BRANDING (or rebranding) seems to be the buzz word of late. The government wants to do it. The opposition wants to do it. Malaysians wants the government and the opposition to do it.
As consumers, we are all exposed to branding, but how many of us actually understand what branding is, or what it entails? Brand practitioners define the subject differently. There is, however, a general agreement that branding is a process by which a brand is developed or created. Genuine brand practitioners also subscribe to, and stand by the notion that branding is not advertising, activation, events, public relations or any other form of communications and campaigns.
What does it take to implement a successful re-branding campaign? For starters, some basic questions need to be asked: “Is there really a need for a rebrand?” and “What are the problems this rebranding is attempting to solve?”
Brand naming, together with the visual identity system (VIS), are two ingredients or components of brand identity, and the most visible manifestation of a brand. VIS is how the brand looks, with elements that complement each other, and as evidenced by most rebranding cases, it is the VIS that usually undergoes visible changes.
Of course, some can argue that there have been successful re-branding campaigns that saw major brand name changes, such as BackRub (Google) and Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike). But these now famous brands, like most of the other brands that successfully undertook a name change, did it before they became the household names they are today.
It is important to note that when these companies rebranded, the name change was not the only thing that changed, in fact, it was not even the main reason why they rebranded. They did it because the core of what they do and who they are changed, and with that came the name change.
The rule of thumb is that when you reach the brand identity stage, it is prudent to create an identity that not only best expresses what the brand stands for, but to also ensure that both the brand name and the VIS stand the test of time.
For example, the proposed re-branding of the grand old party of Malaysian politics, Umno. Its president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said Umno would undergo an organisational restructuring following the election of new office bearers. He also said it would include the party’s charter and regulations.
It does sound like a genuine re-branding. The fact that the party isn’t confining it to mere cosmetics indicates the leaders are in the process of changing the party’s positioning. If this is the case, the change must reflect the new realities of Malaysian politics.
Let’s be honest; Umno has perception and trust deficit issues. Corruption — perceived or otherwise — as well as the arrogance of some its members have overshadowed all the successful policies and contributions the party has made throughout the country’s history.
The Umno leadership must, at the heart of it all, do this exercise with the people in mind, and the leaders and party members must truly believe that there is a need for change. There are a few approaches that Umno could consider with the proposed rebranding.
One, it must have very clear strategic objectives and they must be defined and activated with “ownable” brand experiences. The leaders and members must ask themselves whether they have the will to act upon the required changes in order to meet those objectives.
In order for the exercise to be successful, the new “brand Umno” must be more than a VIS refresh, more than a campaign of political rhetoric. It must be grounded in a robust and rigorous strategy that reflects the values of Umno, society, history and its transformational philosophy.
It must be anchored on real data, facts and insights. It is not enough to base it on what they think the people need or want — they need to go down to the ground and directly engage with the people and other stakeholders.
And like any genuine rebranding exercise, the process starts with conducting research — a holistic and inclusive research, or a “brand” audit.
The rebranding should be used as a platform for decision-making, unification of the different cliques within the party, nation building and creating the right experiences for the audiences and party members.
In view of this, the exercise must gain insight into the “psycho-graphic” prevalence of the people in order to better understand them — their pains, needs, expectations, fears, and worries — and why they voted against the party.
To be attractive and gain the people’s support and trust, it must strategically build its brand equity — Umno needs to capture the people’s imagination and aspirations. Simply put, they (the leaders and members) need to prove that they are still relevant to the country and the people. A good start would be for the party to recognise its history as a dimension of future brand strength.
It is also important for the party to develop a clear and concise brand architecture to define and segment its messaging and services to the respective target audiences. This could easily be done by developing a unified and overarching Umno brand which the different wings — Pemuda, Wanita and Puteri — can leverage by streamlining and managing them.
The party must also establish an effective plan that identifies a clear way forward for communications, implementation and ongoing management of the new Umno. One of Umno’s major problems is communications.
For years, the party’s narratives have emanated from too many sources, were non-strategic, and were carried by some arrogant and antagonistic individuals who not only diluted the messages but also annoyed and confused the people in the process.
When you delegate the dissemination of the party’s information and stand to unqualified people who have no clue how communication works, and with contemptible attitudes to boot, how do you expect your target audience to get the message?
Note: This article first appeared on NST on August 24, 2018.