Business Intelligence

Super brands: Are you one?
Anne Kiguta
Published: 23-JAN-07

Superbrands boast of being the world’s largest independent arbiter of branding. It identifies and pays tribute to exceptional brands from all over the world. The Superbrand status is awarded to such brands, and subsequently the brand’s position is strengthened and set apart from competitors.

With a notoriously British humour, the 38-year-old Operations Manager of the holding company of Superbrands Limited, Steve Dodgson, narrates the company’s humble origins. He tells how the publishing company began life in London in 1990 as a radio show. The show discussed brands and their competitive advantages and received overwhelming responses, which led to increasingly more brands becoming involved. Eventually, criteria to differentiate superbrands were formulated and a global publication established.

Having launched programmes in more than 60 countries, the branding authority entered the East African region in October 2006 as Superbrands East Africa. This has been a new approach for the company, which awards brands on a country-by-country basis. Dodgson says, “The two areas which looked interesting enough to have a go at this time were here (East Africa) and Nigeria. You need a certain critical mass of brands to make this work. We can’t produce a book with five brands on it — it just wouldn’t be a project of any note. So you need to have a certain development of the market which I think is happening here.”

Recognised as the benchmark for brand success, the organisation has produced over 5 000 case studies on brands identified as high achievers. These unique stories and insights have been published in 100 branding bibles, 77 of which were published in Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.

However, the Operations Manager is quick to point out his company’s jurisdiction in these matters. “We are not the branding police.” He asserts the company’s core business as being publishers. Thus situations where brands ride on each other’s brand equity and gain, as it were, “unfair mileage” (though legally: issues of copyright or protection of intellectual property may not be breached) is not the company’s prerogative to investigate.

Also, not in their play are issues of quality of the brand. Can brands be popular simply because there isn’t sufficient competition? Certainly! But Dodgson says this is not a major consideration: ultimately, for any brand to survive in the market, it must be satisfying customer needs, and this in itself speaks of quality.

How it works

Each country or region represented is led by an operational head who is part of the international editorial board for the Superbrands book. These heads act as the gatekeepers to the Superbrands accolade and are responsible for the integrity of the programme and the creation of the local expert council.

The expert council for each programme is made up of an array of individuals with a deep appreciation of brands and branding. Council members are usually highly respected agency figures from different marketing fields, senior figures from key brands operating in the country, and journalists and publishers from important media channels in that country. Each council or judging panel is responsible for selecting the brands that deserve to be awarded the Superbrands status for their outstanding achievements. Brands are selected from a shortlist which differs from territory to territory to reflect the scope of that market. This means that a brand can be a Superbrand in one region and fail miserably in another. At present Superbrands have over 670 council members across the globe. Each council sits for one year and may be re-appointed. Council members look out for three key criteria; how well established is the brand in the region where it operates, how large is the brand’s market share and what is the brand’s confidence in the market.

As far as fairness is concerned, Dodgson says bias is easily overcome. The 13 sitting members of the Council are not allowed to judge brands in industries in which the council members operate. Also, if there is any preferential awarding of marks by a member, it will be negated by other member votes. This is because the final decision on a brand is given after a mean grading of all the points awarded by the members.

The 2006/2007 East African Council includes Nakumatt Holdings’ Director of Operations, Thiagarajan Ramamurthy, Thompson Kenya Managing Director, Sunder Venkatarama, ZK Advertising Managing Director, Brian Odwori, Ogilvy East Africa Managing Director, Richard Mukoma, Brandscape Director, Tom Sitati, Aga Khan Development Network (Kenya) Resident Representative, Anil Ishani, Adopt A Light Managing Director, Esther Passaris, Sameer Investments Director, Sameer Merali, Kenya Private Sector Alliance Chairman, Lee Karuri, The Steadman Group Managing Director, George Waititu, Media Initiative East Africa General Director, George Lutta, East Africa Business Council Chairman, East Africa Business Council Chairman, Abid Alam, Kenya Airways Head of Marketing & Corporate Communications, Michael Okwiri, Gina Din Corporate Communications Managing Director Gina Din Corporate Communications Managing Director, Gina Din Kariuki and Nation Media Group Marketing Director, Cyrille Nabutola. Head of the East African franchise, Jawad Jaffer says, “This is the right time to start a franchise where East African brands can do their best to achieve Superbrand status.” Jaffer says with the introduction of Superbrands, it is expected that major opportunities will be created in the region. “Many leading brands in this region will gain new confidence and rise up to a new level, such as Coke and Microsoft. This will in turn boost sales and employment,” he says.

Brands with Superbrand status are entitled to use the Superbrands award seal on their packaging and in their advertising to show customers that they have achieved this recognition for their branding excellence. This is much in the same way many companies use ISO accreditation. Many of the world’s leading brands have chosen to advertise the fact that they have received Superbrand status, taking large advertisements in major local publications to do so. A certificate is also provided for display.

In South Africa, England, Dubai, India, USA, and other countries whereby Superbrands is operational, it has been observed that many major brands are now utilising the seal in their marketing and public relations activities. The same is expected in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania through Superbrands East Africa. A Superbrands book will be published by Superbrands East Africa. In the publication, each brand will receive a two-page presentation as part of the package. The book is a very high quality, large-format style publication and each brand receives 50 copies for their own use.

Brands may also decide to take a custom cover and extra copies of the book for internal promotion or as a corporate giveaway. Additional copies of the book are also distributed by Superbrands, both internationally and locally, to individuals and organisations that have an interest in branding and wish to get an insight into how these brands achieved their status in each particular market. Some brands that have achieved Superbrands status in over 10 countries include DHL, Sony, MasterCard, Nokia, Microsoft, Gillette, Kodak and Heinz. Look out for Superbrands as it nominates brands in the region. -Business in Africa Magazine (East Africa)

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