New frontiers of identity
Emerging markets are changing the way that brand identities are forged by wrestling the ownership of brands out of the arms of organisations and placing them in the domain of Everyman and -woman. How you nurture your corporate personality and philosophy, and create the brands and logos that manifest your identity, is being redefined by powerful emerging economies and markets previously ignored by most marketers. The bottom line is that you’re about to lose control and will be forced to throw the rule book out the window.
Step into Nigeria. One of the most populous countries in Africa, Nigeria has been identified by global investment giant Goldman Sachs as one of the “next eleven”. This means that it has the potential of becoming one of the world’s largest economies along with Brazil, Russia, India and China. But when it comes to branding you’ve got to reinvent the wheel.
The perfect allegory for creating brand identities in emerging markets is supplied by HKLM’s Gary Harwood: “Markets like Nigeria are branding frontier country. The populations are massive and the market dynamics are very different to what we are used to. In South Africa, when you think ‘retail branding’ you immediately imagine luxurious shops and big centres with designer plasma screens. Here it’s all high tech. In Lagos they do not even have retail shopping centres.
“You cannot layer First World thinking onto Third World experience. Our best bet at branding the myriad of spazas, mobile one-man shops and other small stores for Glo was to give everyone a tin of green paint and tell them to paint their world green.” Glo is MTN’s key mobile brand opposition in Nigeria.
HKLM’s Sean McCoy distils the brand approach for emerging markets into a handful of contained thoughts:
– Do your homework. Africa is not homogenous and local knowledge is a key factor for creating strong brand identities in Africa.
– Keep it simple. Branding must cut through the clutter to present an image that is clear, concise, simple and relevant.
– Attitude is everything. Successfully penetrating new markets is as much about attitude as it is about the product or service. Trust, integrity and humility are paramount.
– You need a mix of skills. While expert branding knowledge adds depth, local market knowledge makes it work. Branding in emerging markets is as much about transferring and building skills as it is about creating a brand identity.
– Build a trusted reputation. Here it’s all about action and community upliftment. Successful brands are good ambassadors, and branding in Africa requires building reputations through actions.
It appears that the assumption of homogeny is a classic error in judgement that marketers make when creating brands for new markets. Speaking from Hong Kong, Added Value’s Magdalena Wong says the quantum leap that brand experts need to make is the misconception that China is one big market. “When forging a brand identity or taking new brands into China, you cannot use one strategy. Although the brand essence can remain intact and be the same, the brand identity needs to be tailored to satisfy different types of people.” Wong advocates a step-by-step approach for China with incremental learning, saying that she often sees brands trying to roll out too quickly.
A good example for understanding the localisation of identities is the example she gives regarding baby brands. “Because of the ‘one child’ policy, mothers can spend a lot on their babies,” says Wong adding that mothers are driven to give their children the best brands. “Mothers will squeeze to find money to buy the best brands even if they are not that wealthy. When it comes to infant milk powder, many international brands have overlooked the importance of rural market or less developed cities, as they felt the mothers there cannot afford their brand. Some brands have tried to launch cheaper new brands to fit their needs (examples here include Nestlé and Mead Johnson). Local brands who understood their market reacted by copying international brands to launch their own very expensive ‘gold’ variants matching the price of international ‘gold’ brands. By doing this they have grown market share and now enjoy the bulk of the market.”
The race for China, with its population of some 1.3 billion, has seen brand activity concentrated in populous cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian. “The market place is extremely cluttered and more successful brands have entered secondary, tertiary and rural markets. We are now talking about counties, and going beyond the provincial capital cities. This requires a complete change of brand strategy, because people in small cities are not that advertising literate.”
Another strong theme is the creation of brand identities for micro-segments in huge emerging markets. “In the past, brands would look at one consumer group. A good example of this is banking where a lot of the banking brands are not focusing on the mass market, but rather looking at specialist segments. Foreign banks in particular are looking at premium segments who are business owners, international travellers and cutting their segments in a much more fine and well defined manner, and then creating brands or brand extensions that speak directly to these segments.”
When it comes to managing brand identities, ownership is going back to company leadership. While advertising has seen the disintermediation of the relationship between the CEO and the advertising executive, brand experts sit at the boardroom table. Harwood believes that because the brand identity is the DNA of a company, it’s no longer the domain of the marketing department.
This makes sense in a world where CEOs are the chief brand custodians and consumers largely own the brand, where brands live or die on reputation, and the need for authenticity, integrity and involvement speak to whether or not businesses are being good citizens as they conquer new territories.
AUTHOR: Mandy de Waal is a former broadcast journalist who now writes for a broad range of local media. Read her blog, Artificial Intelligence, at http://mdw.typepad.com/. This story first ran in Mark Issue 1.