Sunday, December 30, 2007

(Lack of) Branding among Asian companies

Consider this – Asia comprises of 4 billion people which is about 60% of the world population. On an average, the Asian economy is growing at 8% as compared the 3% in the United States & Europe. Over the last 25 years, the high-tech exports of the United States dropped from 31% to 18% while exports from the Asian countries increased from 7% to 25%.

However, if you look at the top 100 global brands, only 11 Asian companies find a spot (per Interbrand and BusinessWeek ratings) (Toyota at #7 was the top ranked Asian company). Professor Amitava Chattopadhyay of INSEAD(see footnote) says that history explains part of that reason. Historically, the wealthy folks in the Asian countries went for higher studies to Western Countries and flaunted Western brands. Relatively speaking, it is only in recent years that local Asian brands have had respectability and some semblance of parity with their Western counterparts.

Traditionally, branding has received step motherly treatment within Asia. He states that Asian companies have traditionally focused on operations, technology and manufacturing but have not spent enough attention on marketing. But now Asia has achieved critical mass – due to economic growth, availability of disposable income and creation of a larger consumer class.

The companies need to instill the brand values and meaning within its employees and also engage in educating the outside ecosystem (consumers, suppliers, partners, etc). Another example is that if you look at the website of a Western (Europe, United States) company, they provide the bios of their executive management team. However, in contrast (till a few years ago) many Asian companies used to shy away from providing detailed bios of their management team. Not sure why? This is changing now, but companies need to celebrate and highlight the strength of their management team. Another positive change is that (large) family run businesses are now getting in professional management into their companies.

However, getting to be the top brand will not be an easy challenge – since historically consumers have held Western brands in high esteem. The Asian challengers will need to make a concerted effort to claim a spot at the top.

INSEAD (pronounced IN-SEE-ADD) is a leading graduate business school and research institution with campuses in Fontainebleau (near Paris), France and in Singapore. In 2006, an INSEAD Executive Education centre was inaugurated in Abu Dhabi.

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