Contrary to what some people believe, branding is critical to the success of a business. In fact, some start-ups remain oblivious to how important branding is as they felt that only the bigger ‘boys’ need them.
Branding allows your business to be perceived as credible and stands out in a noisy marketplace. As quoted by marketing strategist Jack Trout, “No one will follow you if you don’t know where you are going.” When you can identify your business and your direction, it gives your brand a purpose for existing and serves as a magnet to draw your customers in.
Unfortunately, branding is beyond creating a simple logo and a website. It takes more than that. To find out why branding is getting more essential than ever before, we spoke to Ferdaus Amzah, a brand strategist, design consultant and Founder of Neu Entity Pte Ltd (Singapore) on this critical business process.
Heya, Ferdaus! Welcome to Marketing In Asia magazine, and thank you for joining us for a chat. So today, we are going to talk about the topic of branding, but before that, introduce yourself to our readers, Ferdaus.
Well, I graduated with a Computer science degree but found a calling in graphic design while working as the Regional Lead Creative (Asia Pacific) with Silkroad Technology, a talent management solutions company in Singapore from 2009 to 2014. While at Silk Road, I worked on high profile projects such as the designing and development of the Singapore Airlines and Starbucks Philippines’s career portals and Allianz Singapore and Allianz Reinsurance (Global) corporate websites.
While I had a deep interest in graphic design, the passion for branding rooted when I saw the correlation and the amazing impact of a well-thought brand strategy and creative have on marketing and sales performance. From a business point of view, branding helps to convey the company’s brand vision and mission to the clients externally. A good design helps to uncover the true identity of the brand through its colours, font, logo and other graphic elements. And when executed successfully and your brand is recognised, you know you have met your objectives.
I eventually embarked on my entrepreneurship journey as a branding consultant after Silkroad shut down its Singapore office in 2014. I had wanted to continue something that had a purpose, and thus I invested $35,000 to launch Neu Entity, a branding and design consultancy, the same year.
You are the Founder of Neu Entity, a branding agency that specialises in the fields of brand strategy, identity, and execution. Do share with us your mission and all we need to know about Neu Entity.
Our mission at Neu Entity is to enable and empower brands that exist for a purpose. We believe that good branding is a key part of the success of a business or organisation. And those that exist with a strong purpose are usually the ones that become a force of good in this world. Neu Entity, as an agency, comprises highly motivated and talented designers, developers and consultants both in Singapore and Indonesia.
Our clients cut across various industries from blockchain technology, fitness, education, F&B, non-profit organisations, aviation, space tech, travel and finance and more. Our aim is to help our clients develop their brands through strategy, design and marketing. At Neu Entity, we have a branding model that we utilise, that has been the key to crafting the ultimate brand experience for our clients. We ask specific questions at every stage of the brand experience to help guide our clients to identify their USP and grow their brands.
We noted that you had helped 100 brands, and you are passionate about helping companies who have a strong passion and purpose in their business. Tell us, what made you decide to become a branding specialist? What stirred your interest in this career?
I have always had a deep interest in graphic design, but my five year experience at Silkroad deepened my interest in developing a niche in branding. A branding specialist is like a sail on the ship. They ensure that a brand’s vision and mission are strategically executed in all its marketing decisions. I was intrigued by the excitement of helping companies analyse their brand ideas and providing solutions right down to developing brand identities and graphic designs.
I will not be surprised if a lot of people perceive that having a logo and website denotes a brand. It goes deeper than that. The development of a brand identity involves an in-depth thought process before the first sketches are even drawn. For example, we dive deep to understand the audience personas, leading attributes, the brand’s story, history, and how their competitors fare against them.
Having these in mind is crucial in crafting a brand identity that is on point and unique in the right ways. For example, one of the organisations we worked in Singapore was B.A.P.A. or “Badan Agama dan Pelajaran Radin Mas” a non-profit organisation that focuses on religious education, charity and humanitarian work. We were involved in developing their brand strategy and design for their corporate and marketing materials such as website, banner, infographics, brochures and name card among others.
What were your marketing strategies in the beginning when you first started? What has changed or pivoted, and why? And how has that helped Neu Entity to where it is today?
Ironically, we started without much branding and marketing ourselves. Most of our leads came from referrals and word-of-mouth. However, I knew this would not go on forever, nor was it scalable. In 2017, I decided to hire a marketing manager, Hanafi Sam, who is now a partner in the company. Hanafi is instrumental in developing the marketing strategies and promotional campaigns of Neu Entity. We worked on defining a brand for ourselves and applied them to our business branding & marketing frameworks. The impact was terrific as we saw an increased brand awareness and more clients from a new market segment.
Our marketing strategies today have not changed very much. We still believe in producing only the best for our clients, and it resonates with our tagline of ‘Branding with Purpose.’ We believe that when our clients are happy with the outcomes, that form of marketing is an excellent testament to our work.
What is your view on marketing to big companies and start-ups? How different are they, and how do you plan a branding project for them?
Briefly, the common ground would be both entities need to put their audience first. Big companies have to factor in different stakeholders. They also have enough data and can carve several audience segments. Unfortunately, the more people you try to appeal to, the less focused your brand might become. So, for big companies, we focus on identifying targeted attributes.
On the other hand, a start-up works on a lot of assumptions with much less data available. While things can move faster, failing to understand factors that can affect their bottom line can be costly as well. So we usually advise them to focus on raising awareness of their core product and solutions and test the market before going on a big bang campaign. Having targeted and shorter campaigns with specific targets can also save costs as it prevents them from going back to the drawing board again and again.
As a branding specialist, what would you say is the most challenging and rewarding experience for you?
Let’s start with the most rewarding. It would have to be when the whole branding campaign meets the client’s desired outcomes. Naturally, the most important result is when the client’s brand is recognised and meets its marketing and sales objectives. To achieve that, it takes a strong partnership and trust as it involves working from development to execution.
The most challenging would be breaking the ‘love relationship’ entrepreneurs have with their brands. They are protective and sentimental toward their brands, and sometimes it can be difficult for our advice to be accepted. They tend to be adamant about their choices, even though it might be detrimental to their brand.
And here we are, Ferdaus. The favourite topic of the decade: branding and Millennial. Today, when we talk about branding, Millennials especially have a unique perspective on this. Now, according to Hubspot and we quote, “Millennials are 44% more likely to trust experts, who happen to be strangers, than advertisements and 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites.”
So our question to you is, while this is a no surprise to marketers, as a branding expert, how do you and Neu Entity keep up and win the Millennials?
From our experience, we find that millennials resonate with several things:
- Culture: the brand needs to exemplify culture that is appealing to them.
- Identity: they grow up in a unique time, and will attach themselves to brands that personifies elements of their sense of identity.
- Relatability: through personal brands & thought leadership, Millennials feel more connected to those whom they can relate with similar experiences and stories.
For those not familiar, what are the differences between branding, marketing, and advertising?
I think it is quite common to hear these words used interchangeably, but here’s my explanation in a more simplified and layman terms.
Branding is the process of crafting the perception of a business and creating an emotional attachment for its audience. In other words, how you want people to see you, your value, what problems you solve, and what differentiates you from the rest.
Marketing is the process of distributing information and engaging with your audience through different channels, partners, and activities. It is about how you want to promote yourself.
Advertising is utilising one of the channels of marketing, such as on traditional or social media, that involves interrupting the audience and repeating a marketing message. It is the action taken for people to see how good and great you are.
Before we end, anything you wish to share with our readers, Ferdaus?
Don’t underestimate the value of branding. Whether you like it or not, you as an individual or your business or organisation has a brand. It’s a choice whether you want to leave it to the audience completely, or have a hand in crafting the brand as how you want to be seen and perceived. Don’t ignore branding, it might make all the difference in the world.