Issue 4, 2014. August-September

   

BUILDING THE BRAND: AN INTERVIEW WITH SOSO GALUMASHVILI

Marketing and branding are a foregone conclusion in developed economies where perception about a product can be more important than the good itself. But for Georgian companies, learning how to brand themselves and cultivating a loyal following has been a challenge. Investor.ge's Maia Edilashvili spoke with one of Georgia's premier specialists on marketing and PR strategy, Soso Galumashvili, about building a brand in Georgia.

Maia Edilashvili

Marketing, PR and communication strategy are the hallmarks of success for major brands around the world. Starbucks, Coca-cola, Apple... major brands invest major resources in building consumer loyalty and brand awareness.

While Georgian companies used to doubt the power of good branding and the value of investing in a long term marketing strategy, that has changed over the past several years, noted Soso Galumashvili, managing partner and senior consultant at the consulting group GePRA and one of the creators of the Tbilisi PR School at the Georgian American University.

Georgia, he said, "has come a long way" in developing competition between brands - and marketing personalities. Galumashvili declined to compare specific Georgian brands or marketing strategies, but he noted that today Georgian PR specialists are being recruited by clients in developing economies. "For instance, in Kyrgyzstan there are many international clients who invite specialists from Georgia- the field is developing so dynamically in Georgia that we can even export our knowledge and skills," he said.

For Galumashvili, the most outstanding current trend is the change in business mentality with regards to marketing and PR. "Originally, many companies in Georgia had a misconception that spending on PR and communications was futile and a pointless burden. Now, as they come for consultancy, they even have their own ideas what they need and they already see the costs as an investment in their future success," he noted.

Another interesting trend on the market, according to Galumashvili, is that, previously, companies asked for advice on the short-term planning of communications strategies but now they are homing in on the importance of long-term strategies to build brands and cultivate loyal customers.

Galumashvili noted that the most sophisticated communications and branding strategies are in banking and insurance, two of the fastest growing fields in the Georgian market. "As these fields are developing in a stable and consistent manner, it creates the need to communicate their messages. So, due to this growing experience, high quality professionals are emerging in these segments of the market," he explained.

The biggest challenge facing this market at present, according to Galumashvili, is that businesses are "still" afraid of being innovative and bold in their decisions. "I would welcome more creative communication," he said, adding that when some companies offered the public unexpected communication strategies, they tended to be widely accepted in the market.

"Georgian consumers are strict, but if your communication with them is stable and friendly, they can be understanding and tolerant," he added.

Being innovative trumps cost for companies seeking marketing consultants, according to a survey conducted by the Peritus Group of 200 Georgian PR managers about the criteria they use to select consulting companies.

Galumashvili stressed that businesses shouldn't fear innovation - or stop communicating with their consumers. He noted that the market is full of brands that were once successful but "died" once they stopped innovating and reaching out.

"In the past companies had 'customers,'" Galumashvili said. "Now they are called 'followers,' which means there should be a permanent stream of information for them to follow."

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