Monday, February 26, 2007

My Worst Weekend Ever?

Bumper Sticker Guy: [running after Forrest] Hey man! Hey listen, I was wondering if you might help me. 'Cause I'm in the bumper sticker business and I've been trying to think of a good slogan, and since you've been such a big inspiration to the people around here I thought you might be able to help me jump into - WOAH! Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit!

Forrest Gump: It happens.

Bumper Sticker guy: What, shit?

Forrest Gump: Sometimes...

Last weekend had been simply unbelievable. There had been so much which happened that I don't know where to begin.

Let me start with the worst. Our maid was caught stealing money from us. This was triggered by a series of things which went missing and a suspicious looking SMS in Bahasa which my wife received from her "brother" (who later turned out to be a boyfriend in Indonesia - surprise, surprise). Apparently, she had been happily pocketing "ang pow" cash, "loose change" from our pockets, possibly stealing jewellery and even Ethan's money. This was used to purchase phone cards which she used to call her boyfriend.

What was especially tragic was the collusion between three maids - her and another two Indonesian maids who worked for my sis and bro-in-law. The case even ended up with my wife, sis-in-law, bro-in-law and his wife at the Police Station from 12 midnight to 5 am on a Saturday morning (I wasn't there because I had to take care of my son). All three maids were implicated one way or another. I heard that our maid was the chief mastermind who barely flinched or batted an eyelid even while being interrogated.

The Police inspector handling the case told my wife and relatives upfront that she was obviously lying through her teeth. Her version of the story kept changing. Even he felt frustrated! Unfortunately, as we didn't have hard evidence of grand larceny, we decided not to press criminal charges. We felt that the next best course of action was to send her on a one-way ticket home in the quickest manner possible.

Perhaps she was too clever, and given too much freedom for her own good. To think that we even gave her a special bonus and generous "ang pows"!

The sorrowful thing was that we entrusted her with a lot of freedom. She showed a certain maturity and intelligence. In fact my son Ethan took a liking to her. Even now, my wife and I had to explain to him now and then to explain why she had to go. Being an intelligent little boy, I am sure he can understand why it was wrong to steal. However, some of these emotional wounds would take time to heal.

The moral of the story? Trust is something that you should never take for granted, especially for a stranger who comes into close contact with your family. There is nothing more sobering than learning it the hard way like we did.

To rub salt to the wound, the next day after this incident our car met with an accident. Luckily, there were no injuries but still, it was a major hassle to go through the insurance claims procedures. The accident report form was simply a major pain in the *censored* to fill up.
I realise now why motorists are complaining to high heaven about this unnecessary step of bureaucracy. I know that this is a fail-safe measure which the General Insurance Association had come up with, but must we tell our entire family history in the form?

In an eerie twist of fate, the vehicle which banged into us had almost the same license plate number! Should we have bought 4D? Maybe our luck would have been better then!

Following that, my wife lost her voice on Sunday morning, and we went to the doctor to get more medicine. Apparently, the virus/bacteria/whatever micro-organism is getting back at her health with a vengeance. The doctor even said that if she don't take care, it may develop into bronchitis. I certainly hope that things will turn out okay and that she will recover.

Finally, in a manner uncannily similar to the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back, our washing machine went totally dead. We suspected that this could be our previous maid's handiwork. After all, she was berated for doing the unthinkable and making away with our hard-earned cash while still enjoying a relatively good life compared to the other two maids. Good thing that washing machines aren't that expensive in this day and age. Our replacement machine have already arrived and is now happily humming along.

It is times like this when s**t happens that you appreciate how important your extended family are. I am especially grateful to my family-in-law - Father, Mother, Sis Karen, Brother William and his wife Susan - and of course my dearest wife Tina and son Ethan. I am also thankful for the support which my mum and dad has provided us.

Certainly, blood is thicker than water. There is nothing more important than the love, kindness, generosity and support provided by one's family. With this, all adversities can be overcome, no matter how daunting or insurmountable they may seem.

Have you had a horror story to tell? I will certainly be interested to hear your experience.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I recently re-visited the Zoo during a management retreat. Amidst all that brainstorming activity, we did manage to squeeze a little time to visit the Zoo. As I walked through the lush environment in the warm tropical Sun, I was convinced once again why the Zoo can attract more than a million visitors a year! Here's the story through photos.

The first thing is landscaping. Notice how the home of the Hamadryas Baboons from Ethiopia looks better than a District 10 Bungalow? Go ahead and drool folks!

Next up is the picturesque scenes which adorn much of the zoological gardens. Note how green and lush the tropical foliage are.

Simple, clear and easily understood educational panels that appeal to audiences of all ages and education levels can be found throughout. Here is one on the different types of Baboons and their communal behaviours.

Another on how a mongoose can crack open its prey for food. Illustrated and clear to anybody whether they are 6 or 60.

Similarly, there are multi-lingual signages to cater to tourists of different linguistic orientation. Here is one in Japanese.

Rest stops can also be found at convenient corners to let hot and flustered guests take a nice break. They come with glass panels to observe the animals. Some are even air-conditioned!

The Zoo is also good at live events. Its entertaining zookeepers can keep visitors spellbound with engaging activities like this meet and greet session with an Orang Utan.

Finally, merchandising and F&B which they seem to do particularly well. Here is their awesome souvenir shop offering practically anything animal-related under the Sun.

And of course, everybody's favourite Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Parlour. A yummilicious treat after a hot and tiring day at the zoo.

With all these stops covered, it is little wonder why the Zoo is still creating waves in Singapore's tourism scene after so many years in the business!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Staying Afloat in a Shopper's Paradise

Crowds thronged VivoCity when they first opened

Recently, quite a few shopping centres in Singapore seem to be left behind in the retail race despite our buoyant economy. Poor customer traffic, contractual spats, tenants going on "strike", empty shop spaces, decay and disrepair seem to be some of their common woes.

Some are new and spanking. They include Dhoby Xchange, which is strategically located next to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station yet attracting hardly a soul. Another recent case is an unnamed shopping mall at Commonwealth Market (to be renamed Queenspoint) which apparently ran afoul of the law. Its owners Pagar Park did not have approval to sub-let its spaces but still went ahead, with 70% of its 150 retail outlets taken up. Now it is tangled in a messy litigation case involving multiple parties including the Singapore Land Authority.

Others have been around for longer like Liang Court, Central Mall, as well as Orchard Road's Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Towers and Orchard Emerald. Most would agree that these are faltering at best and hardly in the radar screen of shopaholics. Even the crowds at the almighty VivoCity - Singapore's largest mall with one million square feet of retail space - are starting to thin barely 6 months after its opening.

Why do some malls fail while others survive and even thrive? Are there lessons that we can learn from the raving successes of malls like Parco Bugis Junction, Ngee Ann City and the evergreen Plaza Singapura?

First, you need to advertise and promote your mall aggressively. Sounds pretty obvious? Well, it isn't just about sales all year round, but special tie-ups, loyalty programmes, festive deals, lucky draws, mall-wide promotions and other specials to attract the finicky consumer dollar. In the dog-eat-dog world of retailing, its all about generating the greatest top-of-mind-recall and mindshare as shopping tend to be a rather impromptu, spur-of-the-moment decision.

Second, you need to have a certain theme that can be easily identified with. What is your mall's unique selling proposition? Convenience? Hip and funky stores (Eg Heeren)? Family friendliness (Eg Ngee Ann City and Raffles City)? Music and private schools (Plaza Singapura)?

Third, you need to collaborate with your tenants on mutually beneficial activities. Develop joint promotions and activities that boost customer traffic and earnings. Parco Bugis Junction does this exceedingly well, and have a performance-based element in their monthly rentals. This incentivises both landlord and tenant to work hard in attracting customers.

Fourth, you need to frequently organise mall events. Theme them according to the festive seasons - Christmas, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, National Day, School Holidays etc. You will be surprised at how effective meet and greet sessions with Mickey Mouse or Pokemon are in attracting the masses!

Fifth, you need to have the right tenant mix, especially good anchor tenants that are top draws. Ever since Daimaru closed down at Liang Court, business just didn't seem the same anymore. Similarly, the forgotten malls of Orchard Road above lack any significant retailers that can generate mass traffic.

Finally, I always believe that there should be fairness and equity in any contractual dealing between landlord and tenant. Instead of calling the lawyers at the first signs of trouble, landlords should try to work out any teething issues with their tenants first. A little bit of give and take never hurts anybody. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Leapin' Lions and Rollin' Dragons

As some of you would know, my 3.25 year old son Ethan simply LOVES lion dance performances. He will go into a frenzy, eyes glazed and jaw agape, when he hears the heart pounding bellows of the Chinese drums coupled with the clashing cymbals. Long time readers would probably have seen him doing his own lion dancing performance before.

This CNY, Ethan was really lucky. He managed to catch not just two lion dancing but an exciting dragon dance at his great grandmother's place at McNair Road. How did it go? Well first, a few words of greetings from our sponsor.

Next is a video of the two very energetic lions prancing about.

Finally, the dancing dragon having a rollin' good time. Note that the sound of the drums and cymbals are slightly different from a lion dance performance.

You can see that this isn't just any dragon and lion dance troupe. These guys are in fact professionals from the Tian Eng Dragon and Lion Dance Centre. They even have a website! Don't pray pray...

OK guys, hope you enjoyed the videos. Normal programming resume tomorrow so keep tuning in...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

10 Tips to Hit the Headlines

This is a rehash of something I wrote for a major national newspaper more than two years ago. I have tweaked it to be more comprehensive, with the general principles remaining the same. Of course, this doesn't guarantee coverage everytime, but if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

Here are 10 tips to improve your chances of making it into the news:

1) Understand the needs and target audiences of different media. Establish rapport with journalists and editors and speak to them to understand what they are gunning for. Which categories of stories do they normally cover? What are their editorial styles?

2) Think how your business or work can appeal as a story. At the same time, create different story angles to cater to the needs of different media. Are there any human-interest elements in your business (rags to riches can be quite popular)? How about quirky facts or pioneering breakthroughs like being the only bak kwa stall which blogs or being the first convenience store specially catered to seniors?

3) Write a press release. These should be tightly written, cramming the most amount of information into the least amount of words. Think of the "Whos, Whats, Wheres, Whens, Whys, and Hows" (5W 1 H). Write in an inverted pyramid format (though there are exceptions), with strong headlines and fact-filled leading paragraphs. Quotations from significant individuals like the CEO or founder are also useful to have.

4) Prepare a press kit. These are tools that help reporters at their job and to paint a compelling story. Fact sheets, websites, photographs, maps, architectural plans, artist impressions, video clips, sound files, customer testimonials, white papers and other essential materials should be included.

5) Employ the most effective and timely means of reaching the press. Find out if they prefer you to call, email, fax or SMS. Also, ensure that the information is fresh and not already used elsewhere. Journalists are constantly fighting a battle with tight demanding deadlines so its important to meet their schedules.

6) Create an original publicity stunt that is relevant to your business. Something unusual, wacky and newsy - like getting the most number of senior citizens in your shop at one time (why college students only?). Donate all your profits for one day to a particular charity.

7) Get others to talk about you. These could be customers, experts in the field, suppliers, or Board Members. Send these testimonials and their contacts to the press if they are really significant. Third party views work magic, especially if they are credible and believable (ie dispense with the hardsell).

8) Create photography, video or sound opportunities for the media. Nothing gets good coverage faster than interesting photographs for newspapers (not smile-and-say-cheese posed shots!). Unique sound bites may get you national radio coverage, while dramatically choreographed activities (like a CEO sky diving for a branch opening) would generate TV news.

9) Position yourself as a newsmaker by providing opportunities to showcase thought leadership or expertise. For example, offer to conduct public workshops in an area that you are good at. Anything from baking, marketing, retailing, to massage therapies. Draft a white paper, conduct a study, or start a wiki, blog or podcast relevant to your area.

10) After you have basked in the limelight (hopefully), create a pipeline for future media opportunities. Keep the media abreast of the latest newsworthy developments in your organisation. Send them your calendar of events, and invite them often to your events and activities.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Year of the Ham

Ethan wishes you "Gong Xi Fa Cai, Xin Nian Kuai Le!"

Here's wishing all my friends, family members and readers a very "pork"-sperous Chinese New Year full of "ham"-some harvests, sausage days, pigging out, fat returns, and endless opportunities to go the whole hog!

In the wise words of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan:

"I am very proud to be called a pig. It stands for pride, integrity and guts." Hmmm....reminds me of ter huang kiam chye!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Are F&B Flops Uber Unlucky?

Courtesy of

Over the years, we have seen quite a few high profile F&B failures in Singapore. They include Rainforest Cafe at Liang Court, Hello Kitty Cafe at Downtown East, and of course the numerous bubble tea shops whose bubbles have popped.

The latest casualty in the scene is Uber Burger. This uber upmarket joint has folded on 7 February 2007 barely 10 months after a much-heralded opening. Famous for their S$101 Wagyu Burger stuffed with truffles, foie gras and all things decadent, they claimed to offer unique mouth watering experiences that you can never get at cheaper chains.

Launched with much aplomb - including very extensive media coverage in the major dailies - Uber Burger claimed that they succumbed to the decision to cordon off roads in Suntec City in September 2006 due to the IMF-World Bank. According to the report in Straits Times Life!, it chalked up losses of about $110,000 in that month alone. However, this statement was disproved by its neighbouring restaurants, some of which enjoyed booming business in the last three months.

What are the lessons that we can learn from these culinary "crash-and-burns"?

First, the price must be right for the product. Certain old habits die hard. In my mind, a burger no matter how dolled up, is still cheap fast food. Granted that I do love wagyu beef and foie gras. At more than $100 a pop, I would rather spend my hard-earned cash on a much more exquisite dining experience.

Second, the ambience (physical evidence in marketing parlance) must fit the price point. When I pay $101 for a meal, I expect to be pampered like a king or queen, not sit in plasticky chairs and tables with blaring rock music. Creature comforts still rule in the world of high class cuisine.

Third, uniqueness and originality is key. The first usually (not always) gets the biggest bite of the cherry. Gourmet burgers have been around for some time in various Western restaurants. Similarly the demise of many bubble tea outlets can largely be attributed to the fact that many are "me-too" shops.

Fourth, constantly innovate and stay ahead of the competition. Think long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains. The F&B business is rather capital intensive in view of the equipment and manpower needed. Fads, gimmicks and promotions can only bring you this far. You need to re-invent your menu and surprise your guests to remain relevant.

Fifth, you need to generate mindshare and top-of-mind-recall when it comes to your category. This means some investment in marketing or even better, Word-Of-Mouth efforts. In the words of Jack Trout and Al Ries (gurus of positioning theory in marketing), you should also "own" the category. Unfortunately, there are already many others who are associated with quality burgers prior to Uber Burger.

Finally, do be mindful of prevailing tastes and concerns. In this day and age, people are increasingly mindful of their health. Loading them with sugary diabetic-inducing drinks or artery clogging fatty foods may be fine occasionally. However, making it an everyday affair may be too much of a good thing!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Word Of Mouth in a Nutshell

Word of Mouse in Action!

I am currently reading the Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, a book by George Silverman, which I borrowed from the National Library. Fascinating stuff in there with some explanation of how one can make Word Of Mouth (WOM) marketing work.

Let me highlight two key learning points. First is the Buying Decision Process. Those who studied Marketing 101 may be familiar with this. The stages are as follows:

Stage 1: Deciding to Decide - Going from disinterested to actively investigating your product/ service.

Stage 2: Choosing among Options -
a) Identifying them
b) Studying them
c) Weighing the pros and cons

Stage 3: Trial - Observing the product/ service in use and evaluating its performance

Stage 4: Purchasing/ Implementing/ Using - Becoming a real customer (yeah, the cash only moves at this stage!)

Stage 5: Expanding Use and Recommending - Becoming a regular and perhaps even an advocate of the product or service

Next up would be the actual Word Of Mouth (WOM) process. According to Silverman, it goes like this:

1) Figure out why someone should buy your product/ service in the first place, and do it from his or her perspective as a customer. What are your unique selling points? What makes your product or service especially valuable? See also my earlier entry on Purple Cows.

2) Single out the predominant adopter type (s) that you need to be going after - innovator, early adopter, middle majority, late majority, laggard - in your various markets. This is related to the product life cycle. Generally speaking, a recently launched product will be more popular with innovators and early adopters compared to one which has been in market for some time.

3) Study the crucial decision stages (see above) specific to your product. In other words, will the pre-purchase stages of decision making be more important or the post-sales experience?

4) Develop the actual content - words or ideas that trigger WOM - that you need to accelerate the process. This depends on who your target audiences are. Innovators will be more interested in something far out and new, while the late majority and laggards will prefer more risk free and safe approaches.

5) Determine the sources, channels and delivery mechanisms of WOM that will be most convincing and motivational. There are some 30 different ways (yes, its not just blogs and emails!) to harness this. They include anything from expert roundtables, seminars and workshops, videos and audios (vodcasts and podcasts?), testimonials, call centres, PR, advertising, WOM incentive programmes ("tell-a-friend"), forums, emails and so on.

6) Create and implement the WOM campaign. This is where the rubber meets the road.

WOM is easier said than done I suppose. Still, it may be worth a try for anybody in the business of marketing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How Much is My Brand Worth?

I came across this awesome blog on branding by the Blake Project which offers truckloads of fabulous advice and insights on the art and science of branding. This is probably one of the best blogs on marketing which I have seen. What's great is that they do offer lots of free stuff too.

How does one measure brand equity? There are many ways to do it. Interbrand-Businessweek's methodology is probably the most famous for listed companies, and many marketers are familiar with their Top 100 Global Brands.

I personally like the approach which Blake Project has adopted. According to them, there are five key attributes which drive customers' brand insistence, namely:

1) Awareness
2) Relevant Differentiation
3) Value
4) Accessibility
5) Emotional Connection

This is very nicely encapsulated in the following chart:

Courtesy of

What I like is the emphasis on emotional connection. This is a fundamental component of any strong brand, yet most brand measurement systems neglect it altogether, preferring to focus on the hard numbers like dollars and cents. Over the long term, how a brand performs will inevitably depend on how much emotional capital it has invested over the years with its customers and other stakeholders.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Run For Your Life!

Ethan running wild at Orchid Garden

Ever since my university days, I have loved to go on long outdoor runs. Covering distances between 8 to 10 km, these sessions provide a much needed respite from the vagaries of life.

There is something about the feeling of wind rushing through your hair, sweat dripping from your brows, and your heart pumping hard as you stride across kilometres. Your mind will be much clearer as you think through the key issues of your life and focus on the ones that matter.

The fresh air and scenery provides an intoxicating and heady mix that you deeply inhale. To top it off, there will be the accompanying endorphin high and after burner effect which keeps you happy hours after the run.

Of course, there will also be benefits for your physique and look, as well as your sanity. To me, running provides much needed therapy for the mind, body and soul.

Lately - well at least for the past two days - I have started going on long hard runs again. My legs pounding the asphalt step after step, I discovered a new sense of peace which have evaded me for quite some time. I found that it helped me to bring fresh perspective to my life and not to sweat the small stuff at work, at home, or anywhere else.

You should try it one day too. Any form of aerobic exercise will do, be it brisk walking, cycling, swimming, boxerobics, soccer, basketball, or running. And no, this message is not brought to you by the Health Promotion Board, though Vanessa should be glad!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Customer or Crook?

Spotted this sign at a second-hand bookshop somewhere. It tells me a couple of things:

1) We are very pally with the men-in-blue so "you better watch out, you better not cry..."

2) If you lose your receipt, good luck to you. We are not going to be sympathetic to your reasons.

3) We are too poor to print our sign on proper paper using toner or computer ink.

To show that they mean business, they even included this piece of evidence:

Yes, your eyes are not kidding you. It IS a letter from the police which showed that a recent thief at the shop was arrested by the Police and jailed for 10 months.

I forgot to add that there was also a sign somewhere (I didn't manage to capture that) which said that if you unwrap a book from its beautiful shrink wrap, it will be considered sold.

I don't know whether to cry or to laugh.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

20/20 Vision - 10 Wacky Ideas for Opticians

Two out of three in my family wears specs!

I've never revealed it before, but I am a closet consultant. I love to provide business and marketing advice to people. After so many years working with entrepreneurs, media, lifestyle and tourism businesses, I do have some thoughts welling in my head. Whether they take it or not is another thing altogether of course.

Let's start with the optical business. It is a booming business, with 80% of adult Singaporeans being shortsighted and us having one of the highest myopia rates in the world. What can opticians (like eastcoastlife's hubby Chris) do to make themselves stand out clearly from the competition?

1) Do something superlative. Create Singapore's (or the World's) largest pair of contact lenses and put it somewhere prominently outside your shop. Or the largest vision testing chart and hang it somewhere.

2) Provide a FREE but VALUED service. This is related to goodwill. For example, you can have free eye tests, spectacles adjusting service, screw replacement services, glass cleaning and so on. Make it known that you DON'T have to be a customer to enjoy this, and it will be done without any obligations. Of course, there may be freeloaders, but trust me, the goodwill will be worth it.

3) Share information that will help your customers. The best way to do this is probably through blogging. Little nuggets on how you can take care of your eyes, exercises that you can do, eye-friendly diets, latest trends in four-eyed fashions and so on.

4) Sponsor or organise an optical related events that are truly radical. For example, "Miss Bespectacled Singapore" (inspired by Dove's Real Beauty campaign), or "Eyes that sparkle", or even a "Most Improved Vision" contest.

5) Keep in touch with your customer AFTER the sale. Get their contacts and give them a call thereafter on how their spectacles or contact lenses fit, do they need any adjustments, can they see more clearly now etc.

6) Get your customer interested in the "Making Of" process. How do your manufacturers come up with a frame for glasses? What goes into the grinding of new lenses? Again, this can be covered in a blog (maybe ;)).

7) Serve them a drink and maybe some carrot sticks (eye friendly foods) ;). Invest in a couple of Osim massage chairs so that they can be comfortable while waiting. Spectacles and contact lenses are not cheap consumables. They can easily cost hundreds or more, comparable to lower-priced jewellery. As these are high value customers, perhaps more attention could be paid to make sure that their experience is exquisite rather than excruciating.

8) Theme your shop with different corners for different customer groups. Sections can be imaginatively named like "Metrosexual Male", "Sophisticated Urbanite", "Outdoor Adventurer", "Active Boy or Girl", etc. Have some photographs to show the context of how certain frames can match certain outfits. Currently, most optical shops are entirely product focused, with a gazillion frames and bottles of contact lense solutions everywhere.

9) Up the hip quotient by using famous bespectacled celebrities, like Harry Potter (or Daniel Radcliffe, though lately he was more famous for something naughtier). Even Kylie Minogue and David Beckham looked cool with glasses.

10) Most importantly (and I am sure eastcoastlife herself knows this) is that your customer should have FUN. Don't make going to the optician like seeing a doctor or worst a dentist. Offer little drawings for kids to doodle, or adults to practice their eyes on optical illusion puzzles. A little humour doesn't hurt anyone, and I think frazzled Singaporeans certainly need that.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Powerful Points that Rock

Seth Godin, the master of all things marketing, shares some valuable lessons on how to make an impression with your powerpoints. I am definitely guilty of some of the worst trangressions (like bullet points) but I suppose some of these old habits die hard.

In particular, I like his 5 point list below:
  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.

  2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.

  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.

  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.

  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

More of Seth Godin's post here.

Other than Seth, the other masters of the art of presenting are Steve Jobs (whose product launches are always spectacularly choreographed), Guy Kawasaki, Lawrence Lessig and of course the guru of all gurus Tom Peters. Most of the time, these masters do not have elaborate 20 point slides (Seth says bullets are for the NRA) with complicated charts and graphs. Simplicity, it seems, is the key to powerpoint success.

The best reference on how to create presentations that sizzle AND sell is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Simply the best online reference on this subject matter. And its all free.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned...

Was horrified by Victor Koo's recent post on his mis-encounters with a certain leading bank in Singapore. It is certainly not just an isolated incident since I heard so many horror service stories.

I don't know if you guys have watched this video about a customer's frustrated attempt to cancel his AOL account. Vincent Ferrari spent more than 20 minutes on the line with a joker from AOL (who subsequently got fired it seems). I am sure we all can empathise with Vincent Ferrari some way or other.

On a similar note, Seth Godin pointed to Yehuda's 10 ways of saying sorry by frontline associates, and what they truly mean. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best:

"You can always take your business elsewhere." (1): Thank you, I will, and so will all of my friends.

"It's not our fault." (2): This is a non-apology, where you are not seeking to redress the issue, nor evincing any sort of sympathy for the injured.

"We're sorry that you feel that way." (3): This is also a non-apology, which roughly translates into "It pisses us off that you feel that way. If you didn't feel that way, we would be happy." It also doesn't take any responsibility for the problem, and places all of it onto the injured party. Be careful of any apology that starts "I'm sorry that you..."

"We're sorry if we did something wrong." (6): This is getting there, but doesn't really accept responsibility either. You are not acknowledging that you did anything wrong; you're still hoping that you haven't. You are offering an apology for appearances sake.

"We're sorry that this occurred." (7): You are sorry, but as a matter of principle you're still trying to insist that it wasn't really your fault.

"We're sorry that we caused this problem." or "We're sorry that we have let this happen." (9): This is a full apology, and is what the customer needs to hear. Frankly, it doesn't matter that it was really the post office's fault, and not yours; the customer doesn't care. Most people hearing this cannot help but respond with some sort of graciousness, such as "Well, all right then, these things happen. What are you going to do to fix it?" This is the target level that you want to hit for your customer service. But for the record, there is still one level to go. The complete apology is:

"We're so sorry that we caused this problem; we are really distressed over this. Please know that we take this very seriously. This is a huge oversight on our part. I will immediately notify my supervisor, and we will review our procedures to ensure that this cannot happen again. In the meantime, that is no consolation to you for our lack of service! What can we do to regain your trust? We will be sending you a little surprise as a token of our appreciation of having you as a customer." (10) In truth, this little speech goes on until the customer interrupts. And it is followed by a few more apologies as the conversation closes, as well.

I think the most important lesson out of all this is that we should learn to listen to our customers first. And I really do mean LISTEN and not just HEAR. Its a dialogue after all. Showing empathy and sincerity to one's customer is better than the slickest scripts that a consultant can prepare for you.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New School of PR

Courtesy of Hugh MaCleod's gapingvoid blog

I am currently attending a conference on Strategic Media Relations organised by Pacific Conferences. Its a good refresher on public relations and also an opportunity to broaden my horizons and network.

As usual, it covered the blogosphere's growing influence (57 million blogs and counting), use of RSS, wikis, podcasts, photo/video communities, and so on.

A key takeaway which I have learnt from John Kerr of Edelman was that PR now has a new formula for success. It is no longer just enough to draft a press release, send it out via email or fax, call the assignment editors' desks and pray. You need to develop relationships with various different stakeholders - reporters, bloggers, corporate partners, staff and so on.

The formula?

Develop better relationships -> humanizing your offering.

1) Create Social Currency -> Conversational Capital

2) Get the people you care most about to talk about you
a) To more people
b) More knowledgeably
c) More often

3) Increase Share of Voice
a) Citizen generated media (blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums etc)
b) Mainstream media

4) Move the business ahead

The new school of PR should look at packaging content through various rich formats:
- Press releases
- White papers
- Podcasts
- Executive emails and opinion pieces (op eds)
- Visual media (eg video casts)
- Virtual events (eg online webinars?)

These would then be distributed - both ways - through various channels like MSM (mainstream media), corporate websites, digital and user generated platforms (forums), blogs, and other new influentials before it reaches the customer. I highlighted both ways to emphasise the need for dialogue and conversation between the organisation and its constituents.

In other words, its no longer enough to be a preacher on a pulpit giving a sermon, but a mix of both sermon preaching, street evangelism and even personal one-to-one counselling sessions.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why You Should Play Nice in the Blogosphere

Pigs don't have it this good at the US's National Pork Board
Came across this interesting post by Nathan Gilliatt on how a national pork body tried to sue the pants off a breastfeeding advocate, to disastrous results.

"For a while, it seemed that every conversation about companies interacting with bloggers fell back on the same few anecdotes. It was as if our economy were based on Dell and Kryptonite. For better or worse, that's changed now. We're seeing more examples of bloggers calling out companies, and all too often, the companies don't understand the culture. Today it's the National Pork Board.

Jennifer Laycock is a work-at-home mom and founder of The Lactivist, "a site that aims to promote breastfeeding through humor." One of her activities is selling shirts with funny slogans at CafePress, and one of her designs—The Other White Milk—was too close to The Other White Meat® for the eat-more-pig crowd.

We understand the need to defend trademarks, but the Pork Board skipped a step and went straight to the threatening letter (PDF)."

To cut a long story short, Jennifer's online advocacy resulted in an ocean of sympathetic support in favour of her cause. It became so overwhemling that the Pork Board had to withdraw their lawyer's letter and apologise to her instead.

The moral of the story is clear and simple. Do not play tough in the blogosphere. While you may win the legal battle based on technicalities, you will lose goodwill, positive mindshare and perception. And the costs of that is probably far more than what you can receive in court over the long term.


Saltwater Wells in My Eyes

As alluded to earlier, something sinister is happening to our environment. Mankind's multiple abuses - deforestation, overfishing, water and sea pollution, depleting fossil fuels and excessive carbon (greenhouse gas) emissions - have led to severe environmental degradation. More than 2,000 top environmental scientists have alluded that we are at the start of a major and irreversible climactic catastrophe.

Global warming (by as much as 6 degrees Celcius over the next 100 years), rising sea levels (up to 50 cm in the next century), shrinking tropical islands, melting glacial ice, and depleting of natural forest cover. These have affected entire communities and led to massive disasters in recent times like floods, mudslides, hurricanes, and numerous pollution related illnesses.

Are we safe here in Singapore? After all, we did escape from the brunt of it all in recent years.

Well, I seemed to sense that something was amiss today. Perhaps I am just paranoid but somehow things felt a little different.

First the sky seemed to be overcast the entire day yet without any occurrence of rain or haze. This was peppered with strong gusts of winds that made walking in the mid day rather pleasant and cool. Certainly February isn't the hottest month of the year, but neither is it usually this balmy.

Sea levels seem to be rising as seen in this photograph of East Coast Park taken this morning. Water washed over the concrete embankment and looked as if they may cover the entire shoreline. Perhaps it could just be normal high tides but I noticed that sea levels are visibly higher these days compared to years ago.

The rising tides have also led to the nearby canal being dangerously full of water. All it could take are a few hours or continuous rain before the spectre of floods dawns upon us yet again.

Is the situation so desperate that we have to break down and cry?

Ethan asking his papa to carry him.

I guess Julian Lennon's hit Saltwater (1991) best sums up what appear to be happening in this day and age:

"We are a rock revolving
Around a golden sun
We are a billion children
Rolled into one

So when I hear about
The hole in the sky
Saltwater wells in my eyes

We climb the highest mountain
We'll make the desert bloom
We're so ingenious
We can walk on the moon

But when I hear of how
The forests have died
Saltwater wells in my eyes

I have lived for love
But now that's not enough
For the world I love is dying
(And now I'm crying)

And time is not a friend
(No friend of mine)
As friends we're out of time
And it's slowly passing by .. yy .. yy
Right before our eyes

We light the deepest ocean
Send photographs of Mars
We're so enchanted by
How clever we are

Why should one baby
Feel so hungry she cries
Saltwater wells in my eyes

I have lived for love
But now that's not enough
For the world I love is dying
(And now I'm crying)

And time is not a friend
(No friend of mine)
As friends we're out of time
And it's slowly passing by … yy … yy
Right before our eyes

We are a rock revolving
Around a golden sun
We are a billion children
Rolled into one

What will I think of me
The day that I die
Saltwater wells in my eyes

Saltwater wells in my eyes"

Friday, February 02, 2007

Flying High in the Ferris Wheel Stakes

Courtesy of

I followed with much interest the recent news on the Singapore Flyer and how corporate organisations are making a beeline to book it for their functions. It is certainly heartening to see it kick off to a flying start, especially in light of the recent demise of Crazy Horse Paris and Jurong Crocrodile Paradise. With Adval running it (a subsidiary of NTUC Club), and a highly experienced management team (some of whom I know personally), I believe that it will at least have enough horsepower to keep itself going for some time.

To sustain itself over the long haul however, the Singapore Flyer will need to constantly sharpen its saw and offer unique value to its customers. There are many giant ferris wheels around the world - the London Eye, the Eye on Malaysia, a proposed Giant Wheel in Berlin (2008), another in Las Vegas, and yet another in Shanghai (the Shanghai Star). If you count the smaller sized wheels, there are plenty more in cities like Osaka, Hokkaido, and even Bangkok's Suan Lum Night Market!

If you think about arboreal attractions, there are already quite a few others in Singapore. These include the much loved Cable Car, Carlsberg Sky Tower, and the DHL Balloon. Each of these offer different perspectives and views. Having gone on all of them, I must say that I still enjoy the cable car rides most of all.

How can the Singapore Flyer possibly compete against such keen global (and local) competition? Would they be able to run circles (huge ones!) around the others? Well, here are some suggestions which may help them stay and win in the airborne race:

1) Exciting Events. Just build it and they will come? Not a chance anymore. In this day and age, you need to have a series of events and activities to keep people coming to your attraction. I read that the Singapore Flyer will have concerts and parties to keep the adrenaline levels high.

That's certainly a good idea. One which I hope they can sustain over the long term.

2) Holistic and Integrated Experiences. You need to bundle, package and price your attraction with other neighbouring lifestyle outlets to offer a complete experience. Theme them according to different target groups - couples, families, youths, even seniors.

For example, you can do an "Enchanting Evening" package for romancing couples in a capsule, complete with neighbouring hotel stay, a breezy bum boat ride, and maybe limousine transport to-and-fro. Another great tie-up would be with the neighbouring Marina Integrated Resort, where high rollers can also enjoy rolling up high?

3) Industry Partnerships. No man is an island, and no attraction can survive on its own steam even if its an island like Sentosa. Do special deals with travel agents, airlines, transport operators and even river boat operators (at the Marina Bay area). See how to incentivise inbound travel operators and guides to bring tourists here. Also, make sure that the Singapore Tourism Board has you on their map of must-see delights in Singapore.

4) Product Quantum Leaps. As highlighted in my earlier post on Purple Cows, you will need to refresh the product every now and then. It isn't worthwhile to do tiny enhancements now and then as people will not notice. Perceptions and mindsets are very often deeply ingrained.

To change them, you will need to overhaul your service offering with upgrades that are big enough for the news to pick it up. Perhaps the Singapore Flyer can create an offshoot called the Singapore Diver, where people can plummet to the deepest reaches of Marina Bay for a bungee-like experience? : )

5) Surprising Service. This is not surprising actually. As a premium priced product with adult-priced tickets at close to $30 each, you will need to offer great value and delight your customers. Make your customers feel like VIPs and pamper them to the nth degree. If they have kids, give their loved ones balloons or little candies to sweeten the experience. You will be surprised how the little touches matter.

6) Create a Community of Flyers. Look at how to create buzz and Word Of Mouth effects so that they will pull their friends, families and associates to the Singapore Flyer. Launch a blog and get your staff to share what happens behind the scenes. Get people interested to extend their relationship with you over the long term instead of just a one-ride-experience.

Well, I wish Singapore Flyer all the best in the years to come, and hope that they can add much needed colour and vibrancy to Singapore. Any views to share?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cold Cold Heart

Sad bear in cage
Sad bear in a cage in Hokkaido

Lately, the weather seemed to have turned particularly chilly and windy, and I have felt relatively cool even in mid day. Suddenly sunny Singapore has gone temperate.

Something seemed to have also gone wrong with my body system. I usually get very warm easily and prefer to switch on the air conditioning at a lower temperature at my home. Lately however, it feels as if the "yang qi" has left my physical self, leaving me feeling all cold and chilly. Perhaps it is time to pay a visit to the TCM.

In a freakish twist of fate, this lack of fire coincided with something else happening in my life. My once feverish fervour and boundless passion have evaporated in recent weeks. No I am not talking about my relationship with my wife (which had always been fabulous) but well, something else.

I think my funky state of affairs can be best captured by excerpts from Elton John's Sacrifice:

"Its a human sign
When things go wrong
When the scent of her lingers
And temptations strong....

Cold cold heart
Hard done by you
Some things look better baby
Just passing through

But its no sacrifice
No sacrifice
Its no sacrifice at all..."

In other words, I am getting restless...