Branding Bangladesh, one good brand at a time | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 17, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:18 AM, February 17, 2021

Branding Bangladesh, one good brand at a time

Not too long ago, many products with the “Bangla” prefix usually implied shoddy or counterfeit locally produced versions, like “Bangla Rong” for low quality paint. But over the decades, many local companies and the entrepreneurs behind them have toiled relentlessly, bringing respectability to their products and recognition to their brands. Over the years, these brands became an integral part of the fabric of life in Bangladesh, and a legitimate source of pride as well.

With advances in local manufacturing, nearly all aspects of a consumer's needs are easily met, without compromising on quality or taste! A simple systematic approach could easily demonstrate the sheer development in variety of local manufacturing and its impact on citizen mindset.

"Building a brand is like a journey, of creating value," said Shariful Islam, founder of Bangladesh Brand Forum (BBF). "There has to be a holistic approach to building a successful brand, from what product is being offered at what price point, as well as the emotional gratification combined with the functional usage that a customer derives from its use," he added. "In the past few years, bKash, Radhuni and RFL have topped the lists of our top performing brands throughout the country," he said, adding "Bkash especially, has been a rapidly rising star across all income groups."

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Today, in terms of things someone could need when building a home, we could begin with the largest items —furniture, and no matter what aesthetics are preferred, it would surely be found at Hatil, Otobi or Partex, to just name a top few. The quality and service are great, designs modern and varied and up-to-date with changing tastes. The industry is by no means small, with plenty of other strong players as well as specialised small local stores, offering items for all price points.

Moving on to kitchen essentials, gone are the days when people would have to only rely on imported items, scouring the supermarkets for pots and pans and cutesy boxes, for any guarantee of quality. Kiam has a good range of all sorts of pots and pans moulded out of matte silver metal; add to that RFL or Bengal's colourful and food grade boxes of all sizes imaginable — from plastic spice pots, ceramic-mimicking dessert bowls, stoves, sets of storage drawers and whatnot; and a supply of packets of processed spices by Radhuni creates a perfect recipe for a kitchen fit to cook anything! Top meals off with cups of Ispahani Mirzapore tea, as a nod to the industry leader which has seen an entire nation turn into avid tea drinkers in just a few decades.

But where to store the leftovers? And reheat them, perhaps? Look to Walton, a leading name in local consumer electronics from fridges, deep freezers, TVs to even the little things like rice cookers, ovens, and blenders. Regardless of the assembled vs. manufactured debate, Walton smartphones and their acceptability in the market initiated a paradigm shift in consumer attitude towards home grown electronics.

Worried about powering these during electricity load-shedding? Rahimafrooz IPS and generators have been trusted support systems for decades. 

Rarely was a Bengali kitchen complete without some crockery from Sharif Melamine, and the more prized reserved-for-guests tableware and dishes from Monno Ceramics and Shinepukur, which are still as popular as ever, and have items perfectly in sync with evolving modern tastes and the traditional favourites.

Need some great linens? Hometex has garnered such trust on its name, that every bedsheet in the market tries to coast off of its reputation with blatantly similar names! With products for the entire house including the bedroom, living room, kitchen and the privies, everything can also be ordered online! Talk about keeping up with the times. Moreover, the very capable export-oriented garment industry is quite sufficient to meet local demands for most items as well.

On the other hand, if cotton and taant are more your style, Aarong and the Deshi Dosh brands like Kay Kraft always have fresh new items, with a firm nod to tradition — be in the form of Nakshi Kantha or block dyed kanthas and bedsheets, or embroidered cushions and traditional décor items of metal and wood, everything made by local artisans.

Moving on to consumer products of more personal nature, Cute, Tibet, Keya, Meril, Kool, Jui are some of the resilient and well-loved local producers of soaps, lotions, cold and shaving creams, shampoo, hair oils, and baby items. These beloved and trusted brands are thriving despite the tough competition from much larger internal FMCG corporations.

As for a solution to a bug problem, and ACI Aerosol will probably be the first thing that comes  to mind. If the smell gives you a headache, take some Napa with a bottle of Mum, both designative of paracetamol and bottled mineral water respectively, as any brand could hope to be. Or add some SMC Orsaline, if it is the heat and humidity of the summer that is your bane. Local pharmas like Square, Incepta, Eskayef, Ibne Sina, Beximco not only make a wide range of medicines for home, but are also trusted exporters to many parts of the world. 

If you have been enticed by the smell of freshly baked biscuits while randomly commuting in the Tejgaon region of the capital, you have fallen prey to the wafting aromas from the chimneys of Nabisco, with their wide variety of crowd-favourite biscuits. Rarely is a Bangladeshi childhood complete without Haque's Mr Twist crisps and Mr Cookie sugar-glazed biscuits, or Meridian Groups' various crackers!

In a more recent shift in tastes and of course as an effect of fast paced lifestyles, a whole new market for ready and frozen food has emerged. The delectable frozen snacks like vegetable and chicken samosas and frozen ruti/paratas from Golden Harvest and Kazi Farms have made lives much easier for a lot of young professionals and nuclear families. A few quick flips on the flame, and half of breakfast is ready! Or fry up some snacks for the guests, and actually sit with them to enjoy it.

In the area of apparel, apart from the plethora of brands with ready-made clothes, some regional and small, and others international, a large number of people seek out comfortable cotton voile printed yardage to make dresses for the summer, and for them the synonym for top-notch or premium quality is Bexi, a product of Nannu Group! Amidst the hundreds of footwear manufacturers, one to immediately stand out for international standard product is Apex, its rapid growth a testament to the confidence it inspires in the discerning shoppers. 

We could perhaps go on, but this is after all just a study in national pride with some fun, not meant to become torturous. Does it mean these loved brands are the only ones in the market at the moment? Not so, not by far! Many other worthy competitors have arrived in each and every sector imaginable, after the pioneering brands took those first steps. They have the economy grow leaps and bounds, creating hundreds and thousands of jobs. As Bangladesh imbibes global trends, we see the birth of new segments, and thus first movers in each industry. Think of the Shumi's Hot Cake bakery, the burger place Takeout, the home delivery services like Pathao, the online grocery like Chaldal, and even ShebaXYZ, a platform to find professionals for various personal services!

For a brand to gain a solid footing in the market, it is the product that has to deliver quality consistently. Marketing gimmicks and unusual push pricing can reel in the customer the first time, but only user experience will be able to hold them.

"Since 2008, or the beginning of BBF's our annual initiative to recognise the best brands in the market, a majority, about 70-80 percent of the winners were multinational brands," BBF's Shariful Islam said. "They did have had an advantage of having established practices that they followed here, in the local context. But in the last couple of years, the situation is almost completely reversed, as about 60-70 percent of the over top ten accolade winners were local brands," he stated. "It reflects the local company's recognition of the brand building process, their connection to the customers' psyche, and ultimately to more business as well," he added.

Bangladesh and its citizens' lives has come far in these 50 years of independence. Local manufacturers are gaining more of the local market, creating more value, helping to create more jobs, and after import substitution, even moving on to broader horizons of export. While it is definitely not all sunshine and glory in this little delta country full of people, it is neither all gloom — just look at what hard work and dedication has achieved already!

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