Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Finding Opportunities in Singapore

I spent a great weekend in Singapore last week. I was speaking at the Global Brand Forum with Al Gore, who is certainly making a splash around the world on his sustainability tour. He certainly carries gravitas as a former US Vice President, and his message content is conceptually spot on. I thought the delivery was somewhat over-rehearsed and overly packaged. He’s not too comfortable with provocative Q&A either, and no photos allowed! I had a blast though, and one of the results was great media coverage from the BBC, CNBC and local newspapers/magazines.

Singaporeans are hot for learning and are searching for answers on how to make brands, Asian brands in particular, more successful. The key, of course, is learning to let go. This is not totally compatible with life in Singapore, where brands are managed and marketed by command and control, with emotional connectivity and risk frowned upon. A little more play, a touch of randomness, and some fun needs to be injected into most brands and companies. The locals seem to live to shop and eat, and there’s plenty of mystery, sensuality and intimacy as far as cuisine is concerned. There’s a terrific fusion of Indian/Asian, Western and Arabic going on at every level and the shellfish and seafood are amongst the best in the world. Local Tiger Beer can't be beaten either and is not to be missed. But none of this passion morphs into their Management Philosophy.

While I was in the city, I had breakfast with a bunch of Kiwis who are thriving there. It struck me that Singapore is the perfect headquarters for New Zealand business. It’s got great infrastructure, terrific history, and a size and scale that makes it possible for New Zealand companies and businesses to compete in and win. So while everyone is focusing on China and its market size, smaller Kiwi entrepreneurs and businesses should look to start in Singapore and work outwards. The scale alone makes it a much lower risk/good reward proposition.

I stayed in the Valley Wing at the Shangri-La, which is old school decadent with a new school casual restaurant called The Line. It has echoes of Philippe Starck design and a cool 24th floor bar and French restaurant called BLU. Not dissimilar to Felix in The Peninsula, Hong Kong, and a great place for a night out.

Of course, Singapore boasts the Lovemark airline, Singapore Airlines, and the Lovemark airport, Changi. Now that’s an experience that reminds you of what air travel used to be before it turned into a European/US cattle movement. All in all, a great place to stop over en route to/from New Zealand or Australia.


Cool Insider said...

Thanks for the plug on Singapore Kevin. Glad that you enjoyed your stay here and had a chance to experience a taste of Singaporeana.

I wonder if you had the chance to visit some of the attractions here in Singapore? About two weeks ago, we hosted marketing maven Philip Kotler for a visit at the National Museum and he told us he would probably include it in his next book. We are waiting with bated breath for that to come.

As a Singaporean marketer in leisure attractions, my experience has been that Singaporeans tend to rather pragmatic, cut-and-dry people. We gravitate towards discounts, sales and freebies (of course who doesn't). Value for money has become something of a religion here.

Hopefully, more and more companies will step forward to embrace branding - and maybe even the next step of "lovemarking". They need to realise that selling based on price alone isn't sustainable as it results in a negative downward spiral of increasingly thin margins.

Susan956 said...

I muse as to why his gravitas has meant more than say someone like David Suzuki? Is it a function of Gore having been a politician and most people considering them immured to such issues that is the selling point?

In terms of your Lancaster project Kevin, I see room there to provide support and business guidance for people who have business ideas but who may not be business knowledgeable per se. Your review of the Singapore potentials brought that to mind. I have no clue as such about business so my skills lay away from this and yet I'm sure if married to the right individual or organisation some ideas I have may fruit.

This idea is not new as such and has been seen, in variations say with mentorship or local business funding schemes, but most presume you will have *some* knowledge of business and accounting.

Come to think of it, Ramsey's Kitchen but with a total twist in terms of working with people who have ideas and seeing if they could get purchase in the commercial sphere..could be an intriguing show.

Susan956 said...

cool insider..Travel memories. On my sole trip to Singapore one of my memories was of a young man playing piano in the hotel bar. No matter what tune was thrown at him - he could play it. I was tremendously impressed and intrigued. A few things I saw led me to see Singapore as an organised place of talent (or talent waiting to be fully recognised).

Kempton said...

My dislike of the Singapore government and its politics (specifically how it deals with oppositions) aside, I've heard/read so much good things about Singapore Airlines and would love to fly it one day.

For the lucky and rich ones, they may even be able to fly the world first A380 flight with SA and benefit charities. The strategist in me think this is a great campaign that SA has created.

Here is the news release:
And if my memory serves me, the base bid prices are $3.80, $38.0, and $380 for the three class of tickets.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

What can I say about Singapore that is not good? Apart from the government and politics (which I generally stay away from in that country), I do not remember any experience with Singapore that has brought me great displeasure.

Even flying in coach in Singapore Airlines is a great experience, and it definitely is one of my Lovemarks. I particularly remember a few flights during which a stewardess would say "Sir, I noticed that you are quite tall, would you like to move to an emergency exit row?" Who could ask for better service? Usually I decline, but the fact that the employees are so watchful and caring just makes the experience that much more gratifying. And the smell of the plane.

What I would do for a nice bowl of chicken rice by Clarke Quay...

Susan said...

What is the smell Piotr?

Mimi Hui said...

Singapore is one of the prime Eastern locations for many financial and tech firms due to the combination of its fantastic location and infrastructure.

I can still remember the surge of excitement when I first received an assignment in Singapore close to 10 years ago. 2 weeks devouring the best culinary delights of the East with the cleanliness of the West and a fantastic brand (Citibank Singapore). Singapore Airlines was amazing as they were the only carrier at the time to offer fully flat seats in business class to Singapore from NYC. A “real” bed for ½ the price of first class. What’s not to love?

As with anywhere, Singapore was fantastic for some things, less so for others. At that time, culture in the form of the arts (traditional museum type things + performance) was very limited. What fantastic public parks though!

Then again, it's about 3 hrs "wide" by car so many things were limited. Most, if not all goods were imported. The populace seemed to focus on three main things:
1) business
2) shopping
3) food

On business, I'd found the bulk of the Singaporeans that I'd worked with very keen on learning and very dedicated. However, the ones who were revolutionary thinkers had been educated outside of Singapore. Why is this? Well, the culture in Singapore did not foster a "question the authority" attitude on at least three fronts.

1) The legal system. Society is highly regulated with the criminalisation of certain activities deemed mostly harmless by the majority of Western cultures.
2) Asian culture teaches respect for authority and rewards accordingly. Perhaps this is less so in today’s youth but this is a very important concept for many Asians. It is expected for people to follow the rules and colour within the lines. Repeated enforcement of this has a way of creeping into other outlets of life. Similar to a sport, the ability to challenge the status quo, be a different type of leader, is a skill that needs encouragement to be successful.
3) Asian culture is traditionally very concerned with “face” and family. Acting in a way that is not aligned with society can be seen as bringing shame to the individual, but even more importantly, to the individual’s family. This is one of the worst things that one can do.

On shopping, I laughed at “Cool Insider”’s view on “who doesn’t gravitate towards discounts, etc.” remark. This is a great representation of Asian thinking. The ability to negotiate for most tangible items is seen as a desirable trait. This is not the case with all tangible items. The differentiator? I believe that Saatchi & Saatchi hit it on the head with the Oxygen ad that was launched in HK.

On food, this is where it all happens. To understand the mashup of cultures in Singapore, one has to look no further than people’s interaction with food and with each other whilst around food. At the time, participation in culinary rituals were a place where the people were relaxed, amongst friends, loud, passionate, happy, engaged. This particular arena has traditionally provided a safe haven for expression and collaboration. As a result, the interactions there flourish.

In summary, this turned out to be a much longer response than anticipated. However, the items addressed in the post rang close to my heart so I felt compelled to write and be as complete as possible.

Lovemarks can be applied to anything, that I do not doubt. The process of courtship is more easily applied to products and services when get to know the people that we are trying to court. The design of touch points to foster the warm fuzzies must look to historical, cultural, environmental, and sociological factors to be successful.


mimi ( at ) canalmercer -dot- c o m

dt said...

Hi Kevin,

I'm glad you enjoyed your stay, though I wished I was in town to attend your conference.

Susan Plunkett said...

I lived in the middle of a macadamia orchard a year or so back and the owners did a jaunt to Singapore. I won't forget the gent being so thrilled and telling me over and over that he found such cheap (and good name brand) toothpaste and how he had bought a lot and it had made his trip worthwhile :)

I know there is more to it than that but it reminds me of the person who drives an hour, spends petrol and has car wear and tear but it delighted over a ten dollar discount.

Kevin Roberts said...

Cool Insider – Unfortunately I did not have much time to explore Singapore. The trick is to build a niche, become known for something and excel in that area – ie Britain = cool, Germany = great engineering, Italy = beautiful design, and Japan = quality electronics. I'm going to get into this Nation as a Brand idea in the next week or two.

Susan Plunkett said...

A thoroughly interesting topic. I look forward to that..