15/2017 – Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! (Unpublished Article)

by Tan Thiam Hock

(Not printed in Starbiz)

If there is a Facebook page for Malaysia, I would have typed ‘HBD Malaysia!’ just two days ago. Having to be in London for medical treatment sucks when you miss two important end August birthday celebrations, that of my daughter and my country. My daughter just turned 20 and must be looking to the future, full of hope and aspirations.

My country just turned 60 which in our Chinese culture is considered significant and important. The Chinese people believed that when a person reaches the age of 60, he or she has completed a full cycle of life. Based on Chinese astrology, twelve animals with five natural elements: metal, fire, water, earth and wood results in a 60 year cycle. Following the 60th birthday, the person begins a new life.

Assuming Malaysia starts a brand new cycle, a new life, what kind of Malaysia would you like to have at the end of the next 60 year cycle?

As an entrepreneur, would you like to build a company or a brand that lasts at least 60 years and beyond? As a student of marketing all my life, there is nothing more satisfying than building a brand that can last through generations. It could be a product brand, a company brand or personal branding.

If you look at all the brands that has lasted for more than 60 years, the standout feature has always been brand integrity. A brand that is honest and have strong moral principles will survive through a history of turbulence and changes. A brand that is fair and consistent inspires loyalty.

Nothing damages a brand faster than the trust deficit syndrome. All the good work on building brand loyalty will disappear when a trust deficit problem is allowed to perpetuate with no solutions in sight. If you are a good brand manager, you must be able to identify the problems and offer quick solutions to restore the integrity of the brand. Examples would be to recall defective products immediately, acknowledge problems and apologize etc

Malaysia as a brand is suffering badly from the trust deficit syndrome and I am not even talking about politicians from both divides. As a citizen consumer over the last twenty years, I have seen branding issues with the independence of the judiciary, independence of the media, constitutional rights and lately the independence of the Force.

Since independence, the Malaysian brand was built meticulously and it became famous for being a harmonious multi racial country. Poverty eradication through Felda agricultural schemes, free education, efficient and hard working civil service and a capable Parliament and Cabinet of Ministers. A safe and fair environment provided by an independent judiciary plus a loyal army and police force helped the country grow into an industrialized country within forty years.

How much brand damage has Malaysia suffered over the last twenty years? As citizens of the country, we should be the managers of the Malaysian brand and we have failed in our most basic duties of brand management. We should have taken immediate action then when the integrity of the brand was eroded by the actions of the few in power. Instead, we have allowed the problem to perpetuate and now we have a brand image that is corrupted beyond recognition, a brand without an ounce of integrity left.

To all the great brand managers, how do you resuscitate a damaged brand? Do you discard it and start a new brand instead? Or do you believe that it is easier to keep the old brand image, do a post mortem, re strategise and re build? Whichever route you choose, just remember to restore integrity back into the brand DNA. To do that, you will need to scrap the bottom of our political vessel to find the last few decent and righteous leaders. Or maybe appoint new untainted ambassadors for the brand. Inexperienced ambassadors might actually be good for the brand as they do not bring old corrupted ideas and your advertising campaign will bring fresh hope to the consumers.

Rebuilding a national brand is not an easy task. It requires loads of hard work and dedication. Restoring integrity to a national brand is even more difficult. You have to identify all the problems that has tainted the brand integrity and remove these problems once and for all. These problems could be people, actions, policies and whatnots. Sometimes, brand managers have to be ruthless and decisive when it comes to the issue of brand integrity. No compromise.

Personal branding is not just for famous people or very successful entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur and a human being, what kind of brand image have you built for yourself? Are you a person of high integrity? Trustworthy? A man of your words? Or are you known for your punctuality, smart dressing and charming disposition? Are you shrewd and pushy? Or just smart and fair?

Politicians believe they have the best brand image. They portray themselves as Guardian of the Galaxy, looking after the best interest of the people they represent whether it is their well being or religious needs. As a brand manager, I do believe that is the right brand image they should adopt. The smarter politicians who understands branding will be able to put up with this charade quite comfortably. Most politicians brand fail in the first instant, showing a glaring lack of integrity and worst of all adding stupidity to their brand image.

Nevertheless, most politicians will go down in history, their brand recognized and remembered for one goof or another. Some National leaders will be remembered for their outstanding contributions to the nation whilst some will be remembered for receiving outstanding contributions from the nation.

These irreversible deeds will be remembered for the next 60 or 600 years.

Happy Birthday Malaysia. See you in your next life.

Advertisements