Why Malaysian firms must start to build brands and how to do it

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If further proof were needed to convince the skeptics that Malaysian firms must build competitive, profitable brands to survive and thrive in the new world order then they should read the recently released Economist Corporate Network Asia Business Outlook Survey 2013.

According to the report, Malaysia is now the fourth most popular investment destination for multinational corporations in Asia.

What this means is that those multinational corporations, with little chance of growth in their own domestic or traditional international markets, are looking to Asia and in particular Malaysia to drive sales.

And when they come, you can rest assured they will bring sophisticated processes and systems, quality products as well as massive marketing budgets to rapidly build market share.

In the face of this onslaught, Malaysian firms that continue to use discounts, sales, cheap products, weak service, mass communications and poorly trained staff will soon go out of business.

Because of this unprecedented global threat, we’ve created a series of three articles to provide you with the knowledge required to build a profitable brand that will block this threat.

Last week we outlined what is and what isn’t a brand today and explained why a brand audit is a key foundation to building a profitable brand.

This week we offer 5 more Internal steps you must take if you want to lay the foundations for a profitable brand. In the final installment, we’ll take a look at external branding.

Step 1: Review your organizational structure

Manufacturing costs have fallen to record lows. Transactions are cheaper and faster than ever. Quality, service and other attributes, once important differentiators, are a given today. Competition is fierce and ever more creative. The Internet has revolutionized the way we research products and services, communicate, do business and make decisions. Finally, customers not companies determine brands and control the reputations of businesses like never before.

Yet despite these cataclysmic changes, companies continue to operate in the same old cumbersome, hierarchical and traditional ways.

Employees report to superiors and information is channeled up and down hierarchical chains not across departments, hampering integration, speed, coordination and improvement.

On the whole decisions are made centrally with little devolution of decision making authority to the customer facing employee. If senior managers go on leave, departments often grind to a halt.

To succeed in the competitive future, Malaysian firms that thrive will be less hierarchical, less rigid and more trusting. Firms must understand that the customer is king and experiences not discounts or mass communications build brands.

They must focus on processes not functions and develop a culture that has at its core service (on customer terms) and retention of existing customers not only acquisition of new ones.

Step 2: Recruit talent not bodies

Recruitment should be planned and not reactionary. Don’t leave recruitment to the last minute or try to save money by increasing the workload of already overburdened staff. And don’t be afraid to train staff.

So many CEOs (especially SME CEOs) tell me they don’t want to train staff in case they leave. I always answer, what if you don’t train them and they stay? Poorly trained or incompetent staff can do more damage than staff that has left the company.

Look to recruit people that will enhance your organization based on your long term vision not simply because you need a salesman, to fill seats or beef up your Bumi quota.

Step 3: Build a credible corporate Brand vision

Take a look at some of the Vision and Mission statements in many corporations. Now try to imagine communicating them to staff and getting their buy-in and getting them to live by the Vision and Mission and incorporating it into their hectic schedules. This is quite a challenge.

In collaboration with staff, create a simple, feasible brand vision that benefits employees, shareholders and customers. And make it realistic! And remember, Brand values must be based on providing value to customers.

Furthermore, the reasons for providing this value and the role of the organization and individual staff in providing this value and the benefits to the organization AND staff of getting it right, must be crystal clear to all personnel.

Step 4: Train new and existing staff immediately, consistently and regularly. And reward them

The only thing that all brands have in common is that customer loyalty is a result of employee loyalty. And customer loyalty is not the result of a building, expensive suit, turbo charged engine, advertising campaign or other.

People must be invested in and respected. In addition to improving skills, training also gives staff the confidence and attitude required to build a brand. More importantly, it improves loyalty and reduces recruitment and other costs.

Step 5: View staff as an investment not an expense

Too many companies see staff as an expense not an investment. If you create an environment that is rewarding and encourages personal growth and has clearly defined career paths, your staff will not leave. And if they do, you are better off without them.

Everyone makes mistakes but few people make them deliberately. Once you’ve invested in the right people and trained them, show them you believe in them by supporting them and trusting them to get things done, even if they make mistakes along the way. And if they make mistakes, instead of scolding them and sacking them, give them the responsibility to correct the mistake.

It’s also important to encourage freedom of expression at meetings. If you only want to hear people support what you say or agree with what you have done, what is the point of them attending meetings?

To build a great brand, individuals will contribute and good business owners will need to be open and aware of those individuals and give them the freedom to benefit the brand by challenging senior management.

Whilst it is possible to build a brand more quickly than perhaps twenty years ago, building a profitable brand that can withhold the onslaught from foreign firms takes time and commitment.

Take a long term approach to your business and look to build relationships with your employees and your customers rather than a short term deal making mentality that doesn’t invest in staff and requires new customers all the time.

In the next installment, we’ll offer advise about how to build your brand externally. In the meantime, we’d also like to hear from you about your branding issues and the problems you are facing as you try to build a Malaysian brand.

We’ll offer free advise to you and share your problems with others so they can learn from your mistakes.

About FusionBrand

Marcus Osborne is Managing Director of Malaysian owned FusionBrand, Asia’s only customer driven brand consultancy focused on customer driven not corporate driven strategies to build brands. The firm is also noted for its destination branding capabilities. Contact: [email protected] */]]>

 

Photo credit: Flickr user Victor1558

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