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The Edge

The government is spending RM 600 million to promote Visit Malaysia Year 2007. But is the brand proposition ``Malaysia, Truly Asia” enough to attract the 20 million tourist hoped for?

``Malaysia’s proposition is quite interesting,” says branding guru Dr Temporal. ``It’s done a lot of good for the country because they’ve done what other competing countries haven’t, which is sticking to the message of `Malaysia, Truly Asia’ for about 10 years. Most Asian countries, on the other hand, chop and change their positioning every two to three years, resulting in a week proposition.”

Citing India as an example of a country with a ``weak proposition”, Temporal says: ``Incredible India’-it’s a tagline that’s not really inspiring… The incredible part isn’t the magnificence of icons such as the Taj Mahal-it’s the poverty.

There’s a wide gap between the very rich and the very poor-that doesn’t deliver the promise of being `incredible’,” he says.

Malaysia’s propositions focuses on the country’s richness in culture, which, Temporal says, is one of the main drivers of tourism in the country. ``Malaysia is going on a cultural route, and I think they should continue banking on that. It’s deliverable, credible and believable, which are the three things needed for a good brand strategy,” he says.

However, branding a nation isn’t all about generating tourism dollars although the Ministry of Tourism hopes that this third Visit Malaysia Year, which coincides with the country’s 50th year of Independence, will rake in RM44.5 billion in tourism revenue.

There are other, simpler things that Malaysia needs to look at in order to establish and build up its brand name, Temporal tells Manager@Work.

``Malaysia has a brand awareness problem for a start-Americans don’t know where it is!” he says. ``Secondly, we don’t have a positive image-there aren’t many positives messages that explain to people what the good things about it are.”

In Temporal’s view, it all begins with the effort of Malaysia’s local corporations. ``You have to start encouraging companies within Malaysia to brand themselves,” he advises. ``If you don’t get your corporate brand ambassadors shouting about where you come from, then you’re not going to build a strong brand image.” For example, Japan has built up its image to the extent that ``Made in Japan” equates with ``quality” and ``innovation” and adds brand value to any Japanese product, whether it’s good or bad.

``If we’re proud to be Malaysian, we should come out and say this is what Malaysia stands for. Every country has its own set of values-the values of the Japanese are different from the values of Malaysia but it’s the way you leverage and use them, which countries do,” says Temporal.

``Ten years ago, the term `Made in Malaysia’ was not viewed with great optimism around the world the world, but now, there aren’t any problems in terms of the quality of products,” he adds. Malaysia, he says, has an abundance of skill sets and abilities-which is one of the reasons many multi-national corporations such as Motorola are here.

``However, regarding service quality, I’m not so sure,” says Temporal. ``I’ve never been able to understand this because Malaysia are so friendly and hospitable, and it doesn’t translate into the service experience in hotels or shops or when they’re driving on the roads.” One of Malaysia’s brand strengths that it should leverage on, he says, should be that Malaysians have a distinctive personality of being warm, approachable, attractive, friendly and inviting. ``On the streets they’re very nice to you, but when you translate this service environment, it somehow disappears, and I don’t quite know why.”

Are there any countries that Malaysia should look at to follow? ``South Korea has done a fairly good job in recent times-it’s used various events like the 2002 FIFA World Cup to really propel that,” says Temporal, adding that the country’s government plays an active role in monitoring the brand, both of the country and of key corporations like Samsung. ``They encourage their corporations to go out and build global brands, and now, `Made in Korea’ isn’t so bad,” he says. According to Temporal, companies like Petronas should seize the opportunity to become a global brand.

``We see Petronas and we don’t associate it with Malaysia. Sponsoring Formula 1 is a start, and plus Malaysia’s got a good racing circuit, but it’s not yet a global brand. It’s great sponsorship and a great opportunity, but for the billions of viewers who watch Formula 1-do they know it’s from Malaysia? Probably not, he says. ``Companies need to go out of Malaysia as ambassadors for the national brand.