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Poland's Małopolska region: an exercise in brand building

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Building a brand could be a daunting task. Brands are what customers rely on when making choices - be they individuals picking chocolate bars off a supermarket rack or industrialists facing a decision to invest millions in new machinery.

Most brands come and go, subject to fleeting preferences of consumers and contractors. But many have been around for decades.

By definition, truly global brands such as Apple or Coca-Cola are few and far between. Most brands will operate on local or national markets. The fundamental idea remains the same, however – it is about elevating your company from just another maker of things - or a provider of services - to a new level that transcends what you do.


1.9 million brands?

Poland is an economy relying on 1.9 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which produce three-quarters of annual GDP value. At the same time, those companies often find it particularly difficult to build their brands – for a variety of reasons.

A new project mapping businesses with the biggest potential to become national or international brands has now come up to help.

The Brand Map of the Malopolska Region has surveyed the residents of the southern region of Malopolska (Lesser Poland) with an aim of supporting the regional entrepreneurs in building their brands and also to provide an example for other Polish regions to follow.

The Brand Map report has been compiled by the Warsaw-based Marketing

Communication Association SAR in partnership with the Malopolska branch of Lewiatan, a business association, under the auspices of the regional authorities. The report has been co-funded by the EU as part of a programme for the economic promotion of the region.

The Malopolska region is one of the growth engines of the Polish economy, boasting a favourable external environment for business, good infrastructure links with the rest of the country as well as with Germany and the Czech Republic, and a pool of well-educated workforce, to enumerate but a few factors.

The report's key part is a representative survey of 2,600 Malopolska residents, who were asked to identify regional brands and business sectors that they thought would best brands in the region of 3.4 million people that is a home to over 370,000 companies.

Respondents identified information and communication technologies (ICT), creative and free time industry, and sustainable energy as the region's top business branches. The surveyed Malopolska residents also indicated top 15 regional brands, with the Malopolska Ecological Centre MCE and the juice producer Tlocznia Maurer getting the most mentions.

Based on the results of the survey and expert interviews, the Brand Map report recommended 13 companies to become Ambassadors of the Malopolska region on the national level: CES, Eskadra, Farmina, Hand Made, K&K Recykling, Marabut, Opus B, PV Energia Polska, Skalmar, Tlocznia Maurer, Unima 2000, Wolarek, and Womar.

Nine companies were also recommended as Ambassadors of the Malopolska region: Astor, Bielenda, Dragon Poland, EC Systems, Estimote Poland, Farmona, Hean, Protech, and Smart Nanotechnologies.

But why would regional companies consider getting proactive in building their brands? As the Polish economy is booming – having grown 5.1% last year, one of the fastest expansion rates in Europe – the incentive to invest in brand promotion might appear secondary, after all.

"The whole region can take advantage from strengthening the marketing of companies operating on its territory. Metaphorically speaking, Malopolska – which has the makings of becoming a brand in itself - is like a street where a number of restaurants, or the regional companies, operate. The street is also getting some tourism, which symbolizes exports," the report says.

The uniqueness of the Malopolska region lies in the fact that it combines historical and cultural traditions with modernity. While the former are famous countrywide and abroad - as evidenced by the dynamically growing number of tourists who are attracted by the region's rich cultural offer - the modernity part is gaining momentum only now.

The synergy of heritage and tradition with modernity is underway already, for example in the cooperation of the regional universities – the Kraków-based Jagiellonian University and the AGH University of Science and Technology with modern business.

"The strength of the region's brand combined with the strength of product brands augments export possibilities. Clients and contractors attract and bring in new ones. That is why the cooperation of regional brands with the Malopolska brand may positively influence all market participants," the Brand Map continues.

Good product is just the start

But there are challenges, which the Brand Map report has done a good job identifying.

Perhaps the single most fundamental issue is that many companies disregard the power of marketing and believe that a good product and service alone will be sufficient to become successful, the report's authors note.

They are right but only to an extent, says Grzegorz Krupnik, CEO of Protech, a steel processing company and manufacturer of heating boilers, based in Zator, a town of 4,000, located 50 kilometres west of Kraków, the capital city of Malopolska.

Protech is one of the companies that the Brand Map report recommends as ambassadors of the region on the international level.

"Good product is, of course, a start. But it won't sell and neither will it help build your company's brand if you fall short of representing your company well as a leader and without dedicated and competent staff that enjoys working for you," says Krupnik.

Some Polish entrepreneurs also tend to associate professional marketing with great expense. It is worth convincing them that marketing is not necessarily expensive.

To win the region's entrepreneurs for the idea of building and promoting brands, the Brand Map authors and partners offer training on how to start and develop business abroad, create a brand strategy, and gain competitive advantage on foreign markets.

Companies can also benefit from analyses of legal and financial conditions of business operations in selected countries. The Brand Map report also offers guidelines for acquiring and verifying foreign partners, as well as help in creation of export strategies.

"The process of brand building conducted in a clever and consistent way without extensive investments is within the reach of all the researched participants, regardless of the scale of their companies' activities," the Brand Map report says.

Make Poland brand at last

That said, Polish enterprises often underestimate their potential by selling their products as subassemblies for products of other companies or by selling ready-made products, which are, however, marketed under other brands. That is coming to an end, hopes Marian Bryksy, CEO of the Malopolska branch of the business association Lewiatan.

"Poland's economic position is one of the strongest in Europe. Now the time has come to have 'Made in Poland' match that," says Bryksy.

The report is designed to help promote Poland's brand by promoting local brands, services and products. So the companies of the Malopolska region stand a chance now: they will win if they successfully build their brands.

The Brand Map report has been created to help the regional companies follow in the footsteps of Protech and other entities recommended as the region's ambassadors on the national and international level.

"We're an exporting company and what we do is, I think, promoting Poland-originated solutions for industry. It shows, when foreign clients visit us and see our production facilities, which are better than in other markets," says Protech's Krupnik.

"We will support entrepreneurs in creating a positive image of their companies, boosting sales, and building cooperation with foreign partners, as well as Polish entrepreneurs active abroad," says Bryksy.

"That's the economic patriotism of today," he adds.


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