Brand it like Banyan Tree


I recently attended a conference by the PR Academy on "Markets and Brands - Positioning for the 21st Century", and was pretty inspired by some of the speakers. One of them was Ho Kwon Ping, Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and creator of one of the world's most highly respected and heavily awarded resort brand.

In his keynote speech "Branding, Marketing and Credibility in a Connected World", Kwon Ping dispelled the marketing myth that "branding is everything and everything is a brand". His chief contention is that people are paying far more attention to hype than reality. Advertising after all is largely self praise and this leads consumers to treat them with suspicion.

An example is how Apple's iPod is winning the race by sticking to aesthetic design and user friendliness. Apple's legacy is ingrained from the onset in its business strategy and not just through advertising. On the other hand, Creative Technology's advertising for its Zen MP3 players portrays a mixed up brand image, using totally unrelated symbols from panda bears to Paris Hilton!

The solution? Use icons as symbols of credibility, especially in the public sphere.

In this regard, Singapore should refrain from trying to position itself as "the hippest place in Asia". Rather, we should capitalise on our achievements like infrastructure, CPF (a pension savings programme), ERP and others. Trying too hard to come across as slick and sexy when you are not just doesn't cut ice with anybody.

The session ended with four key imperatives in brand building, which is largely modelled after Banyan Tree's own success formula:

1) Start with the End at the Beginning. Branding should be woven and integrated into one's business strategy.

2) Evoke Emotional Responses as opposed to just Nifty Product Images. In the case of Banyan Tree, their focus on providing a memorable guest experience helps connect them emotionally to their customers.

3) Holistic and Complex Integration of an Innovative Product Experience, Consistent and Excellent Delivery, and only finally, a successful Marketing and Communications Strategy. This follows the same principle as Seth Godin's Purple Cow, where remarkable products form the core of marketing.

4) Have Universal Values that both customers and staff can feel a sense of pride in. Without a sense of mission common to your key stakeholders, your brand will ring hollow.

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