Faaez Samadi
Aug 12, 2019

AirAsia & Maybank streets ahead of rival Malaysian brands

Both brands continue to resonate strongest with consumers for reasons of pride and product.

AirAsia & Maybank streets ahead of rival Malaysian brands


In much the same way that Malaysian’s have been rather consistent in selecting their Top 100 Brands overall, the love for local brands resides most strongly with two stalwarts: AirAsia and Maybank.

AirAsia remains the only Malaysian brand in the top 10, although it dropped one spot into 6th this year. Maybank, notably, broke into the top 20 after climbing five places into 16th. The next closest local brands are Dutch Lady – a dairy brand set up in Malaysia in the 60s by Dutch owner FrieslandCampina – at 26th, and then telco Maxis way back in 48th.

While AirAsia and Maybank are vastly different brands operating in very separate sectors, the key to both their success with Malaysians comes back to the same powerful insight that is only growing exponentially, says Abhinav Sharma, head of strategy at Dentsu One Malaysia.

“Both AirAsia and Maybank have come to represent the desires and passions of a new Malaysia,” he explains. “AirAsia is feeding the Malaysian millennial wanderlust. Maybank has been carefully and consistently ensuring that every Malaysian can now save and grow their incomes.”

These are somewhat amorphous principles, but it is clear that both brands are highly customer-centric and drive positive, prideful associations to their identities. Tony Fernandes is celebrated as a global beacon of Malaysian business success, and AirAsia in turn makes efforts to highlights its connection to Malaysia.

Recently, the carrier gave 1 million ringgit (US$238,000) to support Malaysian badminton, and it is the official airline of the Malaysian Football League for next season. These are two of the country’s biggest sporting obsessions.

Maybank, meanwhile, has kept ordinary Malaysians at the heart of its digital transformation, developing products such as Maybank QRPay, a cashless payment system focused on micro-vendors. “It’s seen adoption at the grassroots level, now even the pasar malam (night market) vendors accept QRPay,” says Stephanie Caunter, head of marketing at Ada.

Other products include Houzkey, allowing greater home ownership among Malaysians for whom such a step was previously out of reach. It all ties into another key difference for both AirAsia and Maybank, Caunter continues: that both brands direct their marketing towards the little guy.

“Travel and financial services are traditionally set up to target higher income earners simply because that’s where they can maximise revenue,” she says. “However, brands like AirAsia with “Now everyone can fly” and Maybank with “Humanising financial services” flipped that narrative on its head and took a ground-up approach.”

While most other local brands are making slow but steady gains in the hearts and minds of Malaysian brands, AirAsia and Maybank’s ability to evolve their marketing, services and products in line with changing consumer expectations will keep them at the top for some time, says Sharma.

“Both brands have kept Malaysians in mind,” he says. “Because it’s not just the marketing environment that’s evolving, it’s people. The biggest mistake a brand can make is not recognising just how quickly Malaysians are becoming more aware, more demanding and more progressive. Products and services must evolve in a relevant way.”

One more brand worth assessing is Malaysia Airlines. With the airline still recovering reputationally from the twin crises of MH370 and MH17, as well as having well-documented recent financial issues, the brand must be doing something right as it rose a remarkable 18 places to 54th this year.

It’s recent campaign, ‘Malaysian hospitality begins with us’, drew on the brand’s heritage and local Malaysian culture, while Caunters says Ada worked with Malaysia Airlines around Singles Day to target consumers with offers in a digitally-savvy way, showing it was in touch with modern trends.

Sharma adds that it may be more simple than this. “I think the support that Malaysia Airlines gets from people is a sign that they don’t want it to fail. It’s an opportunity for the brand to really focus on product and brand building.”

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