Published May 12, 2007

Brand S'pore: it ain't broke, so don't fix it


THE latest efforts by the government to craft and communicate an all-encompassing message to the world about what Singapore is all about and what makes it unique and great are not likely to work - for three reasons. First, there is a lack of appreciation of what 'Brand Singapore' already is. Second, there seems to be a misapprehension about what Brand Singapore can and should be.

And third, most - but hopefully not all - consultants who respond to the brief to 'rebrand' Singapore are likely to try to please the client by giving it what it wants, rather than what it needs.

Brand Singapore already stands for something strong and differentiated: in a word, business. This may not please, or be enough for, everyone. But its power is compelling.

Compelling brand positionings that are sustainable are rooted in basic truths. Many would argue that Singapore genuinely boasts a multitude of attractions aimed at a diverse cross-section of potential visitors, from individual tourists to foreign corporations and everyone in between.

All this may be true. The reality, however, is that some truths are truer than others. From a branding point of view, any effort to compress and express all truths in an umbrella proposition that communicates to multiple audiences will end up delivering a message that will not only lack credibility but also compromise an attractive existing proposition.

Brand Singapore's existing proposition is powerful, credible, enviable and sustainable. It is also one that is entirely differentiated - one that arguably no competitor can easily emulate, much less copy.

Moreover, Singapore's current positioning 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. It is this: Singapore is the most attractive destination for business in Asia. Full stop.


From a business point of view, the Singapore proposition is unique: it offers attractive business incentives, a legal system that is consistent, transparent and strong on enforcement; a largely corruption-free environment; an educated workforce; and a strategic location in Asia. Singapore also provides a safe, attractive and peaceful environment in which to live and work, and has English as its working language. Given those facts, any attempt to rebrand Singapore by trying to make it synonymous with high culture or with fun and recreation will fail. While the country's credentials in these areas are by no means non-existent, they are, relatively speaking, non-competitive - at least currently.

This is not to say that there is no potential for Brand Singapore to evolve in the cultural and recreational space. There absolutely is. But it is not there yet. Today, Singapore is synonymous with one thing above all: business.

It should run with that. Singapore should consolidate its ownership of that position and not make the mistake of eroding it with other distracting attributes. Instead of shouting about those other attributes prematurely, Singapore should quietly go about building them. The rationale is straightforward: resist the temptation to promise what cannot be delivered in full.

Let's face it. The Esplanade has only recently got going. The new improved Sentosa, with its integrated resorts, is not even up and running. There are no mountains in Singapore to climb, few beaches to show off, and not so much history to experience as in other places.

When it comes to culture, recreation and history, Singapore simply cannot compete with some other countries in the region - yet. 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 Vibrant 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: it communicates one of Singapore's most basic truths. One which is differentiated, totally believable and unassailable.

The author is the CEO of the branding consultancy brandAsian, based in Singapore. He can be contacted at [email protected]