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Book reviews

Asian brand strategy: How Asia builds strong brands
Martin Roll Palgrave Macmillan, UK; 2006; 254pp; £25; hardback; ISBN 1403992797
Journal of Brand Management (2007) 14, 272–273. doi:10.1057/

Martin Roll has written an excellent book in Asian Brand Strategy, providing welcome insights into some of the timeless principles of branding by demonstrating the ways in which Asian companies are building strong brands and will continue to do so in the coming years. Roll is a Danish citizen residing in Singapore, consultant to many companies as well as acting as Visiting Professor in Strategic Brand Management at the China European International Business School in Shanghai. The central contention of his book is that Asian boardrooms need to elevate brand strategy from the lowly position that it currently occupies in many companies in that part of the world. Roll sets this out in terms of what he calls a new paradigm for the Asian boardroom, comprising five interrelated elements. The first element concerns the requirement for a change in mindsets in the Asian boardroom, away from a vision of branding as the sole responsibility of marketing managers to branding as the DNA and most essential function of the firm. Secondly, a sharper awareness of consumer behaviour patterns across Asia is called for, based on an understanding that Asia is not a homogeneous entity. Thirdly, managers need to abandon the old colonial stereotypes of Asia and instead recognise that Asian consumers desire their own type of modernity. Fourthly, Asian managers will have to become trendsetters if they wish to create iconic brands, and not just copy

the techniques and personalities of imported Western brands. Finally, a belief in branding needs to infuse the whole company, an aim that can be partly achieved through accountability and systematic monitoring of branding investments and performance. The relevance of brand strategy development and implementation in an Asian context is very well illustrated through a diverse and interesting range of examples, some high profile, others much less so. Big hitters like Lenovo and Singapore Airlines are held up as examples of good practice. Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo’s $1.25bn acquisition of IBM’s PC division is shown to have delivered benefits to Lenovo not only in tangible assets such as high-quality product know-how, distribution networks and a strong customer base, but also the intangible value of the brand name. Roll suggests that Lenovo paid $488m, or approximately 39 per cent of the acquisition price, for the right to use the globally recognised IBM Think brand on laptops for the next five years. It is to be expected that other Chinese companies will follow this acquisition route to brand development in the coming years. On the other hand, an organic brand strategy has been followed by Singapore Airlines, a brand that according to Roll exhibits the characteristics of any strong brand—a unique brand promise and an outstanding brand delivery. The airline’s brand promise, ‘A GreatWay to Fly’, is


© 2007 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 14, NO. 3, 272–273 FEBRUARY 2007


underpinned by a highly structured and comprehensive training scheme, standard operating procedures, and numerous guidelines, benchmarking schemes and detailed performance evaluations that cover every function and aspect of the organisation. Roll emphasises that the example of Singapore Airlines shows that branding is not just the communication of a distinct promise, but that branding drives the promise throughout the entire delivery. One of the specific areas in which Roll believes that Asian CEOs can make a more significant contribution than is currently the case is in their potential role as main brand ambassador for their companies. Most Asian business leaders prefer to stay private and rarely appear in public media unless absolutely necessary, notes Roll, but by doing so these CEOs are missing out on the opportunity to build the profile and reputation of their brand portfolios. The familiar example of Richard Branson is trotted out as an example of how a highly visible CEO can raise awareness for the company and its brands. An Asian business leader who Roll believes emulates to some extent the brand ambassador role played by Branson is Zhang Ruimin, founder and CEO of Chinese company Haier. Zhang Ruimin appears regularly in the international business press and this is deemed by the author to have contributed tremendously to the growth and recognition of the Haier brand outside China. Around half of the book is devoted to case studies of Asian brands, which Roll divides into two categories, successful Asian brand cases and aspiring Asian brand

cases. Among the successful cases are the aforementioned Singapore Airlines, as well as luxury resort brand Amanresorts, Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido and Korean megabrand Samsung. The case of Shiseido is particularly interesting, with Roll pointing out that Shiseido is one of the few non-technology brands from Japan that has succeeded on the international fashion, beauty and cosmetic scene and the brand thus ‘stands apart as a great example for many aspiring cosmetic brands from Asia to become international players’. Five key points are identified by the author as contributing to Shiseido’s success: creativity and innovation in all its product offerings; a unique blend of oriental mystique and sensitivity with Western fashion values; the application of clinically tested formulae to create products that enhance skin care and beauty; ability to customise its offerings to its different markets by constantly analysing market trends and finally, a strong distribution strategy. As for the cases that Roll terms ‘aspiring’ Asian brands, these include Thai silk brand Jim Thompson, Chinese shoes and sportswear brand Li Ning, Indian domestic carrier Jet Airways and Hong Kong-based clothing brand Giordano. Each of these cases offers illuminating insights into the practice and context of branding in Asia. For the reader jaded by the constant flow of US- and Euro-centric texts on branding, Martin Roll’s Asian Brand Strategy offers an extremely refreshing and well-written new perspective. Keith Dinnie Book Review Editor

© 2007 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 14, NO. 3, 272–273 FEBRUARY 2007