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Building Brands  

With years of experience in the advertising and marketing world (and PR of course), our Director, Farrell Tan is sharing with us his insights on brand building – how do you build brands from scratch?

1. Tell us about your experience in both the advertising world and the PR world.

I started out as an intern in a local agency, where I worked on the Reject Shop, Bank Utama and Sheraton Langkawi accounts. Upon completion of my internship, I was headhunted to join an international agency called McCann-Erickson, where I did below-the-line work for brands such as Coca-Cola, Levi’s and Hong Leong Bank. Shortly thereafter, I was again headhunted to work on the British American Tobacco (BAT) business for brands such as Benson & Hedges and Lucky Strike.

When the BAT account shrank because of the ‘dark market’ (a term used to highlight tighter regulations on cigarette advertising), I was absorbed into the agency’s new division, where I was offered the opportunity to kick-start their public relations (PR) department alongside the Agency’s regional head.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, despite not knowing anything about PR, I worked hard to not only understand the industry, but to build my contacts, which resulted in us pitching and winning the Guinness Anchor business, where I worked on brands such as Heineken, Tiger and Anchor. Shortly thereafter, we pitched and won slices of the Nokia, Sony, Sara Lee and Unilever business, before I was headhunted again to work on the Procter & Gamble account on brands such as Olay, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Rejoice and SKII.

After working non-stop (at the time) for close to 10 years, I decided to take a break from the industry, and dabbled in artiste management. The departure proved a bit too much, and before long, I was back working on for yet another agency, where I led their PR team on the Parkson, Samsung, Guinness and Tourism Malaysia accounts.

I was then headhunted to join a local agency, which intrigued me, so I gave it a go for a year, and I worked on brands such as HEKTAR, MEPS, Hwang-DBS, Spritzer, AEON Credit Service before deciding that it was time for me to set-up my own outfit. Orchan Consulting I Asia is a result of that, and we’re now into our eighth year of operations. A few months ago, I also started Metanoia Limited, a change management consultancy alongside my Orchan business partner.

2. How would you explain brand building?

Brand building is the process in which you create an identity for a particular brand. From giving the brand a voice, a personality and even a face, you’re able to distinguish it from its competitors. Most successful brands, be it local or international, have these characteristics in place.

Consumers are barraged with so much information every single day, that sometimes, a brand, especially a new one, gets lost in the mix. By building a brand, you’re able to communicate with its consumers in a language that they understand, which in turn, builds affinity with the brand.
3. What are your strategies in building brands from scratch?

For starters, you need to understand the landscape in which it operates in. Then you need to know who the brand is talking to i.e. demographics. Then, you need to identify what the brand has to offer that makes it different from its competitors (which of course means that you need to know who its competitors are). The basis of brand building is a mix of research and strategy. You can’t have one without the other. The most successful brands understand this.

4. Tell us about the concept of storytelling / storydoing in brand building.

The concept of storytelling generally goes hand in hand in brand building. Once you managed to create a persona for the brand i.e. voice, personality and even face, you can curate stories through the media to further enhance and endear the brand to its consumers.

The concept of storydoing is a step above storytelling. Everyone can tell a story. But not many people can tell a story about a brand that will incite a response from its consumers. The basis of storydoing is the refinement of the narrative that gets churned out via the media that will do just that i.e. make consumers ‘feel’ something for brand, which in turn, triggers a response.
5. How relevant is brand purpose for brands?

Extremely. You can’t create a success brand without first identifying its purpose or its values. In order to create a persona for the brand, you need to know what the brand hopes to achieve. Think of a brand as a human being. The more you know a person i.e. more you get to know his personality, beliefs, values and even motivation, the easier it is for you to decide whether or not you like him, and whether or not you want to continue getting to know him.

6. Is building a brand that’s entering a saturated market more challenging than building one for an entirely new market? If so, how?

I would say yes. But ever so slightly. The biggest challenge is in creating the right persona for the brand. I would argue that entering a saturated market (assuming that you have done extensive research on your competitors) can be a blessing in disguise. If you have the ‘arsenal’ i.e. research findings on your competitors, at your disposal, wouldn’t that assist you in identifying ways to make your brand stand out?

7. Is there a difference in approach to brand building for organisations in B2B versus B2C?

First of all, corporations are not consumer products. Common sense, but many agencies tend to lump them together as 'brands', and therefore they are treated to consumer branding techniques. The fact is, they exist in vastly different worlds.

When you brand a B2B product, you need to focus on the logic of the product. You do this by focusing on the features of the product. There is little to no personal emotion involved in the purchasing decision. You want to focus on understanding the organisational buyers and how they operate within the confines of their organisation's procedures. What's their role? What's important to them? What the return on investment (ROI) that they can expect with their purchase? That ROI can be time-saving, resource saving or money saving, but it has to be clear in order to get everyone on-board. 

The B2B market has a thirst for knowledge and they are information seekers. The most effective means would be to focus on how the product or service saves them time, money and resources.

B2C branding is more about product packaging and marketing than corporate strategy. When you are marketing to a consumer, you want to focus on the benefits of the product. Their decision is more emotional. Consumers are less likely to be interested in a lengthy marketing message. They will want you to get right to the point. With consumers, your message must be simple, easy to understand.

The most effective branding strategy would focus on the results and the benefits that a product or service will bring to them. They will want to hear more about how a product or service helps them and what benefits it brings to them personally.

8. Does social media serves a significant role in brand building? If so, how?

Yes, it does. Again, it’s about creating a personality for the brand. And what better way to do so than through social media. However, not all social media platforms are relevant. Once you create a ‘voice’ for the brand, and you know you’re talking to, identifying the platforms (and approach) will be easier.

9. What are some of the best ways to get customers to become ambassadors for your brand?

By getting them to talk about your brand. Again, this is where storydoing comes into play. The minute you’re able to trigger a response from your target audience, and you continue the conversation i.e. engage them, through various offline and online platforms, they become ambassadors for your brand.
10. How do you sustain brand building efforts?

As with everything, by ensuring that it is continuous. Brand building is an on-going process. You may set out an objective, and you may achieve it, but you need to ensure that you keep setting new objectives in order for the brand to grow. The landscape in which any brand is operating in is evolving at such a rapid pace, that a brand should never rest on its laurels. The more the brand engages with its target audience, the more top-of-mind it becomes. The more top-of-mind it becomes, the more likely it is to stand out from the pack.

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