Minor Group’s Heinecke on building a brand’s value

Last year saw William Heinecke make his debut on the list of the world’s billionaires, as his hotel and food company Minor International saw a surge in value. As of June 2014, according to Forbes, he was worth US1.1 billion.

Heinecke, 65 this year, founded Minor Group close to five decades ago while yet in his teens (hence the name minor, as Heinecke was one when the company was founded). The company is now a sprawling empire of three main business focuses: food, hospitality and lifestyle product distribution. 55% of the revenue comes from Thailand, and the rest from international operations. Altogether it has a presence in 18 countries in Asia, Middle East and Africa. Brands it operates include the Four Seasons, Marriott, the Anantara in Thailand. Internationally, it runs  brands as Swensens, Sizzler, Dairy Queen, The Coffee Club and Burger King.

The company is also a small shareholder of Singapore-born BreadTalk, which owns brands such as ToastBox and Kopitiam in Singapore. It also earlier acquired Thai Express in 2008, which owns brands such as Shokudo, Hong Kong Café and more.

Heinecke tells Marketing his take on brand-building.

According to Heinecke, great brands have longevity. “Our most brands, are our intellectual property and the most important asset that does not appear on the balance sheet. In order to keep that asset and let it keep increasing in value, we have to focus on marketing.” Minor Group collectively spends approximately 6% of total revenue on advertising, marketing and public relations.

To Heinecke, it's all about beating out the competition. "In food you compete for share of stomach. In the hotel business, you compete for the rooms. The consumer can only stay at one room at a time."

"So for food businesses, it is very much our advertising and print media that drives those brands. In the case of our hotels, we spend very little on advertising but spend huge amounts on social media and public relations – wanting to be chosen as one of the best in our field – generating positive feedback," he said, citing how PR and social media has taken a central focus in marketing.

As for brand building, for Minor Group, there have been two options – acquiring an existing brand, or starting an original one. The former has largely been its strategy, while the latter is something Heinecke is setting his sights on again, going ahead, without revealing further about the brands.

He talks about how he selects brands for acquisition.

Firstly, it has to have tremendous acceptance. “In the restaurant field, you want to make sure you are leading in your category – when you buy a category leader, you know you have gotten the right acquisition. They have got to have scale, it’s a numbers game.”

“We are always on the lookout for brands that we feel have reached beyond their current markets,” he added, talking about how the company acquired Thai Express in Singapore and brought it back to Thailand and then expanded it to the Maldives.

The next key thing he looks for is the people driving the brands.

“As CEO, my main focus is the brand. Secondly, it's people. People build brands, brands do not build people."

"Just because you have an outstanding brand it does not guarantee success. We’ve all seen major brands fail in major markets.” He cites people like Dellan Soh (one of the founders of Thai Express), for driving many of Minor’s brands, such as Shokudo and Hong Kong Café, or George Quek (BreadTalk group’s founder) for success in brand building.

Beyond that the right staffing for the marketing department is key. Heinecke describes the role of a good marketer as being a highly disruptive.  "They have to keep up with digital trends, all kinds of new technology that is affecting our business – it even affects our business from a traditional media perspective."