Excerpted from Economist Intelligence Unit’s Brand & Deliver: Emerging Asia’s New Corporate Imperative.
Fourteen lines of advice for brand-builders in emerging Asia. Or, in a word: Storytelling. How many of these lend themselves to Story Worlds? I’d say 14 of 14.
- Manage from the top. Branding is not something to be delegated to junior teams. Leading brands both reflect and influence everything that a company does.
- Manage over the long term. While traditional businesses in Asia have often operated with a trading mentality, exploiting short-term opportunities, brand-building requires a longer-term commitment to a narrower set of opportunities or customers.
- Understand how your business delivers value. Traditionally, many Asian firms have competed on price, aiming to win business by being the cheapest. Having a brand requires different thinking, with firms shifting from competing on price to competing on value. Companies must think more deeply about issues such as style, design, safety, service levels and reliability.
- Don’t forget your staff. Brand-building is about more than external customers. For a brand to come alive, internal staff must know what the brand stands for.
- Act on quality. When emerging nations embark on the path to brand-building, quality is often low. To become a well-respected brand, companies need a constant, tireless effort to raise standards. The Japanese car and electronics industries did it in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Then it was the turn of the South Koreans in the 1990s and 2000s. Brands from China, India and other nations must do the same.
- Focus on innovation. World-leading brands are based on innovation. Companies will never create winning brands by copying the intellectual property of others.
- Create an emotional connection. In a world where it is ever harder for companies to stay ahead of their competitors on a consistent basis, brands must build an emotional connection to customers. All the best brands do this. When rival sports shoes are all of equal quality, the difference comes from how customers perceive themselves when they wear a particular shoe.
- Be brutally consistent. If a brand’s character is constantly shifting, if its look and feel are always changing, if its service levels vary, then customers become alienated. They feel the brand’s promise has been broken.
- Manage the country-of-origin effect. Companies must decide how to balance the positive attributes of their home country with negative perceptions. While certain cultural characteristics can enhance a brand, other perceptions about quality may be less positive. Over time, the positive aspects of emerging Asia are likely to rise and the negative perceptions are likely to decline.
- Use domestic markets to build strong brands. It is possible to build an international brand without first conquering a domestic market, but it’s far easier to go global from a strong domestic base.
- Pick new markets carefully. Companies from emerging Asia have big ambitions, but it doesn’t always make sense to push a brand into wealthy Western markets first. Emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe are less crowded, offer rapid growth and are likely to be less prone to country-of-origin prejudices.
- Allow 30% of the brand to vary according to different tastes. While brands must be consistent, they also need to be brought to life locally. A good rule of thumb is that 70% of a brand must be consistent across the world, but 30% should vary to reflect different tastes in different markets.
- Consider all the customer touch points. Brands deliver tremendous value, but they can also be damaged if mismanaged. For example, product recalls or breakdowns can damage a brand, but only if mishandled. Conversely, a finely tuned repair service can enhance a brand’s perception among customers.
- Monitor brand strength continuously. It’s often argued that businesses can’t manage what they don’t measure. Companies should set up systems that enable them to measure the strength, loyalty and position of their brands relative to the market.