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How To Make Your Brand Matter In Asia

01/03/2016 2:42 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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There are thousands of brands in Asia, with more cropping up each day. How do you ensure your brand grabs the attention of consumers for the longest time? Each country in Asia is as heterogeneous as all of Europe. Many are yet to consume brands that the West takes for granted. More importantly, many are yet to realize why they should consume them in the first place.

1. Start with your own employees

If your company is not good enough for your employees, it isn't going to be good for your customers either. However, employee attrition rates are amongst the highest in Asian markets today. If you cannot retain your best employees, the rest will hardly be able to deliver the best-in-class service to your esteemed clients -- makes sense, right?

If your company is not good enough for your employees, it isn't going to be good for your customers either.

Making the organization a good place to work for may be the first step. If your policies act as an impediment to employees to do their work, be it for delegation issues, cost-control, or bureaucracies, then employees will eventually lose patience with you. At this rate of switching-over of employees serving a specific client, you can hardly expect that client to keep his patience with your company's brand.

2. Serve a need by creating an improvement in your client's life

Many in Asia are yet to use your brand, or even to use the product itself. They will ask why they need it in the first place. Sell a need; and a need is best sold by showing how it can make an improvement in people's lives. Many years ago, when mobile phones were yet to pick up amongst India's masses due to its perception as a luxury product, Bangladesh's Grameen Bank was already pitching it to women entrepreneurs across villages to set up phone-centres. They showed the women how mobile phones make it easier to stay connected to friends and family in an affordable way. I saw this myself while touring Bangladeshi villages during a Grameen Bank project back then.

Sell a need; and a need is best sold by showing how it can make an improvement in people's lives.

This also illustrates that you need to sell a value, not a product. Value creates long-term relationships, while short-term transactions can often lead to mis-selling which negates brand loyalty. A customer should perceive you as someone who fulfilled a need which no one else could meet. That connect often overcomes other aspects, like if your price eventually becomes marginally higher than your peers. Identify the critical things the client may want by consuming what you offer, and pitch that. Create a value where clients thought none existed before.

3. Differentiate or die

If you cannot differentiate in a crowded market, then exit. Many brands have jumped into the over-crowded swimming pool called Asia, but are yet to find bearings in the form of profits. Why should the client come to you? Are you offering him something he cannot get elsewhere? Is it a niche need, a unique product, best service? If you cannot answer that, then you are just burning the capital of your promoters and private equity investors to create long-term accumulated losses. Eventually, you will sell out, proclaiming that the market is an over-hyped one, and there's no money to be made. Actually, the market was great, but you were not! Even if you are offering something as standard as a super-market, you could differentiate by offering the quickest service or lowest prices.

4. Make a brand ambassador out of your client

Identify your target client, and make him your ambassador for word-of-mouth promotion. The Asian middle-class may often be sceptical when it comes to new things, not because they don't want them but because they don't know which brand to choose. The influx of new, unknown brands makes it even harder to pick one over the other. Media promotions may make people aware of your brand, but may not push them into actually consuming it.

Even if you are offering something as standard as a super-market, you could differentiate by offering the quickest service or lowest prices.

Although Asian societies are becoming nuclear, they remain community-minded in nature, albeit in a new way. People still place a certain faith on what their community - and this could be their circle of friends -- says. Your most loyal clients may be your best brand ambassadors by referring you to others based on their positive experience. There is a better chance of people believing what their community says than on going by what a celebrity endorses. Yes, the ad may draw attention to the brand, but word of mouth is more effective when it comes to actual consumption. After all, everyone knows the celebrity was paid to sing paeans for your brand. Think about it -- how many times have you bought a specific shampoo or insurance or packaged food just because someone suggested it to you?

The good news is that nowhere is the desire to associate with new things greater than in Asia, which is seeing many brands, products and features for the first time. Your few loyal clients may just help enlarge that pool.

5. Get the basics right

In the quest to outrun competitors in an over-crowded market by coming out with the next big-thing, many brands often fail to do the simple things properly. Ask how many people across Asian markets have had a tough time with customer-service call operators, and the response may surprise you!

A taken-for-granted activity like customer service could make or break loyalty to your brand.

A taken-for-granted activity like customer service could make or break loyalty to your brand. What do clients do after a bad experience? They stop using that product, and move on to another. That's the end of your brand, for that client and his near-circle at least. While delivering the next big-thing is critical to stay ahead of the curve, failing to do simple things is rank sloppiness. Unless you fill the car with petrol and press the pedal steadily, the car will not move properly, irrespective of the all the brilliant features you may have stuffed into it.

6. The potential of mass customization

Mass customization may hold the key in virgin territory. Turnaround times and product lives are getting shorter, and the next innovation is coming even quicker. Mass customization -- the fulfillment of niche needs in an assembly line -- may be your best bet to hasten your time-to-market within that short window of opportunity. If you cannot produce en-masse, your client size will never reach scale; and if you cannot produce niche, your product will never reach scale. Don't always look at existing market research, since research on virgin markets will always be inadequate. In new markets hungry for new brands and products, the time-to-market may be even shorter, since that is what is attracting other brands too. Think of new methods by which your clients will consume your product in the future, and be ready to invest in that.

If you cannot reach the top three or five in your business, then exit.

In conclusion, if you cannot reach the top three or five in your business, then exit. Most of these markets will consolidate eventually. If you cannot reach the top bracket in a reasonable time in a specific Asian country, then do not try to flog a dead horse. That may just dilute your brand in other Asian markets which may be better suited for you.

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