Brand Singapore – It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it

One month ago an article about China’s brand image was published. It was somewhat old – 2008, but interesting enough to be featured. Now, we’ve got another oldie, an article published in May 2007 at The Business Times (Singapore), concerning the 2007 debate on Singapore’s nation re-branding. Even if somewhat old, it’s worth reading.

The latest effort by the government to craft and communicate an all-encompassing message to the world about what Singapore is all about, what makes it unique and great, etc … is likely to fail.

The signs for this are clear to anyone who knows what to look for. Three reasons: (1) because of the misapprehension at the “client” level over what Brand Singapore can and should be, (2) because there exists a lack of appreciation over what Brand Singapore already is, and (3) because most (but hopefully not all) consultants who respond to the brief are likely to try and please the client and give it exactly what it wants instead of what it needs.

Brand Singapore already stands for something strong and differentiated: business.

It may not please or be enough for everyone, but it is what it is.

Compelling brand positionings that are sustainable are rooted in “basic” truth. It may and probably will be argued by many that Singapore genuinely boasts a multitude of diverse attractions aimed at an equally diverse cross-section of potential visitors – from individual tourists to foreign corporations and everyone in-between. And all of these are “truisms” about the country. The reality, however, is that there are some truths that are truer than others.

From a branding point of view any effort to compress and express all “truths” into an umbrella proposition that communicates to as many different audiences as possible,  will end up delivering a message that will not only lack credibility but one that will compromise an already existing proposition that other countries would give a great deal to own.

The existing Singapore brand proposition is powerful, credible, enviable and sustainable. It is also one that is entirely differentiated – one that arguably no competitor has even the slightest possibility of emulating, much less copying.

The positioning is one that has been built over the past 42 years in full view of the global community. It is, therefore, one that is not just robust, but also solid, totally believable and unassailable: Singapore is the most attractive destination for business in Asia. Full stop.

Even the country’s detractors will readily admit that Singapore was built on a solid foundation of egalitarianism and fairness, if not total democracy at least as defined by the West. Say what you will about its politicians, but corrupt or inefficient are adjectives that do not even remotely apply.

From a business point of view (companies and expatriates) the Singapore proposition is unique and compelling:

  • attractive business incentives
  • a legal system that is consistent, transparent and enforceable
  • a mostly corruption-free environment at the business, judicial and government levels
  • an educated workforce
  • a country most centrally located in Asia
  • a county that provides a safe, attractive and peaceful environment to work and live in, and
  • a country whose official language is English.

And the list is longer than the attributes identified here.

If those in charge pursue a country brand proposition that among other things, attempts to position Singapore synonymously with culture, or a destination of fun and recreation, it will fail. Whilst the country’s credentials with these offerings are not non-existent, they are, however, relatively speaking, presently non-competitive. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

This is not to say, however, that the potential for brand Singapore to evolve into that space is not there. It absolutely is. A contradiction? No. Just a matter of straight forward brand strategy. Today the country is synonymous with one thing. Business.  It should run with that. It should consolidate the ownership of that positioning, and not make the mistake of eroding it with a less than prudent distraction.

Tomorrow does provide different possibilities. What is possible is a parallel effort that instead of shouting other attributes does something else – quietly builds them.

The rationale is straight forward: resist the temptation to promise what can not delivered – in full. The Esplanade only recently got going. The new improved Sentosa with its integrated resorts is not even up and running. Moreover there are no mountains in Singapore to climb, few beaches to show-off, little history to experience. Rather than over-promise and disappoint, the strategy should be to quietly build and one day when the time has come, surprise and delight the world.

Strong brands focus. They showcase not what a company (or in this case, a country) is good at, but what it excels in. Singapore excels in what is commercial and business related. So while “Commercially Singapore” may not have the pizzazz or colour of Incredible India or Amazing Thailand, it does communicate clearly something else that is arguably just as incredible or amazing: one of the country’s basic truths. Completely differentiated and unassailable.

Article written by Joseph Baladi