Branding used to be simpler: a relationship with a consumer largely established by an FMCG with the help of an advertising agency using a 30 second TV commercial. That’s how big brand life began for Kellogg’s, for Coke, for Colgate. Creating that relationship today is much more complex and multi-dimensional, as the collective branding secrets of our contributors below reveal.

Some of them are traditional brand building partners – blue-chip clients, advertising and marketing professionals, designers and PR gurus. Joining them are a dynamic collection of brand specialists, ‘360 degree’ consultants who have carved out a new category based on servicing a client at a multitude of touchpoints.

All of the contributors had much more to say that we had the space to print: and we selected their comments on points of difference to give you a wide a range of insights into brand-building.

From their collective – and highly evolved – wisdom, it’s clear that if a brand-owner in Asia is serious about creating a global brand today, the knowledge and the talent to help them do it is here in abundance. All they have to do is believe. There is no magic formula to brand building, but as most of our contributors pointed out, in every successful relationship there has to be some magic.


Martin Roll, CEO, Venture Republic

Branding starts in the boardroom, yet it’s a rarity to have marketing at boardroom level. Only 2% to 3% of the Fortune 500 companies have a chief marketing officer (CMO) but it’s the fastest growing title in corporate America. Brands must be run at the boardroom level and be an integrated part of all strategic issues. It is a top-down business; driving a strong brand is an act of leadership, a company’s top priority. Having a CMO reflects that importance at a senior level. Asian boardrooms are still dominated by financial people and engineers. I always get asked by marketers in the region the same question: I believe in branding but how do I convince my boss? What they need is a marketing boss at board level. It’s no coincidence that one of Asia’s strongest brands Samsung has a CMO. But most Asian businesses haven’t understood the importance yet – a major reason why there are so few Asian global brands today. Most Asian business leaders are still foregoing lots of profits because they do not move upstream though building brands. There is too much arrogance and complacency in this area of management.


Adeline Tiah, VP, brand communications and corporate marketing, HSBC Bank

Finding a competitive advantage is more than just differentiating the brand. Points of difference alone are not enough to sustain a brand against competitors. To develop strong brands there are three things to remember. Number one is define the competitive framework: this is determined by how big your brand/the market share you want. Choosing the proper frame is important because it dictates the types of associations that will function as points of difference and points of parity. Coke is a soft drink and it competes with Pepsi Cola but it defines its frame of reference as beverages and it choose to compete with tea and coffee which is a bigger market for it. Number two are the points of difference compelling enough? Number three are you leveraging enough on the parity? Think through the points of parity that must be met if consumers are to perceive your product as a legitimate and credible.


Jorg Dietzel, founder and CEO of Jorg Dietzel Brand Consultants

Word of Mouth. Consumers have changed from a few years ago. They have become ’emancipated’. All of a sudden they have a voice and a choice. They no longer depend on the information that manufacturers and their agencies feed them and the internet enables them to find other sources of information and to share their experiences. Abused by years of over-promise and propaganda, consumers today have developed a healthy skepticism towards sponsored media. More and more of them turn to WOM sources in their peer group or in blogs for brand information. Done right, a viral video or a well-placed, authentic blog can reach the target in the shortest time – and with a credibility that would at least make them consider a trial of the new brand. WOM is the new key weapon in the brand armoury. But since it is so powerful, it’s also very hard to use, and there is a high possibility that it might backfire when used wrongly.


Celestine Tan, senior corporate director marketing Asia South, Sun Microsystems

The sun brand is like a rallying cause, a rallying cry to our customers and to our employees. It’s not just a logo. It stands for what the company believes in and what it does. That’s what a brand is, it is very emotional and it has a life force of its own. Everyone in the company is responsible for the brand and it comes from the top down. We have had different challenges to the brand in Asia but the desire to protect it is what holds the team together. The next generation will see more branding in Asia. Asian companies believe in brands and their benefits but are trying to figure out how to get it right. Take Indian companies listing on NASDAQ, for example. How they brand themselves is critical. They are playing with the big boys and they need to brand themselves distinctively or they are in trouble.


Andrew Butcher, managing partner, Butcher Worldwide

One of the best-kept secrets of branding is a basic requirement for excellent distribution and the ability to get the right product to market in a timely manner. This in itself offers excellent branding opportunities. Just think DHL – strong branding on planes, vans, uniforms, livery and POS provide a seamless integrated marketing platform that fit with the company’s promise to the consumer – on time delivery anywhere and everywhere. Same goes for after sales service. What’s that got to do with branding? You can severely dent a brands reputation by the poor post sales syndrome. This is particularly profound in the automotive industry when the stigma attached to the poor quality of Japanese cars in the 70’s and then Korean cars in the eighties took millions of dollars and years of persuasion to turnaround – the brand perception created by PPSS was that all Japanese cars rusted prematurely and all Korean cars were prone to breaking down. Of course this was not true, but brand perceptions can take years to establish and sometimes minutes to shatter.


Jerome Joseph, group account director, The Brand Theatre

Every business has a brand whether you like it or not. Brands influence the customer at every touchpoint and define the experience the customer is going to get when they step into the brand. Brands are like an adhesive. A negative experience will stick with the customer. At all times make sure you translated the values of the brand into the right ‘on’ brand behavior. You need to create customer experiences that are aligned to the brand. Customers go through several touchpoints in relation to the brand. How you perform and stage your brand experience in that touchpoint that exceeds customers expectations and brings your brand into play is the challenge brands need to undertake.


Edwina Ong, general manager, Citigate Dewe Rogerson iMage

Ideally of course, we all wish the client’s budget is sufficient to undertake an integrated 360 degree programme! When it isn’t, it comes down to helping the client reassess the business objectives and prioritise the target audience/markets, and as a professional, making a recommendation that will deliver the results most cost-effectively. I have for example, advised clients (who have small budgets) on some occasions to spend their budget on a targeted DM campaign. PR is not just about building brand awareness but about building brand value and trust over the longer term. So long as clients understand that, we all get to accomplish great results together.


James Tan, marketing director, Adidas Singapore/Malaysia

If I only had one strategy, I would spend it on acquiring in depth understanding of my new brand’s target consumers. Specifically in terms of shopping behaviour, buying behaviour, media consumption behaviour and truly understand their lifestyle. At the end of the day, the brand that best understands its target consumers and moves along with them as they evolve, will survive the test of time and fierce competition. Marketers have to understand that target consumers will be the focal point from where all marketing (including branding) activities radiate out. The road to failure for any brand is firstly not having a clear definition of their target consumers. Secondly and most importantly, if the target consumers are defined, that definition is useless if the brand does not make an effort to acquire an in depth understanding of these target consumers. In this scenario all marketing activities fail to reach the target and consumers will never engage with a brand that does not understand them. So the gospel is ‘Understand your target consumers as they are the center of focus which guides all marketing/branding activities’.


Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director, Formul8

Create a name/icon/message which is distinctive and recognisable. More so if you ‘own’ a word that eventually is swapped for the actual business service you are in: for example “Could you Fedex this package for me?”. Great brands are borne when they become synonymous with one thing. When you think of Lipton, you think tea. When you think of Colgate, you think of toothpaste. But you need consistency and commitment to achieve that. It does take time for consumers to recognize a brand and to support it. So one has to be patient. Results do not come overnight. Brands can take years to build and in this internet age, people are often mistaken that everything becomes a Google, a Youtube or a Yahoo overnight. And marketers are apt to get antsy and think that it’s not working and ‘refresh’ their brand too often in their quest to hit the right formula… till no one knows quite what it stands for. Consistency, repetition and reinforcement in new mediums is key to great branding.


Maurice Williams, marketing director, Sentosa Leisure Group

No branding is better than bad branding. Case in point: third day at work (four years ago) CEO leans over to speak to brand new marketing director (me). You see CEO is a Californian, but has this uncanny Southern drawl when he talks. “Mauriceeee, whadoyou make of those alphabets printed on those darn dustbinnnns…” And I, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, proclaimed, “I think it stands for Sentosa Leisure Group, Darrell.” CEO replies, “Is that what you call branding? Do we really need to brand dustbins? Is that why we have you?”

New marketing director’s first task is to paint over the 300 plus dustbins scattered over the island of Sentosa. Branding has to be just a little ahead of the existing environment. Branding must always be relevant to the constantly shifting landscape, whilst at the same time, it has to be consistent. If a set of colors and look and design requirements have been determined, stick to it. Make it work, make it relevant, find a way to make it look good. Change it at your own peril – if you still have your job in the marketing department, you might just find yourself in channel development alongside sales at best. Consistent concentration. This not only refers to look and style but also where and which media were chosen to communicate through. Branding does require some eyeballs, however it is far more important to focus on whose eyeballs it left ‘what’ impression on.


Paul Hourihane, group managing partner, Go Direct!

In branding the most important thing is the second sale/transaction. This means that the promises (service, quality, difference etc.) made in the first place will have been kept and exceeded. And, that the brand has made an effort to make this happen (right person, right offer, right time). The real test of this is in the second rank of customers. Meaning most brand loyalists – if you have some – will buy anyway, habit, convenience, emotion what have you. Those that buy occasionally or once only are where the growth and profit are. Because if they are not buying from you they are buying from your competitors.


Neil Hudspeth, CEO Asia Pacific, Enterprise IG

Branding is all about brand proposition itself. What is the unique, distinctive, compelling truth about a product or service that emotionally will engage the customer group, whether consumers or corporate. What will drive people to want to engage? It’s a philosophy that’s universal and doesn’t matter what country you are in. And if you don’t have that nailed down then the brand and the product will never succeed.

Brands are about the emotions they create. The market is so competitive, so oversaturated for consumers, shareholders, employees. They’re not looking for a rational fit, it’s more about the emotional benefits.


Tony Boatman, group marketing manager, entertainment & devices division, SE Asia, Microsoft

Make sure your product or service has a compelling value proposition and presents a real benefit to the intended audience. Get this fundamental ingredient in the marketing mix right and you are well on your way. On the flip side, screw this part up and building the brand will be an uphill battle.


Craig Mapleston, general manager, 141, Singapore

The brand building tool of the future has to be the mobile phone, which is becoming the convergence point for every new piece of technology. In developing markets consumers are leap-frogging the PC and going straight to mobile phones to access the internet because this generation is always on the move and always wants to be connected. Mobile phones will become the one vehicle guaranteed to get your brand message across.


Zachary Lai, creative and brand director, Zzo creative

The Asian market remains rather sales-driven but branding is improving and there’s more respect for building brand equity. There’s a real process in developing a brand. With academic, scientific and well-researched guidelines and measurements of progress applied, we still recognise that intuition is an important factor in branding and marketing – indeed that is one of the reasons for our success. Clients would be wise to keep in mind that branding and marketing is still an intuitive business. You need to use your experience but particularly your intuition towards people and how they respond. Whether it’s corporate, consumer or business to business, all areas still involve people making brand choices. Apply quality intuition in looking at the market. Understand where your brand needs to go, the brand’s personality as well as the brand’s internal culture. Everything has a context. Brands need to regard the market objectively, find their place within that, and embody and embrace their brand virtues in conveying them in an honest and outstanding fashion.


Jonathan Geach, managing director, Sedgwick Richardson, Singapore

Globalisation is making us all think on a larger stage. Many of our Asian clients are acquiring European and US brands and thereby learning that they have to get serious about brands. Other homegrown brands are trying to fend off western brands which have more value invested in them – ultimately all have to compete all on the same stage.

A crucial mistake in such a competitive arena is over-promising, or worse lying about your product and its benefits. If a brand promise is not fulfilled, you do more harm than good. It’s our job to make sure that clients understand the brand is an integral part of the way they run their business and match their business plan to their communications plan and ultimately the experience.

For example, these days corporate social responsibility impacts on every part of a company from its product through its supply chain to its plant.

Companies today are under intense scrutiny from global watchdogs as well as savvy consumers. It’s better to take that on board and manage it before organisations like Greenpeace come knocking on your door.


Simon Faure-Field, CEO, Equal Strategy

What does Microsoft taste like, smell like, feel like, sound like? We have five senses but marketing and branding has largely concentrated on only two: sight and sound, ignoring the other three.

Smell has a direct link to the emotional and memory centres in our brain and many clients – global companies like Nike, Westin Hotels – are beginning to use this powerful resource to create emotional bonds with the customers.

Combine it with music and you start creating very powerful experiences for consumers interacting with your products. Traditional media is a dying medium, and traditional marketers have to find new opportunities to connect with consumers in the future.


Peter Skalberg, CEO Singapore, regional director SE Asia, BatesAsia

Being clever with a small budget doesn’t really cut it if you are building a brand. A strong strategy and the energy to implement that strategy with consistency is the key. Finding the insights against your target, reviewing the weakness of your competitors’ marketing approach and developing work that stands out and cuts through the absolute crap that is being relayed daily to people will ensure a successful brand-building campaign. You can’t do that with 100 dollars. If we are serious about the brand’s future, money talks. You can’t have a great strategy or great creative work without a great budget and it’s as simple as that.


Jonathan Bonsey, Bonsey Design

If I have to choose one tool that is critical to the health and development of a brand I would choose the power of design. We believe that if brand communications represents the promise of the product – the ‘what will be’ – then design represents the reality of the product – the ‘what it is’. Design is the embodiment of the brand, it is the promise delivered in physical form. And in my view what gives design power, beyond simple aesthetics, is the clarity of insight within it. For without a clear view into the needs of the customer, a view into their unmet hopes and desires, there can be no sustainable connection. Without the distinct, visceral “ah-hah, that’s what I want” moment, there can be no brand success, no matter how big the media budget, or competitive the price.


Carolyn Kan, managing director, M&C Saatchi

My one key branding weapon would be my customers. I think brands and marketers need to get back to the basics of focusing on what customers need and desire, and then developing products and services that will make a positive difference to their day. If it does that job well, then customers will be the brands’ most passionate and effective sales channel. Look at Google, Skype, Amazon, The Da Vinci Code, Creme de La, post-it notes and Birkenstocks. It’s a return to brutally simple thinking: one is relevance – uncovering a simple, universally recognised truth about a consumer need or desire to uncover how we can help. Two is simplicity – life is complicated enough. Keep what we say about what we do simple. Make it simple for people to benefit from the brand and make it simple for them to tell people about it. Three is dialogue: In the age of web 2.0, brands that have a better chance of success are ones that welcome customers’ honest feedback, both positive and negative. Then they can leverage the positive, fix any negatives to truly let customers know that they are important.