Time for Taiwan's brands to take the lead
- Joseph Judd
- Brand Strategist
Brand is catching on, for some
Faced with growing competition from China, South East Asia and other burgeoning manufacturing hubs, many Taiwanese corporations – traditionally from a contract manufacturing background – are looking toward a future of building, managing and marketing their own brands.
Start-ups and other established brands in Taiwan are also turning to branding in efforts to grow, diversify, and find their place in the global market. Brand strategy, widely recognized in the West as an essential component of business strategy, is beginning to catch on in Taiwan. And with a proven track record of manufacturing, R&D and industrial design know-how, Taiwanese companies, and their products and technology, have much to offer the world.
But while some Taiwanese businesses are beginning to discover the value and importance of branding, scores of others still aren’t. Some businesses mistakenly believe that simply designing a logo and relying on sales teams to push products in overseas markets will be enough to become a leading global brand. Yet many haven't made the necessary adjustments and investments required to build and market their brands.
Taiwanese businesses find themselves at a crossroads. They have the know-how and capabilities to create innovative, high-tech products. But they lack the focus, direction and market insights to identify and exploit strategic opportunities that can put them ahead of the competition. In a market environment driven by continuous change in consumers, competition and technology, Taiwanese businesses need to identify how they fit into this picture, and how their brands should be positioned in order to maximize future business growth.
To identify and take advantage of strategic business opportunities, Taiwan businesses must develop brand strategies that are unique, compelling, and relevant to today’s more crowded and competitive marketplace. Through investment in brand strategy development, companies will be in a better position to identify and leverage their own unique competitive advantages, and have a clearer guide for how to communicate those advantages to consumers.
What are the key steps and considerations involved in defining and implementing brand strategy? And where should Taiwanese businesses begin?
Uncovering and defining value
Brand strategy is essentially about defining what a company wants to stand for, where it wants to go, and why. Brand strategy must also take into account a company’s business strategy, corporate culture, what is going on in the market today, and where the market is likely to be heading in the future.
To this end, brand strategy definition begins by digging deep into a company’s DNA, and stripping back the layers of its history to reveal its core purpose – that is, its reason for existing. Defining a core purpose provides companies with direction by getting to the heart of what truly motivates and inspires them, beyond just making profits.
Companies defining brand strategy should also articulate a vision for where, ideally, they see themselves in the future. What kind of role do they want to be playing in the market in the future? What are the key actions they will take to get to that position?
From here, having identified what truly motivates the company, and articulated a vision for its future, the brand’s value proposition – or ‘core idea’ – can be uncovered. A value proposition can be defined as the central reason why a consumer should choose the brand over a competitor’s. So in developing a value proposition a key question to ask is: what truly makes this brand more special or worthy than those of competitors? As the central theme that drives employees internally and gives direction to marketing and business development efforts externally, the core idea must be authentic to the company’s background, capabilities and aspirations.
In addition to a core idea, leading brands often champion two or three supporting ‘associations’ that convey other emotional or practical benefits of the brand. When someone buys a luxury brand like Rolex, for example, they get the practical benefit of a well-made watch. But they also get the emotional benefits of status and prestige: being associated with a group of people perceived as having a certain degree of class or success. It just so happens that this higher socio-economic group also tend to enjoy similar leisure activities – such as golf, sailing and tennis – which is why, as a major sponsor, Rolex associates itself with these sports.
Creating a brand-led organization
Defining a strategy for the brand built on a set of core ideas and beliefs is a crucial first step. But building a brand-led organization – where employees across the business understand and adopt the brand’s key ideas and aspirations – is equally as crucial. To become ‘led’ by brand, Taiwanese companies should consider whether their current corporate culture is one that encourages the creation and development of new ideas in line with the brand. If such an environment doesn’t exist, a new culture that does support the brand should to be explored, defined and embedded into the organization.
With a brand-led culture that encourages and generates new ideas, more focused opportunities for innovation can be developed, not only in areas of technology and product development, but across all areas of the business, from manufacturing, operations and logistics processes, to channel strategy, marketing and finance. In creating brand-led organizations, Taiwan’s CEOs and leaders have an opportunity to change the dynamic of their corporate culture – and their business – for the better.
From definition to execution
Following definition of the brand's strategy, and a culture that supports it, the next step is to create a unique visual identity and communications system so that the strategy can come alive in the marketplace.
Brand strategy implementation has traditionally been about making sure the visual identity, communications system and overall brand experience remain consistent across all points where the brand touches consumers. These ‘touch points’ include things like a website, marketing materials, products, packaging, points of sale and business cards. The premise behind touch points is that the brand’s visual identity remains the same no matter in which country or in which format it is viewed, delivering a more consistent, distinctive and holistic brand experience.
Creative design and communications are a must for any brand, as is a compelling strategy to guide such efforts. But in today’s marketplace these are no longer enough. Modern-day business practices and consumer behavior are evolving, and as a result, so are the requirements of brand strategy.
Today’s global market is faster, more competitive and more uncertain than it was before. Entire industries are being challenged, disrupted and even reinvented: think of the impact of Airbnb and Uber on the travel and transport industries, for example, or how Zara and the emergence of ‘fast fashion’ challenged perceptions of what it means to be a high fashion label. With an increasing diversity of brands to choose from – coupled with easier access to products, information and reviews through online and social media – consumer perceptions of brands, and expectations around the sort of values, experiences and convenience they should deliver, are changing.
In essence, to compete in today’s market, brands must always find new ways to remain relevant, up to date with changing social, cultural and technological trends, and adaptable to the ever-changing desires, emotions and expectations of today’s consumers. Successful brand strategies must therefore have the foresight and flexibility to anticipate changing trends, and envisage the kinds of activities and experiences that will engage and surprise consumers.
Brands today must be driven by actions, not just words and design. Whether it’s Lulu Lemon’s communities-based brand ambassador programme, Delta Airlines offering Starbucks Coffee as part of its on board service, or Xiaomi reinventing the smart phone business model in China, brands today have to be more creative and original in their actions, constantly stretching themselves and adding value to stay ahead.
Today’s leading brands set rather than follow the trends, addressing the unmet needs of the marketplace. As Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, said of his company: “Our job is to wake up the consumers. If we become predictable, that’s not waking them up.” Apple’s late founder, Steve Jobs, shared a similar sentiment: “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”
Today, one of the challenges for Taiwanese brands, and indeed brands across the world, is finding the balance between remaining authentic on the one hand, and finding creative new ways to remain relevant and engage consumers on the other.
For brands, remaining authentic means staying true to who they are, standing for something, a promise to consumers, and never failing to keep that promise. Brands that pretend to be something they are not – perhaps in an attempt to pair with a competitor, or by overextending to capture a wider consumer-base – run the risk of tarnishing their reputation, caught out by consumers who see through their false pretenses.
In a market environment driven by continuous change, it’s easy for brands to lose focus and become lost in a mix of competing messages to different audiences. For consumers, who are overwhelmed with thousands of products and marketing messages every day, brands that try to appeal to too many different audiences quickly lose their meaning, value and distinctiveness.
Having a clearly defined brand strategy gives companies a foundation of authenticity, and provides a guide from which creative new ideas can be developed without the brand losing its core focus or legitimacy in the eyes of consumers.
Cause for optimism
There is reason to be optimistic about Taiwan’s future as a hub for building globally competitive brands. With its close proximity to China, the world’s fastest growing economy, Taiwan already has the networks, language and cultural understanding to engage with a growing number of sophisticated Chinese consumers. There is a significant opportunity, in China and further abroad, to build confidence in Taiwan’s brands.
With a history of manufacturing high quality products and components for some of the world’s leading companies, Taiwan's recognized for its know-how in IT, manufacturing and industrial design. Indeed, due to its advantages in R&D and IT infrastructure, Taiwan was ranked by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the 14th most competitive country in the world, ahead of countries like South Korea, China, Australia and France. Taiwan was also noted for its marked improvement in ‘business and innovation sophistication’ – one of the main ranking categories for the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report.
The next step for the Taiwan’s economic future is building organizations that have the vision, capabilities and confidence to build brands that stand out in the global market. The path to that future begins with brand strategy.