Issue 4, 2011. August-September

   

CREATING A BRAND: COMPETITION HAS SPARKED INNOVATION IN MARKETING

Facebook and other types of social media are transforming how Georgian companies brand their products and communicate with consumers. Companies are also increasingly aiming to produce highly localized brands by highlighting their connection to the country with the ues of Georgian celebrities and traditional Georgian themes.

Facebook users in Georgia have increased to approximately 640 thousand this year. Map courtesy of www.icrossing.co.uk

Market savvy Georgian companies are building brands - and brand loyalty - as market competition grows.

New advertising campaigns, corporate logos, product placement and sponsored television shows are pushing marketing strategies into popular culture.

Bank of Georgia is at the frontier of the push, using Georgia's popular Nichieri (Talent) show to promote name recognition, and playing up features on its Facebook site to engage clients.

A new advertising campaign for the bank's exclusive deal with American Express uses Georgian faces to popularize the global brand.

The plan to go local came from the bank, noted Alexander Katsman, when they realized Georgians were disconnected from the product.

Although it took a lot of effort to convince American Express to give them the green light, the marketing strategy has been a success: Georgians began connecting with American Express and the product took off.

Katsman, the bank's chief branding officer, started the strategy a year ago when he moved to Bank of Georgia from Sarke, a local advertising agency.

"We launched this brand on the global platform before and we saw that people were a little bit lost with the brand and the connection was not strong," he said.

"We need a strong connection between the brand and the customers."

Creating a connection is the cornerstone of Bank of Georgia's new branding efforts - and a driving trend for big companies in competitive sectors, according to Elena Gordeeva, the program director at NIMA marketing school in Tbilisi.

Branding, Katsman commented, is more "customer-centric" than marketing since it seeks to "create... a promise and to build around that promise."

". . . finally what are we trying to do? - we are creating some set of values and ideas so that people will love to be engaged with us and become the fans and the advocates for our brand," Katsman explained.

Gordeeva said that while the art of marketing is still developing in Georgia, Bank of Georgia is not the only company looking to build a brand in the Georgian market. Telecom carriers like Magticom, Geocell and Beeline are using colors, prime time ads and television personalities to push their products.

Competition is driving the race for innovative branding strategies for mobile phone operators as well, noted Magticom's Chief Marketing Officer, Irakli Lobzhanidze.

"Enormous" competition within the telecoms industry - where three operators are "pushing" for customers and new clients - is driving marketing departments to use branding to create loyalty, he said.

"When we have a huge variety of products on the market and when the supply is higher than the demand and the consumer has to choose between two identical products, then branding matters," Lobzhanidze explained, adding that selling a simple message that strikes the right note with clients about quality, price and service is key.

Magticom has invested in its local branding story: a local company built by Georgians who invested in building a strong Georgia.

In addition to stressing the quality of its services, Lobzhanidze said focusing on its local roots is a core part of the company's strategy.

"Our slogan is "We are doing Georgian [business], we are doing it for Georgia," he said.

"That is our attitude and our company strategy. For Georgians it is important to realize that this company is doing something for this country and it is not just a team that generates revenues."

Geocell, a competitor, is also focused on building its customer base.

Geocell enjoys one of the highest loyalty rates in Georgia: in 2010 Extended Performance Satisfaction Index scores for Geocell and Lailai (a service provided by the company) were nearly 90 percent -- Geocell 89.5 and LaiLai 87.9. Loyalty ratings were also high, Geocell 93.8 and LaiLai 93.3.

A rebranding campaign has been very successful: Geocell has also been branding itself aggressively. The company adopted a new purple colour in a wave of advertisements in 2009, blanketing the market to the extent that everything purple now seems connected to Geocell.

A long and successful partnerships with Georgian actor Duta Skhirtladze also stimulated the company to stay engaged with consumers and promote consumer loyalty.

Facebook and social media are also a major focus. for Katsman and his team as they seek to build the bank's brand. By using Bank of Georgia's fb profile to engage with potential clients, they give people a chance to comment on services and expectations.

At Bank of Georgia, Katsman and his team seek to build the bank's brand by using Bank of Georgia's Facebook profile to engage with potential clients by giving people a chance to comment on services and expectations.

Irina Sak, CEO of Publicus Hepta's Caucasus office, noted that Georgia is one of the "fastest growing" Facebook users in the world. Socialbakers, a site dedicated to statistics on social media, reported that the number of Georgians using Facebook grew from 480 thousand in January to 641.6 thousand in July - nearly 15 percent of the population and over 49 percent of the country's online population.

This makes the social networking site a "fantastic tool" for marketing - if marketing departments know how to use it - skills Georgian companies are still developing.

Lobzhanidze said social media is part of Magticom's marketing strategy, but a relatively small part. In his opinion television is still the most effective way to reach the biggest share of Georgian consumers.

Marketing departments however, are increasingly using social media to gauge the success of television advertising campaigns.

Katsman said the dialogue and chat platforms on Facebook help Georgians feel included in the product and the process of doing business - which is vital for building relationships with future clients.

"We are not just trying to sell the product to them, we try to improve the product and make the services better - we ask people and we consider their opinion," he said.

"We have pushed the boundaries in terms of communication because I think the end result of that is that people themselves feel a part of the big game and an important part of it."