What's driving corporate brand building?


By MICHAEL ALAN HAMLIN

CORPORATE branding remains a top-of-mind concern for executives all over Asia, despite the significant business process and economic distractions associated with SARS, and the war on terrorism.  

There are at least six reasons for this, which are increasing communications costs, fragmenting channels, technology, collapsing product development cycles, liberalisation and globalisation. 

The first driver of corporate branding – increasing costs – is easy to understand. It’s getting more expensive to regularly and effectively communicate. A strong corporate brand reduces the required frequency of communications, and therefore lowers overall marketing costs. 

Fragmenting is much harder to understand. The number of media and communications channels has exploded as a result of the introduction of cable television in Asia; the proliferation of lifestyle, local business, and niche-market publications; and the emergence of new non-traditional communications channels, from high-level breakfast briefings to contact centres. 

Determining which one (or ones) will work for you is the challenge in the new age of strategic marketing communications. 

Technology has done a couple of things to complicate and simplify marketing communications at the same time. It has empowered consumers because they can quickly compare prices and seek out alternative suppliers over the Internet. 

Michael Alan Hamlin

But it has also made it much easier to stay in touch with customers, and to measure their satisfaction with your products and services. 

Cycle times are getting easier and easier to benchmark, and shorter and shorter at the same time. Incrementally improved products like digital cameras are introduced in as little as every six weeks. Which means there’s simply no time to develop product brands. 

The success of these products depends, therefore, substantially on the manufacturer’s capacity to leverage a strong corporate brand known for such things as quality, innovation and excitement. 

Then we have liberalisation and globalisation. Liberalisation means more competition everywhere, putting pressure on margins and raising the spectre of commoditisation, whether you sell air conditioners or advertising. 

Globalisation forces us to compete at standards dictated by global market leaders, not just the local competition. 

At the same time, liberalisation is exerting margin pressure, limiting resources that can be allocated to developing world-class products and communicating their value. 

Strong corporate brands are a principal longevity tool for companies that want to avoid the trap of commoditisation and competition based on price; and companies that want to differentiate their products and services from their fast benchmarking competition. 

Branding experts pretty much agree that companies that build corporate brands by leveraging non-traditional communications channels will be the most successful. 

What are some of those non-traditional channels? A popular format our firm introduced to the Asian market is what we call CEO Breakfast Briefings. The beauty of a breakfast briefing is that you get around 30 very senior managers in a room at one time. 

Because we do these briefings early in the morning, the CEOs (chief executive officers) are fresh and focused. Of course, to get them in the room you need a strong value proposition. And then you have to fulfil that proposition, or the briefing will backfire on you big time. 

What I call branded conferences are another attractive communication channel. A branded conference is one that is run or organised by a big name, such as BusinessWeek, Dow Jones, or the World Economic Forum. We often help in designing sessions for these meetings so that we can recommend our clients as speakers. 

Then we have what we call boutique conferences. This is a conference that is very, very focused on a specific topic to provide relevance to a well-defined target market. 

Technology has provided new ways to effectively, regularly and meaningfully communicate with clients and prospective clients. We find that HTML marketing communications are extremely effective because tech-savvy executives generally check e-mail first thing in the morning, and throughout the day. 

Of course, half of an effective HTML campaign is getting the right list, or building one. A word of caution: permission marketing is important, and if people want to be taken off a list, you better do it. 

Mass media is another non-traditional communication channel, and an important one. Experts like Philip Kotler estimate that a published, positive report on a company is worth five to six times what a traditional advertisement is. 

But to be truly effective, a report must be a bona fide news or feature piece. If it reads like a brochure, it’s not going to be read, and no respectable publication will publish it. Media reports, like branded conferences, provide third-party credibility. 

An interview or feature published in The Asian Wall Street Journal can be worth many tens of thousands of dollars in exposure, and much more in new business. 

These drivers of corporate branding are going to be with us for years to come, and companies that are quick to leverage the benefits of strong corporate brands can enjoy – if they do things right – significant and enduring competitive advantage. 

  • Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of consultancy TeamAsia and the author of three books on Asian economies and companies.
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