BRANDS are stories,” says VentureRepublic CEO Martin Roll, brand strategist and author of a new book entitled Asian Brand Strategy.
“Asian corporations don't need to follow others in building their brands; they can do it their own way.”
In today’s increasingly global marketplace, where the boundaries of trade are becoming thinner, and more and more companies are competing on the international playing field, branding has become almost indispensable not only to corporations but also to educational institutions.
Roll presented his expertise on the issue to members of the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) at Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (APIIT), Bukit Jalil recently.
“A strategic shift is needed to encourage Asian companies to establish global brands,” says Roll, who has more than 15 years of experience in the international advertising industry, working with clients such as Ericsson Mobile Phones, McDonald's, Time Warner Music and SONY.
“There are less than 10 global Asian brands outside Japan, and one reason for this is mindsets,” he says, citing Singapore Airlines (SIA) and HSBC as examples of Asian brands that have achieved a global presence.
Branding is important because it drives shareholder value, encourages better leadership and balances short and long term perspectives in an organisation.
This, in turn, increases opportunities in the international market.
“Today, it doesn't take 30 years to build a brand. Older brands like Campbell's Soup, Coca-Cola and Kellogg's took decades to establish, but recent ones like Starbucks, Nike and Samsung were much faster,” says Roll.
The concept of branding is applicable to education providers as well as corporations.
“Institutions of higher learning sometimes make the mistake of not stepping up on their marketing as this is not seen as 'academic',” says Roll.
”People these days, however, are looking for branding in education too.”
Roll says a brand is defined by the premium it commands for its products or services. Hence, it is safe to say that most Malaysian institutions of higher education have yet to successfully use branding to their advantage.
“Contrary to what most people think, branding does not equate advertising and promotions. It is more than that. In education, branding means constant innovation and, in the cases of Harvard and Oxford, heritage as well,” says Roll.
He adds that a difficult aspect of education is that one relies on the brand for life.
“The institutions must make sure that they can live up to their marketing. There has to be solid grounding to ensure loyalty on the part of the consumer who are, in this case, students,” says Roll.
One such example, he says, is leading global business school INSEAD, which has one campus in France and another in Singapore.
The school maintains its quality standards by running actual campuses around the world as opposed to simply flying their faculty to their partners.
International Medical University marketing and communications senior manager Ooi Lay Tin says brands in the education industry are built by delivering high-quality education to students.
“Many institutions have embarked on branding their universities. One way is to continuously embrace innovation, for example, by adopting modern methods of teaching,” says Ooi, who attended Roll's presentation.
APIIT corporate trainer V. Veeramani agrees that branding is vital to education institutions in Malaysia.
“For private colleges, delivering what we promise is very much a part of branding and is of utmost importance,” she says.
Roll says key changes are necessary in order to establish global Asian brands. This includes making marketing and branding essential components of the boardroom.
“There are too many engineers and financiers in Asian boardrooms, and not enough marketers,” says Roll.
“Why are we in business?
“The answer is, to satisfy customer demands. Therefore, a company needs to be aware of its brand.”
Asian companies should strive to move beyond the stereotypical “exotic Asia” tag towards a more modern and urban Asia, Roll adds.
“Rather than be perceived as a homogenous region, Asia should strive to be seen as a mosaic of cultures.”
Veeramani says the presentation was a learning experience for her.
“It was enlightening to learn about the new paradigm for Asian leadership, especially about corporate strategy matching branding strategy.”
Roll emphasises that brands are not built from logos, colour schemes and packaging.
“Strong brands have two basic components: brand promise and brand delivery,” he says.
“Design and appearance is important but delivery is key.”
In his presentation, Roll used the examples of SIA and beauty products range SK-II as Asian brands that epitomise excellent branding as well as delivery.
“Asia is such a melting-pot of everything, and has a lot to offer.
“Branding here doesn’t have to follow the Western way,” he says.