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Brand building – three steps forward in tough times

Brand building – three steps forward in tough times

Blog article entry on: Jul 25, 2012

Brand building – three steps forward in tough times

Doanh Nhan (Entrepreneur) Saigon Magazine recently asked red’s Managing Director, Chris Elkin, for an opinion on brand building during tough economic times in Vietnam…To read the full article in Vietnamese, please visit Doanh Nhan Saigon Magazine here:




The following is an English translation of the article:

Brand building – three steps forward in tough times

Increasingly tough economic times present both a threat and an opportunity to businesses in Vietnam. I would like to argue that it’s precisely now that businesses have an even greater opportunity to strengthen their brands and build stronger connections with their customers to drive sales.

So, how can you build your brand to take advantage of these tough economic times?

Well, at red we believe central to successful brands in tough times is the emotional impact (the trust) people feel towards a brand.

Many brands have failed to compete in Vietnam because they fail to understand or create real trust with either their existing or potential customers.

Traditionally, local business leaders have focused on (and limited themselves) to building businesses (not brands) for short-term gain around products that offer functional attributes and features at ‘lower than the next guy’ prices.

Meanwhile, living standards of local people have increased along with their expectations of what life (and their brands) should offer them. Increasingly, on one hand, we hear customers shouting “excite me,” “uplift me,” “give me something new’ and on the other hand, in tough times, people will postpone purchases, trade down or buy less.

In this situation a brand without emotional impact is destined to compete only on a functional level – unfortunately though, the ‘must-have features’ of yesterday are today’s ‘can-can-live-withouts.’

So, why is emotional impact from brands so important to Vietnamese customers now?

Well, strong brands, like strong people, have strong personalities.

People essentially choose brands to express ‘their personalities’ – often to an extent that the brands they choose to eat, drink, wear, play and live with each day actually defines them to themselves, their friends, family and colleagues.

Trusted brands, with strong personalities, are especially valued in tougher economic times as customers seek out brands they can trust or find familiar. Trusted brands can often still launch new products successfully while customer interest in new brands and new categories fades. Conspicuous and impulse consumption basically becomes less prevalent.

To better understand and identify brands that have emotional impact, let’s look at what some of the most successful brands really mean on an emotional level to local customers…

Apple – is to think different, Honda – is all about the pleasure of freedom, Nike – gives inspiration and empowerment, Heineken – refreshes your friendships, especially business partnerships, Louis Vuitton – builds self-esteem and confidence, The Body Shop – helps you to save the world, VinaMilk – gives health to our family and our society, Nokia – connects us to loved ones we’re missing….

All these qualities are the ‘emotional benefits’ that really drive our customers decision-making process to buy a brand, especially during tough economic times. All of them are powerful because they are unique and almost impossible to copy completely.

I’d like to share an overview of a 3-step proprietary process that red brand builders use called brand building with ‘impactTM, to help create and shape brands with the all important emotional connection that can really help your business to succeed in tough times.

Step 1 – Contact

At the heart of red’s ‘‘impactTM’ process is making ‘contact’ with your target audience, competition and market place. It’s critical during tough times to re-appraise the changes that are happening out there. I would strongly advice getting out of your office with your core team, to observe, meet, question and listen to your target customers, to evaluate how your competitors are adapting and ultimately to seek out new and critical insights into the ‘drivers and barriers’ now effecting why a customer chooses your brand or not. Remember, customer attention is scarcer than ever during a recession. Yes customers are still buying but the process has changed primarily because budgets are lower and there is greater scrutiny in brand trust and every single expense.

Step 2 – React

With your newfound insights you can now ‘react’ to what you’ve learned together and build the foundations of a distinctive ‘Brand Personality”. Ask yourself tough questions. Analyse and question why your brand exists, define what your brand will really stand for and how it will build an emotional connection with your chosen target customers. Especially during tough times, if you and your team are not 100% clear and aligned on what your brand stands for and how it will differentiate itself from the competition, then your target customers have no hope of understanding. Your ‘Brand Personality’ should be defined clearly, agreed by your senior management and documented succinctly so that you are all literally on the same page before you begin to spend any money on advertising to communicate with your target customers.

Step 3 – Attract

By building a strong ‘Brand Personality’ you can now define how your brand will be expressed, consistently, to ‘attract’ your target customers using marketing ‘touch points’ that matter most to them (through the likes of your brand logo, identity, colours, imagery, messaging, advertising, pr, events, website, social media etc.) In tough times, it’s even more important that you align your whole team around the same set of key messages and promotional offers that ensure your brand stands from the clutter and appeals to your customers in new ways to form an emotional connection, clear value and reasons to use. Simplify your marketing and your messages as much as possible; customer attention and money scarcity creates an even greater desire for simplicity.

It may be tempting to cut your marketing budget during tough times, but research shows that aggressive and smart companies that stay focused, visible and keep advertising the right Brand Personality during a recession tend to come out with greater ‘share of voice’, stronger market share and revenue in the end.

In summary, following the ‘impactTM’ process makes it easier for your audience to connect with and trust your brand on a unique, emotional level, at moments that matter most to them and with a clearer understanding of the real value that your brand can offer them, their family and friends in tough times. I’m confident the smart use of your branding and marketing budget will be rewarded. Your business and brand will be in a stronger position when the better times surely return again.

The author of this article is Chris Elkin, Managing Director of red brand builders. Chris and the red team regularly contribute their industry views on “The blog to help you building your brand” that you can view at red brand builders is a branding consultancy and marketing agency with offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Melbourne, Australia. red’s world-class branding is delivered by an inventive, multi-national team using a proprietary “impactTM ‘ process to lead a brand audience from first impression to lasting action. To connect with Chris and the red team visit:

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