Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Terrorists Thrive

Several months ago, I attended a conference which featured uber-guru Tom Peters and the legendary Carly Fiorina. Tom, as usual, has a lot of radical ideas, some of which do make sense if you think about them properly. One of the most striking was the fact that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda still thrive despite facing the all out assault and firepower by the mighty American and European armies.

Terrorist units have a certain flexibility and mobility which makes them difficult to target. They are the epitome of amoebic organisations that are small, lithe, agile, invisible, highly networked, dispersed, decentralised and improvisional. Terrorists normally live off the land, are highly adaptable, have few rules to follow, and have a high tooth-to-tail ratio. They travel light, are well connected, and operate in a fairly flat organisational structure. Nothing and nobody is indispensable, and to them death is an honour.

Think about the new world of social media, citizen journalism and web-empowered "me.com" In a way, it throws in a spanner into the works of old, archaic hierarchical organisations with their traditional bases of power and their Jurassic command-and-control structures. With the (mostly) FREE tools available on the web - 24 by 7 - everyone of us can now be an agent of mass evangelisation (as opposed to mass destruction, although it probably works for them too). The democratization of the digital domain has made it possible for even grannies and granpas to hop onto the bandwagon and play.

Just like terrorists (or guerrillas), I believe new age organisations must learn to assemble and disassemble themselves with more agility, nimbleness and fleet-footedness. Unfettered by the old rules (please clear with your boss, your boss' boss, your boss' boss' boss ad infinitum), these new guerrilla entities can behave more like bacteria and viruses. Every single agent is like a Special Operations Officer - a one-man army if you may - who is equipped with the right tools to close the deal, fix the plumbing, or diagnose the disease right at the sweet spot. Anytime. Anywhere. With anybody.

Of course, this does not mean that there is no longer any use for organisational charts. There will still be a need for some structure, system and process, especially in "rule of law" organisations such as the regulatory government agencies. You still need to know the policies, guidelines, Instruction Manuals, and other laws that rule the land. However, this new wave of thinking encourages us to devise innovative solutions that treat the root cause of problems rather than just the symptons. It pushes us to truly understand our customers - eat, live, breathe and maybe even sleep with them (figuratively) - so that we know what truly ails them, irks them, excites them, and makes them say "Wow!"

Organisational agility doesn't mean organisational anarchy or chaos. It just means that there is now more flexibility, less rules, more room for creative expression, and less boundaries to one's imagination, energy and enthusiasm. It means that every single employee - or club member, family member, worshipper, enthusiast - can now influence and impact his or her immediate surroundings more readily and easily. It means that we are now defined less by what we do, but more by what we believe in (think religion). Indeed, quite often, the lines between work, play, study, and family may blur with this shift.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stricken by Flu

Woke up today at 4.30 am with a blazing hot forehead and felt like I was floating in the air. The feeling is a little hallucinogenic, like I was on drugs or something. I even had a strange dream (or nightmare) with me checking into a "tough love" rehabilitation centre. Totally out of whack I tell you. Took 2 Anarex pills and managed to fall asleep thereafter.

Later in the morning, my wife kindly drove me to see Doctor Yeo at Killiney Family Clinic, our regular family doctor. Slept practically the entire day and still feeling weak with my elbows both aching like nobody's business. I hope that it is nothing too serious, because the last time I had a shoulder ache, it became Septic Arthritis and I was warded for a week at SGH. In fact, I was hospitalised twice in the last 3 years (the other was for appendicitis). Certainly no fun.

I hope that I can get better soon. Falling ill is no fun at all.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Another lion dancing video

Ok, I know that there has been quite a lot of videos and pics on my son lately, but just thought I should share the latest lion dancing escapade by Ethan. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

An Eclectic Celebration

Last Thursday was the media preview of Explore Singapore!, our latest foray into getting citizens and visitors alike to love heritage through museums, libraries, TV, blogs, books and other channels. What we hope to do is to get ordinary folks - like you and me - to delve, dig and dive into the extraordinary world of artefacts, artworks and archives.

Highlights include a heritage food race at Chinatown, Zouk/Lime magazine style flea market plus DJ Wayne at the Malay Heritage Centre, and a picnic and treasure hunt at the serene Yunnan Garden at the Chinese Heritage Centre (at NTU). Special mention must be made of the Heritage Road Show at the Central Library (Bugis), an amusing light-hearted spoof of the highly popular Antiques Roadshow on BBC.

Those with a funnny bone may want to rub shoulders with Hossan Leong, who will share the secrets of his mirth-appeal at workshops at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Of course, everybody will look forward to our huge closing party at the Eco Garden of Science Centre - aptly named Indie Garden - which will feature white hot acts like Electrico, Guerrilla Collective, POPTARTS, and the Great Spy Experiment. Plus the Science Centre will be open (FREE) from 6.30 pm onwards for those 16 and above. Now is that cool or what?

Explore Singapore! will also be on the goggle box. Famous funnyman Moses Lim and upcoming Elizabeth Naomi Tan will introduce the enchanting world of museums and libraries in a humorous, entertaining manner. Watch as they slowly uncover the mystery of Sarah's (Elizabeth) origin, and journey their way through 23 museums.

Personally, I am rather excited - though a tad nervy too - about Explore Singapore! For the first time, we are joining hands with our sister agencies NLB and MDA on a multi-platform experience-rich initiative to engage public attention in heritage. There is also an entire gamut of programmes involving an eclectic crew - from curators to sports heroes, artists to DJs, hip hop to Dikir Barat, Dim Sum Dollies to Chinatown food, Electrico to Moses Lim and so on. There will also be something for everybody depending on their tastes and inclinations.

Oh yes, we will also be doing podcasts, blogs and vlogs. There will be some interesting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the celebrities, pre-production candid shots, and surfer/ viewer generated content. Do check out our yesterday.sg/explore blog for daily updates on what's happening.

In the words of the WWE, "Let's get ready to rumble!!"

More pics of Ethan

Here are some photos of my boy Ethan who will be 3 in November. He looks like a cross between me and my wife, with my head shape and my wife's facial features. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Its a Jungle Out There!

Lately, I have been thinking hard about what blogging encompass, and how it can be compared to various natural phenomena. While relaxing at the Botanic Gardens and admiring the trees, it hit me that the blogosphere is kind of like a tropical rainforest.

1) There are many different voices and incessant chatter occurring throughout the day and night. The forest never sleeps. Neither does the Internet.

2) You get all kinds of forest dwellers - the high flying birds, monkeys swinging from tree to tree, and tiny ants crawling on the forest floor. That's not including the thousands of different plant species and micro-organisms. There is just an amazing diversity. Similarly, the blogosphere is full of blogs, podcasts, vlogs in all shaes and sizes, many which defy description (and often belief!).

3) You can't harvest a rain forest simply by targeting a segment or area. The only way to do this is to either unleash massive destruction (ala the haze-inducing illegal loggers and shifting cultivators), or to painstakingly do it one by one. Similarly, trying to market to a "segment" of bloggers using a blunderbuss approach will usually get you nowhere.

4) A rainforest is constantly evolving and changing with time, but it still sustains itself overall (unless man intervenes). The composition of the biomass changes as a forest matures from early successional species to late successional species. There will also be minor disasters - falling trees, termite infestations, random fires etc. Likewise, what may catch technorati's fancy today may be stale news tomorrow. Blogs do come and go, but overall, there will be content generated at a relentless rate from all over the global digital village.

5) There is a high degree of inter-dependence in the jungle. Its denizens interact with each other as part of the ecological food web and food chain. They also depend on each other for sustenance. In the same way, bloggers usually do not exist in isolation. They tend to feed off each other, and ideas, discussions and content flow quickly through digital wires and waves.

So what's the moral of story? Well, if you want to be successful in riding the social media wave, you need to get out of your padded comfort zone and go live in the forest, mingle with the monkeys (ha) and be prepared to be stung by bees!

Monday, October 23, 2006

New and Old Media - Never the Twain Shall Meet?

You would probably have heard it many times.

Old media is outmoded and left on the shelf. New media is the new HOT thing. Throw away your television and radio sets. Cancel your subscription to Straits Times. Forget about browsing magazines. Don't even bother about paying money for online content when 99.999% are FREE.

Citizen generated content is now the rage. Blogging is the new killer application - there are now close to 60 million blogs and counting. People now go for genuine peer-to-peer messages in whatever forms - videos, podcasts, words, photos, even avatars. The conversation IS the market. Buzz, idea viruses and word-of-mouth is IN. So are social media and web 2.0 applications - youtube, flickr, wikipedia, technorati, del.icio.us, squidoo, and so much more.

Personally, I feel that one can have both pies and eat them. We cannot just live in a well and pretend that the blogosphere does not exist. At the same time, any effective integrated communications strategy will still need to depend on the mass and immediate reach of traditional print, broadcast and event channels. Like it or not, the majority of the population are still not as 2.0 savvy as we wish them to be.

Instead of choosing one over the other, why not have the best of both worlds and integrate both forms of media in your campaign? Of course, the naysayers may warn that you could come across as fake, "selling your soul", and un-genuine. There has been scepticism and sniggers over recent crossover acts like STOMP, blogtv and of course the now defunct TODAY columns which starred mrbrown, mr miyagi and Sarong Party Girl.

You can't doubt that any effort which traverses multiple platforms - some call it media hopping -tend to have a higher chance of success and longevity than just a singular blast. The challenge then is how to harness the different characteristics and even idiosyncrasies of multiple media forms to your advantage. That is a necessity for communicators in any age - from the days of the pony express, telegraph machine, radio, television, Internet and so on.

I believe that the most successful communicators would be those who can leverage on the power of both old and new. One who can schmooze with the spin doctors, deal with the digital denizens, and be as comfortable on prime time TV, Class 95 FM, tomorrow.sg, and a top of the charts technorati listing. Those who are able to mix and fuse multiple forms of communication in the ways that they work best - without being uncovered as a phoney (see Walmart - Edelman debacle) - would ultimately prevail.

Any thoughts on this?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ethan and Dancing Lion 2
Ethan Lion Dancing

Went to Chinatown Food Street tonight and caught a Lion Dance performance. 3-year old Ethan lion danced to a crowd and nearly stole the show!

Long Tail in Singapore

I love the idea of the Long Tail, popularised by Chris Anderson. It turns traditional mass marketing on its head and makes a case for the small guy selling all kinds of odd stuff that never made it to the headlines.

The basic premise? That we should not disdain ultra niche markets/ customers
longing for obscure and offbeat products and services if our pipelines are very long, cheap and reach extensively. We should also not be obsessed with producing big hits, but explore the recesses of back catalogs, yesterday's fashion, and things that have niche appeal.

There are three big lessons that the author has proposed:

Make everything available

Think that nobody would be interested in your 1965 coin collection from Cambodia? Think harder. The first rule of the game is that people are going for things increasingly niche, quirky and offbeat - what some call the market segment of one. With the Long Tail, businesses should look at making as wide a variety available to the broadest possible audiences in the most cost effective manner. Someday, somehow, somewhere, somebody's gonna come up to you and say "Smile! I am going to buy from you!"

Cut the price in half. Now lower it.

The main problem with selling everything the traditional way is that they make it way too expensive and unattractive for customers. Cinema tickets now cost almost $10 a piece. Music CDs are still priced at more than $20 even though you probably only like 1 or 2 tracks. Don't be caught by the tyranny of the blockbusters but instead let them have it all at "discount" prices. Bringing down costs and giving customers greater choice - the way iTunes has done it at 99 US cents per track - makes them more willing to buy.

Help me find it

Make it easy for your customers to locate back issues, that outdated ditty from the 70s, or that charming toy clown from old Chinatown. If they want anything from Jay Chou to Janet Jackson to even Jackson Five, you would have a way for them to locate it - quickly, efficiently and cheaply. This is the beauty of businesses like amazon.com, netflix, and iTunes.

Can we embrace it here?

Now think about the Singaporean context where variety sometimes isn't the spice of life. How often have you bemoaned the lack of interesting content on television, radio or publications? Many of us feel that everything that you watch, hear or read seem to be "been there, done that" boringly mainstream. A lot of our entertainment programmes have appeared to be copied from somewhere before.

With the advent of web 2.0 platforms like youtube, flickr, wikipedia and more, it is now possible to make everybody a producer of content. This may allow unique, unusual and uncommon citizen generated programmes to see the light of day. Now the only challenge is how we can put a price tag on such eclectic original content, and how it can be distributed cheaply to the fans of the anti-blockbuster. Any takers?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ethan at the Beach

Another video of my son Ethan, this time when he was 19 months old. He will be 3 years old soon in November.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tasmanian Tips

Breathtaking landscapes, rustic wildernesses, historic richness, and delectable cuisines – this describes Tasmania, one of the last unspoilt corners of the Earth. Tasmania’s repute as a leading award-winning natural destination led to it being lauded as one of the World’s top two islands (the other was Bali) by Travel + Leisure in 2002. More than 20 per cent of Tasmania’s area is listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Areas.

Here are some lessons from Tasmania which we can apply to the corporate world.

Cultivate Evangelists

Tasmanians are zealous about keeping their environment in its original pristine condition. These “emissaries” happily share what makes Tasmania unique as a destination, from its natural attractions, farm-fresh food, unique culture, to remarkable climate. I was particularly impressed with a coach captain with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything about the island – its distance from Antarctica, its mating season for whales, its species of Eucalyptus trees and its social history.

Cultivating and nurturing advocates for your business should never be overlooked. These supporters of yours can be associates, suppliers, distributors, clients, or other contacts in your network. Encourage stakeholders to embrace your business ideals and equip them with product knowledge through training, briefings and other channels. By becoming your walking testimonies, they help to spread goodwill and generate leads.

Choreograph Positive Experiences

One of the most memorable encounters I had in Tasmania was visiting the Port Arthur Historic Site. Created with convict labour back in the early 19th century, a tour of Port Arthur’s various buildings brought one vividly back to the then squalid living conditions. Guides who were retired prison wardens animatedly brought these historic tales to life. The decaying ruins, musky odour, and environmental special effects further enhanced the experience.

Businesses need to go beyond providing goods and services. They need to orchestrate engaging experiences. Study how customers interact with your organisation and make those encounters delightful. When your client walks into your office, she could feel welcomed by the receptionist immediately offering a drink and extending assistance. Likewise, the retail experience is staged from the point the customer walks in to the point he pays for his products and leave.

Attention to Aesthetics

Much of Tasmania is beautifully kept and manicured to maintain its reputation as a wilderness paradise. Effort is made to keep every square metre of the island clean and green. Pollution is tightly controlled, with businesses urged to be environmentally friendly and adopt sustainable practices. Taking care of its aesthetics earned Tasmania numerous accolades with a landscape described as “spellbinding and refreshing”.

Likewise, pay close attention to the look and feel of your collaterals, office spaces, shop fronts and even staff. Customers can easily notice cracks in the wall, un-even décor, and badly designed brochures. Do not cut corners in areas which have direct interface with your customers. In aesthetics, the devil is in the details.

Focus on USPs

Tasmania owns an international reputation as Australia’s Natural State. Its value proposition to visitors is very clear – nature, fine wine and food, and a rich cultural heritage. This is further enhanced by its fine air quality – “one of the freshest in the world” – and cool refreshing climate. Throughout these years, Tasmania has wavered little from this theme in its tourism literature and marketing efforts.

Specialise in what you are good at and use it as a point of differentiation. Study how your competitors position themselves before creating your own Unique Selling Propositions (USPs). Too many companies are copycats, emulating ideas and concepts without considering their own strengths and limitations. Such strategies are unsustainable in the long-term.

Simple Solutions are Superior

Tasmania’s allure lies in its rusticity and ability to keep wildlife attractions authentic, natural and raw. It has not cluttered its appeal with man-made offerings and artificial constructs. While tourism is a pillar of its economy, much care has gone into minimising the negative environmental impact of commercialisation and industrialisation.

Beware of adding on new features to your products ad inifinitum without asking your customers what they really want. Perhaps all they need are just down-to-earth products and user-friendly solutions. More often than not, ease of use is preferred over multiple state-of-the-art functions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Run on Sunshine

Today is going to be different. Somehow I can feel it in the air.

This morning, as I gazed out of the window, I saw a little glimmer of light amidst the hazy overcast skies. That little ray of sunshine beamed down through my window panes, casting an amber coloured hue on the bedroom. As I looked out of the window, I saw members of the silver-haired brigade doing their morning qi gong. The birds were also singing sweetly and cheerfully, welcoming the slight respite from days enshrouded in thick, choking haze.

Deep in my heart, there is a gentle stirring - a tiny nudge that somehow I need to get out there. While the fragrant scent of pure fresh air isn't going to come for a while, there is still no reason to hold back on carrying on life as normal. This prompted me to re-ignite my engine and re-start my regular morning jogs which have been KIV-ed in fear of the rising PSI levels. After stopping for a few days, getting back the momentum was initially a little tough, but once I started pounding the pavement, I knew that I am back on the road to religious fanatic road warrior-ism.

The running man is back. Watch out world, here I come!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ten Gahmen Blogging Commandments

I am in a whimsical mood tonight so decided to do something irreverent (and maybe irrelevant). What I shall call the 10 commandments of gahmen blogging.

1) Thou shalt not flame, troll nor comment spammeth thy fellow blogger, no matter how tempting. Instead, thou shalt seek to use tactful and civil ways to engage thy fellow citizen.

2) Thou shalt abide by the Official Secrets Act and Instruction Manuals at all times. Thy livelihood dependeth on this.

3) Thou shalt aspire to be helpful, transparent and accessible at all times. Subject to provision 2) above (of course).

4) Thou shalt remember that sometimes thy best friends and thy worst enemies are also thy tax payers.

5) Thou shalt speak in a human language, and not shield thyself with stilted, policy speak.

6) Thou shalt honour thy agency, ministry, government and country. Thy next meal dependeth on them.

7) Thou shalt seek to explain the thinking behind government initiatives as best as thy ability could when the occasion calls for it. Be it in online forums, coffee shops, and other social occasions.

8) Thou shalt not disclose details which could jeopardise the effectiveness and efficiency of one's job. A good cop is not somebody who shares clues and leads on www.tomorrow.sg

9) Thou shalt seek to be a positive testimony to thy blogosphere, subject to being believable and accessible.

10) Thou shalt always remember that thy mission is to serve the public, not chastise or criticise thy fellow tax-paying brethren.

By the way, the above is NOT an official statement, so please don't quote me.

Have you got any thoughts about how gahmen bloggers should behave online?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Blissful Weekend Interlude

OK, I realise that I am not exactly the kind of sentimental and emotional person, so this may come as a surprise to some. Usually, I prefer to take on a more dispassionate and professional demeanour, letting the work do the talking so to speak. However, I felt a certain stirring in my heart tonight to pen something down that is closer to the heart than the head.

I realise that there are few things more important in life than the ones that matter to you most. You can be the richest and most influential dude in the planet, but if your kids do not "hew" you and prefer to not to be seen with you, I think you have failed. You may have many friends from the far flung corners of the globe, but if your brother or sister does not bother about remembering your birthday with even just a greeting, then it may have all come to naught. Blood is thicker than water although of course, sometimes close friends can be closer than distant relatives (but I'll save that discourse for another day).

I often have to remind myself that life isn't just about material gain, ambition or economic success. There are more important things in life which neither money, power, nor even popularity can buy. Those are the things deep inside in your innermost being which some call your inner child - your principles, your bearing in life, your morals, your values and those who matter most to you.

This weekend has been especially memorable for me as I had spent it with the people that matter most to me - my wife, son, parents, brother, nieces, nephew, sis-in-law, in-laws kids (whom I see more than my own nieces and nephew). Spending this quality time made me realise that this is what life truly is about. Being with your loved ones, doing the stupid little things, and reminding each other why God made your lives inter-twine with each other in so many different ways.

I also had the luxury of spending a couple of silent minutes lying on the bed, staring into the ceiling and reminiscing about my childhood days.... Ahhhh, I must be getting old.

As the song goes... "Those were the days my friend, we wished they'd never end...."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Blogging and Branding

Being in the field of marketing and communications, I just realise that there are many parallels between branding and blogging. How does branding relate to blogging? Let me distil it into the following points:

1) A successful brand has a unique selling proposition that differentiates itself from the others. Similarly, a successful blog will be different from your run-of-the-mill indulgent online diaries. There will be something unusual which drives hordes of fans to your online space every day (or night).

2) Pioneering brands get the biggest bite of the cherry and occupy the biggest market share. Similarly, blogs which have moved into the game early tend to attract the largest following.

3) A brand will only be remembered if it has a distinctive and memorable personality. For example, Harley Davidson will always be associated with a rebellious image, while Volvo will be remembered for being safe. Likewise, blogs which are successful (at least measured in terms of visitorship and page views) tend to have strong personalities and are often an embodiment of what their creators are like (whether explicitly or implicitly).

4) Brands, like blogs, need constant investment and nurturing to keep them going. In the case of brands, it includes advertising, publicity, events, and other tools in the marketing bag. For blogs, you will need refreshing content, links, posts to blog aggregators, and peer-to-peer communication to keep it alive.

5) Branding is an art. You need to have creative juices of your best designers to inspire and leave a deep impression. Similarly, blogs which have captured the imagination usually have either poetry in words, beautiful pictures and a nice overall aesthetic.

6) Branding is a science. After creating a strong brand identity, you need to look at disseminating it through the most productive channels. Likewise, hardcore bloggers know that some of the technical bits help generate traffic - number of pics, length of posts, RSS feeds, links, trackbacks, etc.

7) Good brands engender loyalty. You don't just buy a Prada bag or a Mac computer because of design or quality (though that certainly helps). After some time, a certain fanaticism kicks in. Similarly, blogs which have big followings have an X-factor that draws people to tune-in on a regular basis. They have that resonance with their readers on a long-term basis.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tango with the Goats

Another favourite hobby of my son is to visit Hay's Goat Farm which is located far away near the Lim Chu Kang area. The funny thing is that while he loves to go there, he always seems pensive and afraid to be too close to the bearded herbivores, for fear that they will eat him. Here's a video of him with my wife in the background recently taken using a Dopod 818 Pro.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Blogging = Escapism?

While IM-ing with Ivan Chew (of Rambling Librarian fame), I came to the conclusion that blogging can actually have a therapeutic effect. In that hour or so while you are penning down your thoughts or sharing that little bit of your life with the rest of cyberspace, you can actually can unwind a little and release the pent up stresses and frustrations inside you. Its a little like a tightly coiled spring - the more you write, the more you loosen the coils and release the tension. I believe this is similar to how diaries or journals worked in the past.

This brings me to the next question, is blogging a form of escapism? In the minutes (or hours) when you are tapping away on the keyboard, recording a podcast, or uploading a video, do you feel a sense of being in control of your own little world?

I believe so, and perhaps this is the allure and attractiveness of blogging (or podcasting, youtubing, flickring...etc). With the power of social media in your trembling and excited little hands, you become a creator of your own little universe, doing whatever pleases your self indulgent little heart. For once, you can pretend that you are an armchair movie critic, rock musician, columnist, food expert, politician, television producer.... The sky's the limit!

What are your experiences in blogging? What makes you do it?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Creating Sizzling Chemistry

We all know the age old saying "no man is an island" which alludes to the fact that we need each other. Be it in social and family settings, at work, with friends, at a club, or other settings. If you isolate yourself from the rest of the world, you will find increasingly that you will lose touch and lose your relevance in the various social spheres where you operate in. This is why it is especially sad to see people who live alone in their homes and carry on their daily lives without anybody to share them with.

However, the other thing to bear in mind in relationships is chemistry. This is an intangible factor which is hard to define, but you know it when you see it or feel it. There are some folks whom you can immediately hit it off with, chatting like long lost friends from the word "go" and feel totally comfortable with each other. Naturally, those whom you can generate the best chemistry with would end up as either your life partner or "blood" relatives.

On the other hand, there may be people whom you find difficult to approach even with a 10 metre pole. For some reason or other, their interests, body language, tone of voice and values seem alien to you. The way they speak, the manner in which they behave, and their approach to life seem foreign, weird, and maybe even repugnant.

The gurus tell us that if you want to succeed - in life, love and career - you need to bridge that affinity gap and generate chemistry with people from all walks of life. The fancy name for this is emotional intelligence or EQ. As a Christian, I believe this was what Jesus Christ had done when he came to Earth more than 2,000 years ago. He mingled with and befriended sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and other then riff raff of society. He showed by example what it meant to be a great leader of people, and had many followers. This philosophy has in fact been marketed in modern day age (Jesus as CEO).

This has been a lifelong challenge for me. How does one generate "electricity" and magnetism with the people that I meet at work or at play? How does one relate to others sincerely and honestly without fear of any negative retribution? Is it really possible to befriend everybody that you meet? More importantly, do you have to "sleep with the enemy" to achieve your goals in life?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Should Gahmen Blog?

In recent months, there has been a sudden upsurge in interest in new media amongst government agencies in Singapore. This wave of interest was largely spurred by PM Lee's national day rally speech, which nudged the government to experiment in new media technologies. This was followed by a spate of articles in the Straits Times about gahmen bloggers, and more recently, a dinner between gahmen bloggers and MCYS Parl Secy Teo Ser Luck. This finally culminated in the most recent launch of the p65 blog by PAP MPs born after 1965 (timed just after their maiden hip hopping performance).

One of the key challenges that government communicators face is the need to get buy in from different stakeholders - especially the public - without compromising on wider national interests. This becomes increasingly difficult over the years due to media fragmentation, advertising clutter and the proliferation of alternative sources of information largely from the Internet.

This competition for attention is a key reason why government agencies nowadays have to advertise in both the mainstream and online media to get their messages across. It is no longer enough to rely on media publicity alone - you need sufficient frequency, breadth and depth of messaging to engage the public. Government communicators must now be familiar with advertising terms like GRP, top of mind recall, mindshare, and of course the ubiquitous brand equity.

The question now is whether government agencies should embrace blogging as the next frontier. If they were to do so, should it be done in a decentralised manner, with individual agencies putting up their own blogs or should there be a central endeavour to coordinate and synergise such efforts? What would be the content that members of the public would be interested in, should such gahmen blogs arise? How would they want to be engaged and what would be their expectations?

I think the verdict is still out on the above. Any views?

Shoestring Advertising

As an old Ikea adage says, "You don't have to be rich to be clever".

Faced with limited advertising budgets, small businesses find it difficult to compete against larger well-heeled competitors. Unfortunately, many do not pay close attention to how their ads are created, resulting in hard-earned cash flushed down the drain. To make your advertisements work harder for you, one should follow some simple rules.

Listen To Your Customers

Know who your customers are. What makes them tick? What are their primary concerns, likes and dislikes? Do a simple survey or conduct focus groups with potential customers. Gear your advertising copy and creative towards that.

Provide A Customer Benefit or Solve Their Problem

It’s not about your CEO, your wonderful feature-filled product, your latest technology, or your spanking new building. It’s all about your customers. Fulfil their needs, satisfy their desires or solve their problems and say so.

Study Your Competitors

Find out how your competitors are advertising and their promotional tools. Which media do they appear in more often? What type of messages or graphics do they use? What is their value proposition? What strategies do they use to attract and retain their customers?

Differentiate Yourself

Having studied the competition, explore ways and means to be better than them. Your ads should be different from the rest, yet easy enough for your customers to appreciate them. Emphasise your Unique Selling Points (USPs) vis-à-vis what’s out there in the market.

Be Clear and Easy To Understand

Do not be swept by the temptation to create clever and ingenious prose. Instead, remember the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple & Stupid). In our fast-paced society, few have the time or patience to decipher a clever ad. Make your message loud, clear and easy to understand.

Make Your Offer Compelling

An irresistible offer never fails to draw attention. Notice how powerful the words FREE, SALE and WIN are in the world of advertising? However, be careful not to rely too much on promotions and price gimmicks alone.

Be Consistent

A consistent advertisement engenders customer recall, loyalty and familiarity. The world’s leading brands like Coke, Microsoft, and Sony put great pains in keeping their advertising consistent. Being consistent improves your credibility and positions your business more strongly against the sea of competition.

Use Images or Graphics Appropriately

A cardinal sin committed by many advertisers is to use overtly abstract images. Be mindful that most consumers are hard-pressed for time. You want them to buy your product or try your service, not scratch their heads trying to solve your ad!

Make It Easy For Your Customers

Remember to include your contact particulars like address, emails, website URLs, fax numbers, phone numbers and so on. If your business is located in an obscure corner of Singapore, insert a small map and include the nearest MRT station and buses that go there.

Brief your Advertising Agency/ Design House Thoroughly

Miscommunication between client and agency can be eliminated if a comprehensive briefing is provided, peppered with examples, references and relevant information. Information such as the target audiences, advertising objectives, product factsheets, images, preferred copy writing style and so on should be provided from the onset.

Above All, Be Real

A chief grouse of many consumers is that businesses sometimes over promise and under deliver. Keep your offers and special deals genuine. Do not fall into the trap of promotions that need to be validated by a thousand and one different terms and conditions.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dancing Lion @ Paul's

Speaking of Lion Dancing, thought I should show this all-time favourite video of my son Ethan's, at my Sister-in-Law's place. I used a Dopod 818 Pro to capture the video, with its 2 Meg camera.

Dancing with Lions

A fascinating thing about being a parent is watching your kid develop his own character, likes and dislikes. From the time he was a baby, I knew that my son Ethan is going to be a very different person from my wife and I. Both of us were very quiet and tend to be unassuming, "kuai" characters at school or at home. On the other hand, Ethan is quite a social butterfly.

Pushing three in November, Ethan has a strong curiousity for just about anything and everything, and is fairly extroverted, boisterous, friendly and loud. Yes you heard me right about the last point, even by toddler standards. Especially when he is singing his favourite "Happy Birthday To You" in a room full of people. While he can be quite a livewire at functions and parties, he is also quite an emotional and sensitive new age guy (SNAG) and easily burst into tears when he is being bullied.

One thing that Ethan likes very much is Lion Dance. Yesterday evening, we heard the clanging drums of a Chinese Lion Dance troupe playing downstairs at the coffeeshop near my house. Immediately, he asked us to bring him downstairs to watch. The grin and smile on his face as he watches the performance, as well as the energetic prancing from side to side and shaking of his head in emulation was quite a spectacle for my wife and I. Lion dancing is something he likes so much that we bought him a "mini" Lion, and he uses that to "practise" his dance steps to often humourous effect at home.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Viva la VivoCity

This morning, we woke up to a white cloud enshrouded landscape. No, we are not in Heaven, but instead, enveloped in the year's worst haze attack with PSI levels at ungodly new highs (yes its now at an unhealthy 101!).

To escape the scourge of sulphur-laced nano-scopic particulate matter, my wife has suggested that we check out the new VivoCity. After all, it is just a stone's throw away from our house, and is Singapore's newest and most spanking new retail destination. This mega destination has over 1 million square feet of space, and claims to have up to *gasp* 450 retail, food, beverage and entertainment outlets. Suntec City eat your heart out - that's what they are claiming.

Positioning itself as a "multi-experiential destination", VivoCity will host not only retail or dining festivals, but include cultural and music festivals, purportedly at its outdoor amphitheatre. Other than its array of Singapore Biennale sculptures and artworks, the complex will also tie up with promising artists and designers to showcase their works. This promises to be a visually inspiring, and aesthetically pleasing spectacle, and will hopefully differentiate itself from run-of-the-mill shopping malls offering the wine, dine and shop-till-you-drop experiences.

It also has the largest cinema by Golden Village, with 15 cinema halls and 2,500 seats that offers to screen not only the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but also more eclectic yet quality "indie" offerings. I hear that the screens are different, sound systems are top-end, and seats are also a notch above.

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let's go forth and see how it fares.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Smoke gets in your eyes

Tonight is mid-Autumn festival. It is a time of celebrating through feasting on delectable goodies, munching on high caloric diabetes-inducing mooncakes, and carrying fancy Disney-esque lanterns which blare high-pitched cheesy tunes like "Lambada" or "Venga Boys". Older folks may prefer to sip a cup or two of their favourite "Oolong" or "Iron Buddha" tea.

On this particular night, the moon was shining bright.... Hey wait, what is that angelic "halo" doing around the moon? And I can't see any stars too. In fact, I can't see anything more than a km away. Everything is enshrouded in a thick blanket of tiny particulate matter of foreign origin. Plus my throat, nose and eyes are stinging, and everything is a blurry haze - literally.

Yep, once again, Singapore is the victim of the haze - an ecologically disastrous phenomenon brought about largely by illegal loggers and shifting cultivators in the nearby Indonesian island of Sumatra. The meteorologist tells us that the worsening haze is a result of the wind direction blowing everything north-easterly towards our island's direction. Well, at a PSI of 80, we are supposed to be in the "moderate" range, though my aching throat and teary eyes seem to tell me otherwise.

I guess in times like this, I wonder if we Singaporeans can do something about it. Of course, just trying to tell our neighbours down South to douse their own flames may not work if they simply do not have the means to do so. Can we then do something to help them control their alarming rate of deforestation - in a friendly, diplomatic and unthreatening manner? Hmmmmm...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Melancholic Malady

I am sure you have all have experienced this some time or other. The butterflies in the stomach that approaches as the weekend winds down on Sunday evening and you stare hard at the ceiling at night, many things on your mind, and worrying about the morning after. I don't know if they have a medical term for this, but practically everybody suffers from it. From school kids to NS boys to working adults.

I knew that it was coming for my son (34-month old Ethan) as he kept asking in the last few days if he had to go to school. He started showing all the classical symptoms of Monday Morning Dread - fussiness, crying, inability to sleep throughout the night, loss of appetite, wanting to play. This morning, his fears rose to a climactic high, and he burst into tears and clung tightly to my wife like a Koala, unwilling to go to childcare.

Naturally, we will be asking his childcare teachers if anything is the matter, as he normally doesn't exhibit such behaviours. Being an optimistic, cheeky (very), and jovial boy, Ethan has many friends in school, and seems to be generally well-liked. However, as he nears 3 years of age, his behaviours appeared to have changed. It appears as if the neuroses of adulthood are slowly creeping in. Scary.

Watching my son in action (or inaction rather), I wonder why it is necessary for us human beings to go through this. Is there a way to make the transition easier from a wild weekend to a manic monday? How do we ease the pain of going back to the grind after staying up late? How do we escape from the hangover effect of a happy though hurried weekend?

I guess this is a question that we may never be able to answer. It is a rhythm in life - a circadian rhythm and biological clock that has its peaks and troughs. You work and go to school from Monday to Friday, and play from Saturday to Sunday. There are no two ways around it right? Or are there?