Investing in innovation, branding is key, SMEs told

Upbeat: Ng says the applications are stronger in innovation and technology.

PETALING JAYA: While some small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are aggressively pursuing innovation through the use of technology and branding efforts both online and offline, a significant portion of smaller businesses still have much to work on, said several of The Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) judges.

Private equity management company Novum Equity Partners managing director Ng Mun Hon said, “Overall, we can see the applications are stronger in innovation and use of technology, relative to the previous year(s).

“The competition in the top three to five is tighter. However, there remains a gap between the top applicants and the rest.”

The submissions this year reflect the state of SMEs in previous years, Ng opined, noting that although some are “‘truly innovative”, the bulk of SOBA applicants are generally not embracing technology.

That said, he also acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic would have spurred rapid technology adoption, which would change matters.

“With the pandemic in 2020, a large portion of these SMEs may have made tremendous improvements, albeit, largely for survival and to compete, ” he pointed out.

Even so, although it is now more common for SMEs to adopt new technology as a means of survival to tide through the pandemic, he stressed that businesses must focus on innovating to succeed.

He added, “To be truly successful, SMEs need to innovate. They need to own their custom solution to truly gain full value of their products or services.”

Ng further advised businesses to consistently think of providing or adding more value to their customers.

Meanwhile, Asean Retail-Chains and Franchise Federation president Datuk Mike Loh highlighted that branding – alongside marketing and promotional activities – is still a key weakness among SMEs.Staying relevant: Loh says that businesses can now place some effort into social media.Staying relevant: Loh says that businesses can now place some effort into social media.

It is an imperative and no longer a choice for businesses to establish a strong online presence, be it through setting up functional websites, leveraging social media platforms or other virtual means to get their brand and message across to a wider target audience.

He opined: “In today’s modern world, where internet is compulsory, if SMEs do not have a digital platform, they will be outdated – especially right now.

“Another area they are not very good at is promotional campaigns. They can’t be stuck in the old ways of doing business. This means that marketing and promotional efforts are necessary and must also be digitalised.

“Nowadays, it is very easy for businesses to promote themselves, especially since they don’t have to invest a few hundred thousands or millions of ringgit for advertisement. They just need to place some effort into social media and other digital platforms.”

SMEs, he said, need to invest in such critical areas to not only survive in today’s world, but also to thrive.

However, he also said that companies that applied to participate in SOBA 2020 have shown strong initiative by taking the first step towards improving their businesses.

“For entrepreneurs and brand owners, it takes courage to take part in awards like SOBA because it shows that they’re prepared and ready to go for it, since they took the time to compile the required information and materials for their entries.

“This also helps them identify their own weaknesses and see where they stand so they can further grow, whether they win or lose, ” he added.

SOBA 2020 is organised by SMG with Digi, PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd and RHB Bank Bhd as main sponsors, Credit Guarantee Corp Malaysia Bhd as co-sponsor and Matrade as official trade promotion partner. It is endorsed by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, supported by Bursa Malaysia and audited by BDO with dimsum, 988 and Suria as official media partners.

Currently in its 11th consecutive year, the awards – which cast the spotlight on the contribution of enterprises to the nation’s economy – aim to inspire and steer local, non-listed companies towards greater success by promoting business excellence and stimulating positive competition.

This year, in addition to the existing categories, there are two new categories, namely “Best in Customer Service” and “Best in Retail”, to better reflect the diversity of Malaysian SMEs.

The “Best in Customer Service” category will serve to recognise companies providing exemplary services to their clients, while the “Best in Retail” category will highlight innovative, creative and top-class retailers across the country. As with the other categories, there will be two tiers of the award based on company turnover (up to RM25mil turnover and above RM25mil turnover).

Winners of SOBA 2020 will clinch over RM1mil worth of advertising space on SMG’s platform, alongside other benefits.

For more information on SOBA 2020, email Lily or Poh Ern at or visit

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