Friday, March 30, 2007

Good News about Malaysia must break out beyond our own Shores

PEPSI used to have an advertisement called the “Blind Test” where people were asked to take a sip of two undisclosed cola drinks and decide which they thought tasted better. Invariably, the advertisement showed that the public preferred Pepsi.

The blind test campaign was carried out in every country where Pepsi was sold but the company wasn’t very successful in making a dent in the profits of Coca-Cola. Despite its better taste, consumers preferred the original red can.

Here in Malaysia, Perodua had a similar problem when they launched the Kenari. It was called the Daihatsu Move everywhere else in the world and was a hit in Japan.

Perodua did not expect the reaction of Malaysian car buyers who found the car a bit too boxy. Realising they had a good car on their hands, they still needed to convince Malaysians to give it a go.

They tweaked the shape of the car a bit and came out with a Bahasa Malaysia tagline “Belum cuba belum tahu” (Never know if you don't try) and in English “A different point of view.”

Amazingly, word soon spread and sales picked up. Buyers of the Kenari swear by their wheels.

These two commercial stories show the importance of not only getting the message to consumers but also to change the warped perception of consumers.

This got me thinking. If changing the shape of a car with the right tagline can work, then it should also work on many other things, including marketing a country to foreign investors.

I am not suggesting that we change the size of Malaysia just to fool investors but, rather, alter their perception of our country.

Having served in Hong Kong a few years ago, I can tell you that the expatriates' general perception of Malaysia there is that we are a spent force, no longer a forerunner in attracting investments.

Meeting up with other nationalities, I find that I spend more time trying to explain that Malaysia is more than just the slogan Malaysia Truly Asia, a holiday destination.

The past Tourism Malaysia advertisement was a runaway success in promoting the country and had changed the perception of many foreigners about our country.

The Government should look hard at this campaign and see how it can be modified to attract foreign investors, too. The power of moving pictures should not be under-estimated.

The United Arab Emirates seemed to have taken a leaf out of our Malaysia Truly Asia campaign. Take a look at the TV advertisement promoting Abu Dhabi. It has images of finishing touches being put on multi-billion dollar buildings and the slogan that Abu Dhabi welcomes you, plus a slew of statistics on the investments they had put in to develop the city.

The fact is Abu Dhabi is geographically smack in the middle of two major conflicts – one between Israel and everyone else in West Asia, and the other the American invasion of Iraq.

Looking at it logically, there should be a a reluctance on the part of tourists to visit the UAE as it is located so close to those two trouble spots; but then again it is a matter of perception.

In the past few months, there had been no international magazine that had not written an article about Abu Dhabi intending to spend US$200bil (RM692.6bil) over the next 10 years to accelerate development there.

Fortune, in its March 19 issue, had a seven-page article about the emirate, which it described as “the richest city in the world.” Such a PR tag is worth millions in terms of advertising dollars.

If Abu Dhabi can talk about billions of dollars, so can Malaysia. Last year our trade figures crossed the RM1tril mark for the first time. Exports accounted for RM588.95bil, while imports totalled RM480.49bil.

These points are not emphasised enough, at least not internationally. It is not adequate to just talk about these figures at home. Hundreds of billions of dollars are involved, and Fortune should be writing about it.

How about the Iskandar Development Region (IDR)? The Government has announced fantastic incentives for foreign investors, but has the news reached the right audience?

Some of the astounding points of the IDR are:

·FOREIGN direct investments worth a projected US$40bil (RM138.5bil) to be lured in the first seven years;

·MORE than RM4bil to be spent on infrastructure;

·CORPORATE tax exemption for qualified companies for 10 years;

·FOREIGN workers in the IDR will be able to import or purchase a duty-free car for their personal use; and

·COMPANIES will be free to employ foreign workers.

These incentives are unmatched anywhere, and Malaysia better be on the cover of the next issue of Fortune magazine so that its message gets across to the right audience.

One diplomat stationed in Singapore was among the many foreign VIPs invited to the launch of the IDR in November.

“The entire proceeding was in Malay. I did not understand a word of what was said, but stayed on politely,” the diplomat said.

One can only imagine the kind of report this envoy would have submitted to his head office.

When told of the latest announcement, he acknowledged that he would have to re-submit a report to “clarify the situation.” I hope that he will give a correct perception of the project this time round.

Just like millions of Malaysians, I am excited at the announcements by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but it is not enough that the good news stays on our shores. The Prime Minister has been farsighted in coming out with the incentives to ensure the success of the IDR, and it will not succeed without a change in the present perceptions about the country.

The audience must receive the correct news and, if necessary, efforts must be made to present the good news into the right sizes so that the potential customer will feel confident, attracted and flattered.

Promoting the country must be handled like any other marketing campaign. The target group must be made to feel good, and that is all a matter of perception.

Source : STAR
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