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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The makings of brand identity

Mango Tango Asia CEO Chris McCarthy speaks during a forum last week in Phnom Penh.
Mango Tango Asia CEO Chris McCarthy speaks during a forum last week in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

The makings of brand identity

As Cambodia experiences rapid economic growth, marketers are looking for ways to brand the country and its homegrown products to increase their value and demand in international markets. The Post’s Matthieu de Gaudemar sat down with Christopher McCarthy, CEO of marketing firm Mango Tango, to discuss the latest trends for product branding and changing consumer behavior.

How would you define a ‘Cambodia brand’, and how can you brand a country?

There is a Cambodian brand, it already exists. There is an emotional feeling that people have when they hear the word Cambodia. That being said, you can’t control a brand on a country level that much because it is out there by itself. You could, however, make an effort to shape it on the international stage through different ways.

At the government level, you can fund campaigns around the world to help create and shape an image of the country. Typically though, governments support specific industries that will focus on branding, like Florida oranges or Colombian coffee. This is also true for tourism campaigns, which are usually industry-wide.

So overall, you have branding efforts on the level of the government, you have trade associations, like the Cambodian Rice Federation, for example, and then individual companies – and any one of those three layers could help brand or create an image of a country.

Is there a single countrywide brand for Cambodia?

There can be different brands for different products. Tourism would have a different focus than rice, but they are both part of a country’s overall brand. A brand is like a relationship with someone else, so you can have an idea of what you want that relationship to be like, but you can’t command it to be that way.

A common misconception people have is that a brand can be different things. So, for instance, they might say we can have one brand for China and one brand for the United States, but that doesn’t work. You can express the brand differently to either of those countries, but at its core it has to be consistent. I think there is this opportunity for Cambodia to own an image a natural, unspoilt, authentic country within Asia.

How does Cambodia’s brand affect its tourism sector?

When Cambodia has a good perception in the world, tourism benefits, the products benefits and so does everybody else, so you can charge more for the products or vacations.

How should individual Cambodian companies seek to brand themselves?

It is an interesting challenge and there are several different ways to take a product from an emerging market and help bring it to the developed world. There is the emigrant strategy, which is to target your products to emigrant groups from Cambodia in other nations, build up a base of support there and then take the product and go wider. Then there is the migrate-up strategy, which is to take a product like rice, for instance, and compete on price in other countries, selling it at the lowest possible price to get more volume. Once you are established, you can actually start to break out more premium tiers and charge more money for it.

Are companies in Cambodia aware of the importance of marketing and of the ways to do it?

This is a really interesting time to be in Cambodia because a lot of big multinational companies are moving into Cambodia. We just completed a survey project of consumer goods and we found that while there are a few local brands here, most are larger regional brands, especially from Malaysia, Japan and Korea, and some from China. Western brands are behind the curve in coming to the country.

Habits are just starting to form and they are changing. People are finding out about products and forming an association with brands. Typically, people’s choices of brands are passed down from their parents. But in Cambodia, it is a complete flip of the traditional process and it is the children who are finding products and brands through their smartphones or through Korean soap operas, for example.

They are discovering whole new product categories that they didn’t know existed before and young people are teaching their parents what to buy and how to use it. For all of these products, there is a first-mover advantage and that is why now is the time to come to Cambodia if you are brand marketer.

How would you compare your experiences marketing in New York to here?

It is a very early market here. Companies are sceptical of marketing or why they need to pay for it. They question whether advertising really works. I’m here to say that yes, advertising really does work. A typical company in a developed market will spend 10 percent of its operating budget on marketing. Here you are lucky if people will spend 1 percent.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

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