INTOUCH : Gaining brand traction

Just another jandal, any Kiwi might think, but check out the DNA of those brightly coloured Havaianas hanging in upmarket shoe stores or surf shops worldwide and you discover branding success story that any Kiwi company could emulate – with the right formula.
That’s according to Dominique Turpin, professor of marketing and strategy at the Swiss-based global business school IMD, whose wide-ranging international experience has given him wealth of branding success stories – and disasters – to dissect.
The Havaianas, for instance, started life as humble flip-flop back in the 1950s. It’s only in the past decade that they were repositioned as fashion item, taken up by stars like Jennifer Aniston and started appearing on the carefully manicured feet of runway models. The formula is readily repeatable, says Turpin.
“I think the future belongs to companies that are very focused on one product and who exploit their competitive advantage on global basis. Another example is the Dutch company TomTom which started making its portable GPS products just decade ago and now has about 50 percent of the global market share.
“Just few months back Panasonic announced it was getting out from this business so the small company beats out the big one. It’s question of focus and small companies are more flexible.”
As Turpin told an audience in Auckland recently, there are three key success factors to gaining brand traction: start with point of difference, put resources behind the brand and commit to it.
“It is even more important to put money behind your brand in bad times than when things are good. In crisis there is opportunity. That is the time when everyone cuts – they cut marketing communications, they cut education and they cut innovation at the precise time you need to have fresh ideas and to communicate… So do the contrary of what everyone else is doing. Invest strongly in your brand.”
As to whether it’s beneficial for Kiwi products to gain some traction from what is (at present) positive and “eco-friendly” country brand or to go it alone, the answer is mixed. New Zealanders can’t escape existing country brand perceptions so leveraging the positive aspects of that is good start. But it can be two-edged sword, warns Turpin.
That’s because any damage to the country brand (perhaps newsworthy example of bad environmental practice) then rubs off on product brand.
“I think this [brand New Zealand] is good start but of course I would say ideally if you are talking about product brands, these should stand for themselves. If you are depending on New Zealand – then there are risks. An example is the problems faced by strongly identified Danish companies when there was this publicity about anti-Islamic cartoons there.”
Green branding also carries risk because the credibility quotient has to be high.
“We live in cynical world so you have to be very careful that the proposition you bring to brand is totally honest. The idea of corporate values – what do you believe in – is getting more and more important. Ten or 15 years back, we would not be talking about this, but now I think if you start playing games and to run the business just for money, people will find out. So being real is important and to do that, you need to have consistency, longevity.
“That is why I think family businesses, or those where the founder or owner has been involved for long time, have better chance for success than public companies that change their CEOs every six months. So I believe the future is brighter for those small enterprises that have consistency and continuity in terms of business philosophy.”
Turpin rates authenticity as the top attribute for today’s global leaders.
“You have to be real. That is number one. Also… you need to be curious. What surprises me when I meet an executive leader from big corporation is that while they tend to know their own business very well, they are not curious enough to see what is going on in other companies, other countries.”
Or even in their own companies. His research into one client’s problem actually unearthed the fact that the exact same issue had already been addressed by someone in different part of the same company.
The third attribute he believes leaders need is passion – “because without passion, nothing happens.”

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