City marketing to city branding: a case of Sialkot

Sialkot District is one of the districts of the Punjab province of Pakistan located in the north-east of the province and is the 13th largest city by population. Sialkot is a wealthy city relative to the rest of Pakistan and South Asia with a per capita income in 2014 estimated at $2800. The city has been noted for its entrepreneurial spirit, and productive business climate that have made Sialkot an example of a small Pakistani city that has emerged as a “world-class manufacturing hub”. The relatively small city exported approximately $2 billion worth of goods in 2015, or about 10% of Pakistan’s total exports.

Sialkot has been noted as a “world-class manufacturing hub” with strong export industries in the fields of leather, sporting goods, and surgical instruments industry. The Sialkot Dry Port offers local producers quick access to Pakistani Customs, as well as to logistics and transportation and manage its position as one of Pakistan’s most prosperous cities. Its sporting goods firms have been particularly successful, and have produced items for global brands and produce footballs for 2014 FIFA World Cup.

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Sialkot being one of the major contributor in exports and the production destination of various International Brands still struggling for the expansion of its own market. Branding has emerged as an important strategy in public sector dominantly at the level of cities as the competition within the cities will intensify their performances through capital mobility and entrepreneurial skill set. In acquiring new investment to make the city more competitive not only for local investors but for the foreigners as well. This city branding is a part and parcel of urban Governance system so, in general city branding is considered as tool based on the philosophy of customer that offer city’s customers as well as attract foreigners through their brand image and offer quality products. Asian global cities which successfully caught up with their peers economically are now applying city branding model to intensify their global image like global cities but unfortunately, this the missing factor in our urban Governance system.

As we all know that Sialkot has international fame for its sports & surgical products, leather goods etc act as nucleus of cottage industry and all its manufactured goods are exported to USA, and other European nations under the brand names of leading brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Green hill and variety of other surgical brands and the city have more than ten thousand registered companies but special focus is required at the level of policy making and Governance to break the barriersin the way of SMEs to introduce own product brands in international markets. The most prominent issues/barriers are:-

  • No Linkages with End Users like local or domestic sports industry, local health system, hospitals and this gap affects the understanding of a firm of the customer requirements. Surgical and sports goods firms do not supply to the local market which has affected their ability to have any local brand. The average size of a firm in the industry is small, which act as a barrier for branding as far as resource base is concerned.
  • The firm structure is also a barrier. Most of the firms are family businesses without corporate structure. After every 20 years, there is the problem of succession which leads to the division of a firm into parts. This practice makes it difficult for a firm to afford to brand. Since most of the entrepreneurs are successful without brands, success is measured through the profitability of business and upgrading of social status. Therefore, they are complacent with their current position and are not willing to consider branding as a serious option.
  • National culture is also a barrier to branding in different ways. National culture promotes the behavior of preferring short run to long run and imitation to innovation. Since branding requires a long-run innovation-based approach which is missing in the national culture and resultantly adversely affects the culture of a firm. History of a firm does affect its future orientation. Since most of the firms in the industry have been working as vendors for years, therefore these are unable to get rid of the historical effects of acting as backline operators.
  • Inconsistent Organizational Policies, is linked with the point of Size & Structure of a firm. With periodic change/division of ownership, firms do not have consistent policies and this affects branding decisions. As branding is a long term procedure therefore inconsistent policies affect it adversely. Branding requires strong intellectual property protection which is a missing link in Pakistan. Intellectual property arrangements are not only missing but also very inconvenient.
  • In case of surgical instruments, Branding of instruments involves two types of risks. The risk associated with the payment of damages due to any harmful effects of instruments to the patients and risk of reduction or elimination of orders from incumbent firms. The first type of risk may be covered through liability insurance which makes the cost of instrument unaffordable. Surgical firms of Sialkot do not brand their products to avoid these two types of risks.
  • The success of a brand depends on the availability of distribution network in importing countries which could accept and support the brand. Such networks require huge investment and skillful effort which are currently beyond the capacity of a firm.
  • Branding of surgical instruments requires different certifications and laboratory tests. Such certifications and tests are very expensive and beyond the capacity of a single firm, even the industry. This requires the installation of highly sophisticated labs and machines. Such facilities are only possible with government support and investment.

Sialkot’s business community has joined hands with the local government to maintain the city’s infrastructure, as the local government has limited capacity to fund such maintenance. The business community was instrumental in the establishment of Sialkot’s Dry Port in 1985 and largely funded the Sialkot International Airport opened in 2011 as Pakistan’s first privately owned public airport, which now offers direct flights from Sialkot to Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates but the city has more capacity to deliver which need shifting from factor & efficiency driven economy to Innovation driven economy because In the world of ‘Globalization’ countries are evaluated on the basis of increased trade and cultural exchange along with the significant modification of the sovereignty of countries so, countries needs to be competitive by building their national brands by promotion of local goods and services in international market.

Urooj Aijaz (MD Innovation summit by IRP/Faculty Bahria University Karachi)

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