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Archive for July, 2012

Brand persona essentially helps to  connect brand to customer mind in an emotional manner. Global big brands are normally associated with a specific brand archetype and personality traits. Importantly, when being used effectively, they can guide the creative tone of brand communications. For example, Mercedes capitalize on its association “assertive” with the slogan “The Best or Nothing.” Conversely, “The Ultimate Driving Machine” truly describes the BMW personalities “sexy” and “desirable”. In US, while Levi’s failed, apparel brand Gap succeeded in brand extension to skincare product. The reason is that Gap has more “sensitive” brand personality than Levi’s and sensitivity is a typical brand trait of skincare brands.

In Vietnam, new-born brand VietJet Air is a good example to demonstrate the correlation between brand personality and brand image.

VietJet Air was the first Vietnamese private low-cost carrier that was established in 2007. Before making their debut with first commercial flights in late 2011, VietJet Air had time to consider the brand identity system that was initially created for them and they decided that it did not fit the brand they envisioned.

VietJet Air keens on creating a competitive of a new-generation low-cost airline that was targeting young and dynamic passengers. in 2010, Richard Moore Associates was asked to develop a comprehensive new brand identity system that can effectively communicate VietJet Air brand persona to its target audience.  Accordingly, brand traits “Joyous”, “Imaginative” and “Inspiring”  have been developed to portrait this young low-cost carrier. In line with these traits, a logotype in uniquely drawn letterforms and no formal symbol was created for a friendly appearance and maximum impact on the aircraft and other brand communications.

All elements of this brand identity were intended to create a young and dynamic VietJet Air in every step of their appearance to passengers – on the highway to airport, check-in lounge in airport, during flights and at the arrival destination. Since launching, VietJet Air’s brand communication activities  are likely to effectively capitalizing on their provided brand persona in leveraging their projected brand image. A series of activities like TVCs, cheering dancing before flights, wearing Hawai clothes, etc … have consistently performed to differentiate VietJet Air from competing air carriers. Unlike National aviation carrier Vietnam Airline and niche market player Air Mekong, VietJet Air has being perceived as a dynamic and joyous carrier in the mind of passengers.

Branding is a long journey that require a good start at the beginning and a consistency afterwards. A good brand persona & a strategically well-designed brand identity are  paramount to communicate a strong brand image to target audience. VietJet Air is likely to go on the right track in making a good use of competitive brand persona to create an differentiated brand image.

Nguyen Duc Son

Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates

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ImageUntil the 90s, no one in America knew about Starbuck coffee brand. Nearly 20 years later Starbuck appears in the Top 100 world most valuable brands ranked by both Interbrand and Millward Brown, 2 global prestigious organizations of annual brand rankings.  

A magical leap? If you’ve ever read “Pouring your heart into it” written by Starbuck chairman Howard Schult, you will have no doubt of Starbuck’s today position.

I am extraordinarily impressed by many values and emotion from this book. This is the memoir of a talent strategist, but you will feel like reading a novel which is truly attractive from the first to the final page. There are many things to talk about this inspiring book indeed. In terms of the brand positioning and Brand Differentiation Management alone, this book is worth being the bedside book for many marketers.  

The power of a leading brand pioneer

Founded in 1971, Starbuck still remained unknown in the US. until 1984 with merely 5 coffee shops in Seattle city. After Howard Schult joined Starbuck, Starbuck presented in almost every big city of the U.S in 1990s. Inspired by the Italian espresso coffee, he created a coffee brand of great quality and more importantly, a style of coffee enjoyment that American have never ever known before (At that time, American only think coffee as something to “drink”, not to “enjoy”). Being tempted by Starbuck’s impressive success, many competitors enter the market but all fail. Simply, Starbuck is the first that created a new coffee category with a new style of coffee enjoyment (in branding, it is called Frame of Reference). Starbuck succeeds to be the first in mind of customers and it’s really hard for any followers to acquire that position. 

A great quality is not enough to be differentiated in the long run

In the initial years, Starbuck appealed to customers by providing an espresso of outstanding quality (they only buy the best high-quality coffee beans and uniquely  roast coffee beans and and initiate a milk steaming in making coffee). American have never enjoyed such an incredible coffee.

One of the secrets to differentiate a brand is to be the first to own a product attribute. Starbuck had it. But if they had simply stopped there, they would have not been in  such today’s position. Talking to Starbuck, customers think of not only a coffee of outstanding quality but also “the third place” (“house” and “office” is the first and second place). That is the most valuable thing. In the long run, competitors may catch Starbuck in terms of quality but they can never have a chance to own three words “the third place”. You will get no doubt about this if you ever know “the Law of Mind” in branding supposed by brand strategists Al Ries & Jack Trout.   

And above all, Starbuck – a brand that “pour its heart” for customers 

Brands are like people around us. We can communicate with many people but only “like” a group of people and “love” a few people. Similarly, we buy many brands but only like several ones and especially love only one or two. Many people come to Starbuck not because of its excellent espresso. They come to the “Mermaid” because you see her as a friend with a lifestyle they feel familiar with though Starbuck almost doesn’t spend much money on advertising. It is simply because the founder Howard Schult and his nearly 24,000 workmates through out the world always consider Starbuck as their daughter of mind – a Mermaid that is not only beautiful and lovely (musical notes) but also “pour her heart” into customers. Let’s say, even when the price of coffee beans increased by 200% in 1994, Starbuck insisted on keeping their price unchanged and the quality of every Starbuck coffee cup from the very first days has been as wonderful as possible (Starbuck is a rare retailer brand of beverage that does not apply franchise policy due to this reason).

And my heart is totally conquered by the branding philosophy of the Starbuck founder: what comes from heart will fall into hearts.  

It’s really incredible, isn’t it?

Nguyễn Đức Sơn

Brand Strategy Director of Richard Moore Associates

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Strategist Michael Poter surposes that the essence of competition is to be distinctly differentiated from competitors. According to Porter’s theory of competitive strategies, there are three strategic approaches to outperform competitors. They are overall cost leadership, overall differentiation and focus (i.e. either particular differentiation or cost leadership in a specific segment rather than in overall market).

In cellphone market, late-born Apple’s smart phone quickly takes share of giant Nokia with their both functionally and emotionally differentiated Iphone. In the retail industry, which brand can be cheaper than the market leader Wal-mart? In Vietnam, Air Mekong brand is a typical success of focus competitive strategy. This new-born Vietnamese aircraft brand Air Mekong happened to be under the headline of newspaper in late 2011. Reason? they were chosen by Hollywood golden couple Brad Pit & Angelia Jolie when they took a flight to Phu Quoc island on their family holiday. Why they did not use national flag Vietnam airlines? what special is Air Mekong? very simple! . This brand’s business strategy is to provide non-stop flights on niche routes to remote areas (Phu Quoc island is one of them). Well done! they did a right thing – to be differentiated from the market leader in a niche market that they can dominate.

The success of brands’ adoption to Poter’s competitive strategy is evident. However, the reality is diverse and there are successful brands that do not seem to fall exactly into his approches.

Chinese sport brand Lining dominates the mass sport market with 30%  on-average annual growth rate. Noticeably, Lining is broadly known & criticized for their slogan and logo that is imitated to Adidas (“Everything is possible” vs  “Nothing is impossible”) and Nike. Communication can speak as louder as they can while Lining has got benefit of this “imitation” strategy. Undoubtedly, Lining brand has been recognized and recalled every where thanks to spontaneous association to giants Adidas and Nike.

Similarly, while Vietnamese telecommunication brand Viettel is renowned for their slogan “say it you way”, very few people know that this slogan sounds as the same as that of well-known Burger King “have it your way”. Obviously, in the domestic market, while Burger King is not aware by most people, Viettel does not need to resort to this fast-food brand to get into customer mind. Nevertheless, Viettel can capitalize on their “me-too” slogan to shorten the long journey of branding when they go to global market. The issue is that consumers attitude towards  this Viettel’s message may be not positive if Burger King’s “have it your way” is already popular there.

Imitating successful brands is tempting and can initially be rewarding. On the other hand, this approach will not make a brand unique, instead signaling customers of an inability to originate ideas, making sustainability unlikely. Ultimately, the decision of the brand owner rests on how far they want their brand to go.

Nguyen Duc Son

Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates 

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The European Football Championship is currently going on in Ukraine and Poland. In Vietnam, surprisingly, people are not very excited and eager for this high-level sport event they used to be in the past. This is not due to any quality decline of the tournament but these days football fans are overloaded with many “special foods” like English Premier League, Spanish La Liga or Champion League. Football fans are suffering from football indigestion, which reasonably results in excitement loss and fastidiousness.

Today, consumers always have many choices when they want to buy anything. Let’s say, 5-10 years ago, only individuals of high income can afford a cell phone. Now, cell phone is just a normal communication device, even for blue collar workers. Nokia or Sony Ericsson used to dominate Smart Phone segment. These days, even the famous iPhone is becoming popularized while Nokia is down and Sony Ericsson has disappeared.

Consumers has more choices and become more demanding, which in turn makes competition more intense. In the context that a segment is crowded with too many products, competition shift from the factory (how production is to make the best quality of my product) to the market place (how the message is to persuade consumers to believe that my product is the best brand).

In the race to draw consumers’ attention, there is a clear trend in FMCG market: to be successful, pour as much money as possible on advertising and marketing; and  communications message should sound bombshell, or even shocking. The marketing cost of Tan Hiep Phat Group is not much lower than giants Coca or Pepsi. It is not sure whether their Dr. Thanh herbal tea can really prevent hotness inside or not, but many people choose to drink Dr. Thanh for this advertising message. There are many controversial debates over Kangaroo’s “The leading water filter in Vietnam” TVC. In fact, this brand is growing well and many people buy Kangaroo water filters thought their TVC makes them disturbed. Recently, the TVC of “Red Bear” instant noodle brand raised a backlash and forced Asia Food (the brand owner) to organize several press conferences for excuse. However, among various instant noodle brands, now that most housewives have been aware that the Red Bear is available  in shelves.

So, except for means of huge advertising budget and bombshell message direction, is there any other choice for brand communications? In fact, there is few brands having financial ability enough to afford a 360 marketing campaign like Tan Hiep Phat, Masan or Asia Food. And not all bombshell advertisements can be under the headline like Kangaroo or Red Bear. In addition, there are always potential risks and counter-effects when applying this communications tactic.

A typical brand that goes against the huge advertising trend is The Body Shop. Instead of spending a lot money on advertising, this famous cosmetics English brand spends a lot for community benefit (15–25% profit is for building education, vocational and cultural centers). As a well-known cosmetic brand, The Body Shop, however, has not invited celebrities to endorse their products. In stead, they only use the image of simple, normal women to convey the message “Act Natural. Enjoy Your Age”.

The story of Viettel in Mozambique is also a good example to show that branding does not necessarily relies on advertising. In May 2012, many people queued quietly to buy Movitel sim (Viettel’s mobile network in this country) although Viettel didn’t make any noisy advertisement while Mcel, an familiar network in Mozambique, lay in the opposite street and Vodacom’s logo appeared everywhere. The reason is that Viettel has built a sustainable telecommunication infrastructure system for Mozambique, which turned Mozambique from a country of no  fiber-optic cable system to one of three countries having the largest optical cable infrastructure in Africa (partnered with South Africa and Nigeria). Movitel accounts for 80% of fiber-optic cable infrastructure and 60% mobile infrastructure in Mozambique. From now on, Mozambique people is familiar with Viettel brand.

Rousing and bombarding in media or quietly win the hearts of consumers? There is no right and wrong story for these options. That is only the issue of an appropriate and sophisticated implementation in communication message. Because today’s consumers have simply become a fastidious and savvy judge.

Nguyễn Đức Sơn

Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates

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