I have often been asked on how an increasing numbers of home grown Asian companies, not-with-standing the intensely keen competition shown by the well-heeled multinationals players occupying their chosen industries – have been able to consistently produced super rapid growth in the past decade. For me, the short answer is brand building. And, successful brand building can only be achieved when we do pay close attention to both the ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ approaches of strategy. Emic knowledge and interpretations are those existing within a culture that are determined by local custom, meaning, and belief. Etic knowledge refers to generalizations about human behaviour that are considered universally true, and commonly links cultural practices. A delicate balancing of ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ should eventually decide whether your brand building effort in South East Asia would produce a lingering success.
Brand building, of course, has long been the strong forte of multinational companies from advanced countries but now the concepts and practices have reached South East Asia. Asian entrepreneurs who found their traditional strengths in trading are now coming in drove, not-with-standing the sometimes expressed hesitant – to build their own brand names rather than copy someone else’s ideas. They all recognise that brand experience as one of the important ways brands can be different from the competition and delight consumers are the key to sustainable profitability. Innovate rather than imitate seems to be the thing to declare and do.
South East Asian marketers, to be sure, do understand the need to persuade and compete in their advertising messages. So in the past decades, where strong brands have proven to be money makers, the Asian business scene has naturally started taking notice. At the same time advertising agencies and consultants in the region have been keen on stressing on advertising as the only way to truly create a brand. Clients are told that in order to create awareness they need to make some noise and therefore spend money.
Indeed spending on brand building is beginning to be established. This is clearly shown in the continuous upward of the investment placed on advertising and promotion across industries and countries. Examples include the lucrative energy drink market in Thailand, and, baby and adult diaper and sanitary napkin in Indonesia. In a bid for market share several advertisers are spending heavily on traditional media such as TV and billboards. This particular market has switched from being product oriented to being market oriented, and strong, favourable and unique positioning is being creatively pursued across industries.
So do you think the sometimes tremendously high investment put into brand building and the consequence mass communication is widely accepted as being useful or at least a necessary evil?
Sure – if you have an enormous budget it is all well and fine, but unfortunately when branding is viewed as pouring money into a big black hole and waiting for the long term effects, many Asian companies still prefer to focus on short term sales promotion type of push activities and hope for brand diffusion rather than differentiation. After all if the concept of creating brand equity equals a money spending exercise, who will do it?
Lest we forget, the basic purpose of marketing is still to bring profit to the organization and maybe a basic viewpoint and the use of available resources is what is needed in South East Asia right now.
The question now is whether producers with smaller budgets can try to promote innovative products to consumers through brand building and not lose their shirts in the process. My experience tells me that there is indeed hope for Asian entrepreneurs who want to want to build a unique brand without taking huge financial risks.
For one, excessive spending on mass media can be directed to a more focused programme linked placements. For others, promotional activities companies can look in their own back yard for the answers. Consumer engagement events and promotional activities are useful avenues where brand building activities can be reach optimum effectiveness. New technologies such as mobile phone messaging and the Internet can also be good communication tools. Demonstrations using skilled demonstrators are a way to create short term product trial as well as promoting the brand. Point of purchase marketing can communicate branding now at bus stations, malls, train stations, inside taxis outside taxis and, yes, even toilets. These are relatively inexpensive ways of communicating a message that could build a brand. Nobody says the building of a brand has to happen overnight.
The cheaper options will take longer time for the brand to be built – that has to be admitted. But the point is that brands require innovation not only in the product development stage but also in methods of finding lower cost media. Of course the choice of media will always depend on the target customer. Finally, another important issue besides the execution or choice of media channel is the creativity and competency of the marketing team, the organisational enablers behind the team, and the original idea for the brand and how that idea is perceived by the target audience.
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