As part of our look at Malaysia's top brands of 2018, under the Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, we asked Malaysia consumers to identify their top home-grown brands, and AirAsia and Maybank emerged on top. Here, in-market observers discuss what's behind the success of these brands, and what it will take to uphold that status.
Nielsen’s research points to AirAsia and Maybank as the most popular local brands in Malaysia. While these brands are vastly different, with AirAsia being a fairly new entity, what do both of these brands mean to the average Malaysians respectively?
Sean Sim, CEO, McCann Worldgroup Malaysia: Both are local brands. Being big and successful, expanding beyond the boundaries of the country, they somewhat represent a sense of achievement for Malaysians. Are they perfect? No. But people do recognise them as homegrown pioneers in their respective industries. More importantly, they offer simple, easy accessibility to everyday Malaysians —whether it’s flying or banking.
Kenny Loh, CEO, Geometry Global Malaysia: When you put AirAsia and Maybank together as an equation, the disparity is quite interesting. Maybank is such a conventional traditional bank, but remains relevant for the Gen Y [with its popular mobile banking platform], that's truly amazing.
When it comes to AirAsia, no doubt it has its own very conventional way to market themselves. Hence, it is of no doubt that AirAsia is seen as more technologically savvy in the eyes of youngsters or the marketplace.
[But] It goes without saying that Malaysians recognise that these two are truly Malaysian brands that are going global.
Abhinav Sharma, head of strategy, Dentsu One, Malaysia: These brands are indeed vastly different in what they offer and yet they both have one very basic, fundamental element in common—they appeal to Malaysians from all walks of life and do not limit their services to say, an affluent niche. Their offer traverses the length and breadth of the Malaysian diaspora. As a result, over time they have gained familiarity and favour of all Malaysians in general and have become household names, so much so that there isn’t a Malaysian today who hasn’t heard of or interacted with AirAsia and Maybank, so to speak.
In other words, Maybank’s ubiquity makes it not only familiar but accessible and reliable, while AirAsia evokes a sense of discovery. They both carry with them a pan-Malaysian appeal and ultimately national pride.
2. What do you see are the differences in AirAsia’s marketing and advertising approach between its early founding years compared to its recent efforts?
Sim: In the beginning, AirAsia focused a lot on the value proposition—"Everyone Can Fly”. They hammered that into the mindset of Malaysians, regularly shouting out the lowest price promotions. A lot of print advertising in traditional media was used, to garner the widest reach possible. Even people in the countryside kampungs (villages) knew about AirAsia and how taking flights were now so affordable.
These days, AirAsia is focusing a lot more on the travel experience, encouraging their consumers to “take the road less travelled” with the airline. I guess the progression is only natural, for the brand cannot always compete on price alone. Another interesting thing to note about AirAsia is their recent efforts to break into fintech with their own ICO and cryptocurrency. It would be interesting to see if they can successfully leverage their airline business to make it happen.
Sharma: I think it’s safe to say that setting up an airline is one of the most difficult and time consuming businesses, more so in the case of a budget airline. Based on my observation, in the early years, AirAsia had to establish its credentials by providing access to destinations that budget travellers wanted to travel to—pricing and new destinations were the marketing focus. Communication at that time was understandably centred on the product awareness and the concept of affordable flying.
The initial success of AirAsia attracted competition and with that the need to differentiate because soon after, AirAsia wasn’t the only low-cost airline. Over that period, AirAsia has intelligently built a clear image for themselves centred on affordability and connectivity. On top of that, they added value to their product with various marketing and pricing strategies such as promotions, further discounts, bundle deals, contests and etc., giving them a reason to engage the AirAsia brand with the always-on consumers. Consumers keep returning to the brand because they know they will encounter something new.
3. How effective is AirAsia's tagline 'Now everyone can fly'?
Despite complaints from consumers about flight delays and having to pay for everything, there is nothing wrong with the brand because it stays true to its promises. I think if you pay for an apple, you expect an apple. It's not the flight that would give you everything. In fact, if you ask me, it's up to you, it's like manual, if you want to save money, you can save money.
The mission is to make travel accessible. Now you can fly to Hawaii [from Kuala Lumpur] with just RM1,000 ($244). I think that is why AirAsia is such a big name, winning the Skytrax award for 10 years in a row.
4. How about Maybank's tiger mascot and its coin banks, as well as its approach of going to school for its account opening drive? Do you think these are still relevant in the digital age?
Loh: Maybank is such a conventional bank, but the way the evolve and humanise banking transactions, I have to salute, Maybank is one of the best if you ask me.
The tiger still represents Malayan banking, Malayan tigers are still very strong in the whole Maybank image. Going to school is something conventional but it is not short of digital, they just need to put some digital elements to make it more interactive.
It's very humanised, grounded and old schooled, I think the kids love that.
5. Do you see these brands’ future coming under threat from encroaching global or non-local players?
Sim: For AirAsia, not in the foreseeable future. Whilst the airline industry globally is doing okay, the profitability in the Asean region is low, due to intense competition among low-cost carriers. Despite that, AirAsia is in a strong position. The barriers to entry are also high for another airline here.
Look at Rayani Air, it was shut down just after six months of operations. For Maybank, they have weathered the storm of international, regional and local banks to emerge on top. However, I think their biggest challenge will come from virtual banks. Already in the global financial hub of Hong Kong, they have started to issue operating licences for more than 50 companies. Even venerable giants like Standard Chartered are getting into it. Virtual banks pose a threat to traditional ones.
They are expected to evolve the current banking ecosystem—offering better services to customers, more convenience, faster payment capabilities, and with no physical or labour overheads, much lower charges. It will be interesting to see how these newcomers will impact the industry. Smarter airlines and financial institutions definitely need to be mindful to watch the market and remain agile in order to evolve as needed.
Loh: Other low-cost carriers must come up with a differentiation, a different positioning from AirAsia. Destination could be an innovation, for example, a route that is not covered by AirAsia. Innovation does not mean low-cost carriers cannot make it exclusive with less seats. Another suggestion is low-cost carriers that only fly haj pilgrimage routes.
Ecommerce is going to boom in Malaysia. Finding the right partner is the right way for banking institutions to lock in the consumer base. If a bank can partner up with a giant ecommerce platform, that would be the easiest way to do it right by offering another layer of promotions, it will just make ecommerce more robust and attractive. For example, consumer who buy things from eBay will be able to earn points from Maybank.
Sharma: Brand-love inevitably also creates brand-envy. Brands see successful competitive brands as an opportunity for themselves. They carefully analyse success to see where they could get a toe-hold for themselves. And in a globalised world, the threat is global. Both AirAsia and Maybank have become regional brands in their own rights, and to a certain extent, achieved global recognition as well—they will need to be ever watchful, both at home and overseas.