The Eurozone teeters on the edge of collapse. Wall Street is inter- spersing rehabilitation and growth. Asia is preparing for its big- gest economic boom in hundreds of years. To compete in global markets, the belief that Asia must sharpen its branding tools or get lost in a sea of commercial one-up-man-ship is not just popular, it’s universal. But is brand in its current manifestation still critical to success or is it an outdated Western principle of business which has little relevance to a younger, nimbler economy which built its consumers from the inside out?
Milind Kangle, Group Chief Executive of global telecoms behemoth Lycamobile, considers the outlook for brands created in an as-yet unsaturated digital landscape of big data understanding, the importance of market over brand, lessons which businesses in Asia must learn from the West and what it will take for each to retain a place on the global stage. Asia’s re-emerging economic dominance is an archetypal alliance of thought and action. Far from the plentiful reports on the Industrial Revolution which document a series of seemingly serendipitous socioeconomic shifts aligned to rearrange the way humans behave forever; the fruits that are beginning to bear from the East are those enriched with strategy, ideology and conviction.
Indeed, as Dale Jorgenson on the Asia Pathways blog explored late last year; the growth seen across economies such as South Korea, China, India and Singapore and the economies of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will beget a “new world economic order, associated with more rapidly growing economies such as China and India”. The Asian Development Bank meanwhile predicts that by 2050, Asia could be producing over half of global GDP, with per capita income levels equal to that of Europe today.
This growth puts enormous pressure on emerging multinationals to produce identifiable and accountable brands. The Economist Intelligence Unit in its 2010 report: ‘Brand and Deliver’ acutely summarised this need with the assertion that Asian businesses’ current ‘brandless’ success has been largely due to ‘being in the right place at the right time’; responding quickly to urbanisation and Western multinationals’ search for low-cost production. “Markets”, it says, “are opening and competition for customers are intensifying”.
The need for brand over business is clear, especially as companies inevitably grow and compete. But this economical shift is far from providence, as Jusman Syafii Djamal in The Jakarta Post writes: economic expansion in Asia is not the product of one-off factors. “Asian economies are not just growing but are being transformed and a range of different forces are at work.” It is becoming clear that to succeed sustainably, the new economy is built on a high level of flexibility and forethought. Already, as Djamal neatly surmises, there is a demographic dividend of a huge growth in population of working age while the population of dependents grows more slowly. “Even”, he continues “once the demographic dividend fades, as is already the case in China, the entry of new workers who are better educated enhances growth – there are strong returns to expanding education.”
The same is true for the brands which emanate from these econo- mies; the West is a cautionary tale. Obsession with brand over mar- ket has led to many becoming victims of their own successes: large cumbersome brands so embedded in their initial proposition that they are left dormant as markets move on around them. In Britain, the Government’s focus on SMEs and startups is no accident: older brands are falling because market understanding was consistently retrofitted to business models. By contrast, newer brands rise exclusively from a new market demand: successful enough to be investable; limber enough to move with the consumer tide.
Branding in its Western incarna- tion is too entrenched in the notion of competition to be useful to a new economy; it is something rather haphazardly borne of a saturated market full of too many brands doing the same thing. Asia has – to all intents and purposes – as fresh a start as an economy of brand will get and it is clear already that the companies underpinning Asia’s economy are realising the benefits of second-to-market opportunities to avoid this trap at all costs. Market saturation begets weak brands – failing to innovate in terms of product or quality – vainly trying to win a place in consumer’s hearts rather than just their baskets. Many businesses are finding their established brands no longer fit to the changing consumer behaviour. The bubble – lucrative as it is – always bursts.
What instead is needed is an implicit understanding of the needs of the market and suppleness inherent to the business model to allow for socio-economic impacts on consumer behaviour. Brands operating in Asia are already beginning to pioneer this new way of innovating through customers.
Growing prosperity within these economies has engendered a new type of Asian consumer, to which the West’s models are oft too rigid to adapt. Asia’s consumers have grown with their economy and improved technology. These new brands are built on a modern foundation designed exclusively to satisfy a need. Applying Western models of brand – one developed as a reaction not a proaction – is not just unnecessary; it’s dangerous.