Powering Your Brand for Growth in Southeast Asia

The recent release by WPP and Millward Brown of the 2015 BrandZTM Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands showed that brand value has risen substantially over the past 10 years despite economic and societal disruptions. The total brand value of the Top 100 now stands at $3.3 trillion, a 14% increase since 2014 and a 126% growth over the 10 years since the ranking was first launched.

Since the inception of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands in 2006, the BrandZ portfolio of strong brands has grown at nearly double the rate of the S&P 500.


The past 10 years of brand valuation proves that investing in creating strong, valuable brands clearly delivers superior returns to shareholders. So what can we learn from strong brands in Southeast Asia?

A deeper look into brands with strong equity reveals that there are five action points to creating a winning brand:

1. Understand the “why” as well as the “what” to get to the heart of the consumer.

Intelligent consumer insight is the foundation of success for any brand, big or small. Companies that do well have the ability to translate big data into big insights. As big data gets even bigger, it is important to remember that connecting the dots always reveals the same picture: a human being with basic needs for survival, protection, relationships, and meaning. Consumers do not want to be treated like a unit in a demographic category. It is about human beings, not algorithms. The combination of big data and analytics should lead to great insights. This in turn drives action resulting in greater impact via a more personalized interaction with the consumer.

A good example would be OCBC Bank. From what was originally a small unit, analytics within OCBC has elevated over time to become a group function within the company. Over the past five years, OCBC has introduced a number of innovative and first-in-the-market products and services, such as FRANK “savings jars” and the 360 Account targeted at rewarding customers for performing more online banking transactions. At the core, is extensive research aimed at gaining an understanding of the needs of consumers before rolling out products and services.

Similarly, in Thailand, KFC’s wide network and localized offers have helped the brand build strong equity in the market. Not only are there signature items from around the world, but menu choices that cater to local taste buds, such as rice-based meals, are also made available. Adapting global offers to local preferences has helped KFC achieve a more personalized brand interaction with Thai consumers.

2. Stand for a purpose. Be Meaningfully Different.

Every valuable brand needs a purpose – one that provides a brand with a meaning is likely to have an influence
on a person’s brand choice. Brands can build a meaningful connection in different ways:

The purpose could be functional like Pampers (Care for babies’ happy, healthy development), emotional like Dove (Beauty of regular women everywhere), or it could also be societal like Dulux (Add colors to peoples’ lives). At the most fundamental level, the purpose is to have a meaningful impact on the lives of consumers. When consumers need a clear reason to choose one product or service over another, being different becomes more important. So what would make a brand meaningfully different?

Consumers often cite three reasons (1) being different, (2) being more appealing than others, and (3) having a higher opinion of it.

POSB is a brand that has stayed meaningfully close to the hearts of Singaporeans for over 40 years. Many Singaporean adults grew up with the iconic POSB National School Savings Campaign and POSB was likely the first and only bank they knew as children. POSB’s brand idea, ‘Neighbours first, Bankers second’ is one that speaks of their heritage as the ‘people’s bank’ of Singapore and their priority to help families save for the future.

To set themselves apart from their competitors, and because they understand the importance of this festive season to their customers, POSB introduced its first-ever pop up ATM during the Lunar New Year so that consumers can obtain new notes conveniently. POSB also launched the limited edition POSB Smiley Jubilee Gift Bag for all babies born in 2015, further deepening consumers’ opinions of the brand.

3. Deliver a total brand experience

Brand experience is one of the important ways brands can be different from the competition and delight customers. Brand purpose can be amplified effectively when we deliver a total brand experience that is seamless from the brand promise to product performance and customer service. This needs to be done through consistent touchpoints/ communications and be compelling in both the physical and online worlds.

The experience a brand offers to consumers can be defined by the depth and breadth of the relationship. The depth is about the extent of personalization, while the breadth is about the number of touchpoints and experiences a brand offers. Amazon does this very well, as they make use of their consumer buying and surfing habits to provide personalized services. However, their touchpoints are limited to PCs/Laptops, Tablets and Mobile.

Singapore Airlines is a good example of a strong brand which delivers a total brand experience seamlessly, making it truly a great way to fly for every passenger. They have led many firsts in the industry: introducing hot meals, free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, hot towels with a patented scent, personal entertainment systems in all cabin classes, and more. Singapore Airlines continuously strive to be the best in class globally through ongoing efforts to bring experiential innovations to consumers.

In 2014, Singapore Airlines signed on as the new title sponsor of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. The signature SIA experience is now extended from air to land, as race-goers can buy F1 packages which include first-class air travel, over-night stays at a high-end trackside hotel, and admissions to the exclusive Podium and Amber lounges.

In 2015, Singapore Airlines revamped its mobile application. Besides providing basic flight status information, the new mobile application includes trip reminders, countdowns to a trip, and flight up-dates on the day, (i.e. letting users know when check-in counters are open, etc.). In addition to the application, Singapore Airline has also upgraded many of their KrisFlyer lounges around the world. These enhanced services ensure that consumers get to experience the true SIA service even before the flight.

4. A collaborative organizational structure

Organizational silos impede speed and change. They make building a consistent brand experience more difficult. Abandon the traditional organizational silos in favor of an integrated approach. Create the right connections and interdependencies between organizational elements that help to deliver a seamless consumer experience. When Angela Ahrendts joined Burberry, she took charge of all marketing touchpoints which were each previously helmed by different business units. Today, Burberry is the best-in-class model, delivering a consistent brand experience whether it’s online, in-store or at fashion shows. This is currently an area of importance for many organizations in South East Asia and Millward Brown Vermeer is working closely with a number of clients to break down organizational silos.

5. Brand Transparency

A trusted brand is more likely to come to mind when the consumer is purchasing in the relevant category. But trust is fragile. With the rise of social media, brands’ actions today are transparent, so be sure to address problems openly when they happen.

When asked why the actual burger looks dramatically different from the pictures on the menu, McDonald’s in Canada created a YouTube video to answer the concern. It is the exact same product with the exact same ingredients, but the ingredients are being emphasized digitally in pictures so customers know what is in the burgers. We can see the same transparency in Singapore when McDonald’s took to Social Media actively to address the shortage in their signature Curry Sauce and subsequently the recipe change.

The five action points to creating a winning brand may sound commonplace, but executing them can be tough. It is critical that the core idea around the brand and its proposition is as strong as can be. While advertising can play a major role in expressing the brand proposition, even the best creative advertising will not help brands drive value for the business unless the core purpose is clear, distinct and articulated across all brand & organizational communications, as well as the actual customer experience of the brand.

First published in the Q3, 2015 edition of the Asia Research Magazine