Opinion: Changing perceptions about 'Brand Taiwan'

Although the country doesn't yet have a truly global brand on the scale of Samsung or Toyota, the tide is beginning to turn, says Prophet's John Holton

John Holton is a partner in the Hong Kong office of brand consultancy Prophet
John Holton is a partner in the Hong Kong office of brand consultancy Prophet

I remember buying my first stereo at the age of 13. It had a twin tape cassette holder, four speakers, two of which were detachable, and eight graphic equalisers. It had taken a birthday and a summer of saving pocket money to buy so you can imagine my distress when after six weeks it decided to stop working. In a moment of rashness I unscrewed the back to investigate. The first thing that appeared, on opening, were the words ‘Made in Taiwan'.

Unfortunately, 'Made in Taiwan' became synonymous with cheap electronic products for me and many others in Europe and the US. This reputation, despite valiant efforts by the government, still lingers on in Western minds today.

I have had the good fortune to spend much of the last six years of my career working in Taiwan with some of the country’s leading brands, so I know first hand that perceptions are a long way from reality.

Taiwan is blessed with a highly educated workforce - over 70% of 18-22 years olds go on to higher education. It is also starting to enjoy a very strong reputation for innovation across multiple industries. This reputation has allowed it to achieve considerable success in the ICT industry with brands such as HTC, ASUS, ACER and Foxconn, but it has yet to find its Samsung or Toyota, brands that are truly global .

Brand building was the subject of a recent workshop that we were asked to co-run with MediaTek, one of the country’s leading semiconductor companies. Participants included many of Taiwan’s most successful organisations. During the session we discussed what it takes to build a great brand.

Brand building isn't as easy as it used to be. Companies no longer control the conversation and if they want to get noticed they need to do things that others are willing to share. In this new world, where actions are more important than words, brand owners are beginning to realise that it is becoming increasingly important to get the people who work for you inspired before thinking about your customers.

Motivating the people who work for your brand begins by defining your purpose. Great brands know what they stand for – Alibaba want to make it easer for all of us to do business. IBM wants to make the planet smarter. Lego want to inspire creativity in children.

Finding your purpose is probably the single most important thing that a brand owner can do. Once discovered, you then need to find committed leaders who are willing to embed it into everything they do. If you are asking your employees to go the extra mile to support your mission it is important for them to feel that you are fully behind it.

We also discussed the need to arm your communities with the stories and evidence about your brand that that proves your purpose is more than just rhetoric. Employees and customers want to be part of your mission. Very often the struggle behind a new product or service is as appealing as the final result. Successful brands are beginning to open up so that people can join this journey. Organisations that embody this approach are very often the ones creating infinite remarkable experiences and a continuous stream of bold moves that delight customers. They have motivated their employees to create incredible products and services that the world wants to talk about and share.

There is no shortage of ambition in Taiwan to build truly global brands, and when we look across industries today there are several companies that are pushing forward with this approach:

- MediaTek is talking about putting great technology in the hands of the many, not the few, so that everyone can realise their potential.

- Gogoro, the company co-founded by Horace Luke, ex HTC industrial designer, has Tesla-scale ambitions to turn the motorcycle market electric.

- Merida, the bicycle design company founded in 1972 by Ike Tseng, set out to prove that quality bikes could be produced in Taiwan. It is finally beginning to enjoy the reputation that it deserves on the world stage.

As the next few years unfold I am looking forward to seeing more companies in Taiwan discovering their purpose and building brands that the world wants to talk about. Those brands will make the words 'Made in Taiwan’ mean something very positive and desired by consumers in every market around the world.

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