Branding and the New Asia:
An Interview with Brand Strategist Martin Roll
Roll is founder and CEO of VentureRepublic,
a leading strategic advisory firm on Branding Excellence. Roll
is the author of the ground-breaking bestseller
Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands
is a frequent guest lecturer at INSEAD and visiting professor
in Strategic Brand Management at the China European International
Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai.
A leading thought-leader on branding driven by tremendous experience
and insights, Martin Roll facilitates business leaders and organizations
to think bold for future strategies. By focusing on building iconic
brands, Martin Roll helps boardrooms to enhance shareholder value
and create sustainable competitive advantage.
Martin Roll delivers the combined value of an experienced international
branding strategist and a senior advisor to corporate boards and
top-management teams of Fortune 500 companies. He brings more
than 15 years of management experience from the international
advertising and branding industry, and is a renowned keynote speaker
at global conferences.
Martin Roll holds an MBA from INSEAD in France, a bachelor's degree
from The Copenhagen Business School and a diploma from The International
Advertising Association (IAA). He is a Danish Citizen and Singapore
Let's start at the beginning. What made you write this book?
Roll: Asia is still one of the world's biggest providers of
At the same time, Asian manufacturers mostly produce for other
companies and the majority of these products are therefore non-branded.
In other words, volume products without personalities, values
and distinct faces.
The largest part of the financial value is still captured by the
manufacturers' customers primarily driven by strong marketing
and branding programs. What is the evidence for this?
There are only a few global brands originating from Asian companies
(disregarding Japan and Korea) compared to brands galore within
almost all industries originating from Western companies. Asia
represents only a fraction of all the strong brands in the world,
and today there's still a huge imbalance between East and West
in terms of branding. The time has come to change this somewhat
historic and outdated trend. That's what my book is about. New
Asia has finally emerged. How will it compete?
branding becomes the principal business value-driver going forward?
Roll: Traditionally, new senior executives among the Asian
companies are recruited from within the ranks of the organizations
and they tend to come primarily from technology and/or financial
related career backgrounds and departments. Much fewer are the
talents coming along with in-depth and high-level marketing and
branding backgrounds compared to Western companies. Therefore,
many companies tend to lack experienced top-leaders who have spent
their entire executive careers in marketing and branding, hence
bringing with them the important capabilities and international
experience in the branding field.
Therefore, reconsider the management teams in New Asia and take
on more highly skilled people with outstanding capabilities and
global experience in branding strategy and execution, and also
talent with preferences for rapid change, new knowledge and best
practices. All these factors are no longer a luxury but a necessity
to win in the global branding battle.
In the next five years, we will see a rapid changing landscape
in Asia where the opportunities for Asian companies to benefit
from international corporate and product branding efforts will
be larger than ever before. The growing emphasis on international
branding will move up the boardroom agenda, and I strongly believe
that branding will become one of the most prominent drivers of
value in Asia Pacific in the next two decades. Our experience
with several clients in the region along with our close ties with
top-management teams across industries have shown that branding
is moving up the boardroom agenda.
How does this happen? How do companies make branding a core-competence?
Roll: It needs to be no less than the CEO who embodies the
branding efforts and serves as the company's and thereby the brand's
primary advocate and nurturer. The approach is particularly well
suited to companies whose top executives have a passion and talent
for brand strategy, but in tomorrow's tough environment all top-executives
must be able to represent and lead the brand.
companies like Sony, Virgin, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nokia, Giorgio
Armani, Singapore Airlines, LVMH, L'Oreal and Nestle all meet
that description. Their top executives are directly involved in
leading the branding vision, strategy and implementation, and
spend a significant amount of their work hours driving their brands
forward to achieve even better results.
modern business leader needs to be a complete player who covers
a broad range of managerial capabilities and experiences, and
who has the vision to constantly monitor and improve. Being a
marketing wizard is no longer enough. One also has to be an excellent
business leader and a passionate brand marketer with a truly international
your book you describe "the brand boardroom model."
Can you explain that?
Roll: The "brand boardroom model" shows us how all
the different line functions of an organization not only contribute
to branding, but also benefit from it. For example, the finance
department reports better margins due to strong brand recognition
and brand equity, and the HR department gets better talent applying
because they want to work for a well known brand.
about Samsung. How many job ads have you seen lately? Samsung
is, for example, the top choice for all Korean graduate students.
So brand strategies must be led by the boardroom to ensure that
the whole company, with its multiple line functions, works in
tandem toward a stronger brand.
can gain real advantages by creating a brand board chaired by
the CEO and led by the CMO. This creates the missing link between
the boardroom and the marketing function. Key people from all
relevant departments should be represented on the brand board.
building brand equity becomes a shared responsibility?
Roll: Led by the CEO. The brand board must set clear and quantifiable
objectives for the brand portfolio - and stick to them. Brand
building is a long, drawn out process. So companies must take
a long-term view and not get discouraged by unrealistic expectations.
The primary objective of boardrooms is to build and sustain shareholder
value, and deliver competitive returns to shareholders. The modern
brand-driven organization is characterized by three distinct characteristics,
which sets it apart from competition: The right mindset and beliefs
about branding, the right skill sets to build and manage brands,
and the allocation of the right organizational and financial resources
to achieve the results.
about employees? How should they participate?
Roll: There are three guidelines we can use as checkpoints.
1. Does the entire organization understand the brand strategy?
The brand values?
2. Has everyone been given training and guidelines on how to support
and live the brand?
3. Is everyone given feedback on how their behaviors and attitudes
fit the brand strategy?
internal branding is just as critical...
Roll: Yes, most definitely. Let's look at Shangri-La Hotels
and Resorts' "Shangri-La Care" as it's called. It's
a great example of how a leading Asian hospitality brand practices
branding within the organization by aligning its staff and management
with the overall brand strategy.
The training program is divided into three modules called Shangri-La
Care, Delighting Customers, and Recover to Gain Loyalty. The aim
is to train staff on how to live the corporate values. A separate
budget has been allocated for the training, and management ensures
that the training programs are being conducted. With every staff
member acting as a brand ambassador, it has been able to deliver
its brand promises consistently.
And how should companies' measure brand performance?
Roll: There are several stakeholders concerned with brand
equity, such as the firm, the customer, the distribution channels,
media and other stakeholders, like the financial markets and analysts,
depending on the type of company ownership. Ultimately it is the
customer who is the most critical component in defining brand
equity, as it is his/her choices that determine the success or
failure of the company and the brand.
knowledge about the brand, the perceived differences and its effects
on purchase behavior and decisions lie at the heart of brand equity.
The knowledge and associations attached to the brand result in
choices that have a direct impact on the brand's financial performance
and shareholder value.
equity is the combined measure of brand strength and consists
of three sets of metrics: knowledge, preference and financial,
as I explain in Asian Brand Strategy. Each of the measures
under these three metrics is critical and the boardroom must ensure
that the brand portfolio scores high in each of these parameters
to optimize the financial outcome from strong brands.
Knowledge metrics measures a brand's awareness and associations
through the many stages of recognition, aided, unaided and top
of mind recall. Similarly the functional and emotional associations
of a brand are important drivers of brand equity. It is crucial
for brands to score high on both awareness and association attributes
to establish and sustain their presence in the market place.
Preference metrics measure a brand's competitive position
in the market and how it benchmarks to competing brands. Customers
pass through various levels of preference towards the brand which
ranges from mere awareness and familiarity to strong loyalty and
recurrent revenues from the customer base. A strong brand has
the brand equity to move its customers through the preference
funnel towards loyalty.
Financial metrics measure a brand's monetary value through
the various parameters of market share, price premium a brand
commands, the revenue generation capabilities of a brand, the
transaction value, the lifetime value of a brand and the rate
at which brands sustains growth. These measures facilitate a company
to estimate an accurate financial value of brand equity.
A comprehensive evaluation of brand equity involves measuring
all the above three metrics as it ensures that the brand and its
strength is valued in totality.
What are the criteria to be an Asian branding champion?
To create Asian iconic brands, Asian business leaders will have
to become trend-setters and capture the spirit of their brands,
yet they also need to lead the way by creating the spirit. Therefore,
they cannot any longer copy what Western brands have created -
they are forced to move up the R&D value chain and develop
and own Intellectual Property and trademarks.
The competitive advantages of Asian brands are first of all their
manufacturing power and experiences in running low-cost production
with great quality. On top of this, Asian businesses are good
in service - take the example of Singapore Airlines and
Banyan Tree Resorts & Hotels. But to become truly competitive,
they need to build iconic brands like Apple iPod, which
might still take them some time. A strong brand needs to have
irresistible emotional connections with its consumer base.
The paradigm shift can be achieved only if everybody in the company
is convinced by the power of branding and if all strategies and
actions are aligned to the brand. This must be led by the CEO
and boardroom - a paradigm that is increasingly taking place across
can you tell us a little about your 10 steps to building an Asian
brand as you outline in the book?
Roll: My consulting firm, VentureRepublic, has identified
10 crucial steps on the way to a successful corporate branding
strategy, and they can serve as a useful guide for any corporate
1. The CEO needs to lead the brand strategy work
The starting point for corporate branding must be the board room,
which is also serving as the most important check-point during
the project. The CEO must be personally involved in the brand
strategy work, and he/she must be passionate and fully buy into
the idea of branding. To ensure success despite the daily and
stressful routine with many duties at the same time, the CEO must
be backed by a strong brand management team of senior contributors,
who can facilitate a continuous development and integration of
the new strategy.
2. Build your own model, as not every model suits all
All companies have their own specific requirements, own sets of
business values and a unique way of doing things. Therefore, even
the best and most comprehensive branding models have to be tailored
to these needs and requirements. Often, only a few but important
adjustments are needed to align them with other similar business
models and strategies in the company to create a simplified toolbox.
Remember that branding is the face of a business strategy, so
these two areas must go hand in hand.
3. Involve your stakeholders including the customers
Who knows more about your company than the customers, the employees
and many other stakeholders? This is common sense, but many companies
forget these simple and easily accessible sources of valuable
information for the branding strategy. A simple rule is to use
5% of the marketing budget on research and at least obtain a fair
picture of the current business landscape, including the current
brand image among stakeholders, brand positioning and also any
critical paths ahead. Simply do not forget the valuable voice
of your customers in this process.
4. Advance the corporate vision
The corporate branding strategy is an excellent channel for advancing
the corporate vision throughout the company. It allows the management
to involve, educate and align everyone around the corporate objectives,
values and future pathway. It provides a guiding star and leads
everyone in the same direction. The internal efforts are at least
50% of making a corporate branding strategy successful.
5. Exploit new technology
Modern technology should play a part of a successful corporate
branding strategy. Technology helps to gain effectiveness and
improve the competitive edge of the corporation. A well-designed
and fully updated Intranet is a must in today's working environment
which has become increasingly virtual with employees working from
home, from other locations and traveling across the globe, to
name only a few factors. An Extranet can facilitate a much more
seamless integration with strategic partners, suppliers and customers;
avoid time-consuming paperwork and manual handling of many issues.
A company website is not only a must, but rather a crucial channel
for any modern corporation, regardless of size. If the corporation
is not accessible on the Internet, it does not exist! The more
professional the website, the better the perception among the
Internet savvy modern customer. Gone are the days where corporations
could get along with a business card portrayed on the Internet.
6. Empower people to become brand ambassadors
The most important asset in a corporation is its people. They
do interact every day with colleagues, customers, suppliers, competitors
and industry experts, to name a few. But they also interact with
an impressive number of people totally disconnected to the corporation
in form of family members, friends, former colleagues and many
others. Hence they serve as the corporations most important brand
ambassadors, as the word-of-mouth can be extremely valuable and
have great impact on the overall image of the corporate brand
image. The most effective way to turn employees into brand ambassadors
is to train everyone adequately in the corporate brand strategy
(vision, values and personality, etc.) and to make sure they fully
understand - and believe! - what exactly the corporation aims
at being in the minds of its customers and stakeholders. Nike
is a brand which is known for their efforts in educating and empowering
everyone employed by the company to be strong brand ambassadors.
7. Create the right delivery system
The corporate brand is the face of the business strategy, and
basically it promises what all stakeholders should expect from
the corporation. Therefore, the delivery of the right products
and services with all the implications this entail should be carefully
scrutinized and evaluated on performance before any corporation
starts a corporate branding project. Think of the cradle-to-grave
concept of a lifelong customer and the value he/she will provide
in such a time span. Make sure he/she is handled with outstanding
care according to internal specifications and outside expectations.
The moment of truth is when the corporate brand promise is delivered
well - and it does not hurt if the corporation exceeds the customer
expectation. Singapore Airlines runs a very rigid, detailed and
in-depth description of any customer touch points with the corporation,
and several resources are spent on making sure it actually does
happen every time to every customer. All employees, regardless
of title and rank, from Singapore Airlines spend a not insignificant
amount of workdays being trained every year.
Bring the corporate brand to life through a range of well-planned,
well-executed marketing activities, and make sure the overall
messages are consistent, clear and relevant to the target audiences.
Make sure the various messages are concise and easy to comprehend.
Do not try to communicate every single point from the corporate
branding strategy. Instead, a selective approach will make much
more impact using the same resources.
9. Measure the brand performance
A brand is accountable and so should a corporate brand be. How
much value does it provide to the corporation and how instrumental
is the brand in securing competitiveness? These are some of the
questions that need to be answered and which the CEO will automatically
seek as part of his/her commitment to run the strategy successfully.
The brand equity consists of various individually tailor-made
key performance indicators (including the financial brand value)
and needs to be tracked regularly. A brand score card can help
facilitate an overview of the brand equity and the progression
as the strategy is implemented.
10. Adjust relentlessly and be ready to raise your own bar
all the times
The business landscape is changing almost every day in every industry.
Hence the corporation needs to evaluate and possibly adjust the
corporate branding strategy on a regular basis. Obviously, a corporate
brand should stay relevant, differentiated and consistent throughout
time, so it is a crucial balance. The basic parts of the corporate
branding strategy like vision, identity, personality and values
are not to be changed often as they are the basic components.
The changes are rather small and involve the thousands of daily
actions and interpersonal behaviors, which the corporations employ
as part of the brand marketing efforts. But make sure complacency
does not take root in the organization and affect the goal setting.
The strong brands are the ones which are driven forward by owners
who never get tired of raising their own bars. They become their
own change agents - and brand champions for great brands.
so much. All of this and much more of course, is in the book Asian
Brand Strategy : How Asia Builds Strong Brands
(Palgrave Macmillan 2006). A must read for both East and
Sarkar is the managing editor of the ZIBS.com site.
He is the founder and CEO of Double Loop Marketing LLC,
an online company specializing in demand generation and thought-leadership-based