Consumer perception of the word “brand” is usually associated with quality. In the western world, with the variety and options available, it is the concept of brands that help consumers decipher and match their needs to that of the products available in the market.
Asian countries, particularly our own Bangladesh, use other sensibilities rather than simply resorting to quality. The inclination of most Asian nations to their culture is inherent to their way of life and it is no different when it comes to our own version of “retail therapy.”
In most Asian countries, we see culture is a phenomenon that is adapted by the residents. Such forms the basis of our “cultural branding” in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi brands are representative of our culture, our preferences and most importantly, our identities. In Bangladesh, whether it is “Bogra’s doi”, “Comilla’s rashmalai,” “Hajee’s biriani,” , “Fakruddin’s kachchi or “Tangail’s cham cham”,” we can immediately relate to each product and relate it with our culture and our roots as memories from yesteryear to the present day all come flooding back.
Innovation is the key to the global marketing world. The more you invent new ways of doing things and the more technology savvy the product is, the more is its demand in the market. This is a clear distinction from most of our local brands. Every district of Bangladesh has its specialty, be it in sweetmeat, handicrafts, agricultural produce, or even fish, and this is what the common man finds himself relating to. These are interests and beliefs that have been passed on from generation to generation.
For instance, when it comes to handicrafts,` Aarong’ has made its mark in the Bangladeshi market and even those visiting from abroad know that it is the landmark for getting traditional artwork and crafts. The “nakhshikantha” and “jamdani saree” is a particular favourite for most tourists, as it is a rare display of intricate artwork. Such handiwork is said to be rare, as the world has moved onto efficiency and most processes are automated, there are still brands that are labour-intensive and require a lot of creative attention. Inspired by `Aarong’, we today have new brands like `Jatra’ ‘Shada Kalo’ and `Deshal’; although they may not be as big as Aarong.
One example of the use of technology would be the initiation of Grameenphone. In true Bangladeshi tradition, that too has a rich history unlike any other seen abroad — the first mobile phone for rural women — whereby women empowerment took on a whole new meaning. Grameenphones were first distributed to women entrepreneurs who partook in the micro-finance scheme developed by Grameen Bank. They would use the phones of getting in touch with markets and operate as sellers themselves or as middle-women. The popularity of the Grameenphone’s cellular phone caught on and supply began growing till today where Grameenphone is the leading mobile telecom company in Bangladesh with millions of subscribers. It has come a long way from when the target group was only rural women. Similar with the case of esteemed vernacular daily `The Prothom Alo’ or most-circulated English daily, The Daily Star.
Brands were originally developed as labels of ownership. However, today it is what they do for people that matters much more, how they reflect and engage them, how they define their aspirations, represent their personality and protect them from greed or misdeeds. Powerful brands can drive success in competitive and financial markets, and indeed become an organisation’s most valuable assets. Aromatic soap entered the market with strong brand positioning as a `halal soap’; however, it lasted for a very short period of time. On the other hand, Unilever’s Lux soap has been occupying the mind space of their target market for a long time, and is still has strong market share with continuous investment in branding.
Another example of local brand is `Otobi’. Who could have imagined that furniture making can turn a small company into the producer of world class furniture?
The social stigma associated with inferior brands sometimes may prove to be a disqualifying factor when it comes to making that final purchase. One must properly comprehend that the use and understanding of brands differ from country to country. Hence, it is essential that if comparisons must be made, then it should be done on a platform taking into account differences in perceptions.
In the final analysis, it is based on perception that people purchase and consume what they do and that is something that marketers must be in tune with in order to meet demand with supply. From the Bangladesh perspective, it can be seen that the choice is based on not only what is of popular demand but items which are passed down traditionally from generation to generation.
The process of sustaining the brand image is an ongoing process which marketers have to take into consideration. This may pose to be a similarity between nations all over the world when it comes to the brand that they refer to in the local and international context, whereby the continued popularity of a particular item in comparison to the many available in the market must be sustained. To ensure sustainability of the brand, the companies must avoid controversies that may arise from their products, image, leadership, the company itself or their `how side’ of doing business. Thus, cultural practices, quality and preferences, the need for familiarity and unrelenting image building gives an acute understanding to the power of brands in our consumer societies.
The writer is an adjunct professor at NSU Business School. Email: email@example.com