Local Consumer Brands Going Pro

Earlier this week the bottled water brand Aqua unveiled new visual designs for Reflections, their premium label of the glass bottle kind, teaming up with another creative mind. There was fashion designer Tex Saverio a while ago, renowned artist Eko Nugroho last year, and fashion designer Sebastian Gunawan this year. For their plastic bottled water Aqua once engaged artist Sanchia Hamidjaja to design a child-focused theme in relation to Temukan Indonesiamu campaign, a move mirrored by competitor Oasis that worked with artist Taufik Habibi for art installation and bottle’s label design during last year’s Artstage Jakarta.

In the fast-moving consumer goods industry, where I built most of my corporate career on, not many products get more consumer than bottled water. Countries where one can drink from tap leave little use for commercially-bottled water. In countries like Indonesia, the lack of drinkable tap water leads to bustling bottled water business. In both contradictory situations branding gets more important than ever to lure customers. What Aqua Reflections does, giving an artistic edge to the label which tight competition is waged on fancy restaurant tables against imported brands by collaborating with Sebastian Gunawan whose clientele consists of society swans with a penchant to float elegantly between fine dining tables, is smart.

The new designs themselves are gorgeous, a clever juxtaposition of blue-green colors often associated with natural water and lush Chinese garden at springtime. Sebastian Gunawan applied the same design framework onto a 63-piece cheongsam couture collection of silk and sequins just in time for Lunar New Year. Fully acknowledging the fact that the increased ownership to majority since 1998 by French giant Danone must’ve contributed highly to brand management, the Indonesian in me couldn’t help feeling proud to see a brand founded domestically by the Tirto Utomo family 40-plus years ago now looks so polished and on par with major foreign brands.

What about local brands that remain locally-owned? It’s nice to notice that some have started to realize the importance of professional marketing in addition to providing great products. Packaging has gone better and more attractive, promotion has gotten smarter and creative.

Local fruit company Sunpride has managed to put forward its products aside imported fruits on the produce section of high-end supermarkets in Indonesian major cities, often leading A-class shoppers to think they’re buying imported bananas and pineapples. The packaging is unfussy yet adequate, two traits that local companies often fail at.

For promotions, in addition to maintain a good social media presence, Sunpride has sponsored popular events such as Jakarta Marathon and Jakarta Fashion Week, letting curated potential customers a chance to sample their products. Eventually for this category product’s quality and taste will determine repeat customers, but as far as putting on professional branding, the company can tick that box.

Another interesting move I saw recently was by Surakarta-based Singabera. Known primarily for their “Jahe Wangi” instant ginger powder in batik-patterned box, which design frankly can use an upgrade, the company has expanded to premium lines under the parent company name that not only packaged much more attractively but also made of more interesting variants.

I was lunching recently at Kaum, the purveyor of fine Indonesian culinary, when I stumbled into the ginger tasting organized by Singabera. I ended up spending the rainy afternoon learning about domestically-grown ginger varieties (red, white, Java), the usage far beyond wedang jahe hot drink (Kaum did a great job serving a mouthwatering spread of ginger-based dishes and cocktails), the trivia fact of “Singabera” being Sanskrit (which translates later to “zingiberi” in Greek and “ginger” in English) and the intricacy of Indonesian ginger business that hangs on the so-called ginger reviewing middlemen Singabera tries to cut by going straight to farmers.

The presentation was done in English by a professional young lady from the company, with self-proclaimed foodie Indonesians and curious foreigners in attendance gingerly, all pun intended, jotting down notes. I posted the event on Instagram and received positive feedback; the Indonesians were surprised a local produce has come to look that “cool”, the expats wished they’d joined for something akin to wine tasting for an Indonesian natural product.

And that’s the essence of three stories above, that the current lifestyle of increasingly urbane Indonesians are moving towards where products need not only need to be of good quality, but should also be well-presented all around when served at gatherings, brought overseas or given to foreigners as souvenirs, and even when consumed privately. To be fair, the local coffee and chocolate categories have taken the direction for a while now, but the majority in other consumer categories are rarely doing so. The local products that will survive in the long-run are the ones who no longer look at professional brand marketing as a side effort, but as the only integrated management system. No more dowdy packs, corny advertisements, and half-hearted customer engagements.

Can local companies pull this off? Looking back at my career experience often investment for a change is financially lower than what is feared of—the hardest undertaking is accepting the fact that changes are needed and inevitable. I learned that the hard way as a young brand manager, surely top management at local companies have long known that. After all, denial never serves anyone but farmers on the Nile riverbank, no?

Looking forward to better branded local products on the grocers, or a professional tasting or two.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/02/10/urban-chat-local-consumer-brands-going-pro.html 

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