Thursday, 15 September 2011

Article publié le Mercredi 10 mars 2004.

Let the brands talk and lets listen carefully

WATCH this space. It will be entirely devoted to brands and branding. Brands are so close to us in our daily life that we tend to ignore their presence. Just check out what underwear you are wearing right now ! It has a trademark, delivers a service to you, may have a promise and above all has a life cycle. What about the car you are driving and your banking institution ? And your star David Beckham or Britney Spears ? They are all manifestations of brands that interact so much in our life. But do we listen to their voices and care about what they are trying to tell us ? Not necessarily all of us !
Now lets take the case of manufacturers, distributors, brand managers and marketers. They are struggling to make sure the brands they work for, talk to us every second. Everyday from breakfast to bed, we, as consumers have to filter hundreds of messages. Millions of rupees are invested everyday in the media and on the market place to try to influence us in buying brands at the expense of others. But the ultimate buying decision is ours.

Where do we exert these “brand votes” which are directly related to our purchasing power ? During the last number of years, the retail landscape and the value chain has gone through a deep transformation with the onset of hypermarkets. Starting with Continent, considered as a then mega-project, various groups of global repute have stroke strategic alliances with local conglomerates involved in consumer branding to set up chains of hypermarkets. We all have had nice family shopping experiences at Super U, Spar, Shoprite, Jumbo, Winners, and local GSR’s in urban conurbations - while in rural areas traditional street-corner groceries have been forced to switch to self-service mini-markets faced by changing consumer behaviour. How will this look in 5 or 10 years ? How will consumers then behave ?

To what extent do we really realize the full potential of brands ? Are consumers really aware of the power that they command from their tiny wallets ? Do we exert our choices in an optimal manner or are we just influenced by advertising and marketing communications, without taking time to rationally analyse the wider and wider choices available on the market today ?

On a more macro-economic scale, Mauritius has not been spared by Globalization. Given that we are highly integrated in the world economy, it is quite normal that consumer brands like Coca-Cola, Kit-Kat or Gilette, industrial brands like Caterpillar or Black & Decker and Corporate Brands lke British American or HSBC are very much active in our country. All these brands help us in numerous ways and have a very specific set of mission to accomplish.

Anti-globalization groups can protest very actively in the vicinity of World Forums or have indeed very important international gatherings to rightly fight against injustice committed by multinationals, but the fact is : Brands are here to stay ! They bring value to consumers, serve a purpose and some very compelling brands, like Harley Davidson the famous US freestyle motorbike brand, has had its logo even tatooed on its customers’ skins ! This gives us an idea to what lengths brand loyalty can go in influencing people in their lifestye. Who can claim that at some point in time, one has not fallen in love with a particular brand to the point of being treated as an addict ? Just shake the original Orangina bottle, let the Mars bite melt in your mouth or enjoy reading the latest Stephen Covey ordered on the internet from and you will be convinced how brands are important to you.  

What about Mauritius ? Can our country be considered and treated as a brand ?Nation branding is increasingly being looked as a powerful means to exert positive influence in more and more complex world markets where technology, innovation and trade liberalization are emerging threats that need to be integrated in national survival strategies. What is the value and significance of the ‘Made in Mauritius’ label. How are we fighting against giants like China, competing against rivals like Singapore or working with allies like Madagascar? And what about our ratings in the field of anti-corruption, protection environment or on equal opportunities ? On an internal front are we as Mauritians proud of our country ? What is our personal degree of commitment to our quadricolor flag ? Are we progressing or regressing in terms of civism and do we care for the less fortunate or do we just accumulate wealth at the expense of all other life objectives and values ?

In the wake of the celebrations of our 37th year of independence and with a more or less sociologically-tensed fabric, perhaps it will be useful if everyone of us stops for a while and assess the extent of our love and commitment for our Nation. This is a unique opportunity to forget our differences and direct all our energies under a single banner to make sure we win the battle against fragmentation, ethnical rivalry and focus our attention on defending our various positions in the global jungle out there !

Branding is all this at the same time. Its part of us and lets us answer basic questions about ourselves, our ideals and ambitions through or purchasing behaviour and beliefs.

Well, Brand-Talk is for all those who think we need to stop, think some seconds, do some intelligent sharing before proceeding further. Brand_ Talk will also be aired soon on Radio One and a dedicated web site will be launched soon for all brand passionates to express themselves and share their views. As the Nike tag line states very simply : Lets do it. Together !

In the meantime, I would be glad to get your views, concerns and feedbacks on

Ashraf Oozeerally
Article publié le Mercredi 21 avril 2004.


Branding the employee…

We have seen some time ago how Corporate Branding is a planned strategic process. (See www.lexpress and type search ‘Ashraf Oozeerally’ to look for the Brand_Talk entitled ‘CEO’s inventing our future’). Well we tend to normally neglect our Employees and think only in terms of market-oriented communication actions, but did you know that the Branded Employee concept sits just at the heart of the branding paradigm?

In Corporate Mauritius, our companies tend to forget their employees and think of them only at the last minute, when everything else is going wrong around. Our business leaders think more of shareholder value, market share, market penetration, market capitalization, profit-after-tax, share of mind… But are these enough to provide peace of mind? Of course not! Employees are the lifeblood of organizations and Employee communications should then constitute the oxygen that goes through the blood cells of the organization structure.

A textile company like the CMT and its team leader Mr Francois Woo should be considered a model of excellence in this respect as it involves all employees in almost all decisions and communicates with them in all instances: whether in good profitable times or hard stormy ones. At CMT, Employees are part of the Big Family.

We cannot possibly talk of Employee branding without making reference to Employee Communications. The former director of Corporate Communications of General Motors, Alvie Smith, in his detailed book “Innovative Employee Communications” (Prentice Hall, 1991) lists the following Six Commandments as excellent practices that will ensure that internal communication becomes a reality in any organization:

Employee Communication is a fundamental component of the organizational management system

A clear statement of commitment by Top Management, as well as its participation and support is essential

Communication must be a planned process – there must be a strategy – involving both communication professionals and key management people

Managers are the key conduits and catalysts for effective communication

Priority business issues should be at the core content of the employee communication program and should be discussed in an understandable and open manner through various channels of communication

The communication system should undergo regular evaluations to prove its worth.

May I humbly add a Seventh Commandment to this list?

7- Employees should be always placed at the core of Change Enablement strategies implemented by the organization, as in today’s highly competitive environments managing change is a daily challenge that determines the survival of the fittest and constitutes the roadmap to sustainable growth.

This “Seventh Commandment” is particularly important for organizations going through merger and alliance activities. The recent case of Iframac being taken over by the BAI and also all other mergers could benefit from such employee branding strategies to a large extent. The Branding Paradigm, since it focuses on and pulls together every part of the organization before, during and after a merger – has the capability of promoting the integration process and create long-term value. And let’s not forget this: No integration process (be it in a context of Change or not) can succeed without positively and pro-actively involving ALL the employees.

Without the open support and commitment of the troops making up an organization, no battle for growth and success can be won and brands that are fighting on the market on behalf of the organizations behind will not have enough firepower to sustain such attacks and are therefore condemned to always limit themselves to ill-defined, haphazard reactive actions! The choice is ours…

Any ideas? Share them with me on

Managing Director, eye_dentity brand consultancy

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Article publié le Mercredi 17 mars 2004.

A tremendous opportunity for Mauritius

This week we will try something new. I’d like to share with the readers of Brand_Talk a phone interview with Wally Olins which was aired on 12 March.

Wally Olins is a world figure in branding. Co-founder of Wolff Olins, a global brand consultancy based in UK and Chairman of Saffron. Wally currently advises many of the world’s leading organizations both in the public and private sectors on identity, branding and communication. He has written a number of books and articles on the subject and is visiting lecturer to universities and adademic institutions.

Ashraf : After some initial resistance, today more and more countries are turning to branding as an effective way to make their voices heard on the the global marketplace. You have personally been pioneering Nation Branding for the last decades, and you are known for that. I have two questions. First, is Nation Branding really effective? Then, this Friday 12 of March we are celebrating our 36th year of Independence from Great Britain, what offhand advice could you share with us in this field?

Wally : Well I think you have to look at Nation Branding over a very long period of time. All nations have always tried both to create in their own population a feeling of pride and a feeling of self-confidence and they’ve also tried for one reason or for the other to persuade other nations to either love them or to fear them.That’s been the way nations have operated since the late 18th Century. Since the French Revolution this has become a much more overt and clear form of national projection. What we have today is something slightly different in terms of the techniques used but it’s not fundamentally different in terms of what Nations were doing.

The reasons why nations need to project an idea of what they are is because they want to attract tourists, they want to export their own products and they want to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In the years since about 1950 or so, the number of nations in the world have increased from about 80 to 250. In other words, the amount of of competition that exists between nations to attract FDI, tourists and to sell their products abroad is far greater than ever. So these are for purely commercial reasons. Mauritius needs to attract tourists very badly. To attract FDI, Mauritius also needs branding and to export its products. Every nation including Mauritius needs to project that the Mauritius Brand is better than the competitive brands and is more interesting, is worth more, is better quality, is an attractive place to come to .

In addition to that, there is the fact that a nation has to project an idea of itself to its own population, to make them self confident, proud and happy about being who they are. A nation also needs political influence. A nation has embassies and high commissions. Every nation participates in trade fairs, exhibitions and so on. Almost all nations advertise their tourism capabilities and potentials. They have national airlines, they have hotels and various kinds of such things. What Nation Branding does, is to bring those ideas together in a form so that instead of everybody advertising or projecting themselves seperately within the nation there is some kind of coherence so that one thing helps another and everything the nation does on the whole is seemed to be related with everything else that it does so that if you are talking about FDI or exports, that’s kind of linked in the way Mauritius talks about itself on tourism.

That’s what Nation Branding effort means and of course nations are increasingly involved in all this because there are so many nations in the world. If you look at Central Europe now you can see nations that did not exist before like Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia emerging. If you look at your part of the world and and the African Continent, the nations that have emerged in the last 50 years is enormous but unfortunately many of them have not made any impact because they are not sufficiently governed efficiently for them to become attractive to investors. Mauritius is in a very very different situation and therefore has a tremendous opportunity which it is already exploiting in Tourism but in FDI and in branded exports, it has all these potentialities as well.

So as I see it, the opportunity that a nation as Mauritius has, is to make what it does with more coherence. It isn’t a question of doing something different. It’s a question of doing something what you already do much better and much more efficiently and Mauritius has that opportunity.

Ashraf Oozeerally

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Article publié le Mercredi 9 juin 2004./ Initially published on 09 June 2004 in L’Express   
( Article also referenced on the official site of Tom Peters on : )                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Dreaming of the art of refinement

                                                    We are not in vacuums…We all live in environments, interior and exterior. From the very moment our eyes open till we prepare ourselves to go to bed again, we are overwhelmed with what we see, hear, smell and feel… We are continuously being guided by our individual tastes to take decisions, choosing our interior deco, looking for convenient food, selecting our clothes, buying our appliances…

What really turns us, as customers on, and truly satisfy us? Our business leaders tend to focus much attention on issues like business process reengineering, matching core-competencies with operational capabilities, defining matrix structures for effective knowledge-based organizations…We tend to be quite far from our customer-base and fail to listen to them attentively. What provides Value to our customers? Value is provided simply by satisfying needs. In our modern, (sadly!) materialistic world, where most consumers have met their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, Value is and will be more and more provided by satisfying customer’s sophisticated aesthetic needs.

Aesthetics is not an about esotery or mysticism! It’s just about the vitality of providing opportunities for organizations to appeal to customers through a variety of sensory experiences and thus benefit both the customer and the organization though enhanced satisfaction and loyalty.

Ideally speaking, aesthetics management should begin with a thorough status quo, an AS-IS analysis of every aspect of a company’s or brand visual and sensory identity to project necessary aesthetic outputs (corporate expressions) while identifying how customers perceive the organization’s current inputs (corporate impressions). A comprehensive Corporate Brand Strategy can thus be built on the foundations of such an audit.

Style, Themes, Symbols, Form, Shape, Design, Function, Senses, Colour, Sound, Textures, Scents, Feel, Lifestyle, Technology are just samples of elements that may participate in defining aesthetic strategies for forward looking brands…

Of all so called management gurus, Tom Peters is the most sensitive to design and aesthetics issues. In his book “Liberation Management”, he thus devotes an entire chapter to issues of design. He has compiled a list of 140 items, entitled “Design is…” :

– An easy-to-use FedEx airbill

– The formal position of the Chief Designer on the Corporate Organization Chart

– Great Brochures

– Part of everyday vocabulary throughout the organization

The British Design Council has for instance taken a central role in integrating design management issues in all walks of Industry. As early as in the 90s, this organization stressed that design was an essential ingredient for competitiveness. What an intelligent link between Design Management and International Competitivity! This coordinated effort even acknowledges that innovation and creative activity is not only the realm of designers and creative people. The entire organization should be made aware of the language of design and aesthetics. The mission of the British Design Council reading as “To inspire the best use of design by the UK, in the world context, to improve prosperity and well-being” gives us an idea how things are taken seriously.

What do we have here? Design and aesthetics should permeate all walks of our life in Mauritius if we want to be a country in tune with its time. But if we have a mere look at our external environments, we are very far from perfection! Landscaping, for example, is under-used. Just imagine the various species of plants and trees that could be used to beautify our public spaces, roadsides, round-abouts and parks – supplying fresh oxygen to our polluted spaces, complementing shadows for pedestrians, refreshing the eyes of local residents and tourists alike! We are just now starting to have some bus-stop booths with some form of design…

What about interiors of reception areas and office halls? In some places, you can really feel the importance of aesthetics and refinement, but at times, especially in the public sector, you are welcome, without any welcoming note, by a dull receptionist, without even a smile and a pot of artificial flower with dusted petals! Do we want to wake up one day to note that we were not just having a nightmare?

Ashraf Oozeerally

Managing Director, eye_dentity