Barbarians at the Gate

Are we witnessing the end of branding power? Some say that the rise of online comparison shopping and instant online reviews have empowered the consumer to a point where buyers now make choices that are predominantly based on product merit, price and peer reviews. Brand loyalty is a thing of the past and the Big Brand Names of the past century are like the last Roman emperors, desperately holding out against waves of Barbarians that are crashing the gates.

Is this really the end of an era – or the beginning of a new one?  Are these indeed the new Dark Ages, or merely the beginning of a promising New Age of change, that only looks dark to those of us who are not used to seeing the light?

Let’s not write off our Roman empire of Branding and Marketing so quickly. The fact that things are moving does not always mean they are also fundamentally changing. If  branding were dead, and we are indeed living in a new meritocracy, where consumers base their choices on product merit only, the world would be different from what we see today.

In such a World-Without-Brands,  the feature-rich and hardware-superior HTC would be the iPhone, and refreshingly different HeySong would be the new Coca Cola. Clearly they are not, so the power of branding might not be dead after all.

Branding still matters. Having a reputable brand name still means you get first dibs at getting your message across before others do.  It allows you to convey trust at a glance, and connect with your audience on a deep, emotional level. Branding is not dead; it is the marketing that has shifted.

In this New Age of Branding, Taiwan is at a serious risk of dropping out of the game all together. Many Taiwanese businesses who never took the trouble of building an international brand, still focus on product and price. They see this deceptive decline of “Big Branding” as a vindication of their old strategies: ”we don’t need branding, we just need cheaper products.”

 But if that is the case, why is superior HTC still falling? Why is Taiwan having such trouble shifting from OEM to far more profitable and prestigious OBM?

Taiwan is in a race to the bottom and we need to get out before we win to become the biggest loser. We need to learn how to play the global game and find a way to deliver quality goods while building real relationships with international customers.

Can we do it? We most certainly can. Taiwan  has the tools and the talent; all it is lacking is a roadmap and a strategy. Should we do it? In my view, we most certainly should. Taiwan is a rare, undiscovered gem that deserves more global recognition, not just as a reliable manufacturer of other people’s ideas, but as a nation of shared dreams and  visions that enables and empowers others all across the world.

Luuk F. van Heerde