In a market swamped with products and services, how to stand out from your competitors has always topped the concerns of professionals. Whether through product endorsements by celebrities or plastering building exteriors with glittering billboards, companies go to great lengths to make sure their products leave an indelible imprint on the public mind. Leo Sin Yat-ming, programme director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's master of science in marketing, said a new course was introduced last year on strategic brand management in the face of rising demand for branding professionals in both Hong Kong and the mainland. 'The most important competition tool for a company is its brand,' he said. 'We offer the course as an elective. Brand building is a very specialised profession. The course teaches students how to build up and strengthen the image of a company. 'Many companies have the post of branding director now. The local government has also pumped heavy resources into the establishment of the city logo for Hong Kong,' Professor Sin said. Featuring case studies and lectures hosted by industry professionals, the course offered both theoretical and practical lessons in brand management. 'Branding is not solely about advertising. It's the management of corporate strategies for the development of a company. It touches on many fields like customer relationship management. It's not about how many customers we have got. 'There's the famous 20/80 principle which means 20 per cent of a clientele making up 80 per cent of a company's sales revenues. How to maintain a tight and close rapport with those big and corporate customers is critical to the company's success,' he said. Esther Li Ling-yee, associate professor of Lingnan University's department of marketing and international business said brand management was covered in its executive master of business administration (EMBA) programme. 'With the advent of globalisation, the world has increasing interest in China's market. China is the biggest beneficiary of foreign investment. We have courses on marketing strategies in China and the exploration of current business issues in Greater China from an economic perspective and brand management is one of the components.' Professor Sin said the expansion and the continuous evolution of the Chinese market also demanded new strategies for brand management. 'Fast-moving goods make up the dominant part of China's market. Now, with the rise of the middle class, the focus has switched to the provision of services and luxury goods. 'One of the popular trends is the application of e-marketing. Many people conduct their businesses online on the mainland now. The use of online portals such as Yahoo, Google and Alibaba means many business transactions are completed via the internet now. How to build up a successful brand online and how to place advertisements on the internet are some of the skills that marketing professionals must grasp.' With the financial meltdown sweeping the world, Professor Sin expected more people to sign up for master's courses in business and marketing. 'Our programme is in the tenth year now. Over the past decade, we are oversubscribed every year. Though the demand fluctuates, we got the most number of applications during the Sars period. People usually have more time on their hands for studying amid sluggish economic prospects. Driven by the sense of gloom enveloping the economy, they would also aspire to enhance their competitiveness through higher learning.'