Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brainy Insights

Courtesy of Inner Altitude

Last night, I decided to catch a much talked about TED talk by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor and boy was I blown away! In the video, the celebrity neuro-anatomist described her experiences when she suffered a stroke on her left brain and painted a beautiful and vivid picture of that somewhat transcendental encounter. From that incident, she was able to isolate the functions of both brains via a first person perspective, showing how the two cerebral hemispheres (connected by a bunch of tissue called the corpus callosum) interact and work with each other.

Here's the video for your viewing pleasure:

I suppose the question that we sometimes wonder is this: are we more left brained or right brained? Well, there is the spinning dancer test which asks which way the two ladies below are spinning.

Apparently, if you see them go anti-clockwise, you're using your left brain while if you see them spin in a clockwise direction, you're supposed to be using your right brain. Well, further research has shown that this myth may be debunked (if you stare long enough, you'll see the ladies spin both ways).

OK, back to debate on the left versus right brains. In Jill's talk, the left cerebral cortex is like a serial processor, concerned with bringing order to the universe, while the right cerebral cortex is more like a parallel processor at one with the world. By having a brain haemorrhage on her left brain, she was able to perceive what the right brain was truly about - feeling, intuition, spiritual and absorbing.

These and other well documented differences can be depicted by this chart:

Courtesy of Thought Theater

Or this diagram, which gives a more thorough breakdown between the two mushy hemispheres:

Courtesy of TICleando

A common perception amongst many of us is that we don't use enough of our right brain. After all, much of work and life is about doing things in a sequential, logical manner isn't it?

False. Apparently, we do use it all the time, even when doing the most mundane everyday thing. Here's a list of nine ways in which we use them almost everyday (from You can Draw):

Backing your car, catching a baseball, shooting a basket, lining up that picture on the wall, decorating your home, singing in the shower, (or just plain singing for that matter), daydreaming, tossing a candy wrapper in the waste basket, matching clothes..

Oh, and in case you're wondering, being left-handed doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be more right-brain dominant (although many of those who are left handed do exhibit a greater propensity for right-brain dominance).

The next time you think about how your brain works, consider how both halves of your brain work together seamlessly to make you who you are, and marvel at the wonder of it all.

Friday, July 29, 2011

HP Hops on Tablet Train with TouchPad

By now, tablet PCs are fairly de rigueur in almost any household with a need for fuss-free technology. Initiated first by Apple with its legendary iPad launch in April 2010 - barely 15 months ago - the market for tablet devices has swelled tremendously with major technology players launching a range of devices operating on Apple, Android, Blackberry, and Windows 7 Operating Systems (OS).

The latest player to jump into the fray is computer giant HP. Its tablet device the HP TouchPad runs on a proprietary HP WebOS 3.0, and comes with a 9.7 inch diagonal flush capacitive multitouch display, support for Adobe Flash, a virtual keyboard and instant-on access.

HP TouchPad Launch

Coming in with two storage options - 16 GB (S$699) or 32 GB (S$799), the device weighs in at only 740 grams with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. Sadly, there isn't any mobile broadband option although I've been told its easy to synch the device with a handphone for web access.

What are some of the features of the HP TouchPad?

1) Easy multitasking. This is probably the strongest feature in the device which allows you to move from one task to the next quickly with a fairly easy interface.

2) Synching of calendars, messages, photos and emails from Facebook, Google, Microsoft Exchange and others from the cloud.

3) A universal "Search" box that allows you to search anything - online or offline.

4) Support for Adobe Flash Player when browsing the web. A must for Youtube-holics!

5) Skype video calling with a front facing 1.3 MP camera and digital microphone.

6) One stop viewing of photos from sources like Facebook, Snapfish and Photobucket.

7) Decent sound quality with Beats Audio, and accompanying headphones (sold separately).

8) Access to multiple emails.

9) Ability to lock the screen easily so that it doesn't keep shifting - a boon for those using the tablet while lying on the bed!

Conceived like a game, its recent launch event for the TouchPad at Klapsons Hotel (thanks to Pat and team at GoodStuph for the invite) offered a chance to experience the tablet in "real life" scenarios. One could have a photo taken, have one's portrait drawn by a talented artist from OIC, experience the music quality on the device, or spin a wheel to win a prize.

HP TouchPad Launch

HP TouchPad Launch

The event was quite a star-studded affair (as consumer electronic device roadshows go). We swung to Jack and Rai performing their ditty, and witnessed guest appearances by Irene Ang and film auteur Eric Khoo.

HP TouchPad Launch

With the tagline "Works Like Nothing Else", HP is clearly marketing the device as a lifestyle enhancement accessory (the other mantras it uses are "Friends Like Nothing Else", "Rocks Like Nothing Else", and "Thinks Like Nothing Else").

For those on the lookout for a mid-sized and mid-priced tablet device, the HP TouchPad offers a nifty performance with some useful productivity features. While the user interface isn't as slick or polished as the iPad or Android devices, it does quite a decent job as tablets go.

Visit the website or call 1800-278-0182 for more information on the device.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can Religions be Branded?

One of the most universally recognised symbols (Courtesy of Proclaim the Truth)

My curiosity was piqued when I read this recent post on Branding Strategy Insider about Brands and Religion.

According to the post, "religion is highly branded", and this can be seen in the differences in how different religions are divided and further subdivided into denominations, sects, and branches.

Quoting from the source:

"Consider the differences in beliefs and world views and traditions and forms of worship. Consider the different conceptions of God and of man’s place in the universe and even of the nature of reality. Consider the differences in importance of silence versus praising versus scholarly study versus doing good works in different religions. Consider the different types of people that different religions attract."

Other than the points of brand differentiation that various religions offer, there are other symbols of branding which one can see in the various beliefs. Let me try to draw some examples:

1) Brand identity in the form of logos (crosses, crescents), iconic structures (spires of churches, Buddhist stupas, domes of mosques), altars, pews (or lack thereof), building layouts.

Courtesy of ...people get ready...

2) Sub-brands. For example, under Protestant Christianity we have Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Seventh-Day Adventists and so on.

3) Brand hierarchies. Religions can either have a more structured hierarchy (eg the Vatican in Rome) or a looser structure (eg Buddhism).

4) Charismatic brand builders. The most important figures in each religion, from Jesus Christ to Prophet Mohammed to Prince Siddharta Gautama (the founder of Buddhism).

5) Brand rituals. All beliefs have various customs and ceremonies that held regularly as part of a system of worship. They are usually fixed into a calendar (eg Church on Sundays).

The Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple at Waterloo Street attracts many believers

6) Brand handbooks. The Bible, Koran, Buddhist Scriptures, Hindu Texts, and the Jewish Torah counts among them.

7) Brand personalities. While most religions preach a positive message, the way in which their doctrines are prescribed tend to vary slightly. This gives them different personalities.

... and more.... (Martin Lindstrom gives a good analogy here)

While religions do exhibit attributes of brands - at least the successful ones - I believe that its more a case of branding (or any business) strategy aping religions rather than the other way round. Most of the major religions have been around for a very long time anyway, and many religious institutions are far older than any company existing today.

Certainly, there is much for the corporate world to learn from the positive beliefs and practices of billions. Some have already done it fairly successfully, like Apple, which maanges to style itself like a religion. Companies could also look at how they strengthen workplace culture just like cults, while corporate chieftains could perhaps pick up a tip or two from Jesus as a CEO.

Although there are similarities, there are also major differences. Religion is a topic that is very close to people's hearts and stems from deep-rooted beliefs in certain fundamentals. Buying a handbag, laptop, or laundry detergent, on the other hand, may be less core to one's being (of course exceptions do occur).  Occasionally, the world of religion and the world of commerce may also be at odds from a values point of view.

While the corporate world should emulate some of the 'best practices' embodied in religious beliefs, we should also be mindful that there are limits to how corporate brands can extend themselves into the lives of the customers that they serve.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making History at Singapore Blog Awards 2011

Singapore Blog Awards 2011

Singapore Blog Awards 2011 has upped the ante yet again. As a long-time supporter of the awards (we hosted it at Asian Civilisations Museum in 2008, and I helped judge last year's event), I can safely say that this year's competition organised by has set new milestones in many areas - categories, sponsors, prizes, event attendees, and of course the fun factor.

Singapore Blog Awards 2011

Happening at chic chinoi club Shanghai Dolly, bloggers had a blast celebrating the best of the social web, indulging in an intoxicating mix of food, alcohol, songs, sketches, and fancy costumes.

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Shimona Kee entertaining the crowd with a folksy ukelele

Singapore Blog Awards 2011

Singapore Blog Awards 2011

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Singapore's history gets a slapstick remake with a Domino's Pizza

In the glare of a thousand flashes and smiles - we bloggers love to camwhore - friendships and ties were renewed amongst bloggers old and new, sealed by the sounds of ceaseless chatter.

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Daddy blogger Andy Lee with singing blogger Mint Leong

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Snapping a pose with legendary Estelle and travel blogger Muiee

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Jerome (The Long and Winding Road), me and Darren (Celebrate Life Lah!)

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Caribbean Cruisers Keropok Man, Muiee, Darren, Cherie, Eunice, Catherine and Alvin

The winners of the awards stepped into the limelight, receiving specially created trophies from multi-disciplinary artist Tan Swie Hian.  As citations for the nominees rolled onscreen, tension was in the air, only to be broken by thunderous cheers at the announcement of the winners.  We almost felt like we were at the Grammys.

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Hong Peng (Hpility) was a finalist for being social media integrated 

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Repeat winner Aussie Pete beaming brightly with Guest of Honour MG(NS) Chan Chun Sing

Singapore Blog Award Winners
Congrats to the winners of this year's 16 award categories (courtesy of Omy Blog Awards)

What was especially memorable for me was the best dressed competition which brought the afternoon's celebration to a climactic close.  Amidst cat-calls, whistles and warm applause, bloggers and friends rallied their favourite historical costume characters in a show of camaraderie and comradeship.  Warmed by Domino's Pizzas, and washed down by Tiger Crystal Beer and Zesta, everybody had a blast.

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Is the emcee proposing to Mint (aka Liang Po Po) on bended knees? 

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Steven Lim (aka "World's Most Handsome Guy") doing his... err... Michael Jackson thing. 

Before I end, let me extend a special word of thanks to the super hardworking team at - Chim Kang, Kuan Fung, Alvin, Janet and colleagues. You guys made it all happen!

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Chim Kang (Editor of, MG(NS) Chan and Kuan Fung (Associate Editor of cutting the cake in wedding style

Singapore Blog Awards 2011
Uber blogger and Manager Alvin doing the lucky draw thingy

Here are the rest of my photos for your viewing pleasure:

Let's look forward to Singapore Blog Awards 2012!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Managing Visitor Fatigue in Museums and Attractions

Museum visits needn't be a yawn if you design them well (Courtesy of BelieveJay)

While doing some desktop research recently, I came across an interesting article by Gareth Davey titled "What is Museum Fatigue?" in InformalScience. The academic piece explained why visitors get tired when visiting museums, and proposed how we can better manage visitor behaviours when designing exhibitions.

Apparently, from research conducted thus far, the following findings are derived:

1) Visitor interest tend to reach a high plateau and remain constant for about 30 to about 45 minutes before it decreases to a lower level. This can be seen in how the orientation of visitors change from an initial slow movement around the exhibits ("that's fascinating..."), to cruising around halls and more selective stopping behaviour ("OK, seen that, next!").

2) Visitors typically spend less than 20 minutes in exhibitions regardless of topic and size (in a study of over 100 museum exhibitions).

Pompeii - Life in a Roman Town 79CE

3) Reversing the visitor flow dramatically reverses the situation. In a study at a Zoo, normal visitors tend to stay longer in the first few enclosures that they encounter before tapering off (ie enclosures A to E is longer than enclosures D to F). However, reversing the visitor flow reverses the results even though the cages were identical (to minimise physical environmental influences) and animal inhabitants were not swapped.


4) Exhibits further away from the main path tend to receive a lot less visitors.

So what causes visitors to museums, zoos and other interpretive attractions to lose steam? There are two hypotheses proposed here:

Visitor Attributes Hypothesis

This theory states that different people have different characteristics, and that this influences their "endurance" during visits. Factors like over exposure, diminishing attention, gender, and intellectual capacities could also affect their abilities to stay the course.

While this may be true to some extent, studies have also shown that fatigued visitors tend to display similar behaviours despite having wide variations in their demographic and other characteristics. For instance, museum visitors in China, like in the Western world, demonstrated the same "diminishing return" when visiting museums!

Environmental Attributes Hypothesis

The other school of thought is that the museum environment (arrangement of displays and exhibit architecture) affects visitor interest. This could cover factors like exhibit design, size, isolation, lighting, line-of-sight placement, sensory features (sound, smell, or touch) and others.

In zoos, animal variables such as presence, activity, size, colour and visibility tend to affect visitor behaviour. What's more, it was shown that how people walk through exhibits/enclosures is influenced by the attraction of a salient object, distraction of an open door, and arrangement of displays.

What can one then do to reduce museum (or zoo) fatigue?  Various strategies were discussed in the article and they include the following:

1) Increase exhibit distinctiveness (such as size, contrast with setting background, line-of-sight placement, etc), and locate exhibits in relation to traffic flow (landmark objects, hotspots of visitor attention, inertia and the right-turn bias).

2) Reduce mental effort required to understanding exhibits by considering how information is presented.

3) Motivate visitors to engage with exhibits by asking questions, correcting misconceptions, providing interesting content, mental imagery, handouts, 3-D objects, and opportunities for interaction.

4) Minimise distractions such as sounds, competition from other exhibit elements and novelty in the surroundings.

5) Provide opportunities for visitors to take breaks (to replenish attention capacities). Don't overstrain their brain!

6) Develop appropriate communication objectives with exhibits containing attractive elements and carefully designed labels.

7) Employ a selective use of exhibits so that visitors need to focus only on exhibit elements that interest them. In other words, don't overwhelm them with bulk when a limited selection would work better.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Engage Your Employees Effectively

Universal Studios Grand Opening - 28 May 2011
Managers should lead by example and be there when it matters (Universal Studios Singapore)

Leadership and management are two of the most difficult tasks any manager needs to do in today's organisation. The new rules of work mandate that hierarchical ways of bossing people around will no longer work. Against such a backdrop, how does one engage one's team members effectively and impactfully?

John Hallenbeck, Vice President (Park Operations) of Universal Studios Singapore together with Shaun McKeogh, Training and Development Manager of Ferrari World (Abu Dhabi, UAE) shared some useful tips on staff engagement at the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo 2011. These strategies are namely:

Hire the Right People

The most important part of any HR strategy is to get the right people into an organisation. Other than conducting job interviews, aptitude, and attitude tests, look at softer factors such as personality, friendliness, and body language to ascertain a potential hire's suitability for your corporate culture. Offer scenarios at your work place and judge how that person will react to them. If time permits, it'll be good if some of your team members could speak to a new hire to determine cultural fit.

Set the Standard

This can be done through several platforms, beginning with the Induction & Training programme. Training should steer one's staff in the right direction, and should "always be engaging to create engagement". 

One should also Train One's Leaders to ensure that there is better team engagement leading to improved employee retention, performance, and productivity, while helping to elevate attendance, safety records, and project completion.  Greater employee engagement usually leads to improved guest service.

Setting the Scene is also key.  One should clearly state the service and conduct expectations of one's team, while stating what the team members should expect from you.  Hold the ENTIRE team accountable for their actions in relation to the established expectations, but hold yourself accountable to follow through.

Aptitude                   +     Attitude                 =    Altitude

OJT (nuts & bolts)   +     Service & Culture   =   Guest Satisfaction/Profits!

Don't Overthink Service.  Instead, keep it simple to things like greetings (Good Morning! How are You? Thank You) and caring (Stay Hydrated).  Look for service cues in the field - like a guest looking lost and holding a map - and be proactive to take service to the next level.

Empower Your Staff

Never fault your team for making a decision.  Instead give EVERY team member the authority to provide your guests with ANYTHING that they deem is appropriate to satisfy a situation (of course within reasonable budgets!).  Give regular feedback on situational decisions and SHARE these lessons with the entire team. 

Don't let your team members ever say "I have to get my manager to approve that"!

Internal Communication and Marketing

Create an annual calendar of all the major staff activities and events, and let staff know how they are involved. Find a way to recognise back of the house colleagues and let them know that they are also STARS.

In communicating, let them know what your organisation's core values are, and what is expected of them. Look at developing a feel good communication device in the form of a printed newsletter for employees, regularly updated noticeboards, employee events, emails, or even text messages, eg "In 4 weeks time, get ready for an amazing staff event!".

Reward & Recognition

As Mary Kah Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Inc has shared:

"There are two things people want more than sex and money... recognition and praise."

Research has shown that most people leave an organisation because of their boss. Conversely, most people stay in an organisation because they feel valued. 99.4% of survey respondents have also reported that its important for managers to recognise them. While money is a factor, what really motivates staff to perform is thoughtful and personal recognition.

Developing reward and recognition systems that reinforces one's company values are key. Develop them in such a way that people would aspire to receive them. Be FUN and CREATIVE!

Some possibilities:

- Letters from managers to thank staff (maybe with freebies thrown in)
- "Check your payslip to see if you're a winner!"
- Put up posters of staff awardees, eg "You are a VIP"
- Going out together to celebrate
- Having traditions, eg pins (Disney's Partners in Excellence pins), or names on "Hall of Fame' windows for employees of the year
- Gifts
- Certificates, cards & sticky notes

In recognising one's staff everyday, one should:
- be timely
- be sincere
- be specific

One way to do this is to state the name, action, impact and appreciation for the task well done. The golden rule is to make them personal and feel like heroes when they come home.

Be the Executive Producer and the Key Grip

In leadership, one should ensure that there is alignment to one's VISION, MISSION and VALUES as follows:
- Corporate culture drives overall engagement
- You can be the best business unit, but if the company does not sign up to your beliefs, it will be short-lived for you and your business unit
- Everything needs to be a collaborative efort

It is important to know your team and how best to communicate with them. If you are gone tomorrow, the company will still run. However, will it run better when you are around?

Leadership is a team effort so one should be participative. Teams select a captain in sport, so this same principle can apply at work too. Leading by example is key, and according to legendary American football coachVince Lombardi, "a good leader is one that selects the right people to do the job, then let's them do it!".

Create a Comedy, Not a Drama!

Having fun is key in any staff engagement exercise, and one should initiate staff organised events. Examples include a June Jubilation at Universal Studios and a Golden Clicker award where team mates reward each other by peer voting. In park incentives for staff like a map contest or radio bingo can also be played.

Being a part of the extended community is also vital. Select a charity to help with, and look at ways to network and bond with the team.

It's a Wrap - Sign the Deal!

To succeed in employee engagement, all members of the leadership team must subscribe to it. In summary, the strategies are:
1) Hire the Right People
2) Set the Standard
3) Communicate Expectations
4) Manage your Managers
5) Reward and Coach
6) Learn from the Challenges
7) Celebrate Successes

Asian Attractions Expo
John Hallenbeck and Shaun McKeogh

Monday, July 18, 2011

Celebrating Our Home @ Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

With the theme "Home - What We Love About It", Singapore HeritageFest 2011 kicked off yesterday, across multiple venues around the island, in colourful fashion. 

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Targeting 2 million visitors, this annual cultural extravaganza happening from 15 to 31 July offers a buffet of cultural experiences.  There is something for everybody - nostalgic exhibitions, heritage trails, unique workshops, energetic concerts, fabulous food, fine handicrafts, heart racing competitions, and more.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

With the aim of bringing heritage to your doorsteps, this year's action-packed calendar shines the spotlight on the homes of 85% of Singaporeans, namely our HDB heartlands and their malls. 

Singapore HeritageFest 2011
PM Lee "blessing" a "newly married" couple in traditional Malay style

Other than the Festival Opening at Ang Mo Kio (the open field between Ang Mo Kio Central 2 and 3), you can check out various activities happening at shopping malls like North Point, Tiong Bahru Plaza, Jurong Point, Bedok Point, Novena Square, Compass Point and Parkway Parade.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011
Opening Festival at the open field between Ang Mo Kio Central 2 and 3

Lovers of live music can swing to a blast from the past at Hilly Happenings at Fort Canning Park.  Enjoy tunes from performers both heritage and contemporary with performers like the Robert Fernando, the Ferdinand Brothers, John Molina, Sylvia Ratonel, Jack and Rai, and more.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011
Dick Lee delights with his performance of NDP evergreen hit "Home"

Thanks to my colleagues at NHB, I had the privilege of attending the festival opening this morning at the open field behind Ang Mo Kio Public Library. Recreating how Singapore's kampong lifestyle was like back in the 1960s, I was swept by a wave of nostalgia, surrounded by recreations of provision shops, living rooms, kitchens, and artworks which depicted life in the "good old days".

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Being from the National Art Gallery, it was especially heartening to see works from artists like Chua Mia Tee, Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen, Amanda Heng and Michael Lee being featured in the section called "Singapore Portraits".

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Graced by our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the Guest Of Honour, the opening ceremony kicked off as part of a doublebill special which coincided with the launch of the Ang Mo Kio Heritage Trail.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011
PM Lee delivering his speech at the opening

A scintillating kaleidoscope of cultural performances brought the launch to a rowsing opening, with a melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and other cultures (including hip-hop and breakdance) blending in with harmony and grace.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

Singapore HeritageFest 2011

This year's launch is especially meaningful for me as Ang Mo Kio was the neighbourhood I frequented most during my teenage years. When I was ill, I used to visit my mum who worked at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic as a staff nurse.  I also chilled out at the cinemas here during my "nights out" during NS at Seletar Camp, and jogged around the estate from my former place at Yio Chu Kang Road. While some parts of Ang Mo Kio have changed, I'm glad to see that sections of the estate have preserved their charm and character.

Singapore HeritageFest 2011
Ang Mo Kio Central transformed into a heritage hub for 3 days

For more action, check out my photos of the Festival Opening below.

Log on to the Singapore HeritageFest website for more details of the events.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ready for the 30 Day Challenge?

Source of image

Have you always wanted to do something but somehow didn't have the time, guts or will to see it through? Do you want to see a positive change in your life while embarking on a fresh adventure in an otherwise humdrum existence?

Why not try the 30 Day Challenge?

In a recent short talk on TED, Google Engineer Matt Cutts shares with us how he tries something new for 30 days, even down to writing a 50,000 word novel.  This notion is consistent with the theories of how habits form after doing something consistently each day for between 21 to 66 days.  

From my own experience, the first 2 weeks are probably the most difficult.  After the novelty of the first week is gone, carrying on for the next 8 to 14 days may be a struggle, especially when the stresses of life and work start creeping back in.  However, once you overcome that initial "hump", these new life affirming habits may become easier to keep. 

To make the 30 day challenge a reality, there are three important considerations:

1) Learn to pace yourself when beginning on any new endeavour. Trying to climb Mount Everest, write a thesis, and start a new charity while holding on to a full-time job at the same time isn't going to be plausible. It may be better to start on one 30 day challenge at a time, depending on how your time, energy levels and commitments permit.

2) Include both small and large challenges in your to-do list. Like any undertaking, go for both the low hanging fruits and the loftier aspirations so that you are more likely to at least accomplish some of them. This also helps to boost your morale along the way.

3) Share your challenge with somebody else - or even publicly - so that you are also accountable to others. Family members and close friends are great buddies in helping you to stick to the challenge when the going gets tough.

What are some possible 30 day challenges? For me, I'm trying to be vegetarian or at least pescetarian (I'm about 80% there), publish one blog post every two days, read the Bible and pray daily, and read a few pages of a book each day. I'm currently considering being more actively involved in a social cause, but I need to think about this carefully while weighing my current commitments.

Are you inspired to try something new starting today? If you do, try to keep at it for at least a month. Who knows, you may be off to an enduring and life transforming adventure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Keeping Your Attractions Fresh and Appealing

Universal Studios Grand Opening - 28 May 2011
Good storytelling helps to sustain consumer interest (Universal Studios Singapore's Madagascar Crate Ride)

One of the greatest challenges faced by theme parks, zoos, museums, and other visitor attractions is that of getting one's visitors to keep returning. While adding new rides, exhibits and enclosures can help to draw repeat patronage, their prohibitively high costs make such strategies unfeasible over the short term.

What then should one do to renew one's product and keep guests coming back?

This question was tackled at a panel discussion at the Conference "Staying Relevant in the Ever-changing Tourism Landscape". Moderated by Kelven Tan of Playmaker Investments Corporation, panelists Teo Sio Hoon (Singapore Workforce Development Agency), Kevin Cheong (Chairman, Association of Singapore Attractions), Tom Mehrmann (Chief Executive, Ocean Park Hong Kong), and Tom Bisignano (Owner/Producer, MeetingBiz) offered some useful ideas.

For a start, wildlife parks like zoos and aquaria can explore animal exchanges with other zoos overseas to renew product interest. Other than new births, the introduction of new animals (like panda bears) often helps to stoke fresh public interest.

Events and festivals, both large and small, are critical in rejuvenating one's attraction. These should be orchestrated such that they're highly experiential to create new peaks of traffic, focusing not just on hardware alone but the accompanying programmes and activities.

Excellent guest services are vital in sustaining visitor interest.  The best way to do so is to start with how you manage your staff. Treat your frontliners with respect and give them due recognition and care so that they can lavish the same level of attention to your visitors. To prevent employee burn out, conduct regular engagement surveys, listen to what they're telling you, and proactively engage them.

Offering good value to one's customers is also important. In the case of Ocean Park, they throw in additional events to ensure that guests are happy if less than 85% of rides/exhibits are available due to rehabilitation of hardware. By keeping guests in a park for longer periods, one is able to increase per capita spending by up to 50%.  Keeping guests continually happy helps generate positive word of mouth, while making it more justifiable for one to raise prices later if necessary.

While attractions shouldn't be afraid to blaze new trends in the industry, they should take calculated risks (ie being at the cutting edge rather than the bleeding edge). What this means is that adequate market research and cost-benefit analyses should be done before investing in new attractions (rides, animals, exhibits).

A good way to suss out consumer interest is to get one's employees to be members of the focus group as they could be the best source of information for the market that one serves.

On a related note, people are now heavily into interactive experiences, ie rides and exhibits that allow them to physically engage with the product.  Incorporating a hands-on component is thus critical in enhancing one's attraction. 

While innovation in one's product mix (rides, exhibits, retail & F&B) is key, it is also important to take note of one's target customer segments.

Las Vegas learnt the hard lesson that the family and gaming markets do not mix, with only 50% of its revenue derived from non-gaming sources. With a chiefly adult demographic, "Sin City" is primed more for adults than families and kids. In this regard, it will be interesting to see how Singapore's experience with the Integrated Resorts will pan out.

In any endeavour, one should also try to forge an emotional connection with one's guests. It isn't the technology or the hardware but the storytelling which makes a visit to a theme park, zoo or museum memorable and delightful. By tugging on the heartstrings of guests, attractions are able to generate positive word-of-mouth and loyalty. Disney and Universal Studios are both masters at this game.

Finally, attractions should learn to band together in order to renew themselves. By working together, smaller attractions can gain greater economies of scale and package themselves as a more complete offering. Learning from each other is especially useful in a small market like Singapore.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Colourful Twist in Advertising

Feed the Colour

At lunch recently, I was attracted to this simple bus stop poster ad by Jurong Bird Park. Even though the copy isn't factually correct (one can't really feed colours), the metaphor associating avian species with their colourful plumage is cleverly and imaginatively conceived.

While text is kept to the absolute minimum, the brand imagery is clear.  As most Singaporeans would know where the bird park is, there isn't a need to include a map or an address in this poster.  

Would such an advertising approach work for your business?  If not, why?