Some people say that SME’s will find it incredibly difficult to build international and global brands. Their reasoning is that most of the world markets and the product categories in those markets are already dominated by powerful global brands. Furthermore, they claim that companies have to overcome significant global consumer perceptions of sub-par quality and other concerns relating to the country of origin of the brand.
There is a lot of truth in these comments, and it will be no easy task for SME’s to develop strong brands of their own, but it is the very nature of the fast-changing business world that can help them. There are no hard and fast rules anymore, and innovation no longer belongs to the privileged few.
Moreover, there are corporate leaders with the vision necessary to harness technology and ideas, both of which are freely available, and global niche markets are available to those who can move in quickly.
Speed and agility are not strengths possessed by many of the existing global giants. CEO’s of small and medium size companies must use market dynamics to exploit the weaknesses of the power brand companies and establish new and innovative brands for the future. But in order to benefit from this there are many additional aspects of branding that SME’s have to improve upon in order to achieve international recognition.
Firstly, corporate thinking has to stop rigidly focusing on short-term profits and concentrate more on long-term brand building. Brands are strategic assets that require investment, and there has to be a better balance here. It all comes back to strategy, and there is no doubt in my mind that brand strategy now drives business direction in the 21st Century. Brand has to be top-down driven and should be a constant item on boardroom agendas.
Secondly, there also has to be a top management mind-set change about what building a brand really involves. A brand is not merely a logo, slogan, or advertising. Too many companies make promises to consumers via market communications that they cannot deliver on, with the result that a great deal of money is wasted and consumers disappointed.
This means that all customer touch points have to be managed with care – no easy task. But if large companies such as DuPont can train everyone from the cleaner to the chairman in what the brand stands for , and how they can contribute to the brand image of the company in their everyday work, then SME’s should be able to do the same.
Thirdly, although product quality has improved tremendously in Asia, with many companies having reached world-class standards, it remains an undisputable fact that service quality needs drastic improvement. Service brands have got to work much harder on the consumer experience. As brands are relationships that only exist in people’s minds, those relationships have to be built and nurtured with care. Brand successes and failures are linked directly to levels of consumer satisfaction and delight.
Lastly, it must be remembered that branding is an on-going process; it never stops. It is a tough and long journey but the rewards make it worthwhile. SME’s must create and manage their brands as soon and as meticulously as they can. Failure to take control of their brand image in the marketplace will mean that it will be determined by others, whether customers or competitors. To put it simply, if you do not differentiate and position your company well, you will end up with an image you might not like.
So at the basis of corporate success these days are solid brand strategies, with clearly defined brand visions, values, positioning and plans for fulfillment. Brand strategies have to be brought to life by people, and the development of a brand culture is vital if companies are to deliver on the messages projected by market communications.
The bottom line for SME’s that wish to create sustainable, profitable international and global market positions is that branding is the road to travel. This is the strategy that has been missing from many boardroom discussions over recent years and one that could possibly have saved a number of firms in previous recessions. Indeed without a strong brand, business survival and growth will be very difficult in the 21st century.