Six ideas to grow your brand in Asia

By Sourajit Aiyer

This article was originally published in InBusiness Dubai and Huffington Post India.

There are many brands in Asia, and more are cropping up each day. How do you ensure your brand grabs client attention for a long time?

Each country in Asia is as heterogeneous as the entire of Europe. Many are yet to consume brands the West takes for granted. More importantly, many are yet to realize the utility from consuming it in the first place.

This presents tremendous opportunity for those who want to see their brands surge in popularity, but also huge challenges. Here are some ideas on how to overcome some of the obstacles:

Start with your own employees. Everyone says 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, as various reasons compel employees to look beyond the company they work for.

Look at any jobs website of an Asian country. You will see that many roles do not seem to be new openings of new companies. Rather, given the vintage of the companies in question, those roles sound like they should have been up-and-running for some time. In other words they are to replace, not create.

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? Making the organization a good place to work may be the first step.

If your policies always 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.

Serve a need by creating an improvement in your client’s life. Many in Asia are yet to use your brand, or to use that 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 or status product, Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank was already pitching to women entrepreneurs across villages to set up phone centers, by showing how it enables families and friends to remain connected with each other in an affordable way.

I saw this myself while touring Bangladeshi villages during a Grameen Bank project back then. This means 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.

The client must perceive you as someone who helped him with a need that no one else was able to help with at that time. That connection then often overcomes other aspects, like if your price eventually becomes marginally higher than peers.

Identify the critical things the client wants, or may want, by consuming what you offer, and pitch that. It gives the client a reason to start looking at you in the first place. Create value where clients thought none existed before. You may start by first becoming a consumer of your own product.

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 profits.

Ask yourself, why should the client come to you? Do you sell something he cannot get elsewhere? Is it a niche need, a unique product, best service, or something else setting your offer apart?

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 over-hyped and there’s no money to be made there.

Actually, the market was great, but you were not. Even if you are well versed in your industry, serving 360-degree needs and products, even then your differentiation may be the lowest price or quickest service.

Make your target client ambassador for word-of-mouth promotion. Asian middle class may often be sceptical when it comes to new things, but that’s not because they don’t want them, but because they don’t know which one to choose.

Many brands have not been available, hence they are unknown. As markets opened up, a plethora of new brands flooded local markers. Above-the-line promotions may make people aware of your brand, but may not push people to start consuming it.

Although Asian societies are becoming nuclear, their community-bonhomie still remains, albeit in an altered way. What traditionally used to be family communities is making way for friend communities, and people still place a certain faith on what their community says.

Your most loyal clients may be your best brand ambassadors, by referring you by word of mouth since they had a great experience with you. There is a better chance of people believing what their community says, and then consuming it themselves.

A celebrity endorsing your brand is merely making people aware, but not always pushing people to consume it, since they know the celebrity was paid millions to say what he or she said. Think about it — how many times have you bought a specific shampoo, insurance or a packed food, just because someone suggested it to you?

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

Do the simple things properly first. However, companies often overlook this. In the quest to run ahead of 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 often results in many things, but not what you were looking for. What do clients do then? They stop using that product, and move to another. That’s the end of your brand, at least for that client and his near circle.

While concentrating on 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.

Mass customization may hold key in virgin territory. Turnaround times and product lives are getting shorter, and the next innovation is coming even quicker. Mass customization, i.e. fulfilling 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. You may also want to think about new methods your clients will consume your product in the future, and be ready to invest with that in view.

The main thing to take into account is that, if you cannot reach Top 3 or 5 in your business, then you should 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 extend your futile life. That may just dilute your brand in the other Asian markets which may be better suited for you.

— Sourajit Aiyer works with a leading capital markets company in Mumbai.