“WHEN was the last time you were inspired?” asked the blue and white banners standing besides doors and in corridors at The Palace of the Golden Horses. If the 800-odd delegates came to Malaysia’s inaugural Global Brand Forum (GBF) with the aim to be inspired, they have come to the right place.
Organised by the Media Prima Group, its group CEO Datuk Seri Farid Ridzuan says the global slowdown has presented a wonderful opportunity for Malaysian brands to launch out into the deep and beyond Malaysian borders.
“The strong brands will survive this turmoil,” says Farid.
Founding GBF chairman S Karthik Siva adds now is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“When the going gets difficult, that is the time when you know who is the leader,” he says.
He says there were many big companies in Malaysia, like Sime Darby group, but in terms of branding, it was miniscule.
And so speeches and lessons came forth, each complementing the other. AirAsia Bhd CEO Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes walked away with the Malaysian Brand Icon Award 2008.
Not one to forget history, the accountant and musician turned businessman and CEO had the delegates clinging on to his every word and joke.
“In order to brand successfully, you must have a product that people want and you must be strong in your own country first. We are not yet global, I am trying to make AirAsia Asean but we are not yet global. One day we will, which takes us to our dreams.
“You must have a dream, and you must believe in yourself. You must try new things, take risks. I am fortunate to have a great audience. If you put your fare low enough, they will risk their lives for it,” he says.
Fernandes says the name is important; AirAsia is an all-encompassing name which speaks volumes.
“Don’t choose names like Lion, Tiger or Firefly. The last one means you only last a day!” he quips, referring to Malaysia Airlines Bhd subsidiary Firefly.
He says it was imperative to set global standards and educate staff about the brand. He considers 50% of his job is to educate staff about the brand.
“Believe in people and be relevant to them. Give them opportunities,” he says, relating how a young man who carries bags in Sibu eventually became a pilot because he was inspired by the dare-to-be-different philosophy of the company.
“We have found that with free seats, who cares about bombs. And this was markedly demonstrated after the Bali bombing (in 2002). Tying all these together, says Fernandes, is people. “The strength of our brand is our people,” he says.
Echoing Fernandes’ emphasis on branding for, by and with people, former Procter & Gamble chief marketing officer Jim Stengel says marketing must begin and end with people.
“Manage people, not objectives. Brands are created by people but do people get your personal attention? Do you choose your people carefully and do you have clear expectations of their roles? Do you communicate with your people?”
He says while these may seem easy questions to answer, the answers must be thought about carefully. At the end of it all, it is people who is the centre of focus.
“The world thrives on activities and priorities, without people at the centre of its focus.”
Stengel says everyone has ideals, an aspiration. So instead of calculating what is your return on investment, consider return on ideals. When you do that, you begin to change from managing objective to managing people and their ideals.
“When you begin to make people your focus, you move away from margins, which are merely numbers, to missions and you set yourself goals, which revolves around people, which takes us to measurements.
“Measure what matters. We tend to work with numbers. what we paid for, what was bought. Instead of going after such measurements, ask yourself, does it meet a need?”
Ivanka Trump, VP of Trump Organisation spoke of the family success in luxury real estate.
“The reputation of the company counts and it matters that we are not only developers, we also operate the hotels that we built,” says the heiress who conducted a tele-conference and took questions from moderator Riz Khan.
Trump says she and her brother take a personal interest in details, from the labels on the shampoo bottles to testing the beds.
“Resonate with your customer, luxuriate the consumer and be versatile. We are into all types of developments, spanning golf courses, hotels and resorts to retail and condominium projects. We work with the top talent and we facilitate production.”
On her career as a model, Trump says her short-lived career on the catwalk was no set-back. “Real estate is in my blood,” she says.
Founder of Flickr Stewart Butterfield and youth marketing futurist Martin Lindstrom highlighted the new ways of marketing with the advent of Internet technology.
In their workshop Strategies to Build SME Brands, both of them says small organisations have the flexibility to move and change directions.
And helping these SMEs today, says Lindstrom, is technology. The face of marketing has changed tremendously with the sort of technology available today.
“You no longer need a logo. Take iPod, there is no logo and see how it sells. The fundamentals in marketing has changed. You need to provoke, to evoke emotions. People everywhere, in whatever status, is seeking out products and services that they can relate to.”
Butterfield: “You have to believe what you say. Branding is a conversation you have with your customers. Every powerful brand has an opinion, the only brand that does not have an opinion will disappear with time.
And with today’s financial fallout, there is all the more reason to investing in branding and have an opinion, or be swept away by the currents of change, Butterfield says.