia’ brand in the Top 100 Asian Brands ranked by global information and insights provider Nielsen.
Among Asia’s Top 1000 brands in 2016 were Maybank (397) followed by Mister Potato (398), Petronas (409), Spritzer (470), Poh Kong (506), Malaysia Airlines (514), Habib (607), Boh (608), Maxis (636), Firefly (713), Mamee (730), Postlaju (737), CIMB Bank (741), Caring Pharmacy (760), Celcom (871), Bonia (913), DiGi (914), Takaful Malaysia (925) and Mydin (938). The survey with 6,400 respondents from 13 Asian markets (including Australia) and across 14 major categories tracked the most popular brands in Asia from a consumer perspective.
The robustness of the Malaysia brand will depend on the brand power of our homegrown champions. Twenty-one brands or 2 percent of the 1000 most-favoured Asian brands is a start, but if brand equity (the market value a brand potentially generates) is a significant business performance indicator, then more companies need to be empowered with this knowledge and capability. Not only to retain the goodwill, that drove returns on investments in the past; but also to confidently compete for market support into the future.