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Developing a brand for the Sabah State in Malaysia: empirical research among its tourists

Kim Man, M. M. (2010) Developing a brand for the Sabah State in Malaysia: empirical research among its tourists. The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 16 (1). pp. 118-129. ISSN 1540-1200

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This paper examines the importance of evaluating Sabah state’s image as an ecotourism destination. Like consumer products, states are increasingly trying to brand themselves in order to appeal more strongly to the tourism market. Consumers continue to rely on country and state images to pick their tourism destinations. According to the literature review, effective state branding should reinforce positives images, thereby providing a competitive advantage in world markets. The important role of identity in branding is discussed, and the process of image evaluation as a self-analysis process leading toward building a strong destination brand is considered. Image evaluation is important for Sabah state as an ecotourism destination. This study addresses the theory and practice of country branding, providing recommendations for Sabah state’s ecotourism branding. The study proposes that Sabah be associated with its natural beauty and offers a number of recommendations derived from branding theory. Brands have been considered as marketers’ key tool for creating product differentiation (Kotler and Gertner, 2002). According to Kapferer (1998), the two functions of brand are to distinguish different products and to indicate a product’s origin. Konecnik (2004) indicated that destination branding is a new research area. State branding is important because consumers rely heavily on country or state images to make their economic decisions. The concept of ecotourism requires careful management to ensure ongoing sustainability through a strategic balance of numbers and yield. The key to achieving an optimal return on tourism investment is to develop and manage the ecotourism brand by identifying and understanding the target audience—in other words, to get into the heads of the audience (stand out) and deliver ecotourism branding messages in a way that they will understand them. Under globalization, countries need brand themselves on four different dimensions: public diplomacy, tourism, exports, and foreign investment dimension (Vicente, 2004). Kapferer (1998) explained that brand identity comes from the sender’s (manager’s) side while brand image relates to the receiver’s side. With the brand position in place, state branding can be developed through promotion, publicity, marketing, the Internet, etc. Sabah state has the potential for a strong ecotourism product as it has been nominated as one of the new seven wonders of nature. Measuring the equity of the state brand from the tourist’s perspective will provide the input necessary for Sabah state branding. According to Kotler (2002), a brand’s purpose is two-fold: i) serve as a “major tool to create product differentiation” and ii) represent a promise of value. From a consumer’s viewpoint, a brand is above all a shortcut to a purchasing decision. Consumers often do not take the time to compare and contrast products, even when differentiation is possible based on product characteristics. Furthermore, de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo (1999) indicated that successful service brands result from well-nurtured relationships, evolving from the consumers for particular values. This conclusion is supported by Keller (1998), who indicated that brand name is an important element that often captures the central theme of a product or service. Therefore, logos and slogans could assist the consumer to remember and recognize the features and meaning of the brand. This can applied to country and state images as well. Jaffe and Nebenzhal (2001) reviewed the theoretical underpinnings of country image for products and provided useful insights into how it can be managed by countries, industries, and firms. Papadoupulos (2002) devoted a special issue on country branding, bringing together contributions from the leading experts in the field. Anholt (2003) also argued that developing countries can increase their competitiveness and therefore reduce economic disparity through effective branding.Arnold (2002) indicated that branding relates to the way in which customers perceive and buy things. In this sense, marketers typically distinguish three levels in a brand: essence, benefits, and attributes. The essence of the brand is a single simple value, easily understood and valued by customers. It is the personality of the brand, and the element that is distinctive in the market. The benefits delivered by the brand (emotional, status, image) should match the needs and wants of the consumer. Finally, the attributes—directly noticeable and tangible characters (colors, shapes, functions, and graphics)—should do the same.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:University of Reading Malaysia
ID Code:83070

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