Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is Branding a Silver Bullet for Business?

Which came first, the Apple brand or its fantastic products? (source)

"Brand it like Beckham" so we've been taught, and untold fame and fortune would follow you. Learn to emulate Nike's brand success story, and be inspired by how its world famous "Swoosh" logo and "Just Do It" tagline. Apple became such a global powerhouse largely because of its distinct brand personality and immaculately executed brand architecture.

Build your brand and the rest - publicity, sales, profits, reputation - will follow.  Really?

Well, truth be told, it ain't that simple friends. While branding is important, it will not save an organisation if the other components of a business - for example, product quality, operational efficiency, organisational culture, and customer orientation - are in disarray.

Derrick Daye of Branding Strategy Insider shared the story of how Johnson and Johnson's obsession with brand marketing alone is destroying its business. Spending a huge US$19.8 billion annually on marketing, selling and admin expenses, J and J has leveraged and stretched its brand equity over 92 consumer brands. By neglecting its product quality in favour of brand marketing, the company has downgraded its brand value - the very thing that it is leveraging on.

Johnson n Johnson's brand strength won't save it (courtesy of Medcity News)

At a more fundamental level, a company's product brand is actually a sum of four factors, as cited by Geoffrey James here, namely:

1) The quality of your products and services. (50%)
2) The way you treat your customers. (40%)
3) The way that you treat your employees.(5%)
4) How well you manage your corporate finances. (5%)

Without getting these elements of your business right, no amount of clever logo design, creative sloganeering or brilliantly conceived advertising is going to save you. In Geoffrey's view, "It wasn’t Neil Diamond’s name that made him; it was his talent. Same thing with Bacall and Johnson."

In citing the futility of how Nigeria is trying to brand itself into a tourist paradise, Rosabeth Moss Kanter shares with us that it could be akin to putting "lipstick on a bulldog". To cross the psychological barrier of consumers, brands must start with an authenticity test, and not ignore the elephant in the room.

Courtesy of Venture Beat

Should one then fire the creative team or eliminate the brand consultant? Not at all. Rather, when faced with slipping consumer interest at the cash register, focus on fixing your product/service quality, customer service processes, or your delivery channels FIRST. Find out what went wrong (or what didn't go right) and get to the root of the problem first.

For those who are entrusted with launching a new product brand, focus on creating a remarkable product (aka a "Purple Cow" borrowing from Seth Godin) rather than worry about logos, taglines, templates and elevator pitches from the onset.

There is a time and place for branding, and I like how Moss Kanter cites it here:

"Brands are wonderful assets when they capture the essence of a product, service, or event succinctly, meaningfully, and with endurance over time."

Use branding wisely as a strategy to augment your business, rather than a flavour of the month to save it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sticking to the Course

Capilano Suspension Bridge @ Vancouver
Obedient tourists keeping to the straight and narrow path (Capilano Suspension Bridge at Vancouver)

We've all been through this before. There is simply an abundance of juicy bits of knowledge and information that you want to share, but your airtime is limited.

The same applies equally in any endeavour. Be it in presenting a proposal, updating a blog post, pushing an ad, making a speech, sharing an anecdote, or cracking a joke. In an age of increasing attention deficit, flooding is the last thing you want to do.

One of the lessons I've learnt repeatedly is to stay focused and to stick to the script as closely as possible when presenting a case. Sure, there are lots of fascinating back stories that you can share, or tantalising morsels of trivia, but your airtime is restricted.

If you're making an argument, ensure that whatever facts you're presenting helps to solidify rather than dissolve that point. Keep your narrative on the narrow path and try to be consistent - where humanly possible - in what you're saying. Be ruthless in pruning out whatever shouldn't be there.

While brevity is an advantage in most instances, there may be times where you need to expound further on a specific argument. This is where you need to consider the context of your audiences. If they're in the same circle as you are, elaborating too much on the same story will seem old and tired. If, however, they're not clued in, giving that little extra may help your case.

Remember. The audience may be listening now, but they won't continue to do so if you stray too far from the course.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Let's Get Social at Singapore's First Social Media Day!

Happening 25 June (that's tomorrow!) from 2 to 9 pm at *Scape, Singapore's first Social Media Day promises to be quite a hoot with games, performances, blogshops, food and more. The event is one of more than 500 Social Media Day events around the world celebrating how social technologies have democratised media and made it so much more... ummm.... social!

Organised by a dedicated and hardworking team of Omy.sg bloggers, Social Media Day (or SoMe! for short) promises fun with a warm and fuzzy heart.  Every dollar spend will help to raise funds for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF).

(If you donate $1 or above to charity, you can even stand to win a 3D2N trip to Hong Kong, courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.)

So what's happening on that day?  Lots!

Here are the programme highlights:

2pm – 9pm: Games (with prizes and goodie bags!), blog shops, signing of SoMe! Wall, photography workshop by Tan Geng Hui

3pm – 4pm: Performances by Youtube superstars like Ashmie & Afwan, Joshua Alexis & Jeremy Khoo

4.15pm – 5pm: Creative Sandwich Making Contest with Wang Ruiting, Tee Ying Zi, Hazel Tay & Andy Kwan

Do you really want to eat these beautiful creations? (Courtesy of Omy.sg Blog)

6.30pm – 8pm: More starry performances by Shimona, Angie Wang & Echo Music

You can find more delicious details at the SoMe! blog here.

So go ahead, make some time tomorrow afternoon to attend this event, make a few new friends, be part of a global movement and do good for kids from underprivileged homes at the same time!

Being a social media event, naturally, there are several ways to follow it online:

Website: http://project.omy.sg/sgsmd/
Blog: http://blog.omy.sg/sgsmd
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sgsmd
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/sgsmd
Twitter Hashtag: #sgsmd

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gadgets, Gears & Geeks Galore at CommunicAsia2011

Communicasia 2011

Thanks to the kind folks at MSL Asia and the organisers Singapore Exhibition Services, I had a chance to visit CommunicaAsia2011 during lunch. With over 2,000 exhibitors from 59 countries in Asia, the integrated event for broadcasting, digital media and infocomm (ICT) industries is a veritable paradise for techies, auteurs and anybody who needs to work with the latest hardware and software. 

Communicasia 2011
Blackberry's tablet shows they're no longer just thumbing the competition

With an ambitious goal of hitting some 55,000 industry visitors, participants, and delegates from over 100 countries, CommunicAsia2011 together with BroadcastAsia2011 aims to provide an environment for industry players and pundits to learn, network, brainstorm and sell.  Its happening from 21 to 24 June at both the Marina Bay Sands (CommunicAsia2011) and Suntec Singapore (BroadcastAsia2011), so there's still time to come down and benefit from this annual electronic extravanganza.

Communicasia 2011
Long range communication over land, sea or air is now made possible

Communicasia 2011
You know you've watched too many action movies when you see something like this and think of... umm.... never mind.

Other than the sprawling exhibition happening over several floors, a wide range of conferences featuring over 150 speakers are held, covering topics like satellite communication, mobile, cloud computing, broadband, convergence, and more.

Communicasia 2011
Everything's going up in clouds...

While touring the exhibits yesterday at Marina Bay Sands, I was piqued to see how dominant Asian (especially Chinese) companies are becoming in every aspect of technology - from mobile handsets, broadcasting satellites, radio wave transmission devices, servers, routers, cables, storage equipment, to energy management.

Communicasia 2011
Much of our communications now happens in space

Other than all the big boys like BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Nokia, you also have huge Asian players like Huawei, NTT DocoMo, PCCW Global, Tata Communications and others.

Communicasia 2011
Major mobile internet player Huawei 

I especially liked the "World Expo" styled pavillions from the different technology companies hailing from the region, some of which you can see below:

Communicasia 2011
Dynamic Korea shows that they have it too

Communicasia 2011
No prizes for guessing where you last saw this structure

Admittedly, CommunicAsia2011 and BroadcastAsia2011 is targeted more at trade and business visitors with their array of specification and feature rich goods. However, they still appeal to those who have a penchant towards the digital lifestyle.

Communicasia 2011
Those with a 'sweet tooth' can play this cute little ice cream scooping game and win prizes.

Perhaps one of the most memorable pavillion in my view was the one belonging to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), which demonstrated some possibilities for mobile apps in the future. Here are some of the applications which they showcased:

Communicasia 2011
You can now shop with your handphone without having to haul these cartons back home

Communicasia 2011
With handheld technologies, learning is now a breeze.  Hmmm.... I wonder what teachers will think?

Communicasia 2011
Home brewed firm Brandtology's social media intelligence service attracted quite a lot of attention

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Wildlife Photography Has Taught Me

Wildlife in Canada
This black bear near Whistler Village was a mere 3 metres away from me 

One of the things I've gone gaga over during my recent trip to the Canadian Rockies was photography. Wielding a new Olympus PEN EPL1 camera, I've taken tonnes of amateurish photos and videos of every imaginable living or unliving thing.

Wildlife in Canada
These mountain goats grazing near the road were a rare sight

The hardest subjects to take were the wild beasts that we occasionally encounter during our long drives through Banff. Getting a good shot can be hard work, especially since most animals - including 'fearsome' grizzly bears - are deathly afraid of us. To them, a car resemble a huge metallic death dealing monster (which isn't far from the truth).

Wildlife in Canada
Even a big elk like this is scared of us if we approach too close

Here are some lessons I've learnt which may be useful for life and work in general.

1) Find the right time to maximise your chances. While this can sometimes be an experiment in luck and chance, the likelihood of photographying animals are usually better in the early mornings or late evenings. Similarly, one should always time oneself correctly in order to succeed in other ventures. Find the best season to launch your book, or the most appropriate hour to speak to your boss about a difficult issue.

Wildlife in Canada
These young elks were spotted in the evening as we were driving back to Jasper

2) Choose the right place for the deed. One of the tricks in photographing black bears (which are territorial) is to repeatedly return to a particular location once an animal is spotted. Likewise, it may be fruitful to go back to where your customers normally hang out time and again to observe their behaviours, or to find the best restaurant to talk to a client.

Wildlife in Canada
We wouldn't get this lovely photo of a mother bear with two cubs if we didn't go to where they normally hang out

3) Be patient and persistent. Spotting cute furry bears or awe inspiring mooses require an uncanny combination of being at the right time and right place when the stars (Ursa Major?) are aligned. You got to keep returning, drive back and forth, find the right time, and wait for the animal to turn its head towards you. In a similar vein, repeatedly courting (not irritating) a big client or completing a mind boggling essay require dogged persistence and patience.

Wildlife in Canada
A moose in nature's bush is worth dozens in the zoo

4) Follow the crowd and see where they go. The best way to get good wildlife photos is to literally follow like-minded others. Queues of vehicles along the roads in Banff and Jasper are usually good indicators. In a similar fashion, getting a great meal often involves choosing a crowded rather than empty restaurant. Likewise, if you want to get a higher "hit rate" for your website, participate in community portals that are filled with kindred spirits.

We managed to get this shaky video (ended by a ranger's flare gun) of a shy grizzly bear by driving near where it was spotted and following a huge 'bear jam'

5) Don't scare them away. Yes, the same principle applies for both animals and humans. Being persistent doesn't mean approaching one's photographic/business/social prospect in a brash manner. Often, taking slow and tentative steps to 'test water' may work better than hurriedly moving forward. I've certainly learnt that lesson when I missed a majestic shot of an elk standing grandly on a curb.

The one that (sigh) got away

6) When opportunity strikes, be 120% ready. As you may have guessed, amateur wildlife photography requires a lot of luck. Occasionally, you do encounter one of these rare moments and when it happens, you need to react very quickly. I suppose this lesson is universal at work or at play.

Wildlife in Canada
This rare shot of a coyote was possible only when our cameras were ready and fully trained on it

Special mention must be made of James Fougere of Whistler Discover Tours, who taught me many of these things during a bear viewing expedition.  We've got many wonderful photos, videos and memories from that trip. :)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

TART - A Recipe for Good Marketing

Courtesy of Poverty Project Salt Lake City

In its simplest and most basic form, there are four things that we need to take note of when rolling out any marketing strategy. This can be represented by the acronym TART as a yummy mnemonic device.

Target Customers

The first T stands for Target audience. Understand who your customers are as well as their key attributes: socio-economic backgrounds, consumption patterns, lifestyle behaviours, and so on. Without a keen knowledge of the customers whom you're serving, it'll be difficult to meet their needs, wants or desires in a cost effective fashion without lots of expensive investments.

Other than the more traditional forms of market research like surveys, focus groups, and visitor counts, consider more in-depth ethnographic interviews with a few key customer groups. Conduct "guerrilla research" by silently observing customer behaviours and interactions at a competitor's premise. Look not only at what they are saying but how they are saying it.

Attracting Attention

Once you've identified who you're precisely serving (as much as you can anticipate), you should then determine how you can interest them in your offering. In an increasingly crowded media landscape, what is the best way to attract their attention and hold it there?

Other than straight out advertising, what can you do to go deeper not just mentally but emotionally? How do you spin a yarn that holds their focus just for that much longer than usual. Here, it is clear that content is often far more important than the channels used to reach one's customers.

There are three 'Es' here which you may want to consider:

- Entertainment: everybody likes some fun and humour in their lives

- Education: teaching your customers to be smarter (in as objective a fashion as possible) is always positive

- Enlightenment: consider how your product or service stands for a cause (health, environment, community) that is greater than just dollars and cents


OK, you've waved your flag and managed to get his or her attention. You must now ensure that your entire package - campaign message, product features and benefits, company values, etc - resonate with your customer. After listening to your entire spiel, would your potential customer be convinced? More importantly, would he or she go forth and tell one/5/10/100 others in his or her social networks?

Achieving resonance isn't just about spreading the word of course. It is also about tapping into the beliefs of your targeted customers and aligning your product or service offering with them. What are their possible concerns and worries? How can you help to make their lives better?


The final T stands for timeliness, ie being at the right place, at the right time and perhaps for the right reasons too. Being timely is about being relevant to your customers and touching them in the right places when it is appropriate to do so. Instead of jumping the gun at the earliest opportunity, one should consider the best date to launch any marketing activity (research, campaign, product) based on a combination between current environmental factors, customer expectation, and company needs.

Timeliness also means phasing your messages correctly. What should you say at this juncture so that it leads your customers to want more at the next 'episode'? How should you unveil your product or service - all at once, or bit by bit? In this regard, don't just look within your industry, but consider looking externally towards other businesses that have timed their marketing appropriately.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why We Love to Dine Out in Canada

Contrary to our initial perceptions, Canada (well at least the Vancouver-Banff-Jasper stretch) generally offered a decent dining experience. While the variety and pedigree of their cuisine can't quite match that of Singapore, I do enjoy the experience of dining out in Canada.

First, almost every place offered a vegetarian, vegan, or healthier dining option. This was great for a semi-veggie like me trying to eat more healthily, ethically and sustainably. Many of the restaurants or cafes were also quite flexible and willing to make changes to their menu to suit your taste.

Dining in Canada
Enjoying a veggie sandwich and a vegan burger at a pub-diner in Jasper

The next thing which impressed me was the professionalism and efficiency of the waiters and waitresses serving us. Many of the outlets - even small family-run establishments - have wait staff who could read one's body language fairly well. One doesn't have to really ask them to refill one's glass of water, or endure being harassed to eat one's meal quickly so that they can clear the dishes.

It's also pretty cool that after you pay the bill, you can leave whatever you feel is right (tips included) in the bill folder, and none of the wait staff will so much as glance at the bill folder while bidding you a fond farewell. I like the idea of F&B operators trusting their patrons and adopting an honour system here.

Dining in Canada
Hawker-like 'pasar malam' food stalls are attractive with innovative food offerings (Summer Night Market @ Richmond)

What's also nice is the generally laid back and hospitable service with a smile that we received almost everywhere - even street side stalls like the one above. This occurs even when there is a long queue or if the outlet is busy with customers. If a waiter is busy, the message you get from his body language is more like "hang on for a bit, I'll be with you shortly" rather than "can't you see that I'm busy right now?"

One particular episode that I recall happened at Banff's popular Wild Flour Cafe.  Despite having to serve multiple guests, a waitress was kind enough to show us where some of the good walks suitable for my family and I were, including marking it out on a map for us.  When we returned the next morning for breakfast - its organic, home-made sandwiches were good too - she remembered and asked us how it went. Now that's service!

Wild Flour Artisan Bakery and Cafe provided many reasons to revisit

As I've said in the beginning, Canada isn't quite like Singapore in terms of being a foodie's paradise when it comes to variety.  However, I must say that most of the Canadian outlets easily beat most of our F&B outlets here hands down in terms of service, hospitality, and flexibility.  And that's something that makes all the difference in the dining experience.

Dining in Canada
Time to dig in!

Monday, June 13, 2011

11 Things We Love About Canada

11 Things About Canada
Moose Lake in Mount Robson Park

After a 16 day trip to Canada's West Coast, principally Vancouver, Kelowna, Banff, Jasper, Kamloops, and the Whistler Mountain, we've been touched in so many fabulous ways. There are many wonderful things about this sprawling - its the second largest nation after Russia in terms of area - and northerly country (average annual temperature is 1.5 deg Celcius across the country) but I'd simply focus on 11. Note that I'm speaking as a traveller of course, so my views could be skewed towards the tourist's gaze. Let's hope that things will continue to stay this way for Canada, a land of extraordinary experiences.

Fantastic Mountains

Blessed with the world's largest stretch of World Heritage along the Icefields Parkway, the Canadian Rockies has spectacularly craggy and snow-capped peaks everywhere you turn. From the Sulphur Mountain, the Sundance Ranges, to Mount Robson, there are towering mountains everywhere you turn. Naturally, these are adorned in gorgeous shades of grey, brown, white and green.

11 Things About Canada
Mount Robson is one of the highest peaks in North America.

11 Things About Canada
Mount Rundle along the Hoodoos trail of Banff makes a perfect backdrop for bonding.

Ice Ice Baby

With about eight months of snow a year, spring and summer kind of coalesces in the sub-alpine latitude (50 deg N) of the Canadian Rockies. Those who hate the cold and icy climates better stay away as there are lots of snow everywhere you go. While this means that you should pack on layers of warm clothing, it also means that kids can have a lovely time sliding on and throwing that white stuff.

Walking on snow is fun, fun, fun en route to the Bow Summit overlooking Peyto Lake.

11 Things About Canada
1,000 feet of packed snow and ice are below us on the Columbia Icefields.

11 Things About Canada
Of course, the best thing about snow are snowball fights (here on Blackcombe Mountains).

Fast Flowing Rivers and Majestic Waterfalls

From tiny gurgling brooks to huge glacier-fed rivers, fresh water takes on a different meaning here with gorgeous rivers everywhere you turn. The more adventurous would dash the rapids in a whitewater raft, while the more serene would simply soak in their life and peace giving properties.

With big rivers cutting through mountains and valleys, one is bound to encounter the thunderous applause of cascading waterfalls in the Rockies. Here, tonnes of crystal clear water crashing down upon the rocks of time takes one's breath away while adding to more perfect Kodak moments.

11 Things About Canada
The Tanglewood creek presented a lovely facade to weary drivers.

11 Things About Canada
Johnston's Canyon rewarded trackers with a lovely fall surrounded by melting ice.

Athabasca Falls
Here, you can see the thunderous might of the Athabasca Falls along the Icefields Parkway.

11 Things About Canada
Loved this rainbow at the Sunwapta Falls (along Icefields Parkway too).

Post Card Perfect Lakes

Who want a postcard from LA when there are lots of lovely lakes in Canada, the land with the most bodies of freshwater anywhere in the world! Almost every serene, still, and picturesque lake here makes one "ooh" and "aah", wishing and dreaming of having a log cabin home beside their awesome views.

11 Things About Canada
This famous shot was the reason why Spirit Island was called that way on Lake Maligne (Jasper).  Apparently, it captures the spirit of the Canadian Rockies.

11 Things About Canada
The world-famous Lake Louise makes for a beautiful picture.

11 Things About Canada
The cold winds and near zero temperatures were worth it on Bow Summit overlooking Lake Peyto.

11 Things About Canada
Mirror image on Patricia Lake at the Jasper region.

Scenic and Breathtaking Drives

While its no joke covering thousands of kilometres by road over two weeks, I love the driving experience here. Beautiful and gorgeous vistas greet one almost everywhere I turn. What's especially memorable was the Sea to Sky highway (Highway 99 and 1) which transformed the landscape magically before one's eyes from pristine oceans, serene farms, to towering mountains and canyons.

11 Things About Canada
The craggy and humungous peaks, tall coniferous trees and snow makes a perfect drive en route to Moraine Lake.

Icefields Parkway
You do get lots of excuses to stop your car for a while on the Icefields Parkway.

11 Things About Canada
Occasionally, friendly horses join you for a picture or two along the highways!

Walking with Wildlife

Blessed with teeming - and highly protected - wildlife (most of the time anyway), lovers of furry, feathered or fuzzy beasts would have a feast here. From grizzlies to black bears, mountain goats, big horn sheeps, towering mooses, van-sized bisons, elks, and deers, to squirrels and marmots, there are lots of creature comforts here. Of course, those who are lucky may get to spot a coyote or two, like we did.

11 Things About Canada
The three little black bears, with a mother and two cubs.  One of our most memorable moments at Whistler.

11 Things About Canada
This flock of six bighorn sheep sauntered casually along the road at Lake Minnewanka.

11 Things About Canada
This coyote sure ain't ugly, but it was rather fast and fleeting along with its companion. 

Vibrant, Beautiful and Quaint Cities and Towns

Some of the world's leading cities in terms of quality of life like Toronto and Vancouver are in Canada. While I'm not quite hot about the traffic situation in Vancouver during peak periods, it appears that everybody is either a) cycling, b) jogging, c) blading, d) skiing, or e) all of the above at its lovely green oases like Stanley Park. Interestingly the average life expectancy of Canadians at 81.4 years is almost the same as that of Singapore's 81.3 years. Naturally, the more tourist oriented towns like Banff and Whistler were wonderful too.

11 Things About Canada
Picturesque Granville market and island in Vancouver makes for a perfect day out with its harbour teeming with private yachts.

11 Things About Canada
Queen Elizabeth Park, one of many lovely gardens and parks in Vancouver city.

11 Things About Canada
The little town of Banff looks like it came straight out from a fairytale book.

11 Things About Canada
Jasper was more laidback, albeit with its own unique and rustic charm.

Food, Glorious (and Multi-Ethnic) Food!

One of the things which impressed us the most about Canada is its ability to offer a wide range of cuisines. With its diverse population, one can find lots of options - Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, American, Greek - to suit one's taste buds. While prices are certainly steeper than Singapore, you do get good value for the price you pay.

11 Things About Canada
Farm-fresh ingredients make Canadian food special.

11 Things About Canada
Wild Flour Cafe offered vegan and vegetarian options, a boon for those on a restricted diet like me.

11 Things About Canada
Of course, sushi and tempura still hits the spot for us (Miki Restaurant at Banff).

Cold Country with Warm People

As my friend Jennifer Connelly has said, Canada may be a cold country but its people are warm. From our interactions with strangers, innkeepers, restaurateurs, retailers and others, I can't agree more. People are always so willing to help here and they're generally quite polite too in their driving habits - except perhaps during peak hours.

11 Things About Canada
Chatty fellow residents at the Macqueen's Manor, hosted by the warm and hospital Pat and Sam MacQueen.

11 Things About Canada
This friendly elderly couple were on a long driving holiday from Alaska, and their two dogs were just as friendly.

Hours of Fun (without the Heat)

For those who love the great outdoors like my family and I, the Canadian ranges and lakes offer lots of places to play. Activities that we've tried include lots of hiking, cycling, crossing of suspension bridges, riding on mountain-high gondolas and more. With a 7 year old kid in tow, feeding and visiting animals at the zoos and farms also comes in.

11 Things About Canada
Trekking was the main activity for us, here on our way to the summit of Tunnel Mountain (Banff).

11 Things About Canada
Ethan trying to scale up a wall in a park near Lynn Creek in Vancouver.

11 Things About Canada
These fun loving seals were just as mischevous as my boy, following his paper baton around.

11 Things About Canada
One of the best ways to see Whistler Village is to cycle around it.