What you need to know
Corporate culture keeps Taiwan's products and services stuck at the back of the global shelf.
Examples of well-thought-out brand communications exist in Taiwan, yet much of of Taiwan's international (English) brand communications is appalling. Brand names, website content, advertising, signage, packaging descriptions and social media are often poorly considered.
Take Tricky Taipei ’s recent exposure of the dreadful brand communications by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau -- barely legible, grossly amateur communications are being shared with the world. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau in New York has since apologized publicly for the “social media fiasco,” but the damage done will be hard to repair. At best, bad brand communications can result in people ignoring messages, and at worst, it can cripple a business – driving consumers elsewhere.
What could cause brand communications to become so bad? In my experience as a communications strategist in Taiwan, there are eight contributing factors:
1) Lack of investment – not enough money is spent on good communications
When a brand stops investing in itself, consumers stop investing in its products.
Stop investing in product development and products will lose competitiveness, stop investing in facilities and employees will look elsewhere for a job. Brand communications are no different. When brands don't invest in their content and communications, the wrong messages are sent to the market.
Poorly-developed social media messaging, uninspiring brand names, lackluster messaging and web content completely lacking strategic direction are sending the world a very clear message: Taiwanese brands don't want to be taken seriously. Good brand communications are much more than proper use of Grammar and correct spelling -- they're a fundamental understanding of communication strategy and its use as a tool for developing the right messages.
Gogoro is an example of a brand clearly investing in communications by working with professionals in Taiwan as well as prominent international agencies like Cinco Design – and it appears to be paying off. Gogoro is arguably one of the more innovative and desirable brands to come out of Taiwan in decades. Gogoro has an amazing product to sell, but their investment in brand communications has helped to ensure their messaging meets high consumer expectations.
2) Low-value perception – not enough value is placed on good communications
Good design is easy to understand. This has helped increase the value of design, particularly in recent decades. These days, the vast majority of companies in Taiwan would likely claim to value good design – despite their outdated websites. Design is something easy for us to engage with, discuss and evaluate. As our design literacy increases, our perception of the value of design increases as well. This has elevated the status of design in Taiwan.
Brand communications are a different story. Unlike design, communications require a much deeper sophistication for us to develop, manage and maintain. Brand communications like messaging, naming and web content simply require more work for us to comprehend and differentiate.
Successful brands value both. Take Apple for example. Yes, they have great design, but according to leading marketing expert Marc Globe, it was Apple’s ability to “streamline messages in its advertising” that helped rejuvenate the brand. According to Gobe, Apple has “always been about people.” With whom they create “heartfelt connections using both unique visuals and verbal vocabulary.”
We invest in what we value. Unfortunately, in Taiwan, outstanding brand communications doesn’t seem to be valued. This could be due to the relative inaccessibility of communications, especially when compared to design. If we find it difficult to engage in lively discussion regarding brand communications, we won’t place any value in the concept – and miss out on all the potential strong communications can bring to brands.
3) Power and hierarchy – people aren’t empowered enough to do their jobs
Most international firms delegate brand decision-making power to a brand management department.
Doing so empowers employees and creates leaders, both of which are vital to driving a successful brand. This isn’t as common in Taiwan. Founder of Alibaba Jack Ma highlighted this during a visit to Taipei back in 2014. According to Taiwan Business Topics, “Ma likened Taiwan’s elderly corporate emperors to the aged characters in the works of the Chinese novelist Jin Yong, a leading figure in the Wuxia [martial arts] genre.” The article goes on to state that Ma felt “Taiwanese society needed to empower its younger generations” to create a better future.
Without an empowered employee base, brands are managed by teams that lack passion, and decisions are simply left to the CEO. This time-consuming process kills the brand development momentum. It has the residual effect of discouraging changes or attempts at improving brand communications – fearing the process could be seen as wasted time or result in the unwanted intervention of a busy CEO.
Without an empowered employee base, brands are managed by teams that lack passion.
4) Subconscious incompetence – the right professionals aren’t sought out for communications
Brand communications link businesses to their target audience and play a fundamental role in persuading that audience to support it. Persuasive communications are both a science and art that, when done effectively helps us mold and shape attitudes directed towards our products, services, and brands.
Despite this, brands still fail to value and invest in the people who develop communications. What should be viewed as major brand decisions are reduced to insignificant marketing tasks and delegated to people with little to no professional experience in either branding or communications. This results in ineffective communications and poor brand perception – undesirable attitudes toward products and services.
5) Fear – going out on a limb is seen as far too risky
Fear can hold us back from progression and improvement. Fear can prevent brands from making better choices – fear of trying something new, fear of standing out, fear of failure. In Taiwan, where business success has historically been achieved by providing what is asked for (OEM) or replicating those things which already exist in a market, many are reluctant to make meaningful advancements to their brand. They fear going out on a limb and developing truly meaningful brand communications – a barrier to greater success.
What we regularly see, especially when it comes to brand communications, is a persistent clinging to cut-and-paste messages. Brand communications in Taiwan are often little more than boilerplate jargon, more concerned with communicating a sense of status and me-too-isms than in being authentic to brand values. Blending in is always easier, and takes little courage. However, in terms of business success, the rewards are much greater when brands embrace their fear and invest in transformational communications.
6) Politics – too much energy is put into making sure nobody is offended
Nobody wants to lose face, especially in Taiwan where the concept of face is still extremely important and impacts how things are done within most organizations. Very few people are willing to point out bad communications because they fear losing face – their own or others. With no one willing to point out the problem, there is little movement towards developing effective communication tools and strategies, and firms continue to rely on the same old ineffective communications practices – eliminating any chance of creating meaningful impact or improving brand perception.
7) Misaligned expectations – communications goals aren’t clear enough
Goals should always drive brands communications. However, brand communications in Taiwan are still perceived as low-value. Taiwanese organizations invest minimal time and effort into them. Without strategic planning or professional support, clear goals to drive brand communications are often completely absent from the communications development effort.
The problem with a lack of clearly defined goals is ultimately an inability to measure effectiveness. For example, a brand may claim their goal is to “raise brand awareness,” but from where to where? The answer to this type of question often requires much more work than many companies are willing to invest in.
The goal with most brand communications in Taiwan appears to be about getting things done quickly while spending the least amount of money, rather than about creating brand communications that are right for the brand. Brand communications developed with corner-cutting objectives rarely make a measurable impact beyond the doors of the meeting room where they were created, and in turn do little more than create confusion for consumers.
8) Chàbuduō – too often ‘ok’ is good enough
Many companies in Taiwan appear to be putting in the bare minimum when it comes to investing in their brands. Very few brands in Taiwan seem to be aware of strategic brand communications, let alone possess the ambition necessary to develop rock-solid plans for entering international marketplaces. In fact, it seems as if most brands in Taiwan are just fine with things the way they are, and actually, there’s a common saying for that in Chinese – chàbuduō (差不多).
Much of Taiwan’s brand communications are simply awful and perpetuate a stereotype that Taiwan brands aren’t to be taken seriously. In return, global consumers may be finding it more valuable to look elsewhere – to other emerging nations with stronger brand momentum.
Hope is not lost
If Taiwan has any serious ambitions in regards to building internationally recognized and respected brands, then their value perception of communications – including copywriting, messaging, content, naming, and internal communications – needs to transform dramatically. For example, take a look at what ECOVE has done over the past year. This ambitious brand has radically rebuilt its brand communications to reflect a modern day environmental services company. The positive impact on the brand is strikingly evident.
Brands like ECOVE and Gogoro understand the need to invest more in good brand communications and ensure that the right professionals are doing the job. Fear needs to be replaced with a sense of optimism and a realization that a certain amount of risk needs to be taken when pursuing greatness.
Taiwanese brands have everything they need to improve their communications. The right people and the right ideas are here and waiting to be put to work. Doing so will take time and effort along with a willingness to invest more in smart brand strategies and effective communications. Taiwan and its innovating brands are ready to be noticed by global consumers – it simply starts with the right brand communications.
Editor: Morley J Weston