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Building Winning Emerging Economy ‘Underdogs’ through Brand.

Building globally competitive emerging market brands is a challenging but rewarding experience. To do this one needs to embrace that on the global stage, the organisation whose brand we’re building is often a smaller business, with fewer resources when compared to its global counterparts and a general notion that within the developed world it won’t fair as well as its western counterparts. Yet that has never deterred emerging market entrepreneurs to test the waters. Thanks to the internet, what was once con­sidered far is now as near as a click away. In addition, the odds of failure have been reduced by the fact that some of these brands have migrated to markets where our entrepreneurs want to establish them­selves. The nostalgic connection is, thus, leveraged to establish a baseline market within these markets and it is hoped that through word-of-mouth referrals, others are encouraged to also try the emerging mar­ket brand’s products or services out. To win  within the global arena, it is suggested that emerging market economy brands are led by authenticity. This authenticity should leverage all facets that contribute to uniqueness and standing out. These facets are por­trayed in the graphic below:

Reference Cultural Markers

A brand consists not just of two or three elements, but nine; namely 1) vision, 2) mission, 3) core values, 4) target audiences and insights, 5) promises, 6) per­sonality, 7) total offering, 8) name and 9) positioning. The above nine elements give the brand its essence. For an emerging market brand, for this essence to be stronger cultural nuances need to be embraced and become a reference for building authenticity. The Ox­ford dictionary defines culture as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. Most emerging market businesses are borne through an appreciation of context. For example, the fintech industry and associated businesses are thriving within Africa because of last mile challenges which required innovation to overcome this challenge. Most of these businesses were formed out of necessity, with a bet­ter and more secure way being needed to send and receive money between people living in rural and ur­ban areas. In addition, the solution needed to cater to those informally employed who did not have payslips and proofs of address to send their money through traditional money transfer organisations such as the Western Union and MoneyGram. Customers were also getting tired of sending money to their families infor­mally through bus drivers and other transporters be­cause sometimes the money sent wouldn’t get there or would get there but with a few dollars shaved off the actual amount.

Shifting the customs and social behaviours are what most winning emerging economy brands doing to endear themselves to customers. By going beyond the understanding of trends to dig deeper and fully understand cultural markers, successful brands are be­coming integral parts of the community; actively par­ticipating in these communities in cultural evolutions. As an example, language and the way to transact has transformed significantly since the introduction of mobile payment solutions. Convenience and efficiency are top-of-mind responses for customers’ increasing usage of solutions such as Mpesa, Ecocash, Mukuru and many more that continue to mushroom across the continent. Embracing culture, therefore, enables you to establish a level of distinction in the way that you do things and engage with your stakeholders. Refer­encing cultural markers also enables businesses to be more empathetic. Brands that win are now competing at an emotional level, with the unique selling point being how they contribute to improving your quality of life4. A brand cannot be successful without a full understanding of what they do from a meaningful impact standpoint when looking at it from the cus­tomer’s eyes. Cultural markers and tensions should, thus, be leveraged to build truly authentic emerging market brands.

Prioritise Home Market Needs

Literature states that “when a brand resonates with purpose, all the vibes it puts out into the world sync together into a singular tone.” Based on this, it is sug­gested that for emerging market brands to win within the global market, a brand’s purpose should be formed around addressing home market needs and wants first. As mentioned in the introduction, we now exist in a world where the distance between supplier and end-user has become shorter due to the power of the internet. Thanks to entities such as Amazon prod­ucts can now be shipped across continents to get to you within a week or less. It is now no longer that hard to address that craving.

But returning to the need to prioritise home mar­ket needs; building a cult following is all about nur­turing your business around a common core group of customers. These customers are an extension of your business, engaging them on a continuous basis to fig­ure out how best to serve them from a product, service and augmented product standpoint. The more you lis­ten to their needs and wants, the better you are at giv­ing them experiences they desire. These experiences render them loyal to your business. This suggests that even if they were to migrate, they’d still be looking out for your product were it to find its way to coun­tries they migrated to. We live in a very fluid world where people now have global addresses – living here, there and everywhere for given periods of time. Although we travel a lot and enjoy new experiences, there comes a time when nostalgia hits us and we miss home. To remind us of where we came from, we look for a product that for a moment connects us to the world we left. This could include visiting a franchised restaurant such as a Nando’s (South African origin) in the United Kingdom, for example. Considering the aforementioned, this suggests a significant portion of patrons and / or referred patrons to restaurants such as Nando’s and Ocean Basket (South African origin) are from Southern Africa. Building their brand with the home market in mind has, thus, benefited these brands when they enter the global arena.

In addition, through building the brand around your home market; your brand is relatable and engag­ing; attributes that again contribute to your authentic­ity. These facets enable the brand to endear itself more to its core audience through empowered storytell­ing. Through building a bond that is centred around patriotic ties, brands are able to pull on these heart­strings from time-to-time to keep the core excited about the brand even though they’re far from home so much that they want to experience your brand on a regular basis3. Patriotic ties are often built around respect, care, common purpose and pursuing excel­lence; aspects that can be incorporated into storytell­ing that encourages customers to continue to want to engage with your product even though they are far from home. As an example, a recently listened to ra­dio interview revealed that a South African musician’s shows in the United States of America are patronised more by fellow South African as opposed to American citizens. This suggests that for your brand to win think local first and leverage the strong bond with your local market to transition into a global entity.

A Home Derived Name

Prior literature asserts that “strong brands deliver a cognitive cost saving with associations to that brand creating a perceived added value for the brand in the minds of consumers. ” This suggests that a short-term win for emerging economy brands is to align this value to a powerful name and associate the meaning of the name to perceived customer value. For instance, Sam­sung could be associated with leading technology and when a customer within the global market is purchas­ing their products, they associate the brand name to technological excellence and pushing frontiers. Your name should, thus, be homegrown to intrigue those who haven’t engaged with your business before within the global market but reinforce your patriotic ties with your primary set of customers – your fellow countrymen. A name is not a good name without an empowering association from a value to client stand­point. Businesses like Huawei, Mitsubishi, Tata are associated to strong functional value adds and when their stories are told it is easy to convince its core cus­tomers to repurchase their products and intrigue out­siders to test their products based on what the name embodies from a value-to-you/me perspective. The same can be said for brands such as Etihad, Emirates and Etisalat with the functional value add being pro­jected to build global market trust and buy-in.

For emerging economy brands competing on a global stage, another important point to remember is that its employees are its critical global ambassadors. Their existence in another market on the business be­half should be milked to respective organisation’s full benefit. Remembering that emerging market busi­ness’ success is housed in culture; having a culturally appropriate name is a good starting point. This posits that there is pride for one’s language to be spoken in another country through, for example, a brand name. Names like Sony, Hitachi, Sansui, Toyota, Mazda and many more have become a notable part of our global colloquy. Confidence placed in a local name to com­pete globally is to me, a potential marker for success. The business becomes a cultural export, with its name representing more than the functional value but a sense of pride for its home country (where the name has more meaning) and a confident contender on the global stage.

Pedro’s premium Ogogoro Palm Spirit derived from a popular Nigerian fermented Palm wine drink

‘Glocalise’ the Experience

Loosely defined, “brand experience is a type of experi­ential marketing that incorporates a holistic set of con­ditions created by a company to influence the feeling a customer has about a particular product or company name.” Aspects that contribute to a brand experience are not limited to but include content, advertising, cor­porate citizenship, customer engagement, employee engagement, social media, promotions, in-store expe­riences, verbal and audio expression, visual expression and to a certain extent product placement and cam­paigns. Taking these aspects into mind and to define a unique and differentiated experience, emerging economy should think local first. Build the experience from a local customer satisfaction standpoint first. This should define best practice.

An example is Equity Bank based in Kenya which covered one of its rural branch’s bank hall’s floor with wood shavings to render it more accessible for its farming customers. The branch’s bank manager had realised that some of its customers were turning back at the door due to the overall cleanliness of the bank hall with the customers opting to visit the bank at a later stage after “cleaning up” (after coming from the farmer’s market where they would have got­ten dirty because of their trading responsibilities for their produce). Identifying with the community’s re­ality, the branch manager visited a local sawmill and asked for wood shavings which he sprawled on to his banking hall floor. Now the bank hall was also “dirty”, and the farmers could come in and do their banking messy boots and all without the discomfort of embar­rassment. The experience had, thus, been localised making customers, an organisation’s most important stakeholder, feel more at home when visiting the bank. Localising the experience also becomes a part of the narrative / storytelling for the brand.

Although westernised cutlery is offered at some Asian restau­rants, for the experience to be more memorable using chopsticks is the right thing to do. Chopsticks are, thus, best practice for Asian cuisine and an aspect that was developed with the home market in mind. Other con­sumers now partake but for the fuller experience these customers take it upon themselves to know how to use chopsticks to “enjoy” their meal. The use of chopsticks is synonymous with Asian cuisine and by virtue of this association has become global best practice. The Asian cuisine experience has, thus, been ‘glocalised’. Glocali­sation is, “the practice of conducting business accord­ing to both local and global considerations,” (Oxford Dictionary, 2019). For emerging market brands to standout, they should build experiences with the lo­cal customer in mind and as they internationalise take a considered approach to incorporating global best practice into their way of doing things. Curating expe­riences with the local market in mind enable emerg­ing economy brands to build an unparalleled level of granularity from a customer pleasing viewpoint, an aspect which can again be incorporated into the or­ganisation’s authenticity.

Winning in the global market requires significant re­sources from an investment perspective. The sizeable investment is aimed at minimising the risk of failure. Yet several businesses still fail due to not taking a con­sidered approach from a business and brand strategy standpoint. Thanks to the internet, the cost of entering the global market has reduced significantly with more emerging market businesses taking on this challenge. To take full advantage of global market opportunities and sustain market success, it is important for these organisations to be brand led. The core tenets of build­ing winning emerging economy brands include the referencing of cultural markers as a point of distinc­tion, prioritising the address of home market needs to build strong core market relationships, selecting a home name to instil a sense of pride and confidence on the functional and emotional value associated with your brand; and lastly to build a glocalised experience that prioritises local over global best practice. Build­ing a brand with these markers in mind, ultimately contributes to the brand being engaged, relevant and authentic – elements critical to sustaining a level of distinction within an increasingly competitive market­place.

  1. Annweiler, B. (2018). Purpose is at the core of brand­ing. Journal of Brand Strategy, 7(3), 225-232.
  2. Definition of brand experience – techtarget.com https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/brand-experience
  3. Hyne, K. (2018). How brands can create a compel­ling sales proposition through storytelling. Journal of Brand Strategy, 7(1), 48-53.
  4. Mizera, S., and Risch, J. (2018). Debunking the ten most common myths SMEs have about branding: Why SMEs need real branding to succeed. Journal of Brand Strategy, 6(4), 362-379.
  5. Tarrant, C. (2018). Never mind the love, smell the money: What is the ‘value-add’ of a brand? Journal of Brand Strategy, 7(1), 54-68.
  6. Three levels of a product – marketingteacher.com. https://www.marketingteacher.com/three-levels-of-a-product/

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