Too high to eat

My appetite was non-existent.

This was the predominant altitude sickness symptom that I suffered whilst trekking to Everest Base Camp, at a height of 5,364m or 17,598ft. It had been 3 days since I had reached the camp and I had made the descent back into Lukla. Although I had knocked 2,500m off my altitude, the effects of the thin air had not yet worn off. So despite using up well over 5,000 calories per day, I was struggling to take on 500.

But there I was, at the end of my trek, feeling for all the world like a conquering hero, strolling into Lukla ‘high street’. Lukla is vital to trekking in the Everest region, as it has an airport and so provides a beginning and an end to many an adventure. Unsurprisingly, it is a thriving town – there’s nothing like a captive market. Visitors on the way up buy trekking gear, hire guides and maybe imbibe their last beer before setting off. People at the end of their trek – like me – crave a shower, to feel ‘normal’ again and to secure a vital boarding pass for a plane back to Kathmandu.

So there are two distinct markets in Lukla – those starting out and returnees. And the ‘high street’ was equally divided between the two. And this is commerce as its most basic. Supply and demand. Haggling expected. Premiums applied due to lack of competition. I’ve got it, you need it, pay through the nose. But in true Nepalese style, this was all done with a certain grace and politeness.

A particular aspect of this world stuck out to The Commercial Traveller – the tongue-in-cheek rip-offs of Western brands. Even in myP1010037 weary state, completely spent from the toughest physical and mental challenge of my life, the corners of my mouth formed a wry smile at the sight of the Yakdonalds sign. And I’m not entirely sure that Seattle HQ is aware of the Lukla branch of Starbucks. Which got me thinking about ‘passing off’- making some false representation likely to induce a person to believe that the goods or services are those of another.

Of course, in markets where McDonalds and Starbucks may want to operate, it is vital that they protect their marques. Their share prices include a substantial premium for the value of their brands. The fact that establishments in this Himalayan town, that has never seen a car, feel that playing with those names is good for business is testament to the value of the brands.

So how do you develop brand value if you are small business? Clearly, it is impossible to become a global name in all markets. That takes investment running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But it is important to gain reputation. You just have to be really focussed on the circles in which you wish to be known and keep them small and contained. It would be more valuable to be the most highly recognised employment law firm in a county, for instance, than one with scant recognition over a wider geographical area or over multiple specialisms.

Not only is this focus good for the value of your brand, but it makes marketing easier too. Don’t be all things to all men. Be crystal clear about your target market and then speak to them with a consistent, authoritative voice. They will end up knowing exactly where to look when they have a need for your product or service. And that is what brands are built upon, with the added benefit that your business valuation will increase.

Over the next few days, my appetite got back to normal.

And I, for one, can vouch for the yakburgers.