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What firms can do as PM Mahathir asks Malaysians to be ‘patriotic’ towards local brands

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has encouraged Malaysians to mirror the patriotic spirit of the Japanese by purchasing local products. According to Bernama, the PM said doing so can help enable Malaysian goods to become as popular as other renowned brands worldwide. He added that “practical patriotism” was also the reason that led to the Japanese being supportive of industries such as automotive, the report said.

Compared to global brands, local brands have the advantage due to the “innate understanding” they possess of local sensitivities. Jane Poh, senior general manager, group brand marketing and communications, Sunway Group told A+M in a statement that local brands can leverage these insights and communicate a clear unique selling proposition to capture the attention and loyalty of local buyers.

“We believe that consumers will be able to develop more pride and loyalty towards Malaysian brands, if they continue to deliver excellent products or innovative solutions that stand out in the global marketplace,” she said.

To constantly push its boundaries and improve, Sunway Group benchmarks its performance against other international players in awards and rankings, Poh said. Additionally, it also celebrates the Malaysian spirit by holding festivities to encourage Malaysians from all walks of live to connect with one another. This includes the #JomMalaysia carnival it recently launched in the lead up to Merdeka Day.

Sunway Group understands that getting Malaysians to be “patriotic” towards local brands is not just a one-man show. It aims to empower aspiring entrepreneurs by setting up Sunway iLabs, a non-profit incubator and accelerator launched in conjunction with Sunway University and Sunway Ventures. Sunway iLabs hopes to provide a supportive ecosystem to help the entrepreneurs achieve their goals, as well as develop a broad range of skills including marketing and network building.

Brand love is the process, patriotism is the art

Like Sunway, Malaysian co-working space Co-labs Coworking also believes in the importance of nurturing local talent. The move to nurture brand love and encourage consumers to buy more local products does not solely revolve around a memorable consumer experience and being knowledgeable about local sensitivities.

In fact, marketing manager Ann Khoo said it also extends to nurturing local talent and supporting the various services across industries that support the national economy. She likened brand love to a process and patriotism being the art, adding:

Art cannot be bought or replicated. However, brand love can be nurtured and grown over the years.

“As a homegrown Malaysian brand in the co-working space, we support the nurturing of local talent by investing in start-ups we believe in as well as creating an ecosystem which includes mentorship programs,” Khoo said.

Additionally, another way to encourage Malaysians to be more “patriotic” towards local brands is by creating promotions and programmes associating themselves with Merdeka or anything Malaysian, Annabelle Co-Martinent, founder and managing director of juice bar La Juiceria said. Also, the usual tactic of going beyond customers’ expectations also helps, she added.

Appeal to patriotism only effective if part of overall strategy

An appeal to patriotic feelings is good, but only as part of an overall strategy that actively supports local brands and entrepreneurs, invests in focused growth sectors and innovation and builds the awareness and reputation of Malaysian brands home and abroad.

“Appealing to Malaysians’ patriotic spirit to buy local is evidently a key plank of the new administration’s economic development plan,” Graham Hitchmough, Bonsey Design’s regional chief operations officer told A+M.

However, he said the suggestion that sustained local patronage will eventually propel Malaysian brands onto the world stage is “not wholly convincing”. This is because Malaysians, like other consumers, want products that balance value with quality. Hitchmough said:

Local provenance can be a powerful added incentive, but it cannot replace this fundamental need.

He added that more focused, tangible support for local brands and brand owners will be required if buying Malaysian is to become a long term habit.

Nonetheless, the Malaysian government attempted to encourage citizens to prioritise Malaysian goods in 1997, with the introduction of the “Buatan Malaysia” (Made in Malaysia) logo. Back then, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs also carried out the “Buy Malaysian Goods Campaign” to enhance Malaysian interest in consuming local products.

Although the logo has been around for over a decade, Hitchmough said more can be done to build the logo into a “desirable signpost” of origin and quality.

Meanwhile, Nick Foley, president, SE Asia Pacific and Japan at Landor said while the move by PM Mahathir is commendable, the challenge for Malaysia is that it has a radically different culture to the Japanese.  Furthermore, Japan does not have the very pronounced split in ethnicity unlike Malaysia.

“It is well known that a large percentage of Malaysians align with specific brands based on their ethnicity. All of this makes the ‘unity’ call more complex,” Foley said. Regardless of where a brand comes from, consumers typically want the same things. Foley said brands need to be credible, have bespoke points of difference and, most of all, they need to be relevant to their target audience. He added:

Be relevant, be different and provide an appropriate level of value for money.

Preparing for the global arena

With the rapid advancement of digital technologies and easier access to funds and assistance from venture capitalists, incubators and accelerators, it is indeed becoming easier and faster for Malaysian brands to break into the global market.

Government bodies including the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation and Malaysian Investment Development Authority also currently provide support for brands to market themselves in the global arena. Among the list of brands is plantation management company Forestry Assets and Forestry Oudh, which received assistance from the government bodies in connecting with stakeholders in several countries such as Thailand, Morocco and India, said CEO Ariza Norhalim.

The first step towards setting Malaysian brands up for success on the world stage, Foley said, is by digging deep and defining what it is about Malaysia that can be infused into the DNA of Malaysian brands – regardless of the category.

Meanwhile, Sunway’s Poh advised marketers to remember the fundamentals when expanding into new markets – have a great product or service; work to continuously improve; harness technology to understand the consumer behaviour; and communicate in the right manner through the appropriate channels.

Adding on to the conversation, La Juiceria’s Co-Martinent said brands should work on their social media and online presence. She added:

Create a good brand name, logo and design which can attract international eyeballs.

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