April 29, 2009
THE ST INTERVIEW
Making the Singapore brand great
Local brands have the quality but lack emotive appeal. Marketing guru Kim Faulkner's mission is to inject some
By Michelle Tay
YOU can say a lot of good things about Singapore brands: trusty, efficient, they do what the label says they'll do. But emotionally appealing? No, not in that game.
They seem to leave some of us a bit cold, even disdainful, despite their stellar reputations, says marketing guru Kim Faulkner, who heads the home-grown marketing and branding company Activiste.
It is a baffling situation but it has given Ms Faulkner her latest mission - designing a master plan to turn around that perception and get local brands wooing international consumers.
'At the moment, when we think of Singapore as a brand, we think clean, green, reliable and high quality,' says Ms Faulkner, 48, acting chief executive of Get Singapore Brands.
'What are the softer values, the more interesting things about Singapore as a brand? Commercial brands also drive perception of country brands, so what I want to do...is inject emotive appeal.'
Get Singapore Brands - launched last month and funded by enterprise development agency Spring Singapore and 37 companies - will promote locally designed products from home-grown companies both here and abroad.
The $2 million initiative also wants to market Singapore as a place known for good design and innovative retail ideas, as well as help participating retailers exchange ideas and expertise.
If it sounds like an awareness building campaign, that's because it is partly one.
'Get Singapore is about representing brands that people haven't heard of, or have heard of but didn't realise were Singapore brands. It's not about buying local,' she says.
'What's going to differentiate Singapore as a retail destination over its regional neighbours is going to be brands that are developed here, and that have something to offer others.'
The tide is slowly turning with more Singaporeans open to buying local brands, thanks partly to the ability of companies to 'get it right', observes Ms Faulkner.
She cites Singapore Airlines, BreadTalk, Charles & Keith and Banyan Tree as 'obvious' and 'very top of mind' examples of 'great Singapore brands' which possess integrity, authenticity, which are differentiated in the marketplace and focused in their brand promise.
Brands that get it right understand that 'branding isn't about pretending to be something that you're not', she says. Neither do they 'try to be all things to all men'. She considers FairPrice an example of 'a good Singapore brand that has evolved to meet changing times and lifestyles but which has remained true to its original intent'.
But there are several firms that believe simply having a great product makes a brand, when it does not.
Ms Faulkner maintains that a great brand must be four things: authentic, differentiated, relevant and resonate with the target market. Some of her favourites - Apple, Audi and Banana Republic - have achieved all these.
She denies that Get Singapore is aimed at 'correcting' where local brands fall short. The aim, rather, is to enhance competitiveness.
The initiative provides a collective showcase and marketing platform for the brands. It is more about 'strength in numbers', giving them the scale to be recognised by both local and overseas consumers.
She cites examples of global collective brands that have found success by banding together.
One is Sunkist, a citrus growers' membership cooperative comprising 6,000 members from California and Arizona, and Wines of South Africa, a non-profit industry organisation that promotes all South African wine exports. There is also Britain's Walpole initiative, which harnesses and shares the collective resources of Britain's luxury brands, and the airline network Star Alliance.
There are now 37 companies in the Get Singapore collective, each having paid annual participation fees of $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the company's size and revenue, which will go 'towards marketing activities' for the group.
She has devised a 'pretty aggressive grand master plan' for marketing the Get Singapore brand. Its first steps involve marketing brands and products at roadshows in shopping malls, a city-wide advertising campaign, the website www.getsingapore.sg and leaflets given to tourists, starting immediately.
Get Singapore will also organise trade missions overseas and has tied up with MasterCard to give its cardholders shopping discounts during the Great Singapore Sale, from May 29 to July 26.
The 'key to operationalisation', as Ms Faulkner calls it, is getting retailers to bond and to think of themselves as a community.
'One of my goals to have them not operate in silos. Part of being a collective brand is feeling like part of a community. Each one must contribute ideas on how to make it better.
'I don't want to kit it out, conceptualise it and all they do is move in their stuff.'
Speaking of move, Ms Faulkner is planning her own exit at the end of March next year.
As someone with 25 years of branding experience but no retail experience, she says 'it would be good for someone with direct retail experience' to take over her position as chief executive.
The Straits Times understands there are three possible candidates in the running for the job, but she declines to say more about her successor.
Ultimately, she maintains branding is about changing mindsets and the way people think about an industry.
So for Singapore brands to really take off, local consumers must first and foremost support them.
Thailand, she notes, has 'become such an interesting retail destination' because the locals 'really support their own'.
Singaporeans can learn from that and replicate it, she says, because 'the Get Singapore brand is about being cosmopolitan, confident, eclectic - all the things that Singapore already is'.
But why should Singaporeans be proud of Singapore brands? Aren't they just products like any other in a crowded marketplace fighting for a share of the consumer dollar?
'The reality of the global economy today is that you're going to have mergers and acquisitions. Brands that are valuable assets will change hands, and it is imperative that the origins and personalities of the brands stay intact.
'Take the case of Jaguar cars. When it was bought over by Ford, did it become an American brand? No. It's still a British brand known for its luxury. It's now owned by Tata, but does it make it an Indian brand? No.'
So Singapore brands are ambassadors for the country and Singaporeans, by embracing them, exemplify the nation's lifestyle and ethos.
She says: 'For so long, we've tried to look for an identity that had to be somehow culturally sensitive to all, but we've not succeeded down that road, because we are multicultural.
'We should just be what we are - cosmopolitan, eclectic and urban.'
Making 'millions' from $20k set-up
MS KIM Faulkner, 48, is chief executive of Activiste, a two-year-old branding and marketing company.
Her team of four handles brand strategy development and marketing communications strategy for companies. Her clients include the National University of Singapore and Indonesia's fifth-largest lender Bank Danamon, which is controlled by Singapore's Temasek Holdings.
Ms Faulkner is a literature major from Britain's Kent University. Her first job was at public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. At the age of 29, she set up her first branding services firm, Design Counsel, for less than $20,000.
She later sold it for 'millions' to Interbrand, where she served as managing director for 13 years before being appointed its chairman, overseeing the group's activities and strategic interests in South-east Asia and Greater China.
She is a board member of Spring Singapore and of the DesignSingapore Council.
She is married to Briton Paul Faulkner, regional finance director of planning and finance at MSIG Holdings (Asia). They have three children, aged 10, 14 and 16.
ON KEEPING THE GET SINGAPORE BRAND FOCUSED
'When we were conceptualising the brand, we decided it might become very confusing to include the food and beverage sector. This is not to say it will always be excluded, but at the moment it is. Because once you get into packaged food, where does it lead? Chilli sauce?'
ON HER ALL-TIME FAVOURITE BRAND
'Apple. It's one of those brands that are youthful but allow you to grow old with them. When you use them, you always feel like you're on the cutting edge. They promise you creativity and empowerment - and that's what you get.'
ON WHAT DIFFERENTIATES THE SINGAPORE BRAND
'Singaporeans say Singapore brands are not distinctive. But if Singapore brands go overseas, we're distinctive by the very fact that our brands are eclectic.'