Thursday, June 28, 2007

Discount Retailing at People's Park

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Recently, my wife and I visited the Swanston Essential Store located at People's Park Complex to pick up some toiletries. Apparently, it has been quite an institution for the denizens of the Chinatown area.

Anybody who need to purchase toiletries and cosmetic items will pop over now and then. They stock items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, eye-liner and anything else which makes one prettier, better smelling, cleaner and germ-free. The success of the outlet has spawned a branch nearby at People's Park Centre just across the road.

How has it survived for so long and remained competitive in the cut-throat retail scene in Singapore?

I believe here are some of its secrets.

1) Prominent shopfront.

Located at a corner shophouse in a high traffic area, Swanston has an advantage compared to less visible competitors. This is of primary importance. Yep, its back to location, location, location.

2) Access to cheap and convenient storage.

I noticed that the shop stores its products in a couple of shop units nearby. As these were located in an old HDB estate, rentals are subsidised compared to swanky shopping complexes in the CBD. Both factors make it more feasible to do a quick turnaround sales.

3) Everyday Low Price policy.

This is nothing new and many department stores are already doing it. However, Swanston appear to have honed it into an art and a science.

4) Unpretentiousness.

I like the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) approach that the store adopts in retailing. There are no fancy counters, sales girls dressed in uniforms, mood music or ambient lighting. Everything is upfront and fuss-free. Sometimes, consumers just want to make their transaction and leave without being harassed.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

10 Minutes, One Idea

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Can you get your audiences to be this attentive?

Having attended my fair share of conferences over the years, I noticed a couple of things.

1) Speakers often share too much about themselves and their companies.

2) There are too many bullet points flying everywhere.

3) 45 minutes is waaaay too long to capture people's attention.

4) Printed handouts makes one lazy... and inattentive.

5) Delegates get bored real soon, usually before tea, before lunch, and just after lunch.

6) Handphones, PDA phones and other devices offering mobile connectivity makes it worse.

In this age of social media, RSS readers and bite-sized content, the one thing that is sorely missing is a long and unbroken concentration span. I will be amazed if you can remember 80% of what you heard at a conference say.... last week?

How does one get around these problems of mass distraction? I have an idea.

Just allow 10 minutes per speaker, with each allowed to pitch just one idea. 10 minutes should be enough to elaborate about the background, approach, strategy, tactics and thinking behind an idea. This should then be followed by another 10 minutes of discussion.

Oh yes, I forgot. No handouts please. That way, people have to concentrate, jot down their own notes and really pay attention.

With this in mind, the entire conference/seminar would be kept short, sweet and razor sharp. Perhaps we can limit the intense sessions to just two hours, with the rest of the event dedicated to discussions, networking and lunch (burp). Let people mull over the key learning points, ponder about its application, debate its pros and cons, and imprint it deeply into their minds.

The scarcity of time will make presenters more mindful of what their key messages are, and to devise ways to get it delivered in the most efficient and impactful manner. In fact, this approach is favoured by venture capitalists who get inundated with business plans and funding proposals.

Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. And please don't speak like a speeding bullet.

Of course such an approach may be more stressful for speakers who are used to rambling about their college degrees. Or participants who want to have a relaxing, wistful time daydreaming about their last/upcoming vacation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sun, Sand and Sparkling Seas

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Central Krabi Bay Resort - Our Spot of Paradise

If you enjoy tropical getaways, you will love Krabi. Located along the coast of the Andaman Sea, it is one of the more rustic and less commercialised beach getaways in Thailand. Almost everything a beach bum wants - sparkling crystalline seas teeming with colourful fishes, white sandy beaches, great seafood - can be found there. The icing on the cake is that great Thai hospitality which always makes experiences extra special.

Here's a photo essay of a our recent holiday there. Enjoy.

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Our idyllic sojourn began at Central Krabi Bay Resort, a hotel so exclusive that it has its own private beach.

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Located at separate villas, each hotel room was well appointed. The spacious luxurious bathroom offered three different ways to bathe!

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Nestled amidst cliffs lush with tropical vegetation and facing the sea, our resort had a nice swimming pool, coconut trees, and overhanging cliffs. The works!

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Here's a view of the floating jetty leading out of the resort. Because of its location, we had to take a speedboat ride to get from the resort to Ao Nang town in the mainland.

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Tuk tuks are a cheap, fun and sometimes thrilling ride here, without the price haggling that comes in Bangkok.

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Ao Nang town was relatively quiet when we were there as it was the low season. We were there every evening for magnificent massages, fabulous food and deadly drinks.

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One of the restaurants serving a mixture of Thai and European cuisine. Prices are always affordable for fresh seafood and alcohol.

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A shot of the nice seafood dinner that we had. Barbecued squid, prawns and fishes washed down with tropical cocktails. Splendid!

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On our first day trip (a Phang Nga Sea Tour), we visited this animal farm where a cute cuddly gibbon clung to me. It later bit my finger, probably mistaking it for food.

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We also clambered on top of a Thai elephant for our first elephant ride. The gait of the elephant made it quite a "rock and roll" experience.

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We next visited a monkey cave temple with a huge golden statue of a reclining buddha. Some of the rock formations inside were awesome.

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Tina and I gearing ourselves up for a long-tail boat ride to James Bond island. Its actually speedier than it looks.

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A view of the muslim villages on stilts where we had lunch. Its fascinating to see how an entire community was built solely for tourism purposes.

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James Bond Island, a tourist hotspot, in the background.

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A souvenir shop on scenic Ping Gan island selling cuttlefish. Yummy and chewy!

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We next went on a short canoeing adventure, where we had many close encounters of the rocky craggy kind!

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Our second day trip brought us to 4 islands - Phra Nang Beach, Tup Island, Chicken Island and Poda Island. Here's a shot of Tina with our trusty ride.

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Another shot from inside the speedboat, with the wind blowing against us and the spray of salty sea in the air.

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At Phra Nang beach, we saw this little shrine located in the beach caves. Guess what these objects are?

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The famous Chicken Island with a limestone rock formation shaped after the head of our favourite fowl.

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The sandy causeway at Tup Island with blue seas teeming with fishes, white sandy beaches and half-naked hairless apes.

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The most memorable shot at Poda Island are the ones of clear waters full of fishes. Many of them were quite large and incredibly friendly when you can offer them food.

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On our last day, we took a walk through nature along a hilly path which joins our resort to the main town area.

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A sordid reminder of what happened along these parts on 26 December 2004. Let's hope that future natural disasters will leave this pristine paradise alone.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Exciting World of Social Media

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Podtech.net's Jeremiah Owyang with The Digital Movement's founder Steve Ng

At the recent iX-TDM New Media Forum, I had the privilege of meeting and hearing from Jeremiah Owyang. The director of corporate media strategy at Podtech.net, Jeremiah is a social media consultant to big guns like HP, Cisco and Hitachi. In his session, he spoke about trends and developments in the social media space.

Jeremiah started by explaining fundamental concepts. Companies need to shift their strategies and mindsets to look at harnessing all employees - not just corporate communicators (like yours truly... ha) - to be advocates.

The new paradigm is where communications becomes a dialogue as a opposed to a monologue. Instead of a one-to-many approach, it now becomes few-to-many or even many-to-many. Employees should be empowered to speak directly to customers, partners, shareholders and suppliers.

So what's happening in 2007?

More companies are diving in to the new media space as opposed to just dipping their toes. They are also asking "How" as opposed to "Why", ie the work of blog evangelists have started to bear more fruit. A new role - community manager - is also emerging, evolving from that of an evangelist. Corporations are becoming like media companies, disseminating and sharing information through a wide variety of channels. Measurement also takes greater precedence.

We are also seeing a shift in tools. They are now approaching real time as opposed to being asynchronous. Look out also for the development of richer media (video, sound, animation etc), emergence of amorphous forms (different shapes), and ubiquity especially in mobile based applications (eg Twitter). Social media tools come in three main forms:

1) Listening Tools. These include measurement tools like google analytics and statcounter, RSS readers like feedreader and newsgator, technorati, google, aggregators like digg, ping and techmeme.

2) Community Tools. These cover forums, wikis, Public Square, Ideastorm, Social Networking White Label, Virtual Worlds (Second Life and Active Worlds)

3) Publishing Tools. The most well known at the moment, which includes blogs, audio podcasts, online videos (u-stream), twitter, live streaming, what's next (livecasting?)

So what's the future of social media? Well according to the good man, corporate websites will become more collaborative. Two significant examples:

1) Ideastorm.com - Dell's community website where users can vote for the PC configuration that they want.

2) Hitachi's Industry Wide Wiki, where customers and partners can also participate in shaping product decisions.

We will also see the emergence of social networking "white label" software that you can integrate into existing domains with a whole suite of applications and functions. There are also new generation publishing applications like PublicSquare which fuses web publishing with blog-like features.

An interesting point which attracted some debate was Jeremiah proclaiming the death knell for corporate websites. Notorious for its hyperbole, puffery and sheer BS, corporate websites are increasingly being shunned in favour of more independant 3rd party reviews.

My take is that there will still be a need for official sources of information. Certainly, official websites will not reach the top spot in google or technorati, but they can still be reliable "first stop" references for information like technical specifications, product release dates and other details.

To embrace the sizzling new world of social media, corporates should weave in a social media strategy in tandem with their more traditional mainstream marketing approaches. Understanding the wonderful world of social media as outlined by Jeremiah would be a first step.

For a copy of Jeremiah's slides, click here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Word of Mouth Demystified

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Ian McKee, CEO of Vocanic, shared at the recent PR Academy Conference about the importance of Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing. Anybody who has spent time on the blogosphere will probably have heard about this term. However, what does it truly mean?

In his presentation, Ian shared some startling findings.

Media Consumption Patterns in Asia (time spent):
Internet 47%
TV 29%
Radio 12%
Newspaper 8%
Magazines 5%

However, this is how brand managers are spending!
TV 42%
NEwspaper 38%
Radio 9%
Posters 5%
Periodicals 5%
Bus/Taxis 2%
Cinema 1%

In other words, hardly any marketing is spent online even though consumers spent 47% of their media consumption time there! This correlates with my earlier observation on media spending patterns in Singapore.

From surveys, most people are twice as likely to trust their friends compared to information direct from companies. In addition, 19% choose brands solely due to recommendations.

Word of Mouth Marketing isn't necessarily Viral Marketing. Viral marketing usually happens with a promotional piece so entertaining that people tell each other about it. This normally is either a URL/Microsite, an image, a video clip or a game.

While viral marketing can generate eyeballs, it doesn't necessarily work. Burger King's Subservient Chicken, one of the most successful viral campaigns ever, generated a total of 14 million unique visitors. However, it led to 0% increase in product awareness and no increase in sales for its franchisees!

So how can one do Word of Mouth?

Step 1 is to identify your Influencers. These are "Super Recommenders" whose personality and communication style, size of their social network and affinity for the brand make them great allies.

Step 2 is to activate your Influencers. Most influencers are motivated by being better informed than the market, being the first to know, and having the chance to be "up close and personal" with the brand. Exclusive invites and previews may help here.

Step 3 is to develop the 3 components of WOM campaigns.

1) Identified and Activated Influencers
- Engaged, persuasive, highly connected recommenders

2) Remarkable Stories
- Correctly crafted for word of mouth communication (some deft copywriting needed)

3) Coversation Triggers
- the reason for them to have the conversation

There are of course ethics in WOM. Ian advocates the following 3 step test for programmes (ROI):

Relationship - transparency of their relationship with the brand
Opinion - truthfully representing their own opinion
Identity - not pretending to be someone else

I certainly found the session very fruitful and illuminating, confirming my own observations in marketing and advertising. The challenge of WOM marketing though is that it takes time to brew. I wonder how many executives and senior managers would have the patience to wait for the results to happen?

However, it is certainly the way forward, as highlighted by one of the world's biggest advertisers P&G:

"The mass market push, BIG brand model, push the advertising on TV, LOUD as you can, as LONG as you can is not as effective as it used to be. And it certainly isn't efficient" - AG. Lafley, CEO P&G (2003).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

One More Day To Go - iX-TDM New Media Forum

OK folks, for those who are in the know (and even those who aren't), there are a couple of huge geek fests hitting town this week. One of them is iX Conference 2007 which is happening over the next couple of days at Suntec.

Part of it is the iX-TDM New Media Forum happening at SMU. That is going to rock because it features luminaries like Jeremiah Owyang of Podtech.net, Lynda Brown of New Media BC, Mike Downey from Adobe and Louis Broome from Microsoft. They are going to share about social media and engage you in a panel discussion on what's happening and what lies ahead in the exciting 2.0 world.

Here are the details:

Date: 20th June 2007 (yes its tomorrow afternoon!)
Time: 1 pm to 5 pm
Location: SMU, Admin Building, Conference Hall, Level 5
Price: Free for Students, women entrepreneurs, Flash developers and new media practitioners (that means bloggers like you!)
Only S$25 for everybody else

To register, just click here.

Hope to see you there as it promises to be lots of fun!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Philatelic Pleasures

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One of Singapore's hidden little treasure is this beautiful boutique attraction called the Singapore Philatelic Museum. Tucked away at Coleman Street just below the National Archives of Singapore and Registry of Marriages, the museum is probably one of the few indoor places where you can bring a young child and be entertained for hours.

I brought my family there recently during International Museum Day 2007, and boy we sure had a swell time.

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This room of postal rarities shows some of the oddities of postage like bisect stamps, mis-prints and of course the evolution of the postal boxes through the ages. Do you know that stamps with "mistakes" are worth a lot more than those in pristine conditions?

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Interactive features like these help to captivate a restless toddler. Here, various artefacts from old Singapore help to tell the story of how traditional life used to be in a "peek-a-boo" fashion.

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One of Ethan's perennial favourites is this Chinese drum, which he banged with much aplomb, much to the chagrin of his parents who preferred to preserve the peace in the museum!

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Thematic exhibitions like this on Chinese New Year helps to explain the history behind cultural practices using stamps and postal materials as tools.

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Hmmm... never knew that there were so many different types of toy post boxes available.

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Guided tours at the Philatelic Museum has always attracted a good following. Here is Lily Samuel, a previous Excellent Service Award Superstar winner for the Attractions Category, enthralling a group of mainly young families.

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Occasionally, the museum visits different countries from around the world. Here is "An Nyeong Ha Seyo Korea!" which gives a postal perspective of Korean cultures from now until Dec 2007. Notice how brightly decked the entire room is in Korean colours.

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Traditional Korean costumes called hanboks show the Koreans' penchant for robes that are bright, colourful and flowy.

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This yummilicious panel on food, glorious food shows that Korean cuisine isn't just about barbeques and kimchi.

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Strike a pose and say cheeeeseee!

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Finally, our intrepid postal explorer hops onto a Vespa and does his thing. "Gentlemen, start your engines....."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Day at the Beach

We recently brought Ethan to Sentosa's Siloso Beach to have fun frolicking in the water while building sand castles. By now, you probably would have guessed that we prefer the great outdoors to spending time shopping in artificially controlled environments. Here's a short clip of Ethan with Tina building a sand castle.



When was the last time you built sand castles? Or castles in the sky for that matter?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Make Room For Ikea

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In a desperate bid to get my son to sleep on his own, my wife and I decided to venture to Ikea at Alexandra Road to shop for a "tent". Well, actually we were looking for a bed canopy which my son Ethan said will help him sleep on his own at night. The current arrangement was that one parent had to spend the night with him in his bed room. This obviously isn't ideal as you would imagine.

Ikea is one of the world's leading furniture retailer. It is founded in Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad, who is the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of US$33 billion. The chain is huge, with 254 stores around the world in 35 countries, and adopts a franchising model of business. One of its key strengths is in "democratic design" which integrates efficient manufacturing and design to capture economies of scale and consumer preferences.

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One of my first observations of Ikea is the prominence of its customer loyalty "friends" programme. Its always a good idea to reward regular customers with a membership scheme.

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Signages at Ikea are clear and distinct, with its corporate colours of blue and yellow being used prominently.

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A bright yellow, brand-inspired Ikea shopping bag which can be conveniently hooked on a shopping cart for ease of transport.

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This colourful ball pit and children's play area at the entrance of Ikea clearly shows where its heart is. If you can occupy the kids for an hour or so, parents are more likely to shop for longer durations.

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Obviously, the philosophy of being child-oriented also extends to its product merchandise. Ethan simply loved that soft "puppy" which he was clutching!

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Ahhh... food glorious food. I read somewhere before that the restaurant at Ikea was one of the most profitable around the world. In fact, it was a greater cash cow than the furniture retail arm itself! Swedish meatballs anyone?

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Cheap and unambiguous prices make Ikea a winner for everybody. Who doesn't like a bargain every day of the year?

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Merchandise displays in Ikea are also prominent and well placed at eye-level. Notice the absence of ugly shelves which block both human passage or view. Almost everything can be seen at a glance.

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Interior design is also key in getting customer's to buy in. What we see aren't just products laid out in rows upon rows but put together in actual scenarios. I was especially impressed with how they "ID-ed" their childrens' rooms.

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Obviously, I wasn't the only one!

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To cut costs, one of Ikea's great innovation was to get customers to wrap their own items. Apparently, this isn't much of a stretch when the price is right.

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Even their waiting areas for delivery services had cartoons being screened on televisions to keep customers occupied. A nice touch which obviously doesn't cost much.

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Finally, as part of their positioning as a socially responsible corporate citizen, Ikea does its bid to save the environment. Kudos to the Swedes for teaching us a thing or two on doing our retailing right!