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branding strategies


What I Learned from Japan About Branding: Japanese People & Wrapping Paper.


I was in Tokyo for 9 days for a holiday with my family. It was GLORIOUS. But when I got back to the office, I had 41 missed calls. ( Well, that’s not too bad, considering.)

Anyway, my observation from shopping around Tokyo? Japanese people really, REALLY like wrapping paper.

When I bought knick knacks and souvenirs from several stores, the store assistants would always insist on wrapping each thing INDIVIDUALLY with wrapping paper. Refer to photo below for a sample:


When my mum bought cute pouches for her sisters, the shop owner asked, “Present?” And then proceeded to putting each pouch in a plastic sleeve, put ribbons and ‘Made in Japan’ stickers on each of them.

Sounds pretty excessive and wasteful in a way, doesn’t it? It’s like the Japanese are using MORE plastic, MORE paper for the packaging than what is absolutely necessary.

Also, when they were wrapping my stuff, I was like “Ummm are you done?” I wanted to leave but it took a while for them to finish. But then I thought: Maybe it’s not excessive.

Maybe they’re on to something here.

Here are my thoughts:


1) Some products deserve that special treatment.

I was buying things like pretty handkerchiefs, keychains and stuff, not groceries. So it kinda makes sense for them to be wrapped. They’re not "every day" products.

It’s like, some things deserve to be wrapped, some are fine in plastic bags. Yaknow?

Since souvenirs have that extra sentimental value + cost relatively more, it makes sense that the shops would take an extra step to make them look more special.

This would definitely work for you if you’re selling something that’s also ‘special’. Like a handmade item, something that’s made with love or something that you want to make more premium.

I think it's a great investment to make for your brand. Anyway, if you go with wrapping paper like the Japanese, you’ll do fine with:

  1. Thin paper in your brand colours / patterns. Choose something like tissue paper rather than anything thicker. Makes it easier to wrap around your product.
  2. A small sticker / tape to secure the wrapping. It can also be in your brand colours / patterns.

2) How you present your product reflects on your brand.

Wrapping paper is not just wrapping paper. The packaging is not pointless ruffles.

When the shop assistants wrapped my stuff, the act of wrapping itself represented the values of ‘Made in Japan’. Craftsmanship, quality and pride.

It’s as if Japanese people have this nation-wide conspiracy to make people fall completely in love with Japanese brands, and not just the products. And it worked! (I bought a lot of knick knacks.)

It’s like when my grandma takes out her nice cups and plates when we have guests over. She would NEVER serve guests with our everyday plates, even if logically her cooking will taste the same.

The whole principle behind it is that how you present your creation (or product) reflects on your brand itself. If you present it beautifully, people can appreciate the product AND the brand.

But if you ignore the presentation aspect, people may appreciate the quality of the product, but they may not fall in love with the brand.

It really depends on how you want people to perceive your brand. What kind of values do you want to present? See if you can infuse those values into the whole buying process from A to Z.


3) The experience doesn’t end when the customer hands over the money.

Logically, wrapping the products or putting them in nice packaging AFTER the customer has bought them isn’t necessary. The customer has already paid. Put the stuff in a plastic bag and say bye-bye. The customer will enjoy the product any way.

And if you asked me: Hey, do you want wrapping? It’ll add an extra 50 sen and 3 minutes. I’ll be like nah, it’s fine. Not necessary.

Most customers won’t say yes to something that adds cost and time to their purchase. We always want a good deal. We don’t want to spend more on things that we don’t think is necessary.

But when I got back home, it honestly felt so nice to unwrap the souvenirs. It felt special, AGAIN. I already know what’s inside the wrapping paper, but it felt special all the same.

There’s nothing wrong with a plastic bag of course. I’m not even someone who cares if her presents are wrapped or not. But unwrapping my things made me happy!

My point is: you may need to make that nice unwrapping experience ‘obligatory’ for your customers. Make the act of unwrapping or opening the packaging of your product a great experience. As if they’re opening a present for themselves.

This isn’t an excuse to charge high prices just because of nice packaging. But if your ‘unwrapping’ or opening the packaging will create a legit experience that customers will enjoy, go ahead!

Here’s some ideas for your wrapping/packaging:

  • Scented tissue paper wrapping.
  • Nice solid box.
  • A note for the customer.
  • A cute sticker.

These are just my ideas, so feel free to brainstorm according to your brand’s personality!

Over time, your customers will begin to think that your brand and products = special. It’s like when you go to a really fancy restaurant. The food may be really good, but it’s the decor, ambience and the way waiters treat you that make the meal extra special. And whenever you want to feel special again, you go to that fancy restaurant.


At first, I thought that my things were wrapped and packed so nicely because I was clearly a tourist buying souvenirs. But I saw that other Japanese customers also got the same treatment. So I guess it’s their culture.

I don’t think that as Malaysian brands are doing anything wrong. But there’s something to learn from Japanese people and their wrapping paper, for sure. 😊

Do you think wrapping products is a worthy investment for a brand? Let me know by commenting!



A Simple Diagram to Help You Place Your Brand in the Market


Hey! I know I haven't been around much in May, and now it's June. I'll tell you about it in my next post, but TODAY...

I have a very neat thing to show you.

I've told you that I work in the financial services sector right? To be more specific, I work in business financing. And one of my jobs is to prepare contracts for entrepreneurs whose applications for financing have been approved.

Along the way, I've read a lot of cool business proposals. Different industries. Different kinds of businesses. I've always made a point to read through all the proposals to see what business-related stuff I can learn.

And one day, I saw this diagram that immediately lit a huge lightbulb over my head:

What's the actual name of this kind of graph...thingy?

What's the actual name of this kind of graph...thingy?

It's a great way of looking at the kind of brands that are ALREADY in the market and how your brand fits into it.

You can also picture it as a map. Where is your brand right now?

I'm not an expert on handbags, but I sure do know that it's fricking impossible for us mere mortals to get a Hermes Birkin bag. I've read somewhere that you've got to know people -- JUST TO GET ON A LIST.

Super duper exclusive, right? And the price matches that level of exclusitivity.

On the other hand, Longchamps! They're not considered cheap, but I guess I wouldn't call them a luxury handbag either. And though I always see people carrying Longchamps everywhere, they're not exactly available at your local boutique or mall.

The biggest lesson I got from this diagram is that your brand can't be everything. It can't be accessible, affordable, exclusive and expensive all at the same time. You've got to find your PLACE in the market.

Basically, you need to choose what you want your brand to be.

The diagram up there is about handbags, but you can definitely do it with any other industry or product. Food, skincare and even notebooks (ahem, Moleskine).

Anyway, comment below and let me know which industry/product you most like to analyze!

P.S. Salam Ramadhan!



Why Being Opportunistic Can Be A Good Thing (Just Look At Nandos!)


The word "opportunistic" have always had negative connotations. It implies that you're taking advantage of something or someone in a negative situation.

But it's not bad to be opportunistic when marketing your brand. As long as your message is suitable* for the occassion, then it's the OH YOU SMART ALEC thing to do!

Just look at Nandos.


It's smart, it's humorous and it's RELATABLE.

This one simple advertisement allowed Nandos to build rapport with their target market - the young 'uns who are feeling the pinch of today's economy.

And they're consistent with their messages. You can always count on Nandos to have an opinion about current issues, and you can count on them to be cheeky about it. It has become part of their branding.

Now Nandos is the cool brand and relevant brand. Relevant because they so obviously took the effort to talk about the issues that their customers are struggling with. They show that they care. And they get publicity for it. That's good for business.

So really take time to consider what interests your target customers share, and take opportunities that relate to that. It can be as simple as knowing when 'World Friendship Day' is and crafting a message that acknowledges this + reflects your brand.

*suitable = not unreasonably controversial or inflammatory

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5 Branding Basics Your Business Should Have


Have you ever went somewhere with a new haircut or a new style of hijab, and have people say that they almost didn't recognize you?

It works the same way for brands too. Brands that constantly change their appearance will find that:

  1. People cannot remember them.
  2. They cannot build brand loyalty.
  3. Their products are hard to sell.
  4. They have to compromise on the things they sell and do.

But having your business look the same way won't make you boring. Consistency is actually the magic word when it comes to branding.

The myth is that you have to stick to that colour and that font and that look for EVERYTHING you do. This is not true.

What you're making consistent are only some basics that cover you as a business. You can be as creative as you like with your products. They're two different things because your business will last for a long time, but your products may not. You may move on to other products.

If people only remember your products and not you as a business, how can you sell other products in the future? You don't want your business to have a short life. Through your branding basics, you can ensure it has the ability to make profits 5 years down the road.

So what do you need?


1. Brand colours

Colours make the world go round. That's what I believe anyway. In the natural world, colours help animals differentiate between food that are okay to eat and things that are poisonous (brightly coloured poison frogs, anyone?).

In the marketing world, colours catch the customers' eye and help them differentiate between you and your competitors. Let's do a little test.

Can you guess which brand these colours represent?


Is it Burger King, KFC or McDonald's?

Since we've been seeing these colours on everything McDonald's sell (and even on their buildings), we can instantly recall what brand they represent.

Some colours are so closely associated with a brand that they become synonymous with it. An example is tiffany blue, which comes from the blue box used by Tiffany & Co.

Know the exact shades

It's not enough to know that your brand colours are red, blue and yellow. You have to know the exact shades so that your brand will look the same on everything.

These colours are still arguably red, yellow, white and black... But do they look like the colours of McDonald's? Nope. 

Choose primary and secondary colours

Even if brands have a lot of colours to play with, they will usually choose to use some colours more often than the others. The ones often used are known as 'primary colours', while the rest are 'secondary colours'.

This makes the customers associate the primary colours more strongly with the brand. When I think of McDonald's, I don't really think of all the colours. It's the red and yellow that comes to mind.


2. Typography

Your fonts can really affect how people perceive your brand. A bad font can easily make your brand look like it's not legitimate, which decreases the customer's trust.

Take a look at Apple's font. It's modern and clean, which is exactly what Apple is. Even the products give off that vibe.


OK, so you obviously don't expect Apple to use a cursive font, but what about a font in the same category? Perhaps another sans serif font.

Doesn't look quite like Apple, does it? That's because Apple has been using the same fonts (and fonts that are very nearly identical) for a long time. The fonts are such an integral part of the branding that it would be weird if Apple decides to change them.

Choose 2 - 3 fonts

Your brand will benefit from a little variety, but three fonts is the maximum. The reason why you need more than one font is for you to contrast between pieces of information. One of the situations where contrast is needed is in a blog post.

The title is in a serif font, while the blog text is in a sans serif font. People will usually use serif and sans serif to create contrast, not serif with another serif.

The effect? When you read the title, you can see that it's not part of the paragraph. The contrast factor is also highly useful in social media graphics like Instagram photos and print graphics like posters.


3. Photography style

One of the best things about photography these days is that there are so many photography styles. You can go with muted (or vintage), high contrast, black and white and monochromatic. And those are only the basic categories!

But like everything else, your brand needs to stick to a distinct and consistent style. I'm not saying you have to make everything in a photo exactly the same as the next photo, but the overall effect should be the similar.

Why? Because a photo is not just a photo. It's part of the bigger picture. When people scroll through your Instagram profile, what do they see? It will either be a set of visually appealing and streamlined photos, or a set of messy and wildly different photos.

Use the same presets or conditions for your photos

The way you can achieve a consistent style is by using the same presets or conditions every single time you take your photos. By presets, I mean the way you edit your photos on editing apps or softwares like Adobe Photoshop.

Conditions on the other hand refer to your surroundings. If your style is bright and colourful, taking photos at night when the lighting isn't good is probably not the way to achieve that. When you shoot under the same conditions, it will make it easier for you to sustain the consistency.


4. Patterns and textures

Patterns and textures refer to the background of your graphics or brand items like packaging. What happens in the background?

Will everything be crisp and modern or will they be gritty and imperfect?

For example, the texture looks totally natural for Nando's...

But can Samsung pull it off?

Looks kinda weird, doesn't it? If you saw this at a shop you'd probably think that the logo had scratches on it, instead of thinking that it was intentional.

Choose simple patterns and textures

The above is weird because Samsung's personality is modern, but Nando's is a little more casual and laid-back. A 'gritty' texture works well for the latter, but for a modern brand? Not so much.

For the basics, it's better to keep it simple and understated. If in doubt, a simple coloured background is better than putting in too much visual noise like florals that cover the entire photo or item.


5. Logo

I saved the most popular basic brand element for last. It's the thing that business owners always get asked about by family and friends.

"Do you have a logo yet?"

While the logo is important, people often end up focusing only on this and neglect other equally or more important basics like colours and typography.

This isn't good for branding because branding is the sum of many parts, not just the logo. When you only rely on your logo, you can't accurately convey your brand personality.

Choose a simple and timeless logo

When you develop the other basics, you won't feel the pressure to make the logo super duper fancy. This is because your brand basics work together to convey the brand personality, instead of putting that burden on the logo alone.

The result will be a simple and timeless logo that is very versatile. Just look at Adidas.

This is one of their latest variations, which is just a simple black and white logo. But does it have to be only black and white all the time?

I'll tell you the answer in advance: Nope.

Even when I used the logo on a Narrativity Consultants' colour, it still looks like Adidas. It's still recognizable.

This is not possible if you have a complex, 3D logo that only works when there are shadows and 5 different colours. That kind of logo will stop your creativity in its tracks, because you'll have to make everything not clash with that logo. That's very counter-productive and decidedly not fun.


To have a strong building, you need a strong foundation. Brandings basics are your brand's foundation. Without them, your brand won't look professional and memorable. With online and social media marketing, it's important to grab the customers' attention and make them trust you from the moment they click on your profile. Otherwise, you'd be losing out to other better-branded businesses, no matter how good your products are.

What's the branding basic that you're struggling with the most?



Slogans Are Still In, Yaknow. (AirAsia vs. MAS)


There's an all-around fear that slogans will make us look silly or lame.
I get what it feels like. Sometimes I cringe when I read slogans that are just too cheesy or trying too hard to be funny. They don't add to the brand, they detract from it. And it's sad because the brand is clearly trying to highlight something. They become memorable, but not for the right reasons.
But on the other hand, you have slogans that are so vague that you don't know what they're referring to, and you're not interested in finding out. This is bad too, because these brands are missing out on a huge opportunity to get in people's minds and make an impression.
If done well, slogans are 100% worth the time and effort we spend in developing them. In a world where space is precious, a one-sentence slogan can be used again and again. Where do we use them? Some of the examples are:

  • Social media bio/description
  • Packaging
  • Business cards
  • Advertisements
  • Networking events

The slogan has to be so short that people can understand it in just 5 floors.

Wait, why 5 floors?

Picture this: you're taking an elevator down from the 11th floor. Suddenly you notice someone in the elevator with you. Someone with a lot of money to invest (and wants to invest it somewhere).

He's going to get out on the 6th floor. So you only have 5 floors to pitch your business to him before he gets out. You have to persuade him to invest in your business, instead of other people's.

This thing is called an elevator pitch. It's usually for hooking investors, but the same principle applies to attracting customers. How can you hook them?

Use the slogan to tell people how you're different from your competitors. 

  • How are you special?
  • How can you benefit your customers' lives?

You NEED to know the answer to these questions so that you can convince your customers.

Let's look at two competing brands using very different, but equally captivating slogans.


AirAsia: "Now Everybody Can Fly."

Flying has always been a luxury for many. And there are people who haven't been on a plane at all. Even if the trip planned isn't that expensive, the cost of flying itself is a deterrent. But with AirAsia, flying has been redefined. With its incredibly low prices, now just about everyone can fly.

They took the thing that they did best (i.e. low prices) and framed it in such a way that anyone reading the slogan knows how they will benefit from these low prices. It's easy to understand and focus on the customers.

This is important. Slogans are for customers to understand and appreciate, not the owners!

One of my most favourite marketing advice that I want to share with you is to "sell the sizzle, not the steak", which means you have to sell the benefit and not the feature.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak.
Sell the benefits, not the features.

For example, if your new product is a wrinkleless shirt, highlight the fact that the wearer can still live out of his / her suitcase and still look smart. Of course you'll have to mention the feature, but the benefits must take centre stage. Talk about the benefits of having a wrinkleless shirt.

You have to tell people WHY they should care. Because they will look smart. Because they will feel confident. Because they'll have a glowing complexion.

The AirAsia slogan didn't mention the low prices at all (steak). It focused on the accessibility of flying to the people (sizzle). Everyone from the travelling 25 year-old eager to see the world to the student who's pining to go back to his hometown can fly. And it's so easy for them to book a ticket. 

But it's undeniable that AirAsia's low prices only get you to your destination. There's no in-flight entertainment and you either have to pre-book or purchase your meals on board. The experience is minimal, the destination the ultimate aim.


MAS: "Journeys Are Made By The People You Travel With."

"The people you travel with" highlights awesome Malaysian hospitality in the form of the stewards and stewardess of MAS. The slogan also focuses on the journey.

If AirAsia was about your destination, MAS is about the experience of flying. If I had money to splurge, I would go for MAS.

Since I was little, anything that has to do with flying always seemed so fancy. Back then, there was no AirAsia. Now at 23 years old, flying is still fancy to me! The whole experience is something to be excited about. Boarding the flight, putting on the safety belt. I also really, really like airline food for some reason. 

They also have in-flight entertainment and the seats are super comfortable to sink into. In short, the experience itself is memorable. They're selling the experience.

It makes sense that they're highlighting the journey. How good the journey is justifies the cost. Some people prefer to be comfortable when they travel, because they value the journey as well as the destination.

Let's look at the breakdown one more time:


  • Unique angle: Extremely low prices
  • Benefit: Everybody can travel even if they have a small budget.


  • Unique angle: Malaysian hospitality
  • Benefit: Everybody can travel in comfort and style.

Slogans are pretty useful, right? It's only one sentence, but one that conveys a lot. Whats's your favourite brand slogan?

Read more strategies from famous brands!