For the past decade in Malaysia, there have been many messages being propagated and proliferated about Branding and this one word has cause much confusion. Some say that it is marketing, others say that it is a logo design; even advertising and communications companies say they are branding.

So what is branding?

I believe that branding is all of the above and so much more.

A brand is the human embodiment of a company. One that has a soul, a creed, a personality and intrinsic values.
“At the root of the crisis are basic failings of management. Too many companies focused on short-term profits at the expense of long-term stewardship. Too many substituted cleverness for genuine innovation. And too many have treated their people as expendable instead of as their most valuable resource.” Why Drucker Now (YouTube)

Prior to the dawn of branding, the majority of businesses worldwide have operated from a purely functional aspect, not understanding the power of the emotional connection that brands can form with their employees, stakeholders and customers. They have just focused on their Visions and Missions to help them grow the company coupled with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Six Sigmas and ISOs.

What these companies don’t understand is that the very thing that makes or breaks a company is their biggest asset –  human beings with human emotions. More often than not, companies that operate purely from a functional aspect, see higher turnover of staff and in the long run, diminishing returns on their products and services.

Oscar Motomura founder and CEO of the Amana-Key Group,, an asset management training company in Sao Paulo, shares a meeting he had with the great Peter Drucker. Drucker expounded that the “the essence of a company is making a difference, being really useful and creating something the world truly needs. A creed is important because a company without a compelling reason to exist can’t hope to tap into the full potential of its employees.”

He goes on to say, “the number of people who are really motivated by money is very small, most people need to feel that they are here for a purpose, and unless an organization can connect to this need to leave something behind that makes this a better world…it won’t be successful over time. (The Essence of Company by Oscar Motomura, Harvard Business Review, Nov 2009.)

Companies that are perceived to be great brands find themselves in an enviable position with regard to recruiting new staff. They often have the best picks from the cream of the crop and a very low turnover of staff.

One such case in point is SAS, the world’s largest privately-held software business – with revenues of USD2.3 billion, it was voted Fortune magazine’s No.1 employer in 2009. How did they get to such a position?

SAS employees can dip into the Olympic-sized pool at their pleasure
Photo credit: jeremymlange.com/blog
SAS’s CEO Jim Goodnight says “My chief assets drive out the gate every day, my job is to make sure they come back.”* To do this, SAS provides healthcare centres, subsidized meals, massages, childcare centres and even free Krispy Kremes. As a result of making their employees feel valued:
·       the average tenure at SAS is 10 years, with 300 employees having worked 25 years or more
·       annual (people) turnover was 2% in 2009, compared with the 22% average in the software industry
·       women make up 45% of its U.S. workforce, which has an average age of 45.
·       in 2009 they hired 264 employees and had 100 applicants for each position.
(Read more about SAS in Fortune Magazine here)

Over in Malaysia you don’t have to look very far for exemplary employers. Digi has been consistently talked about as an employer of choice ever since they restructured their organization a few years ago. Buidling a culture based on Openess, Transparency, Flexibility and Positiveness, they have managed to consistently grow from strength to strength.

They have quite a flat hierarchy; nobody has a personal seat or a desk and everyone gets the same health benefits regardless of their position. They too have Spa days and digizen days where employees get together informally on the grounds for a meal. Not surprisingly, Digi is considered an employer of choice in Malaysia

Used carefully and wisely, your brand with its creed, values and essence is an indispensable tool in managing and growing your people, delivering great product and services – and last but not least, delivering great returns to shareholders.

Companies that understand Brands and Branding and use it to motivate, nurture and grow employees, have seen their products fly off the shelves, even if they charge a premium rate. Visionary companies understand the strong spirit of togetherness that connects the employees and know that this same zeal has the power to connect emotionally to their consumers as well. Cult Brands are those that consumers refer to as their friends, as something they can’t live without. Harley Davidson is based on companionship and the concept of belonging.

It does this so well that its consumers are willing to brand the logo on themselves!

Great brands are those who understand us (Apple and iPod) and make us feel valued. If you have ever walked into a Ritz Carlton anywhere in the world, you will immediately feel the difference. Their brand essence of Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen is deeply instilled in all their staff who carry the brand tenets around in their pocket and before the start of every work day, pick one of the tenets to embody. This is a true example of living the brand. Great brands deliver great products and even if they fail – think Apple’s PDA, the Newton– they still have a strong following.

Brands have moved from being just mere products to becoming a trusted and sometimes indispensable part of our lives. When your brands rise to the status of friend – you have acquired the means of a stable income through their loyalty thus reducing the risk of running your business. It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

If we are ever to create great international brands, we need to start by asking ourselves, why we are in business and who we are serving.

Do we have the courage to change the status quo in a way that will inspire or make the world a better place?
Do we have the will to create a brand that is all about the other rather than ourselves; to not make it about profits and yet reap the profits through honesty, inclusion and inspiration?
If you are ready to answer the tough questions and take the first step, then all you need to do is to prepare yourself for brand greatness.
For it is bound to come knocking at your door.

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