Monday, February 27, 2012

Creating Great Experiences at Universal Studios Singapore

Battlestar Galactica @ Universal Studios Singapore

On a recent study trip to Universal Studios Singapore (USS) at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), I had the privilege of learning how the theme park - arguably the most popular in Southeast Asia - creates, develops and manages memorable and delightful guest encounters. While these strategies do not cover all aspects of a world class theme park's operation, they do form an important component of their visitor experiences. These help to trigger positive word of mouth and generate repeat visits.

Extensive and Immersive Theming

Being a theme park modelled after Hollywood's various movies and its characters, USS is relentless in every dimension of its theming, from building architecture, décor, shops, restaurants, streetscapes, merchandise, staff uniforms, costumed characters, rides, exhibits, parades, and shows. Apparently, Stephen Spielberg the billionaire uber film director was involved in the theming of USS as its creative consultant!

The park has a total of 7 themed zones, namely: The Lost World, Far Far Away, Madagascar, Ancient Egypt, Sci-Fi City, New York and Hollywood.  The names of the shops, rides, shows, and menu items at restaurants and cafes are also themed accordingly.

Beyond visual design, music creates an important aspect of the Universal experience. Each zone in Universal Studios have a different thematic music which blended in with their zone and helps to set the mood. The anthem like opening of Universal Studios, heard in thousands of movies showing in millions of screens, help to reinforce that feel at the entrance.

Catering to Families and Youths of all Ages

Focusing on families, youths, and tourists from age 6 to 60, Universal Studios is geared towards the mass market. Surveys are regularly conducted to ascertain visitor profiles and determine their behaviours and spending patterns.

An interesting point I noted was that each zone within the park is slightly nuanced towards the anticipated visitors. For example, Far Far Away (Shrek) is heavily focused on kids and offered kiddy friendly rides, whereas Sci Fi City seemed more geared towards teens and youths with the high thrill Battlestar Galactica and Transformers rides.

Amenities for Visitor Comfort

From numerous restrooms, wheelchair and strollers for hire, to lockers, the needs of theme park visitors are catered for in USS. Mobile snack bars offering drinks, sandwiches, and snacks can be found everywhere, helping to slake the thirst and satisfy hunger pangs.

To shield visitors from Singapore's notorious tropical Sun and torrential rains, an extensive Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) shelter is built in the New York and Hollywood zones of the theme park. Seats, pram parking zones and other resting spaces can also be found throughout the park.

Experiential Retail and Merchandise Mix

Each retail outlet within the USS and MEMA offers an experience in itself. They are full of photo opportunities, with wall décor, character statues, and merchandise that suits each zone down to a T. In fact, they are so attractive that they sometimes draw walk-in customers directly without them going for the rides which are associated with each outlet.

From a casual glance at the clothes, toys, stationery items, games, and gifts offered for sale, it is clear that they are tailored towards their core audiences of families, kids, youths and tourists. Priced at a slight premium (due to licensing and royalty fees), the items are mostly catered for the mass market. Its interesting to note that the Universal Globe (priced at about S$24) is a hot-selling item and can be found at retail shops throughout USS.

Food and Beverage

F&B outlets, though less crowded than the snaking queues for rides, are also heavily themed according to sets in the movies where they drew inspiration from. As in most visitor attractions, the price points of food and beverage items are at a premium of about 20% to 30% higher than what you can buy in the city. A meal costs between $10 to $15 which includes a main course, a snack and a drink. This is expected as in-park spending normally forms an important component of an attraction's revenue stream, and it is costly for attractions to provide such services.

Ticketing and Membership Revenue

In USS, roughly 70% of their revenue comes from ticketing with the remaining 30% from in park spending. Ticketing income is derived from one-time tickets, annual memberships and bundled packages which include shows, hotel stays, F&B vouchers and other benefits.

To move their annual pass and VIP programmes, USS employs a clever strategy of allowing park visitors to offset their single $74 ticket against the cost of a membership. This reduces the psychological barrier for customers to upgrade. Combo tickets with USS, MEMA and the future Marine Life Park are planned to encourage visitors to stay for 4, 5 or 6 days as each attraction takes at least half a day to fully experience.

At other theme parks around the world like Disney, the offering of 2 day or 3 day passes allowing guests to visit the parks multiple times are often done. Each additional day of extension is priced more cheaply incrementally speaking to incentivise multi-day pass holders to upgrade. By making guests stay longer at the park, they can encourage more in-park spending.

Operational and Frontline Efficiency

Finally, to ensure that the entire visitor experience is smoothly choreographed and curated, every single aspect of a theme park's operations are taken care of. To leave nothing to chance, USS hires highly experienced operation managers, some of whom have prior experience in other world class theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando.

Like all good theme parks and attractions, every single aspect of a theme park's operations are catered for. This covers the management of queues with fast-passes and VIP queues (an almost universal feature), handling of customer complains, park maintenance (from cleaning of toilets, painting of exhibits to fixing of broken lamps). Interactive stations - a common bugbear for us in the business - are quickly fixed (average of half an hour) once it has been determined that they have broken down.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How Earth Hour Became a Global Phenomenon

Andy Ridley, founder of Earth Hour

"Dare the World to Save the Planet"

With the catchy thematic message above, Earth Hour 2012 (31 March (Sat) at 8.30 pm) encourages us not only to switch off all power consuming devices for one dark hour but to "dare" our friends to pledge support this movement in return for doing something extraordinary.

Using the bold and almost childlike taunt of "I Will If You Will", examples of what people are daring this year can be seen in this catchy commercial below:

Announcing this year's Earth Hour campaign at the "Ideas for a Better World Forum - Harnessing the Power of Social Media for Good", Andy Ridley, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Earth Hour, shared how he grew the movement for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) from a fledgling movement in 2006 to the global phenomenon it is today.

Today, some 18 billion people (I suppose these include repeats) across 5251 cities and towns in 135 countries participate in Earth Hour and this figure is set to grow further.

With the goal of reaching the "middle 60%" of undecided people, Earth Hour focuses on hope rather than fear as a motivator. Touted as a spiritual experience and an hour of inspiration, the campaign is positioned as a "street party" as opposed to "street protests", with an open-sourced model which means that anybody can be involved.

Highlights of the forum captured by Tim Hamons of Art of Awakening

A fan of former US President John F Kennedy, Andy shared that Earth Hour was founded on the principles of "Ask not what Earth Hour can do for you, ask what you can do for Earth Hour". I loved how empowering this quote is for the ordinary citizens who want to make a change for good.

As you've probably realised, Earth Hour was very successful on social media channels. Collectively, its digital footprint on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Flickr and Youtube reached about 91.4 million in 2011 (up from 17 million in 2010). In 2011, it trended to the number one spot on Twitter, and reached some 2.75 million views on Youtube (500,000 accessed through mobiles).

Earth Hour was so huge that it even eclipsed the Superbowl Ads - with a sliver of its budget!

Beyond Earth Hour, Andy shared that social media was used for political revolutions in the Middle East (Arab Spring) and how the number of tweets a day grew from 2,300 to 230,000 when former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had to leave his office. Twitter was also deployed for the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, reaching 1,200 tweets a minute at its height.

On the Facebook front, social media's savviest star Lady Gaga used her fan base of 30 million on Facebook to good use by working with the Robin Hood Trust with a US$1 million contest to support New York City's Youth in Need. Other examples include the Mozilla Firefox challenge by Crowdrise, and Charity Water established by Scott Harrison.

Towards the end of his talk, Andy reiterated the 3 pillars of Earth Hour supporting its thrust of "Uniting People to Protect the Planet", namely:

1) Symbolism - as exemplified by its Hour of Inspiration

2) Action - activities that supporters can do which go beyond the Hour

3) Engagement - creating an interconnected global community

What especially caught my attention was Andy's emphasis on not controlling the message. Rather than put "key messages" into people's mouths and encourage them to "spread" these to their networks, Earth Hour hinges its success on the collective ownership of supporters.

Thanks to the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), I had the honour of being a panelist at the forum moderated by media personality Augustine Anthuvan along with Andy, NTU Professor Cherian George, and Aseem Thakur (Co-founder of

During the discussion on how social media can be tapped for causes, I shared the importance of building communities, being consistent, and having the discipline to stick to a schedule. Apparently, my views resonated with Andy's too!

Over a dinner hosted by SIF later that night, I had the privilege of listening to the uber social entrepreneur Elim Chew (council member of SIF and 77th Street founder) who inspired us all with her stories. Aseem used the opportunity to dare her to pledge to dye her hair blue and green for a month for the campaign if she could sign up 10,000 supporters, and she gamely did it!

Here's a shot of Andy recording a video of Elim Chew's dare.

With so much food for thought, perhaps it is time for us all to reflect on what we can do to change our worlds - step by baby step. Earth Hour on 31 March looks like a good place to start, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Jeremy Can Be Linspiring For Singapore

Image courtesy of PSFK

By now, everybody who is connected to a screen somewhere with the faintest interest in sport would know who Jeremy Lin is. The Taiwanese American (or Asian American) basketball player for the New York Knicks has become a media sensation, hogging the headlines with an endless series of puns like "Linsanity", "Lintastic", and "In Linning Form".

Despite being a rookie, Jeremy has blazed many new trails in NBA, with a record number of scores, assists and other game statistics to his credit. He has helped a relatively low key team to gain prominence, and wowed Americans of all colours with his court capabilities. Beyond the continent, Jeremy has also stolen the hearts of basketball fans everywhere, especially in the Asian subcontinent region.

Are there lessons that we can learn from Jeremy Lin here in Singapore? Let me list down some of these.

Size Isn't Everything - Small can be Beautiful

Like Singapore, Jeremy isn't huge. In fact, at 6'3", he is considered a little small in the world of professional basketball. His petite size have dissuaded several coaches and managers of basketball teams in the past from selecting him as an immediate pick. In fact, if Jeremy was born in China, it was highly unlikely that his size would allow him to be drafted into the world famous Chinese sport academies (unlike the hulking Yao Ming).

Fortunately, what Jeremy lacked in size, he more than made up for in agility, speed and game intelligence. Watching him play against larger sized opponents and weaving his way around them, one couldn't help but think about how Singapore - considered by some as a "tiny red dot" - can apply similar notions of maneuverability, flexibility and speed in winning the global game of nations.

Every Geek Has His/Her Day

In a related fashion, Jeremy with a GPA of 3.1 from Harvard University is considered somewhat smart even by Asian standards. Traditionally, Harvard is known more for brewing Silicon Valley wizards like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates than basketball superstars. However, Jeremy's performance thus far have turned the tables around for that Ivy League university.

Similarly, Singapore is well known for churning out straight A students and brainy (albeit nerdy) scholars. We place a high emphasis on a robust education and academic rigour to prepare our children for the future. Perhaps the lesson we can learn is how we can transform some of that "paper" smart into "street" smarts, expanding our knowledge beyond the classroom into the working world, and using that grey matter to our advantage.

If at First You Don't Succeed...

Perhaps the most impressive "Linderella" story thus far is that of how Jeremy Lin was rejected by a couple of NBA teams before the New York Knicks finally recruited him and only first as a backbencher. Hailing from Harvard University, which isn't well known for producing sportsmen or women, Jeremy's never-say-die attitude had him trying for various teams. After numerous ties, he eventually managed to make it to the main squad of his current NBA team.

In a similar fashion, we Singaporeans should embrace that attitude of not giving up, even when the stakes seem to be against us. Like Jeremy, we have a back story of rising from a tiny fishing village to a modern, buzzing, cosmopolitan city today. While we're already leading in certain global indicators like the economy, transport, and finance, there are still others where we can scale up the ladder so long as we doggedly keep at it.

Great Humility and Teamwork

Jeremy Lin's sheer humility and self-sacrificial team spirit (he blamed himself for a game which Knicks lost to the Hornets) has put him firmly in the arms of his numerous fans around the world. While he has played spectacularly despite being a freshie, Lin has always given the credit to his team mates for each game. This ability to be a team player is a critical reason for how New York Knicks has risen from relative obscurity to a team to be reckoned with.

Singaporeans should also take heart from Jeremy's values of humility and teamwork. Sure, we have achieved significant success as a nation and a city that is beyond the odds. However, it is always good to remain humble and willing to learn from others, while forging friendships with fellow players in the global stage and be known as team player.

Strong Moral Values

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jeremy Lin always remembers to thank God for his team's victory in each game. His strong religious conviction can be seen from his twitter page (which now has 500,000 followers) as well as his sharing on various platforms. I believe that these foundations have helped him to overcome the sheer pressure of playing at such a highly visible stage while fending off the numerous racist slurs and remarks which came his way.

Being grounded in firm moral values like integrity, courage, resilience, and righteousness are great ways for Singapore to succeed. As a country and a people, we need to have conviction in what we believe in, and have faith in what we do, come hell or highwater. The way to enduring, long-term success lies in having a strong foundation grounded in positive values.

What other lessons are there for us?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Setting and Scoring Corporate Goals

Jeremy Lin sure knows a thing or two about scoring (courtesy of

Establishing clear goals is one of the most important things you need to do in any organisation which you work in. Otherwise known as objectives, goals provide an end point for one to aspire and work towards, providing purpose and meaning to any endeavour.

The analogy of sports provides the clearest example of goal setting. With a clear goal in place - kicking the ball through the goal posts, throwing a ball into a basket (who haven't heard of Jeremy Lin?), or hitting a ball through an opponent's racket - players and spectators alike would know where to focus their energies and emotions.

Imagine the chaos that would happen if the system of rules and regulations are completely disregarded!

How does one set good goals and work towards achieving them? A useful acronym to use in setting goals is SMART, namely:

Specific - Other than time, determine how your success should be measured. Are we talking about an annual increase of 20% in sales, a reduction of 10% in operating costs, or doubling in the number of patents secured in the next five years? The more precise your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them.

Measurable - What are the variables or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that you will be measuring to determine your path to success? For personal goals, this can be as simple as the number of books read per year or perhaps writing one blog post every two days (my own personal goal). Corporate KPIs (how we dread them!) include sales and profit targets, customer satisfaction indices, costs, staff turnover and so on.

Achievable - Here, one should check that one's goals are aligned to one's capabilities and resources. To make each goal achievable, divide them into intermediate milestones so that you can chart your progress along the way. Ask yourself what you can readily achieve given your current state.

Realistic - In a similar fashion, one's goals should also be matched to the realities of the marketplace, organisation's strengths, and available technologies. Is it pragmatic to assume that property prices may register double digit annual growth for the next five years? Or can you make a million dollars the first year of work? Sure, there will be outliers, but I guess most of us do not fall into that category.

Time-bound - Finally, it is important to consider different time horizons. While your long-term 5,10 and 15 year goal - also called a vision - can be more broadly conceived, put in place more immediate (daily/weekly/monthly), short (1 to 2 years) and medium term goals (3 to 5 years). These intermediate benchmarks helps to determine how well you are progressing forward.

After putting in place SMART goals, look at how you can implement them. The most intelligent goals will only bear fruit when action meets words. Put in place the following:

1) Constant reminders of what your goals are. This can be in the form of posters, charts, screen savers, mousepads or anything that is commonly looked at and referred to.

2) Alignment of goals to all activities and projects. As you formulate strategies for your next marketing campaign, recruitment exercises, or manufacturing activity, think about how it contributes towards those goals.

3) Develop a feedback loop so that you can take stock of your progress at regular intervals. How far have you moved forward in achieving that sales target? What is the shortfall which you need to meet?

4) Modulate and recalibrate along the way. If you happen to do exceedingly well beyond the target set, consider if the goals were set too low. Similarly, if you find yourself veering of course, be prepared to cut losses to get back on track.

5) Make every habit a goal pleasing one. If your goals are to significantly reduce costs, consider reducing the number of overseas trips to smaller clients. If your goal is to please customers, encourage staff to smile more often when dealing with them at the frontline.

6) Finally, set a good example beginning from the top. The journey to achieving goals can be an arduous one, and it doesn't help if management proclaims one thing and does another. To ensure that everybody moves along the same grain, leaders should always keep their eyes focused on the goals, rally the troops and encourage behaviours which add rather than subtract on the road to success.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Evil Plans: A Book Review

Written and illustrated by renowned cartoonist and blogger Hugh MacLeod of (he just completed his 10th year in the business), Evil Plans: Escape the Rat Race and Start Doing Something You Love is a business book that reads more like a personal motivation tome. True to MacLeod's craft, every other page (or more) is peppered with his characteristically abstract and witty cartoons, complete with clever captions.

An example of this is found below:

Courtesy of

As a former advertising copywriter who broke free from the reins, MacLeod writes very well and displays great flair in coining new terms such as "social objects" (an item, person, event which people have conversations about). Examples of phrases and words from his lexicon include:

The Hughtrain Manifesto: "The Market for Something to Believe in is Infinite"

If ever there was a time to be overextended, this is it

Create your own Global Microbrand

The Tao of Undersupply: The biggest problem in the Western world is oversupply. Don't let it be yours.

Avoid Dinosaurspeak

Courtesy of

Those familiar with Seth Godin's work would also recognise a similar style comprising short, energetic, quoteworthy prose, laced with bold proclamations. Like Seth and many other new age mavens, MacLeod believes in the gift economy where giving away useful stuff may repay itself many times over.

Citing stories from his own work and life history, MacLeod narrates the story of Thomas Mahon, a Saville Row tailor who was given a new lease of life through the help of blogging. In that chapter, the cardinal rules of blogging (or any personal/professional platform for content creation) can thrive so long as the following conditions are met:

1) A great product

2) A unique story

3) Passion and authority (something that I'll always remember from my good friend Ivan Chew about blogging)

4) Continuity

5) Focus

6) Speaking in your own voice

7) Sovereignty

8) Being broke when you first start (ok maybe this doesn't have to be true..)

In the longest chapter in the book (the rest are about 2 to 3 pages each), MacLeod gave four reasons why one doesn't need to wait for perfect knowledge and conditions before starting out. I found these pretty insightful. They are:

1) Being an outsider with too much insider knowledge makes it even more likely that you'll make the same mistakes as everybody else

2) "Events, dear boy, events." - Harold Macmillan, British prime minister, 1957-1963, after being asked by a young journalist what is the most likely single factor to blow any government administration off course from its long-term vision.

3) Interesting destinies rarely come from just reading the instruction manual.

4) "Sometimes paranoia's just having all the facts." - attributed to William S. Burroughs.

If you're looking for something short, entertaining, and easy that will make you get up and go, Evil Plans is the book for you. Go ahead and inspire yourself!

PS - you can find lots of great content from MacLeod's website too, much of it free of charge.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Do Sherlock Holmes and Consumers Have in Common?

We all love a good mystery! (courtesy of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

Answer? They love to be teased and challenged. Preferably every step of the way until the bounty is unearthed.

Sadly, however, most marketing efforts today hasn't matched the rise in consumer sophistication and expectation. Our aggregated abilities to captivate and charm a potential customer hasn't caught up with the explosive growth in always-on social tools and communication networks.

For sure, the world is more "viral" and connected than ever before. With Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, blogs, lifestreaming platforms (Posterous and Path), and WhatsApp invading our pockets and handbags, everybody's perpetually plugged into the digital web. It has never been easier to trigger a tsunami of interest without having to invest an arm and a leg in mainstream advertisements.

Unfortunately, ubiquity doesn't correlate with uniqueness. Its far easier to spread and share than to create. Its far easier to copy and paste than to build from scratch. Its also far easier to go with the flow than to swim against the rapids.

Why do Harry Potter, Marvel movies/comics, Apple's newest gadget, and eat-anything-the-chef-prepares-for-you Japanese restaurants (called omakase menus) attract raving fans?

The answer? They leave you guessing where the story/meal will go next, leaving behind mere breadcrumbs for you to lap up.

While there are occasional clues and spoilers now and then, one never gets the full picture. The best players in this game choreograph every plot line like a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie novel.

In an age of abundance and overflowing inboxes - literal or metaphorical - scarcity and mystery is highly prized. Too many have hopped onto the all-you-can-eat/shop/play buffet trains. Too many are going for the lowest-price-in-town deals, where cutting each other's throats is the only way to survive.

Unless you have the deep pockets of Walmart, Challenger Superstore or Food Junction, quit thinking that abundance is attraction. Rather, the new mantra is that scarcity - and sometimes secrecy - is sacred.

Perhaps the next time you consider launching a new product, sparking a new marketing campaign or creating a new Facebook page, think about how you can enchant and engage your customers step by step. One chapter, one feature, one benefit, and one morsel at a time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Power of Positive Language

Tap the power of positive words today (courtesy of Shelley Stark)

Have you wondered why things do not turn out the way you like them to? Are you caught in a downward spiral of disappointment and negativity?

Ever thought that what you say can and will make all the difference?

Renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar shares about the powerful impact of words in this podcast. By using affirmative language and positive phrases, one can change one's perspective at work and in life while triggering good vibes. This is especially important in jobs such as sales or retail which often require one to maintain a positive outlook despite rejections and complaints from customers.

A similar notion is also shared by renowned Christian speaker and television evangelist Joel Osteen. Here in this video below, Joel talks about the power of speaking forth blessings and words that begin with "I am". In Joel's words, choosing what follows the "I am" will help to draw those things - whether positive or negative - into one's life.

As we listen to and view the messages above, let us ask ourselves if our language is constructive or destructive, encouraging or critical. Using positive language, however, does not mean that we sugar-coat our words in an insincere and superficial manner. Rather, it compels us to affirm ourselves as well as those around us, focusing on a possible bright future rather than crying over the spilt milk of the past.

Not sure how to begin? Why not consider using these positive words for a start? 

You can also be inspired by this list of positive mantras and develop your own list of sentences and phrases that you speak to yourself, preferably on a regular basis.  Some statements that one could use for self talk (not to others mind you) would include the following:

"I am intelligent, charming and effective. People are positively drawn to me."

"My future is a bright one full of positive developments that add meaning and value to my life."

"I am healthy, happy and balanced in all aspects of my life."

"My work develops and stretches me in positive ways that are motivating, enriching and enjoyable."

Note that speaking positive words doesn't make all negative issues magically disappear into thin air. There may still be trials and tribulations that come along our way. However, focusing one's will and energies on the optimistic future will definitely make a difference in how things will pan out as we journey along the way.

In a world that is overly obsessed with scandals, bad news, economic downturn, losses and despair, it profits us little to add fuel to the fire. Instead, let us focus on speaking beautiful words, life affirmations and positive phrases that help to edify, encourage and trigger an inflow of blessings and positive goodness into every dimension of our lives.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Alluring Afternoon of Artisans and Artists

Keepers II

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I attended the second Keepers event hosted by Carrie K Artisan Jewellery thanks to the invitation of Geri and her gang at linea Communications. Themed "Aspects of Love" in time for Valentine's Day, the showcase featured various artisans and "bespoke" businesses with products ranging from visual art, design, champagne, desserts, poetry and jewellery.

Keepers II

Keepers II

As I browsed the displays and spoke to the various "artrepreneurs" proudly displaying the fruits of their labour, I realise that most were highly qualified and educated professionals. Discarding their power suits for a maker's apron, they heeded the clarion call of self actualisation and the fulfillment of a dream, taking that leap of faith into independence.

Keepers II

So who are these artisanal entrepreneurs or "keepers"?

Keepers II

- Jewellery designer and silversmith Carrie K. (Carolyn Kan), a former advertising director who decided to invest her creative ideas into necklaces, bracelets and rings. Her latest "Word" collection mixes designs with words that are customised for maker and wearer alike.

Keepers II
Keepers II

Keepers II

- Former corporate lawyer turned fine art and design dealer Wendy Lotter, who brought along the works of two South African artists Bronwen Vaughan-Evans and Lisa Firer.

Keepers II

Keepers II

- Poet and energy consultant Sanjay C Kuttan, who waxed lyrical about love, life and happenings around his world, publishing an anthology "Where Fires Rage".

Keepers II

- Lollapalooza Singapore's Pang Hian Tee, who switched his focus from events marketing to distributing grower producer champagne, while curating gourmet experiences at Lolla's Secret Suppers.

Keepers II

Keepers II

- Sandra Liao, an engineer by training who turned self taught pastry chef with online store Milkbar, showcasing an irresistibly delectable selection of homemade cakes, tarts and preserves slowly and traditionally made from the finest ingredients.

Keepers II

Keepers II

In an age of 24/7 real-time hyperconnectivity with a relentless drive towards greater efficiency and commercialisation, it is interesting to note the growing trend of consumers, producers and prosumers leaning towards authentic, original, and home-made products.
Keepers II

While big companies are "zigging" towards bigger volumes, lower costs, and larger global markets, these corporate suits turned crafts-folk are "zagging" towards micro-niches of painstakingly made products that are lovingly shaped for the most discerning market. By banding together, they're able to pool their resources and generate a greater collective impact in an increasingly competitive consumer marketplace.

Keepers II

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Corporate Entrepreneurship: A Book Review

How do companies like 3M, Apple, Google, Xerox, Siemens and Grameen Bank continually generate game changing products and services? What can large organisations do to retain talent while building innovative cultures?

The answer? Corporate Entrepreurship, which is also the title of a book by Thunderbird School of Global Management's Robert D Hisrich and Claudine Kearney.  Subtitled How to Create a Thriving Entrepreneurial Spirit Thoughout Your Company, the rather academically written volume is divided into three parts: Managing, Organising, and Operationalising Corporate Entrepreneurship.

In the first part, the book goes rather heavily into the theoretical basis of corporate entrepreneurship.  One is taught about the differences and similarities between private, corporate and social entrepreneurship, behavioural dimensions (innovation, risk taking, and corporate flexibility is key), the entrepreneurial process itself, and how opportunities could be identified, evaluated and selected. A nifty formula is also proposed, ie:

L = I + O + C2 (where L is the Level of Corporate Entrepreneurship, I is Innovation, O is Ownership, and the two Cs for Creativity and Change)

The next part covers organisational aspects of such an endeavour and includes culture, structures, and management control. One is taught about core ideologies (mission, vision, core values), compensation and benefits, recruitment, training, decision making, teamwork and other related management areas.

A useful chapter on Internal Politics rounds off this part, with strategies and tactics aimed at getting corporate entrepreneurs to gain more traction internally while navigating political minefields.  Some of these lessons include:

- Gaining senior management support;
- Educating everybody about the benefits of the new venture by ensuring that research has been carried out and accurate information provided;
- Commuicating with all those affected by the venture;
- Enlisting participation from individuals who are innovative and creative;
- Creating opportunities for people to demonstrate their kills and competence;
- Building support networks inside and outside the organisation (the all important allies, who should preferably be heavy weights).

Perhaps the most useful portion of the 300 odd page "academic textbook" - it kind of reads that way, honestly - is the final part which tackles the nuts and bolts of corporate entrepreneurship. Here, we're taught the importance of a business plan, the selection and incentivisation of corporate entrepreneurs and their team mates, how such ventures can be funded, as well as guidelines on implementing such a programme on an enduring basis.

Adopting a descriptive writing style, Hisrich and Kearney's book is useful as a first point of reference for newbie corporate entrepreneurs or organisations wanting to leapfrog into new product, system, or organisational ventures. Unlike many of today's business books, there isn't any heavy preaching going on here.

Think of it as a corporate buffet line where one needs to exercise judgement and wisdom in picking and choosing the right course of action amongst a multitude of options.

While many of the lessons on business and organisational strategy isn't new to anybody with an MBA, I found the case studies in each chapter particularly enlightening. For example, do you know that American Greetings Corporation, the largest publicly traded greeting card company in the world, actually started Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears as a result of corporate venturing? Or that Apple adopts a business plan approach in launching new ventures where a laid back and horizontal culture (yes, its not just Steve's way all the time) helps to spur new innovations?

Overall, Corporate Entrepreneurship provides a useful basic text for companies wanting to venture outside their traditional boundaries for the next killer idea. By covering a wide range of topics in breadth rather than depth, it is clear that this serves more as a primer - a corporate checklist if you may - for organisations wanting to increase their innovation quotient while leveraging the potential of their brightest and best in new ventures.

Special thanks to Daniel Goh for making this review copy available to me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Are Travel Fairs a Good Way to Sell Holidays?

In the hypercompetitive travel trade in Singapore, merely putting together a compelling itinerary with an attractive price isn't sufficient. With a plethora of online travel portals like Expedia, Travelocity, Zuji and Wotif muscling into their space, brick and mortar travel agents need to find new ways to differentiate themselves. With the help of online travel service providers, consumers are booking airline tickets, selecting hotel rooms, renting cars, arranging land transfers, and even making reservations for restaurants and shows in advance.

While some players like MISA Travel have gone on to develop a more e-commerce savvy website, others such as ASA Holidays have organised full-fledged trade fairs to showcase their various offerings. Together with other big outbound tour operators like CTC Travel and Chan Brothers, ASA Holidays is pre-empting the upcoming NATAS Travel Fair with their own pre-sales event (I told you it was competitive). 

Are these travel fairs successful?  Well, join me for a tour of ASA Holidays' recent fair at Suntec City and decide for yourself.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
While wandering around the booths, I noticed that the "props" being used are getting larger and larger these days.  I wonder how that coach got all the way up to Level 4 of Suntec Convention Centre?

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
Promotions, freebies, discounts and special priced deals are the order of the day.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
Other than ASA Holidays itself, partnering organisations have also leapt into the fray selling anything from winter clothes to coffee, insurance to luggages.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
Of course, one can't do without tying up with a credit card company, as you can see here.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
To sweeten the deal further, those spending above $3,000 or $5,000 could redeem one of these spiffy new luggage bags.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
Who says that only theme parks have mascots?  These comical looking characters help to charm kids and adults alike, adding to the festive buzz.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
I thought this character resembled PUB's Water Wally, don't you think?

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
A stage is in place for live performances and demonstrations of what one can expect at the various destinations.  There was also the much highly sought after "grand lucky draw" where one can win prizes, free holidays and other goodies.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
To attract visitors to the right areas, huge banners advertising the countries which you can visit could be found. They were adorned with colourful pictures showcasing specific destinations.

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
At each zone, the key offers available are clearly communicated through standees which present the key highlights of each tour, available dates, package prices, and of course any special deals (like the 2nd traveller enjoying half-price deal here).

ASA Travel Fair - 2012
After selecting your package, you're supposed to get a queue number and assigned to a tour sales personnel.  To ASA's credit, I found them proficient in their product knowledge and credible.  At the Korea tour areas, we were served by a Korean tour guide who was specially flown in for the occasion.  I guess it added to the "authenticity" of the experience since he had excellent product knowledge while being able to communicate fluently to us in Mandarin.

Having experienced the trade show put up by ASA, I suppose the key areas of focus are still low prices, promotions and freebies. While elements of experiential marketing were incorporated into the roadshow, it is clear that the main decision drivers for consumers are value-for-money tours which are economically feasible.

It would be good if travel businesses could try to pay more attention to the after sales experience of customers rather than to focus all their energies and resources on clinching additional sales.  Find out how your customers feel after the tours, get them to share their photographs (and put them up on your website, blog or Facebook pages), and reach out to them with offers and specials AFTER their trip.  This may not only endear your brand to customers but help to trigger greater Word-Of-Mouth in the long run.

Oh and in case you are wondering, this post isn't sponsored by ASA Holidays.  On the contrary, we bought a package from them (and yes, it was decently priced). But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

How LEGO Creates a Lasting Legacy

On a recent visit to Toys "R" Us at VivoCity with my kid, I observed that there are more and more interlocking brick toys filling the shelves these days. Inspired no doubt by LEGO, brands like Mega Bloks, Coko and Tyco Toys are now emulating the same success strategy employed by the 80 year old Danish company, albeit charging a lower price for their bricks.

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

While competitors are nipping on LEGO's heels with the expiry of their patents, the Danish toy giant is still leading the pack. In the last few years, it reinvented itself again and again to remain relevant in the age of video, computer and handheld games. LEGO has not only survived but thrived, selling its much loved hard plastic bricks that fuel the imagination of boys (and increasingly girls) of all ages around the world.

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

According to LEGO's website, the name 'LEGO' is an abbreviation of the two Danish words "leg godt", meaning "play well". The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen and is currently headed by the rather youthful 42 year old Jørgen Vig Knudstorp - a beloved leader who helped to turn around the company in 2004. His efforts drove LEGO's annual global turnover to hit US$3 billion with net profits of US$700 million in 2010.

Beginning with its ubiquitous hard plastic bricks, the group now has businesses in movies, board games, video games, books, retail stores, and five LEGO Land theme parks around the world (with the newest in the Iskandar region of Johor Bahru opening next year).

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

What are the success strategies of this beloved global toy brand? How has it differentiated itself from multiple other players in the white hot toy market?


Anybody who is a LEGO fan knows how rapidly the brand introduces new toy designs and concepts each year to cater to its market. They range from a wide variety of themes like town and city, space, robots, pirates, Vikings, castle, dinosaurs, the wild west to more recently spinning ninjas (Ninjago). To cope with the relentless competition, the company invests considerably in its R&D initiatives and has some 600 United States granted design patents to its name.  In fact, product innovation helped it to avert a near-death experience in 2003

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

The biggest product innovation of the group is of course the LEGOLand theme park - a culmination of all things LEGO realised in a human-sized sprawling thematic experience.

The upcoming Legoland Malaysia is opening soon (source of image)


While launching an endless stream of new toy products, LEGO has also taken care to ensure that the basic modular nature of its bricks do not differ.  The ability to forward and backward integrate new product lines with prior series of toys helps customers to grow and expand their collection without having to shelve their older toys.  The other feature of all LEGO toy sets is the ability to create multiple options which can be "plugged and played" with other compatible sets.  This helps to ensure the longevity and play value of its toys while fueling the creativity of their customers. 

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


From kids of all ages to teens and adults, fans are a big reason for the survival of LEGO. In fact, the company embraces an active strategy of crowdsourcing and community building to get their best customers into the act. One of these customer engagement platforms is the LEGO Ambassador programme made up of 40 fans aged 19 to 65 from around the world, while the second is LEGO Clicks - a collaborative website that encourages fans, artists, designers and inventors to share their own LEGO creations.  

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


Those familiar with the LEGO brand of toys would know that there is a LEGO set for kids of any age - from Duplo for toddlers, Fabuland for slightly older pre-schoolers, to the engineering oriented LEGO Mindstorms set complete with motors, batteries and moving mechanical parts.  This focus on disparate segments allowed the brand to transcend different demographic and psychographic segments, with the latest target group being the hugely lucrative girls market with LEGO Friends, its latest $40 million marketing push.

For kids like my 8 year old boy, the Bionicle and Hero Factory series seem to resonate with the right mix of technical difficulty, cool heroic robotic designs, and always awesome macho-istic array of death dealing arsenal.

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


The other aspects of LEGO are its positive skill building qualities coupled with its longevity as a heritage brand.  This helps to brand in inter-generational marketing , reaching both parents and kids at the same time.  Many parents, including yours truly, was raised on an engineering and spatial intelligence enhancing diet of LEGO, and we're partial to its educational qualities (as opposed to the latest action figure).

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


LEGO's movie tie-ins with cartoons and film franchises are legendary, and they include Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, Thomas the Tank Engine, Pirates of the Caribbean, Prince of Persia, and the Harry Potter series.  By capitalising on popular culture, LEGO is able to ride onto the current wave of excitement in toys and related merchandising efforts.  

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


To reach its customer groups of mostly primary schooling kids with a heavier skew towards boys than girls, the toy giant also launches various creative advertisements and promotions that are often linked to their products.  Other than the more straightforward "shop & win" contest below, LEGO has also launched various promotions tied to the seasons like Christmas, school holidays and so on.  These are often localised and done in partnership with their retail channel partners.

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity


Finally, what sets LEGO toy store displays apart from others is their creative use of LEGO bricks to create large building structures which are eye catching yet thematic. The imprint of the LEGO logo on every brick creates a brand identity like no other, and the characteristic shapes of LEGO bricks moulded and built into different architectural structures always catches the imagination. Most of its store displays and dioramas are also designed to accentuate the unique features of their products.

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

LEGO @ Toys R Us VivoCity

Are you a fan of LEGO too?