Singapore@50: 3 lessons for brand-builders
This year Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday. 50 years ago it was a tiny island with no resources and no real hope for the future. Now it is a thriving regional hub. The transformational story of Singapore is as much a lesson in brand-building as it is nation-building.
Brand Learning has had a fantastic experience of working in Singapore. When we first set up the office we knew it was an efficient, organised, cosmopolitan and modern environment. But we soon realised there is a lot more to it. Singapore has been remarkable in its growth. The 3rd highest per capita GDP in the world, 5th least corrupt country in the world, the most liveable city in Asia: instead of standing put and celebrating those victories, it is constantly finding ways to improve.
So how did it get to this place, and what are the lessons for brands?
1. Brands need leadership, vision and a sense of purpose
Singapore was blessed to have a leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who had a clear vision for the country and what it must become. He wanted to create a first-world oasis in what was seen as a third world region. Not only was this inspirational for the people of Singapore, it became a lens with which the rest of the world would eventually come to view Singapore, attracting tourists and businesses.
This vision and purpose became a starting point for ambitious strategies and plans that have achieved huge growth.
2. Brands need to deliver a powerful customer experience and constantly improve it
What makes Singapore such a standout? If you ask those who know the country well the answers are consistent - efficient, corruption-free, safe, professional, cosmopolitan, always improving. This has yielded enormous economic, social and cultural benefits. Singapore has become the preferred regional hub for businesses by attracting human and financial capital. It is a top tourist destination. This hasn’t happened by accident. The government has gone to great lengths to create a tangible experience for its target customers that delivers its purpose and vision. Investment in brand Singapore is huge, with the government creating innovative institutions, partnerships and even tax systems. It acts as a venture capitalist (Temasek) and a master marketer.
It is remarkable that brand Singapore is not only able to deliver a consistently rich customer experience but is constantly looking to better it. Singapore is now seeking to become the world’s first Smart Nation. It wants to enhance its national capabilities to Singapore “with fuller use of technology to live, work and play”. Initiatives include using data to be more insightful about how to improve citizens lives, and the creation of a mini-Silicon Valley for start-ups called BASH (Building Amazing Start Ups Here). Again this makes the nation-brand more desirable, driving its growth with talent development and retention (a challenge for many APAC countries) as well as commercial success.
3. Brands need to set up broad governance to deliver their purpose
While the external success of Singapore is evident, what is not always recognised is how governance has played a critical role in delivering the promise. Strong leadership across government functions is key. The roles of attracting inward investment, tourism and talent were not delegated to business minister/private commerce, a tourist minister and an education minister alone. They were networked into a big nation vision, with joined-up activity across a whole ecosystem of supporting teams. In the same way, the best brands have a unifying ambition that strong leaders use to engage all parts of the company, its agencies, and the wider ecosystem of potential partners. The brand team has a critical role – but not sole responsibility for delivering the brand purpose. Otherwise it will think small.
A brand’s leaders also have to invest in the ‘software’ that builds long term competitive advantage. Beyond marketing activities, their plans need to include the processes, people, ways of working and brand culture that can forge powerful partnerships and set them apart from the competition.
These are some of the lessons for businesses and brands to reflect on as we celebrate the success of Singapore. The last 50 years have been transformational. If the past is any gauge of the future, then the next 50 will be even more so, and we are delighted to be part of that.
Happy 50th, Singapore!