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The Straits Times, 16 August 2002

Ever wondered why when compared to the West, Asia (with the exception of Japan) has so few powerful brands, when Asians themselves are so brand-conscious?

His answer – Asian companies are too preoccupied with short-term profits, rather than with long-term brand building.

A competitive edge
“Branding is intangible. You can’t see, feel or touch it. So it’s been difficult to convince people that branding is important. Asian chief executive officers (CEOs) are bottom-line conscious and more concerned with bringing in profits.

“Investment in branding gets turned on and off like a tap, depending on feel-good factors,” said the Singapore-based 55-year-old, who was among one of several guest speakers from companies like Singapore Airlines (SIA), Asia Pacific Breweries and Osim International, to name a few.

It is only recently, he added, that these CEOs have turned to branding as their guiding light. And that’s because business strategies aside, they have discovered that branding is still the best defence against attack from competitors and recession.

With that comes an increased perception that brands can have dollars and cents value in their own right. Dr Temporal explained: “People in the West are treating brands as assets. If properly built up, it can add value worth the net assets of the company.”

Great awareness needed
While brand awareness is slowly gaining momentum in this part of the world, Singapore is still behind. In the 2001 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report on Micro-competitiveness, Singapore companies were ranked 23rd in terms of extent of branding. Switzerland, Japan and Germany were top three in the survey.

Said Mr Yew Sung Pei, International Enterprise (IE) Singapore’s capability development director: “To export your products and services, you need to have a proper brand strategy to get your message across to the end-user or consumer. When companies start to go abroad more into the marketplace, they realise that they need a good brand strategy – that awareness has come up more and more.”

To help companies grow and internalise successfully, IE Singapore is stepping up its efforts to facilitate the process. In the last three-and-a-half years, it has pumped in $6.5 million to co-fund over 50 companies on the Brand Development Assistance Scheme.

No brand slam
That said, branding is not an overnight process, and you can’t just leap from being a local to global brand.

Said Dr Temporal: “The really top brands started from being number one in their own countries. Coca-Cola, Xerox, Nike – they first went local, then regional, then global.” To speed up the brand-building process, Dr Temporal recommends a shift from product to consumer thinking – which certain companies have done with much finesse.

“Service quality is still a differentiating factor, which is why SIA is ahead in their industry. The airline pays meticulous attention to dealing with the brand process. In doing so, it has achieved success on many dimensions. In the last 10 to 15 years, it has taken its brand around the world.”

Once you’ve done all the hard work, you’re set for life. Said Dr Temporal: “There’s no brand life cycle, so a brand can go on forever. If you look after that, you can get corporate immortality. If you get to be number one in your industry, chances are, it will be difficult for people to dislodge you.”