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Battle of the super brands

THE Kingdom’s electronics consumers are expected to become more brand sensitive with increasing affluence, according to Indochina Research General Manager Laurent Notin.

As consumers become more exposed to brands, they are often tempted to try out and compare brands, developing their own associations between a brand and its products, he said.

“With increasing income, consumers will have bigger shopping baskets, increasing the average number of products a person uses, thus more and more exposure to brands,” he said. “The aim for companies is to create as many loyal customers as one brand can.”

Retail superviser at Apple distributor iCentre, Meas Samnang, says building a brand from the ground up is no small challenge, even in a small economy like Cambodia’s.

“Three or four years ago Apple was not popular in Cambodia. Most medium- and lower-class customers didn’t know about Apple, but the upper class were sometimes exposed to it through interaction abroad,” he said.

A major step Apple had taken was to license distributors such as iCentre, iOne and Anana Computers, who then began promoting Apple products, raising awareness and building loyalty among customers. Although the firm did conduct advertising by handing out leaflets or by using billboards, he said weekly demonstrations had done the most to raise brand awareness.

“We share Apple through the stores, but our demos are very important for us,” he said.

Surveys by Indochina Research indicate that word-of-mouth advertising is of primary importance in the Kingdom, a key part of iCentre’s marketing campaign.

“In Cambodia, 90 percent of consumers said they had purchased a product based on word-of-mouth in the past 12 months,” a report from the firm said.

iCentre holds demonstrations of its Apple products at targeted places such as universities at least once a week. Apple’s brand loyalty generally starts with customers purchasing an iPod music player. If they enjoy their experience, they will often come back to buy a more expensive device or a computer.

Apple had achieved a reputation as a “higher class” product in Cambodia, he said, targeting the country’s increasing wealth with sometimes surprising results.

Of Apple’s four different lines of iPod music players, Meas Samning said it was its most expensive, the iPod Touch, that was its best seller in the Kingdom. At iCentre outlets in Vietnam, it was cheaper models that experienced the most sales.

Indochina’s Laurent Norin said: “A brand needs to build itself within a market. A brand needs to create resonance in the minds of consumers. A brand needs to convey a particular message or specific attributes.”

Sony currently enjoys the highest degree of brand awareness in the Kingdom, according to Notin’s research, with 46 percent mentioning it first in a spontaneous recall survey, while Sharp and Panasonic came in at 10 and 8 percent respectively.

However, brand awareness does not necessarily translate directly to customer loyalty, he said. “You would expect that the higher the awareness of the brand … the higher the number of loyal customers, but it is not necessarily true.”

“Cambodians know a lot of brands, but come and compare prices,” Thai Keang family-run electronic shop employee Thai Sokunthea said.

If prices are similar, in her experience customers chose Sony simply based on the name, she said.

“Sony products are very cheap, there’s not a lot of difference with other brands. That’s why other brands cannot get in front of Sony.”

Chhay Hok Computer Trading salesman Samkhan Sap said Sony had been “established for years” as a leading brand, becoming prominent in Cambodia during the time of cassette tapes.

Its wide range of products and heavy advertising kept the name popular among the firm’s customers, he said, and added that most of the store’s walk-in costumers headed straight for the Sony display prominently displayed at the front of the shop.

However, the relatively higher costs of computers compared with other electronics from the Japan-based firm led many to purchase Acer computers, becoming Chhay Hok Computer Trading’s best-selling brand.

“Acer is getting a better reputation because of lower prices. When customers see Sony computer prices, they change their mind,” he said.

He expected it would take some time before Acer became well-known among Cambodians, as its brand was limited by selling only laptops and not other electronics.

“People who have used electronics for a long time know brand names are good quality,” said Heng Bun Hoenn, branch manager at electronics retailer K-four.

He agreed that Sony was the most well-known brand among consumers, especially for televisions and cameras, but added that firms such as Hitachi, LG, Panasonic and Samsung also manufactured popular brands of appliances.

Brands manufactured in Japan were considered high quality, as were goods from South Korea and Taiwan. On the other end of the scale were electronics from China, he said.

“Products made in China are poorly thought of. Customers do not like made in China” even when manufactured by a Japanese firm, he added.



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