As this decade comes to a close, Ruchi Gunewardene, Managing Director of Brand Finance Lanka, examines what’s driving a new wave of global Sri Lankan brands and discovers the influence of “Soft Power” for commercial success
A country’s economic prosperity and sustainability is often associated with the ownership of powerful brands. Many of the world’s most valuable brands are owned by companies headquartered in the USA: Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Disney are just a fraction which impacts our daily lives.
With China rapidly catching up to the position of being the world’s largest economy, we have seen the emergence of many Chinese brands too : Huawei, Haier, Lenovo, Vivo, Oppo, Alibaba, WeChat to name a few.
Exporting is vital for economic prosperity and brands can provide an even greater opportunity for value addition by going direct to the end users. In so doing, enterprising entrepreneurs have leveraged Sri Lanka’s indigenous advantages to differentiate their products and services.
In a world where customers are craving authenticity, Sri Lankan brands have many levers to use by virtue of the country’s island status, bio diversity, natural climatic conditions, heritage, design, style, value system and culture all of which have global relevance and appeal. This “country of origin” approach has helped a newly emerged set of globally focused brands build credibility and authenticity, thereby differentiating from the numerous options available to consumers.
The decade which is just ending, has been a turning point in that journey. For the first time, there are a handful of brands with truly Sri Lankan values embedded, that have succeeded in international markets. Although miniscule in impact at this early stage, they are showing the way forward.
The essence of the Spa Ceylon brand is to provide luxury Ayurvedha. In so doing, it puts emphasis not only on the products and variants which are carefully chosen but on the presentation itself. Sri Lankan centric meticulous designs adorn all products with colourful packaging in beautifully merchandised stores, being sold at premium prices.
The Spa Ceylon brand captures the romance of old Ceylon, presented in a contemporary context for the discerning global consumer. Luxury personal care Auyvedha is the space they operate in and have carved out exclusively for themselves.
The brand has achieved global presence with more than 70 branded stores and spas situated in Ginza Tokyo, Melbourne, Singapore, Mumbai, Seoul & Ulsan in Korea amongst many other locations in Asia and Europe.
t-Lounge by Dilmah
t-Lounge which is a relatively new concept from Dilmah – the pioneer exporter of branded Ceylon Tea, offers a comprehensive and authentic experience which is made specially relevant to the global millennial generation who are leading the renaissance of tea.
As a tea grower Dilmah is able to deliver the promise of providing the finest teas in the world whilst maintaining the integrity and ethical values through the control they have throughout the value chain and the related initiatives they have built around the brand. These include tea education through the Dilmah School of Tea, tea tasting through the Leaf & Artisan Tea Society for members and even a little bit of “theatre” through their engagement with Tomek Malek’s flair bartending appearances.
t-Lounge by Dilmah is found in Dubai, Kuwait, China, Indonesia, Philippines amongst other countries.
Ministry of Crab
Ministry of Crab embodies all the quirkiness of a Sri Lankan brand, which makes it highly unique. Revolving around Sri Lankan crabs, the brand essence is written and detailed in the “constitution” available in the menu, making for interesting reading for the diner. Eating with fork and knife is considered an option here, instead encouraging the traditional Sri Lankan custom of eating with fingers. They even have self nominated Ministers who include the founder Dharshan Munidasa and the famous Sri Lankan cricketing duo cum investors Mahela and Sanga.
The restaurants which can be found in Maldives, Shanghai, Mumbai, Bangkok and Manila are adorned by the signature table décor the familiar Heliconia flowers. This eclectic mix serves a superb Sri Lankan experience to the global food enthusiast.
Lion Brewery has aggressively stepped up their export business during this decade resulting in significant volume gains. Lion beers now reach 27 countries across the 5 continents and is the market leader in the Maldives.
In New York they continue to build the Lion Stout brand which is listed in several high profile bars & restaurants. In some instances, Lion Stout is the only non US beer listed in the outlets. The brand caters to the newly emerged craft beer segment where customers are looking for a distinctive taste. A traditional old British stout formulation modified decades ago to meet the sweeter Sri Lankan palate provides a unique taste experience that is sought by these high end customers.
Island of Ingenuity
This was recently crafted to create an overriding brand to integrate the many different parts of the IT and business processing industry, where highly skilled Sri Lankan knowledge is used to solve complex problems.
Many successful companies have been built on this intellectual knowledge base. The famous examples being Millennium IT (now rebranded as LSEG Technologies following the acquisition by the London Stock Exchange Group), Cake Labs (now rebranded as Sysco Labs following the buy over by Sysco – a US based food delivery service), Amba Research (now, Acuity Knowledge Partners following another global acquisition) being just a few.
By combining the capacity of working on smaller innovative solutions, solving complex problems with specialist services, “Island of Ingenuity” was born, differentiating from the cost effective mass solutions being offered by our neighbour India whilst also providing an excellent working environment and friendly nature that only an island can offer.
Gin Distilled by Rockland, Colombo 7 Gin is a meticulously designed brand like a detailed Sri Lankan work of art. The formulation is based on an 80 year old recipe which was created when trade channels were blocked during the second world war. At that time, Sri Lankan grown cinnamon, ginger and curry leaf which were harvested from the cinnamon gardens in Colombo, were added to the core ingredients to create Colombo 7 Gin, which can now be found in restaurants and pubs in London.
Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts
Following a major brand repositioning of Cinnamon in the early part of this decade, a strategic decision was taken to drop the Chayaa brand and adopt a mono branded strategy for John Keells Hotels, which proved to be a tremendous success. The repositioned Cinnamon brand delivers inspired living through modern, iconic, vibrant spaces bringing the best of contemporary Sri Lankan culture, entertainment and hospitality to their guests.
These are superb examples of how successful world class brands can be created by leveraging attributes that are uniquely resident within a nation. More importantly, they show the ready acceptance the world has for Sri Lankan brand offerings.
Brand Finance uses the term “Soft Power” for a nation brand, to define its ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various stakeholders in the international arena, through attraction or persuasion. By using the various available assets unique to our nation, these internationally focused companies have created brands which have been wholeheartedly embraced.
As momentum builds and as more Sri Lankan brands adopt this approach to go international, the collective experiences they provide the world is what will influence how Sri Lanka as a nation brand will be perceived and can in turn use its growing “Soft Power” for further economic benefits across more sectors.