Throughout Campaign Asia-Pacific's reporting on Malaysia’s local brands as part of Asia’s Top 1000 Brands research, a common thread has been that the country is notorious for associating local brands with lower-quality goods. But the past 18 months seems to have shifted local sentiment towards increased love for local brands—driven by the #KitaJagaKita crusade borne out of the pandemic.
In a grim year, one of the biggest national campaigns that emerged was the white flag movement, where hungry Malaysians across the country hung white flags outside their homes as a sign of urgent need for help and supplies. The heartbreaking campaign—largely derided by the government—stirred among Malaysians a spirit of togetherness and neighborliness which led them to support one another regardless of brand status.
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Cindy Quek, head of strategy at Grey Malaysia, said that ‘going local’ has definitely increased in importance in the past year.
“Malaysians are buying from local brands and want to support them, especially from the SME segment. The #KitaJagaKita movement first started as a call to take care of each other, which later extended to taking care of our smaller, local business owners,” she said.
However, in categories outside of SMEs, such as luxury goods and automotive brands, there is still a perception that foreign brands are of better quality. Unsurprisingly, these categories remain more aspirational rather than functional and will continue to appeal to higher-income Malaysians.
Food as more than just fuel
One of the more interesting trends to emerge in the past year is the debut of food brands Ayamas and Ramly in the overall top 100 at 30th and 54th spots respectively. Both these fast-food brands play a part in the country’s nostalgic food habits and are perhaps an indication that Malaysians longed to revisit comfort brands that reminded them of simpler times.
In the case of Ayamas, the brand generated plenty of media coverage in the past year for distributing food to those in need and frontline workers operating vaccination centres. According to Quek, the brand also ran promotions such as discounted meals and cashback vouchers on ecommerce platforms. She added that Ayamas’ marketing and PR tactics appeared to serve it well as it was seen to be “stepping up” when people needed them most.
Meanwhile, Ramly, a popular brand of burgers that is synonymous with Malaysian night-time street food culture, rose in rankings due to the number of entrepreneurs who applied for permits to sell burgers. According to Quek, this idea especially appealed to young Malay males who would set up Ramly burger stalls on the streets in local residential areas.
“The start-up cost is small, and you can set up almost anywhere due to the mobility of the stall,” said Quek. “We noticed an increase in the number of stalls during the pandemic, so it makes sense that the ease of starting a Ramly stall resonated with young Malaysians.”
Darren Yuen, CEO of Initiative and BPN Malaysia, said that the loaded symbolism of the Ramly brand lent it strength during the pandemic.
“The Ramly brand has always resonated with Malaysians young and old,” said Yuen. “It has succeeded in being present in moments of planned and unplanned quick-fix meals and family gatherings as a ready and convenient option. This is further extended with its long history of burger stalls across every corner of Malaysia using Ramly products for dinner and supper. In Malaysia, Ramly is synonymous with burgers.”
The enigma of local-global brands
Ask any Malaysian about their favourite local brand and Milo, Maggi, and Gardenia will likely be mentioned. Despite these brands not being Malaysian or being part of global conglomerates, they have inexplicably managed to embed themselves as deeply local.
Yuen said this is owing to these three brands being household names in their respective categories. For example, Maggi has become the default brand for instant noodles while Milo is a favourite at school sporting events and every mamak shop across the country.
Singaporean bread producer Gardenia, meanwhile, is one of only two main mass bread brands present in Malaysia alongside Massimo. Yuen said it isn’t surprising that Gardenia is the brand that dominates this category over its rival due to its long history and consistent presence in the market.
Quek concurred: “These brands have been embedded in the lives of most Malaysians for a very long time, especially among Gen X (the generation who first started buying and relying on their goods) and millennials (the generation who grew up consuming and still are consuming these brands). What we consumed as children is still being consumed now.”
A similar ‘local’ quality is accorded to Czech footwear brand Bata which is seen as a default brand for white school shoes required in public schools.
Smart strategies pay off
Local supermarket chain Giant climbed 15 spots this year due to a vastly increased product range despite disrupted supply chains during the pandemic. According to Quek, the brand continually focused on its three main pillars: quality products, reasonable pricing, and exceptional service. It also introduced fixed-price “Ringgit Zones” where products are fixed at RM3 each, appealing greatly to bargain-hunters and those financially affected by the pandemic. These factors allowed Giant to rise above its biggest rival Mydin which slipped 25 spots to 93rd place overall.
Meanwhile, Maybank retained its stronghold in the banking and financial services sector as it climbed five spots to 14th place overall, a whopping 72 spots above its biggest competitor CIMB Bank. Yuen attributed Maybank’s supremacy to its five-year M25 strategy which embraces digital and analytics as well as a long-term plan to ‘humanise’ financial services.
“Maybank is becoming more customer-focused through its entrenchment with their data,” said Yuen. “Part of the M25 plan is to unearth new value drivers in the digital space, SME markets and existing wealth management and Islamic finance areas. With this heavy investment into data to understand their customers, they are heading towards a more personalised approach in banking and marketing.”
The bank is also eyeing a significant increase in SME clients on its digital platform, a wise target group given the proliferation of small business ventures. Here’s a brand that ‘gives the people what they want’ and is making great strides for it.