24 Apr Build brands through business policy.
Do brands matter? For some of us they do. For some of us they don’t. But when you stop to ponder, we are all influenced by the power of brands. Just think of the products and services we continue to buy or support. Through our constant dialogue with brands (especially those with global reputations), we are inevitably affected by them, not stopping to consider why we prefer the branded over the unbranded, or the international over the local brands.
Yet, as producers and marketers of products and services from an emerging market, we do not always have the same conversation with our own audiences and targets. While we produce, distribute and promote relatively high-quality products or services, we fail to engage in a similar conversation with our markets through effective brand building. Why is this so?
Too late in the business cycle.
Our research as brand practitioners in Malaysia over the past decade shows that branding or the building of brands – when it does occur in Malaysia – happens too late in the business cycle. Products are developed, packaging designed, retail outlets constructed, markets identified, sales staff trained and pricing determined without the advantage of cohesive brand thinking at the outset. What then happens is that the market effects of brand building as a competitive business process are reduced to only communications and promotions as the only remaining market levers to brand success.
So, how do we get the brand conversation to start earlier? First products and services need to be competitive or differentiated from others in the market. This requires thinking about the intended brand early enough at the initial research and development (R&D) and investment phase, and not later at marketing and distribution. But as most organisations in this part of the world are generally vertically-structured and operate in a linear manner, with R&D preceding product development, marketing and distribution, leaving brand building at the end of the process, one of the strongest barriers to more effective brand building in emerging markets is the absence of the brand blueprint or strategy to direct business activities from design (form) to positioning (character) and finally to market experience (delivery).
Having said this, it is not easy to change the way a company plans and operates when business practices have long been institutionalised through years of business policy. Yet, without the intervention of policy, most brand initiatives falter before they are able demonstrate measurable returns on investment. One reason why despite heavy investments in advertising and design, the building and growth of brand equity continues to be challenging without the support of other brand-driven business processes such as customer, people and technology integration.
Through formulation of brand policy and support of the right skills and capabilities, organisations with sound business strategies will be in a better position to translate strategic intent concurrently into brand advantage and market competitiveness.
(This article first appeared in The Edge on 04 November 2013)