Welcome to Brand Malaysia

There have been many visitors and expatriates who arrive on our shores and immediately fall in love with Malaysia.  The food, the people, the modern metropolis project a first world facade for all intents and purposes.  Yes Malaysia is modern, we have skyscrapers that are comparable to the best in the world, and we have brandished them with great pride. The Twin Towers together with our participation in F1 were both part of a strategic brand plan to put Malaysia on the map and to a large extent we have succeeded.

A Glorious Skyline

But like any brand plan, Malaysia, who excels in building and creating icons, seems to have suffered, not from a lack of vision but rather from a lack of sustainability. And sustainability is a word that many in Malaysia seem to have difficulty with. Plans are often made on a quick-win basis and once that has been completed, another plan is hatched and on it goes. We seem to thrive on the adrenalin of the new, with little thought to managing our treasures and assets; both tangible and intangible.

Rising Into The Sky

Once pristine beaches are now polluted and our stately buildings consistently develop holes in their ceilings. Visitors to the Sepang F1 track says that the conditions near the docks are deplorable, and  those who had the pleasure of working at Istana Budaya would have seen the entropy inside its bowels. Many of the first world fittings have been made to fit into a third world culture complete with leaky faucets, filthy tunnels and warped carvings.

Sepang F1 Track

For any brand to survive the long haul and come up on top, we really need to understand the sustainable interplay between tangible and intangible assets.  All great brands are high on the intangible or emotional. The brand equity of New York lies not just in being a great city filled with iconic buildings, but it is also the cultural and economic heart of the US. Poets and writers have waxed lyrical about cities such as Paris and Bali that have left an indelible mark on their soul.

Malaysia’s Rich Heritage

So what are the intangibles assets or the soul of Brand Malaysia. Aside from the food, and our beautiful landscapes, our soul lies in its people;  a melting pot of the best of Asia.  We were once one of the most accepting people around. The upside of that is that there is peace and should there be unrest, it is never the will of the majority. But we have not managed that asset well and have attempted to divide and control them with religious and raced-based politics coupled with a mediocre education system. This has introduced color and separation into our daily vocabulary and created a fairly insular and ignorant mass who on one hand tolerate mediocrity in service but are highly intolerant of diversity in views, religious, political or otherwise.

Swept Under The Bridge?

While other destination brands are touting their Creative Class to potential investors and MNCs, we watch resignedly as ours receive accolades and distinctions elsewhere, whilst residing in another country.  Patents that could have been owned by Malaysia are now in the hands of others who saw the promise and invested in them. And the brain drain continues as the knowledge and creative class start losing hope that change is possible in the next decade.  And all this happened while we were busy building our monoliths.

All That Natural Beauty…

For Brand Malaysia to truly rise, we need to first overhaul our HR and education values. The powers to be keep talking about the importance of innovation, yet contradict themselves with an education system and dogma that is designed to churn out conformist thinkers who do rather than think, who work out of necessity rather than with pride.   In a world where the currency resides in creativity and innovation, we have emerged severely lacking.  We need to start encouraging and valuing creativity over uniformity; independent thinking over conformity, the big picture over the small successes. Until then, Brand Malaysia will always be like a teenager, full of unrealised promise.

Thankfully there is a select group of individuals who fully appreciate the predicament that brand Malaysia faces and are working towards reversing this trend. They have been working tirelessly within the system, consulting both global and local experts on the best way forward yet in a way that is uniquely Malaysian. To these people, I salute you and offer you my support should you need it in any way. The time has come for Malaysia to reclaim its glory and I am optimistic that it will happen in my lifetime.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr users Mohammad Khedmati, Ming Thein, Farrukh Shumail, and Fadzly Mubin.


  1. Anwer Yusoff says

    I fail to understand what is the writer’s problem here….is it the brand Malaysia or it about maintaining the facilities? The author writes with verbose but minimum amount of research; just walk around KL or anywhere in Malaysia; and see how much effort is being put in to maintain the facilities. Bear in mind that most of the facilities are privately owned or operated through contracts. It is to their business advantage to maintain and operate the assets. It is easy to comment but we need solutions not comparison to New York and Bali. One important aspect to remember is also security….in case the writer has forgotten.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment. Branding is holistic and maintenance is part of branding. Privately owned buildings need to understand that if their buildings look shabby, do you think this will raise their brand value or raise perception? The point I am making here is to be a World Class brand we need to have world class mindset as well; that means great service coupled with clean and well-managed assets.

    • says

      Hi Anwer

      As someone who has worked on a number of elements of the Malaysia brand and who has written numerous articles on it, I believe I can add value to this discussion.

      Firstly, it is incredibly hard to write about the Malaysia Brand or any other nation brand in an article of a thousand words or so! Many can’t even write coherent books on the subject! And, because the world is so dynamic at the moment, what is written yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow.

      Secondly, I have to disagree with your comments about maintenance in Malaysia which, as the author quite rightly points out contributes to the experience and therefore the success of the brand. Maintenance is a major cause for concern in Malaysia, especially at Government venues.

      Only yesterday I was at the Bukit Jalil indoor stadium for a world class sporting event (ATP Tennis) and the place is a sad, shabby, tired mess. Walls are filthy, the place smells, doors are broken, clocks don’t work, the TV sets are old and either not working or showing a picture that looks as if there is a snow storm going – the list is endless.

      As I left I looked up at the beautiful main stadium and could see numerous holes in the roof. And we both know this scene is replicated around the country. If we want to build a nation brand, it will require a massive change in mindset.

      There are a number of elements that contribute to a successful Nation Brand. One critical element is the experiences people have when they interact with numerous touchpoints. World class sporting events are a major way of improving a brands image and the organisers should be commended for bringing in this prestigious event. But the authorities should also do their part and make sure the experience is unforgettable, for the right reasons.

      If you are interested I wrote an article on the Malaysia Nation Brand and you can find it here.


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