Power of Personality: Taiwan's brand challenge

By Eileen Lin

Wednesday marked what we Taiwanese like to call 'Double Ten Day', a nickname for the National Day of the Republic of China. 

I wish there was some good news to mark this 101th birthday of the founding of China's first democracy. Instead, we were greeted with news that one of Taiwan's flagship brand, smartphone maker HTC, reported a record drop of 79% in profits in 2012

From a Taiwanese perspective, this is distressing news - HTC is one of the country's biggest high tech employers, and most Taiwanese are likely to know someone who either works directly for the company, or for someone along their supply-chain. However, distressing as it is, it is also unsurprising. The company has been struggling for months now, finding it hard to capture consumers' imaginations while its rivals, Samsung and Apple, hog the headlines with shining new products and high profile courtroom battles. 

While the absence of an exciting product offering is certainly to blame, a more profound issue surrounding HTC's approach to branding and marketing needs to be examined. With a budget of only a sixth of Samsung's, its advertising placement ability and exposure is already limited. This is made worse by HTC's apparent inability to articulate a convincing brand proposition to the consumer, as evidenced in its latest advertising campaign. 

The struggle to articulate a coherent brand identity, and make the necessary investments in marketing are common issues faced by most brands of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) origins. Indeed, this is a challenge not only for HTC, but also for most of Taiwan's tech companies, and, poignantly, even the island national itself.  

Like many home-grown brands of Taiwan's pride and joy, the island has much to offer: it is efficient, both economically and culturally rich, and boasts stunning natural beauty. In fact, it was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 travel destinations for 2012, along with Switzerland, Denmark and Jordan. Yet, Taiwan remains a 'hidden gem' destination and struggles to articulate a strong identity to attract tourists. Most recently, the government-sponsored advertising campaign targeting London during the Olympic period, focused on the promotion of Taiwan-made products, did more to confuse than inspire (not dissimilar to HTC).

As other 'tiger economies' find their place on the world stage - Hong Kong as a financial centre, Singapore as a top location for MNC regional headquarters (and, more recently, a new bio-tech hotbed) and Korea as a leader in consumer technology - Taiwan, as well as its array of home-grown brands, must find a way to let its distinct personality shine through. This should not be hard, because as anyone who has met a Taiwanese would probably tell you, one thing we don't lack is personality. 

As I contemplate whether I should switch to the shiny new iPhone 5 or demonstrate my patriotism by sticking with HTC's One X, I remember that iPhones are made by a Taiwanese company anyway, so maybe I CAN have my cake and eat it!

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