Sunday, April 29, 2012

Adapt by Tim Harford: A Book Review

"Undercover Economist" Tim Harford's latest book Adapt - Why Success Always Starts with Failure blends economics, psychology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to explain why trial and error is preferred over grand strategic plans. Touted as "Britain's Malcolm Gladwell", Harford's central thesis is that countries, companies and individuals should embrace an evolutionary and empirical approach in determining what works and what doesn't.

Using analogies from evolution such as variation, selection and adaptation, Adapt uses far flung examples ranging from the Iraq War, Global Warming, 2007's Financial Meltdown, to 3rd World Development efforts to prove its point. Some of its stories - such as the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg - date all the way back to the middle ages. Others, such as the almost accidental success of Google (which purportedly has no corporate strategy) are more recent.

In a chapter "Conflict or: How Organisations Learn", one learns how Iraq war heroes like H.R. McMaster and David Petraeus defied commands from the Pentagon and worked with the locals to rout enemy forces. Their experience showed that local knowledge and networks were often more valuable than the most sophisticated weaponry that the US Armed Forces can deploy.

The work of university trained "randomistas" is lauded in another chapter on "Selection". Here, Harford showed that financial and developmental aid may escape the clutches of corrupt officials or crooks by adopting field trials. This may sometimes work better in a top-down fashion (eg telling villagers that the government's anti-corruption watchdog would audit their projects), and sometimes work better in a bottoms-up manner (eg getting communities to police their own developmental projects).

Harford skillfully suggests that the issue of climate change could perhaps be better managed by imposing a carbon price. Here, the proposed new rule that "greenhouse gases are expensive" provides a nudge which discourages consumers from purchasing products which emit prodigious quantities of carbon dioxide by increasing their prices through a carbon tax. This approach is far easier than trying to force countries and their citizens to reduce their overall carbon emissions by 10, 15 or 20 percent over decades.

My favourite part of the book is the one dealing with financial meltdowns where decoupling was proposed as the solution. Through a domino effect brought about by unnecessarily complicated safety procedures, oil rig crew were unable to prevent the Piper Alpha explosion back in 1988 on the North Sea. Such a phenomenon was repeated in the Three Mile island nuclear disaster and the more recent BP oil spill.

In a similar fashion, the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis was triggered not just by the creation of CDOs but by the labyrinthine relations between investment banks, consumer banks, and insurance companies involving re-insurance, credit default swaps and other complex financial derivatives. The accompanying demise of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae and other companies resulted in the irony of the poor American taxpayer bailing out the rich financiers.

In sum, Adapt urges us to spend more time doing and learning from our mistakes (albeit ensuring that failures are survivable) rather than trying to design the perfect plan. While it isn't quite as compelling as other authors in this genre like Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner (Freakonomics) or Gladwell himself, the book still manages to score as good intellectual entertainment.

Friday, April 27, 2012

10 Rules for Great Storytelling in Attractions

The Melbourne Museum provides a great immersive experience

In the world of information-rich visitor attractions like heritage buildings, museums and corporate attractions, spinning a great tale is imperative to success. Having an exciting story which connects and resonates with your visitors makes all the difference. What should one do to create those magical moments?

Once again, let me share what I've learnt from Bob Rogers, owner of BRC Imagination Arts, who shared his 10 rules for successful storytelling in visitor attractions. These apply specifically to interpretive attractions like museums, churches, historic buildings, as well as corporate branded attractions (eg Nike Town).

1) Scholarship Meets Showmanship™

In museums and heritage attractions, you must tell the truth as a scholar. However, the storyteller has the power of choice to determine what should be presented and what should be left on the cutting room floor.

2) Emotion Before Intellect

Punch them in the stomach and grab their heart first. A good way to do this is to develop a full symphonic score which changes from room to room.

3) Visual Before Verbal

The eyes always respond faster than the ears. As such, ensure that you can convey as much information as possible through your visual designs.

4) Total Immersion

Attractions are experience zones. The best ones encourage visitors to go into things rather than just look at things.

5) Cinematic

This follows a three step process which looks at the sequence of ideas, control of the time needed, and the emotions which you seek to elicit.

6) Story Empowers Artefacts and Story Precedes Artefacts

It is important to link your artefacts or artworks being displayed to the core narrative. Sometimes, this may require building up awareness and anticipation amongst your visitors before "unveiling" the prized object.

7) Tell Less and Intrigue More

Learn from movie trailers and television commercials, and provide just enough to stimulate desire. This may involve getting it down to just one simple central idea.

As Plutarch has said, "Education is less like filling a bucket and more like lighting a fire."

8) The Technology is Becoming Invisible

With digital technology becoming less and less visible, one can weave theatrical magic with minimal fuss. Deploy technology that blend into an authentic set.

9) Shorter Attention Spans

This is definitely true in the age of numerous social networks. It is better to create an hour of intense experience than three hours of more mediocre experience.

If possible, change the environment for each room by adjusting factors such as the ceiling height, colours, temperatures, decor and scents so that you can reset your guests' attention clock.

10) Engagement

Emotional engagement is the new interactivity. Ensure that your story can move hearts and open tear ducts. It is all about touching them rather than them touching it.

Bob Rogers at Au Jardin in Singapore Botanic Gardens

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leadership Lessons from the Sinking of the Titanic

Source of image

The RMS Titanic was considered as the finest vessel of it's time. Crafted with care by an army of engineers, ship builders and workers, she was the largest ocean liner afloat during her time. Unfortunately, her sinking a century ago on 15 April 2012 left an indelible mark in the collective consciousness of millions around the world. More than 1,500 perished in the freezing North Atlantic waters in the largest maritime disaster in history. 

Imagine for a second that we're surviving management consultants on that ill-fated liner built in Belfast, Ireland. Taking that first person perspective, what could we have shared about the mistakes leading to it's downfall, dragging numerous passengers to their icy graves?

First, decisive leadership was lacking during the time of crisis. Captain E.J. Smith, the guy responsible for steering the ship and bringing it from Southampton to New York, was a retiree. He wasn't trained to handle a crisis or emergency. Perhaps he was under a lot of pressure to succeed in this maiden voyage across the North Atlantic, where so much was at stake. Records showed that he ignored the warnings from his crew until it became too late to avoid them. By avoiding the sordid facts, he led his crew and the entire ship to an almost inevitable collision course.

Instead of grabbing the bull by the horns, the leadership of the ship chose to plaster over the problem. I recalled a scene from the movie "Titanic" where the musicians were told to continue playing even though it was clear that the ship has hit something. Pretending that nothing has happened may be a comfortable course of action, especially for the rich and famous on that ship, but it isn't a wise move when the ship was doomed for failure. Ignorance isn't bliss.

It was also obvious that size does matter - although unfortunately so in a negative fashion. Being the bloated organisation that it was, complete with the various layers of hierarchy, the Titanic couldn't respond quickly to an emergency. Rules, policies, procedures, protocols needed to be followed. By the time messages got from the bottom to the top or vice versa, it was too late for any corrective action to be taken.

Because of the complex web of bureaucracy in the Titanic, warning signs from the ground crew failed to convince the top early enough until disaster became imminent. Crisis management and communications was probably absent as everybody ate, drank and made merry, dancing to the tunes of minstrels specially engaged for the occasion. Without a systematic approach of relaying messages from danger points to decision makers, preventive action couldn't be taken early enough.

The Titanic also lacked the right capabilities and competencies to succeed in its mission. If you look at the composition of its employees, very few of them were actual sailors or seamen. The gargantuan vessel had almost 900 staff with 66 crew on Deck (Officers, Masters at arms, Storemasters and able bodied seamen), 325 in Engine (Engineers, Boilermen, Firemen and Electricians), and 494 in the Victualling department (Stewards, Galley, Restaurant, Musicians and Post). Many of them were probably inadequately trained or equipped to handle such an emergency.

An overconfidence in technology may have also led to the ship's downfall. With a who's who list of experts behind the architecture, engineering, design and building of the Titanic, everybody had confidence that the ship could not sink. This management stupor led to the underprovision of life boats which everybody knows led to the inevitable death of many of its passengers.

Similarly, this lack of detailed preparation led the leadership and management of the ship to ignore what laid below the surface. With the lack of expertise on board, they could not discern that the bulk of the iceberg was hidden beneath the ocean surface. This led to the infamous ripping apart of the ship's hull as it grazed and crashed through the hard and razor sharp claws of ice that fateful night.

What other lessons could we discern from the Titanic?

To relive the experience of being on board the "ship that could never sink", do check out James Cameron's wonderful movie "Titanic" (now in 3D) as well as the brilliantly designed "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" at the Art-Science Museum. Both shows are ending soon so do hurry!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Scooting off to a Great Flying Start

Scoot’s staff Captain HC Rohan, Head of Flight Operations/Chief Pilot; Campbell Wilson, CEO, and Ng Ju Li, Head of Cabin Services with a model of their plane (courtesy of Scoot)

Thanks to Alvin, I participated in a special blogger's preview event of Scoot, a new low cost carrier in Singapore. Held at the Singapore Flyer, we checked in at the Service Lounge, went for a flight in the pod-like "cabins" and had a sumptuous dinner at the Singapore Food Trail.

So what is Scoot all about?

Founded on 1 Nov 2011, Scoot is a low cost carrier flying medium to long haul routes established by the Singapore Airlines group. As a budget carrier, it offers cheap airfares that are between 30 to 40% lower than traditional long haul airlines.

Starting in mid-2012 with a fleet of four B777-200 aircraft purchased from parent company, Singapore Airlines (SIA), Scoot is managed and run independently from SIA, and operates from separate offices. Its maiden flights will commence with flights to and from Singapore to Sydney and Gold Coast in June, Tian Jin (China) in August, with 2 other Chinese cities in the pipeline.

Casual, Cheeky and Quirky

Exemplified by the term "Scootitude", Scoot's brand personality is a polar opposite to that of its parent company SIA. Unlike the latter, Scoot is about being cheeky, fun and cool, while not compromising on important qualities like safety, reliability and efficiency.  According to CEO Campbell Wilson, Scoot "conveys spontaneity, movement, informality and a touch of quirkiness...”.

These qualities can be seen in the diagram below:

Scoot's Brand Personality (courtesy of Scoot)

Targeting youths and young adults, budget travellers and the "young at heart", Scoot's value proposition is to bring you to your destination affordably without the frills but with all the safety and assurance backed-up by the world's leading airline.  The airline's brand values are probably best personified by this rather entertainingly choreographed media event held not too long ago:

Adorning bright yellow as its corporate colours, Scoot's emphasis on casual spontaneity (as opposed to Singapore Airline's oriental mystique and exclusive glamour) is seen in how its cabin crew uniforms are developed as seen below. 

Scoot's cabin crew uniforms scream casual chic (courtesy of Scoot)

Embracing an irreverent and mischevious flair that is somewhat unusual for home-grown tourism brands, the fledgling airline adopts a rather radical advertising strategy with its WTF (Watch the Fare) campaign. Yes, the acronyms do catch one's attention! The airline also uses the two Os in SCOOT as the hallmark of its advertisements as seen below:

Scoot's cheeky WTF (Watch The Fare) advertisements (courtesy of Scoot)

Social Media Savviness

Like any other airline, Scoot relies heavily on its online presence to generate brand affinity, awareness, and sales. Other than having a well-appointed website as you can see below, Scoot's digital influence is further boosted by its social media properties such as a corporate blog, Facebook Page, and YouTube channel. I am impressed by the fact that they have a dedicated member of the team (Haresh) whose job is to create content for these social platforms.

Scoot's well-designed website

With an informal, home-brewed approach to content creation, Scoot's Youtube videos are raw and unpolished yet imbued with a sense of humour. An example is the video of the winner of its slogan contest (Lenca Yew) with her proposed slogan of "Get Outta Here" as shown below (incidentally we got to meet Lenca at the blogger's gathering together with Suhaimi, the other winner of the Scoot contest):

Campbell tells me that they're still considering setting up a Twitter account. I encouraged them to do so, citing that Twitter would be a good way to manage customer relations, especially amongst Gen "Y"s and Pre-Millenials who may be more comfortable typing/texting than calling or writing long emails.

Close-Knitted Company Culture

What struck me most about Scoot was the camaraderie and esprit de corps shown by its team members. As we boarded the cabin on the Singapore Flyer, Scoot crew members worked together to play a rather hilarious game of "Win, Lose or Draw" divided into male and female teams.

Joking amongst themselves while interacting with us in an uninhibited fashion, their collective and individual behaviours exemplified the brand values of the low cost carrier. They certainly made us bloggers feel very much at home with their casual and unassuming air.

Scoot Preview @ Singapore Flyer

As we sat down to a dinner of delectable hawker delights on an overflowing table, various members of the team sat with groups of bloggers and chatted about what they do. With an openness and transparency rare in this day and age, Scoot team members shared what they do and regaled us with some of their "war" stories as veterans in the airline business.

I was especially enthralled by Captain Yap Meng Kum's (Deputy Chief Pilot, Fleet) chronicling of his flying misadventures and how an eagle literally landed on his pilot colleague's lap after crashing through the aeroplane's window!

Scoot Preview @ Singapore Flyer

What I especially liked about the team from Scoot was their openness to new ideas. By embracing social media and crowdsourcing marketing ideas, Scoot revealed itself to be an unconventional airline that listens more than it preaches.

With an approach like that, I guess the sky's the limit for this new airline and I look forward to flying on board its planes soon.

Scoot Preview @ Singapore Flyer
View of Marina Bay from the Singapore Flyer

To enjoy irresistible promotional fares from as low as SGD$158 (one-way) from Singapore to Sydney, log on to Scoot's website now! Hurry, while tickets are still available!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stop Human Trafficking with MTV EXIT

MTV-Sponsored Show Raises Awareness on Human Trafficking in Asia
Courtesy of United Nations' Photo

Human trafficking is a major global problem. About 2.5 million people are victims of trafficking according to the UN's International Labour Organisation.  Over half of these people are in Asia and the Pacific. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders (Source: US Government). Over 80% are women and up to 50% are children.  Victims often suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against self and family, and even death.

Human trafficking is so common now that it is the 3rd most profitable criminal activity in the world after illegal drugs and arms trafficking. Criminals earn a staggering US$10 billion every year through buying and selling human beings! 

Formed to stop this worldwide scourge, MTV EXIT is a campaign about freedom which aims to increase the overall awareness and prevention of human trafficking. It does this through television programmes, online content, live events, and partnerships with anti-trafficking organizations.  Working with a wide range of government agencies and NGOs, its partners include international bodies such as the UNIAP, World Vision, ASEAN, USAID (key partner), and AusAID (key partner). 

To perform this herculean task, MTV EXIT adopts a holistic strategy employing celebrity power, public education, edutainment and the reach of mass media broadcast, live events, and online channels. 

Awareness and Education

Through the use of digital media and the influence of the universal language of music, MTV EXIT has influenced young people across the world, raising awareness and providing education/vital information on how potential victims can protect themselves from traffickers. This critical approach has enabled MTV EXIT to reach out to millions across Southeast Asia, improving their understanding and highlighting the disastrous consequences of this criminal activity.

Television Documentaries 

Leveraging on MTV's television networks, The "Enslaved" series is part of a series of documentaries that details the stories of victims across Asia. To maximise its purpose and reach, it is made available in various local languages including Tagalog, Khmer and Myanmarese. Each version is customised to its market.

Celebrity Ambassadors

To give added star power to its cause, MTV EXIT appoints celebrities to helm its campaign. The latest star-studded happening is the appointment of one of Vietnam’s leading pop stars, Mỹ Tâm as the new MTV EXIT Celebrity Ambassador to Vietnam.  There, she will host the half-hour Vietnamese documentary film, Enslaved: An MTV EXIT Special.

Partnerships with Schools and Youth Associations

MTV EXIT partners with schools and youth associations to organise youth forums and roadshows. The aim is for youth leaders, particularly from rural/less privileged areas, to spread the message in their communities. These volunteers help to generate greater word of mouth amongst their respective networks, engendering a greater efficacy in the campaign's reach and influence.

Free Admission Concerts

Through their celebrity clout, MTV EXIT invites international and local acts to perform at no charge for its cause. The most recent concert held in Phnom Penh on 17 December 2011 galvanised more than 40,000 fans and advocates. Coming up is a massive live concert at Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium on 26 May featuring international modern-rock sensation, Simple Plan.

Courtesy of MTV EXIT

Talks and Forums

Here in Singapore, our government recently announced a National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons with an Inter-Agency Taskforce that will work closely with NGOs and other relevant organisations to combat this crime against humanity.  A major development will be an upcoming conference organised by HOME titled "Developing Partnerships to Combat Human Trafficking" which will feature MTV EXIT's Matt Love.

Social Media Channels

To reach its young digitally savvy target audience more effectively, MTV EXIT leverages on its social media platforms such as its website, Twitter account, Facebook page, Wikipedia page, and numerous online videos. These platforms are used to spread content and key messages in various formats.

Courtesy of MTV EXIT

Multimedia Exhibition

Finally, MTV EXIT is also hosting its first-ever multi-media exhibition on human trafficking in Vietnam as part of MTV EXIT Youth Sessions. The display will give Vietnamese youth the opportunity to learn about human trafficking by interacting with the issue through different creative mediums. It will be segmented into a series of different spaces, such as video, music, installation, photography, and interactive activities to facilitate a dynamic learning experience.

To do your part to stop human trafficking, join the fight on MTV EXIT's website today.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Right Stories for the Right Audience

Bob Rogers (source of image)

What is the magic behind creating truly memorable and delightful guest experiences at visitor attractions?

According to renowned experience designer Bob Rogers, the secret lies in finding the right story, shaping it for the right audience, and ensuring that it is an original tale.

Finding Your Story

Sharing at a Tourism Masterclass seminar, Mr Rogers related that the story of any museum, theme park, zoo, or historic attraction lies in the heart of one's customer. The best stories develop from the inside to the outside, with the technology and infrastructure layered in the following sequence:

Heart -> Story -> Experience -> Technology -> Interior Schematic -> Exterior Architecture

(Unfortunately, most attractions are built the other way around!)

To unlock the heart of your visitors, there are four keys to building a strong heart-wrenching story, namely: Love, Hope, Reassurance and Strength.

A good example of how these universal elements can be woven together is be seen in Walt Disney's tear-jerking dedication speech to Disneyland back in 1955. Quoting from the founder of one of the world's largest entertainment conglomerate:

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past...and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America...with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

Here's the video of Disney himself making the speech back in 1955.

Understand Who You're Sharing it With

To tell the right story, you should also pay close attention to your target visitors. The one thing that visitor attractions cannot have - just like perhaps most consumer businesses in the world - is everybody.

In the case of Disney's theme parks, the family had always been the primary target audience as opposed to teens and youths. Similarly, Las Vegas learnt the difficult lesson that it is primarily a huge adult theme park.

Another lesson to take note of is that the needs of locals and tourists are often diametrically opposite. Science museums are normally more popular with locals while theme parks normally attract more tourists. To successfully cater to these distinct groups of visitors, one should consider the following characteristics of both markets:

Being Original

Finally, you should strive to be original as much as possible. Rogers quoted that "Bugs Bunny didn't become famous by trying to be Mickey Mouse". Unfortunately, instead of doing R&D, many attractions are doing R&C (Research & Copy) - a practice which should be frowned upon.

Where possible, you should ensure that the characters used in licensing agreements (apparently Rio and Avatar is still available - for a fee) should tell your story rather than their own.

Citing the example of Singapore, Rogers proposes that the truly original story of our island is about how people from different ethnicities, religions and cultures could live together in peace and harmony. This unique situation sets us apart from many other cities around the world.

Now that's certainly food for thought!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Storytelling Transforms Visitor Attractions

Bob Rogers with ASA Chairman Kevin Cheong

The founder of BRC Imagination Arts, Bob Rogers, has cut his teeth in designing and building numerous theme parks, museums, brand attractions and other thematic experience destinations. Rogers' 33 year old firm, BRC Imagination Arts, received over 250 international awards, including two Academy Award nominations and 17 Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) "THEA" Awards for "outstanding achievement in themed entertainment". Rogers’ achievements are so significant that Newsweek has called him the “industry’s resident futurist”.

In a recent masterclass organised by the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA), Rogers shared four case studies of how better storytelling has helped attractions achieve better results in visitorship, revenue, and customer satisfaction.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Courtesy of the Homeless Hacker

Costing US$100 million, the redevelopment of this presidential attraction honouring “Honest Abe” transformed the usual educational approach (lots of names, dates and facts, revolving around a building and its collection) to a visitor centric one which sought to provide a “life changing experience”. This was done through the use of strong emotions, a compelling storyline, and the forging of an emotional connection between visitor and subject.

Following the redevelopment of the Presidential Library, visitorship hit 600,000 annual visitors when it re-opened in 2006 - a massive increase from its projected 350,000 visitors. F&B sales at US$800,000 during opening year was twice that projected while surrounding historic attractions in Illinois benefited from a 19% boost in visitorship.

New Heineken Experience

Courtesy of BRC Web

Located in Amsterdam, Holland, the brewery tour invested some US$30 million to transform its previously fragmented storyline and thought disordered exhibits to one that showed the same qualities as the Lincoln attraction: strong emotions, strong storyline, with strong emotional connection between visitor and brand. Here, the attraction sought to engage the five senses. It wove in the brewing process, smelling and tasting of beer ingredients, as well as beer taste testing to heighten its guests’ experiences.

Focusing on a very distinct target market of “18 to 28 year old English speaking males” who are thought to be heavy beer drinkers and strong brand ambassadors, Heineken’s success was reflected in a 76% increase of annual visitorship from 364,000 to 600,000 per year. Ticket prices also increased from 11 euros to 16 euros, while per cap sales for retail increased from 3.23 euros to 5.85 euros.

Louisiana Old State Capitol

Courtesy of Southern Travel News

In a similar vein, a previously thought disordered attraction with no unifying story and “sleeping assets” (intellectual properties or nuggets of information that can be deployed more effectively) was given a jolt by Bob and his team.

By using a focused story and deploying visitor assets more effectively, a concept revolving around “The Ghost of the Castle” holographic show was created, "scaring" guests (in a delightful manner) instead of using a boring video presentation. This likely increased attendance by an estimated 50%.

Grand Ole Opry

Courtesy of K. Edge

The site of a country radio show in the US, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, offers a back stage tour. Here, its previous mistake was seen in being thought disordered, failing to see the guest’s point of view, having “sleeping assets”, and lacking a unifying story.

With a budget of only US$60,000, Rogers and team rewrote the script from the guest’s point of view and developed a more focused story that made use of its assets. Through research, they found that guests were more interested in imagining that they were country music “stars” preparing to perform on stage, and their points of view as a "performer" was woven into the experience. This probably resulted again in an increase in visitorship from 40,000 to 85,000 annual visitors.

Designing with the Audience in Mind

From the examples above, the creation of a compelling and unifying storyline that touches the heart of the visitor as well as the skillful deployment of story ingredients led to better visitor experience and performance. Doing so necessitates that attractions be designed with the end in mind.

Let me end by sharing this quote from Bob Rogers which I'm sure will be useful for anybody involved in creating and designing thematic experiences in any business:

"Attraction design should begin with the intent to find and share meaning. Most designs start elsewhere, with function, or form, or cost, size, site, whatever. Only the most effective storytellers start by looking into the hearts of the audience to seek the deepest meaning of their subject. Then they imaginatively communicate that meaning back to their audience. These are the designers whose work survives, because where their story lives is not on paper, not in concrete, but in the hearts of the audience. These are designers whose work changes the world"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do You Want To Be a Social Media Star?

If so, nominate yourself for the 5th annual Singapore Blog Awards!

Organised by, SPH's leading bilingual news and entertainment portal, the Singapore Blog Awards recognises "new-age wordsmiths" with the passion, determination, and energy to "create and maintain informative and innovative blogs".

Other than achieving online acclaim and popularity (get ready to flash your pearlies), you may stand to win a trip to the annual International Fireworks Festival in Macau and other neat prizes worth a total of $30,000!

To increase your chances of winning, there are a total of 15 categories of blogs for you to choose from:

10 Main Categories
• Panasonic Eco Best Photography Blog
• Panasonic Eco Best Lifestyle Blog
• Panasonic Best Y-Bloggist
• Casio Sheen Best Fashion Blog
• Domino’s Best Food Blog
• SOLD.SG Best What-The-Hell Blog
• Best Individual Blog
• Best Travel Blog
• Best Family Blog
• Best V-log *NEW*

Two Celebrity Categories
• Panasonic Most Popular Local Celebrity Blog/Microblog
• Panasonic Most Popular Overseas Celebrity Blog/Microblog

Three Sponsored Categories
• Gmarket Best Online Shopping Blog
• Mary Chia Best Beauty Blog
• ST701 Best Blogshop

As you can see, there are more sponsored categories this year so you can be sure that the prizes would be fabulous!

What's new this year is the “Best V-log” award which I have the honour of judging - in case you do not know, I'm one of the privileged judges for the awards yet again this year. This award is specially created to acknowledge all bloggers who also produce user-generated videos on YouTube or other video streaming sites to enrich their digital storytelling capabilities.

(Incidentally, I do have a YouTube channel that - surprise, surprise - garnered more than 500,000 views to date. Of course, not every video is a hit...)

To add more online and offline buzz, the super hardworking team is also organising the Singapore Social Media Fiesta. There will be an activity every month from April to July 2012, beginning with the Singapore Check-In Bonanza, Singapore Twitter Frenzy, Singapore Social Media Day, and the Singapore Blog Awards ceremony held at Singapore Flyer - the world's largest observation wheel.

Phew! These guys are running us ragged, albeit in a good way! :)

Nominate and register your blog
from now until 6 May and stand a chance to enter the glorious and hallowed halls of social media stardom.  Perhaps what may be most rewarding (at least in my view) is that you will also meet lots of warm, friendly and happening bloggers just like you.

For more information, visit the official Singapore Blog Awards website.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why Happiness Leads to Success

Source of image

In life, we often believe that we'll be happy only AFTER we have achieved success. For many, that would mean scoring straight 'A's in school, being promoted, buying that dream home, or having a million dollars in the bank.

To achieve that "holy grail" of happiness, we then work our butts off. However, when we achieve that target, we find that we need to move even higher to pursue the next quest - two million dollars, a higher promotion, or an even bigger home! While doing so, we grit our teeth and postpone our happiness as it becomes an ever elusive rainbow that we chase throughout our lives.

Apparently, that is the wrong way to go about it according to former Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor. In his book, "The Happiness Advantage", Shawn shares that it is "happiness that fuels success".

When our brains and our general emotional state is positive, we will be "more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work". In other words, the most successful people are often the most happy ones. Here, of course, success is not just defined in terms of material or organisational prominence alone.

Here's a short, witty and interesting talk which Shawn gave at TEDx on this topic.

For an animated version of the talk, check out this one by the RSA guys:

What can one do to get those "feel good" dopamines into one's system? Shawn shares the following tips (which are all backed by rigourous research!):

1) Start by sharing 3 things to be thankful for every day. Do this for a long enough period of time and let the flow of gratitudes influence your outlook in life.

2) Start journaling. Yes, blogging does count I suppose so you won't see me stopping my digital diatribes for a bit. I suppose this should also be a way for one to express those emotional angst while focusing on the positives.

3) Exercising is a great way to increase those dopamines and related "happy" hormones like endorphins. Nothing beats a nice leisurely jog, an hour or two of step aerobics, or a vigorous game of basketball.

4) Meditation is another technique for one to step away from the cares of the world and find inner tranquility.

5) Finally, perform random acts of kindness. Do good to a stranger whom you see on the street that needs help. Spreading the love around is a positive step in increasing the overflow of joy in your hearts.

Oh yes, having a social support network is also important. The people who thrive at work are those who have people that they can rely on to give them moral and professional strength when it matters.

Do you agree that happiness begets success as opposed to success begeting happiness?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

10 Steps to Better Marketing Writing

Source of image

In many marketing and selling professions, the ability to write well gives one a significant edge over others who aren't able to pen a compelling piece of prose. Wordsmiths are highly valued in most organisations, especially if their words can magically transform complex and arcane concepts into attractive ideas exhibiting Zen-like simplicity.

Like a scoop of well-made ice cream, good writing slides easily down one's throat, filling one with strong emotional convictions about an idea, a person, a product or a company.

On the other hand, bad writing is like a stale piece of cheese - its odour is so repulsive that one prefers to stay away from it with a 10 metre pole!

What are some of the tricks behind compelling marketing writing?

1) Know who you're writing for. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. A sales letter going out to Fortune 500 CEOs will need to be pitched quite differently from an advertisement targeting 15 year old girls.

2) Focus on a single idea and convey it in short and succinct paragraphs. The best marketing collaterals are usually focused sharply on a clear value proposition for their readers. Don't try to pack too many ideas into your prose at they may only confuse and frustrate your readers.

3) Invest in your headlines - they are the most important attention grabbers you've got in your textual arsenal (beyond that attractive picture of course). In the attention starved world of marketing, your headline needs to stand out in the sea of words and ideas.

4) Begin with a bang! The only place for a beginning like "Once upon a time..." is probably your 8 year old's bedtime storybook. After ensnaring your reader's attention with a rock solid headline, make sure that your first 1 or 2 paragraphs can sing to him or her. Convert those critical few seconds of attention into a deeper level of interest and engagement.

5) End on a high note (not a fizzle)! A good piece of marketing writing starts well, is nicely paced over its duration, and builds up to a crescendo with a call to action that encourages you to take a further step. Note that this doesn't necessarily have to be a hardsell pitch such as "While stocks last!" or "Season ending soon!". They can be in the form of a question, a quote from a famous person, or a reinforcement of your key message in a compellingly worded sentence.

6) Make sure you've got rhythm and tempo in your writing. Having too many long sentences will leave your readers' heads in a spin. At the same time, a continuous spurt of short sentences reads like a kindergartener's work.

7) Write, read, rewrite, read again, and rewrite if necessary. If at first you don't succeed in getting the right words across to your readers, try try again.

8) If you've gotten past the point of spotting your own mistakes, enlist the help of others. Having a fresh pair of eyes (or two or 10) always helps in making a piece of marketing prose tighter, leaner and razor sharp.

9) Even better, test your writing with members of your target audience. Try as we may, married men over 40 (like me) find it difficult to empathise with 10 year old boys or a swinging single in her 20s.

10) Finally, remember that any form of communications is a loop. Let your writing lead your readers to a deeper level of conversation and engagement with you. Make it a chapter in a book rather than a standalone episode so that the seeds of a long term relationship is forged. This helps to build customer loyalty, community and affinity over time.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Examples of Organisations that Zag

Continuing along the theme of "Zagging" as a business strategy (ie radical but customer valued differentiation), I thought it would be interesting to highlight examples of businesses which apply such "Blue Ocean" strategies in their core value propositions. By offering something radical and unique yet deeply appreciated by their customers and other stakeholders, they are able to stand out in an increasingly hyper-competitive marketplace. This would mean offering a new innovation that isn't seen in the existing marketplace and competing on different terms from incumbents.

As expected, many of these examples are in the mouth watering F&B industry, but there are also a few cases of consumer oriented innovation in other domains both digital and non-digital.

1) Gourmet craft beers in a hawker centre: Good Beer Company in Chinatown Hawker Centre. Fine hand-crafted beers in the comfort of your slipper and shorts anybody?

2) Sipping quality Italian espresso from a machine without the fuss of making a trip all the way down to the baristas: Nespresso. While purists say nothing compares to freshly brewed espressos coffee at a real cafe, finding the time to order, sit and wait for one may be harder and harder these days.

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3) Hawker food given an exquisite upmarket touch with quality ingredients (like lobsters in laksa and wagyu beef noodles): Space @ My Humble House.  There isn't anything new in offering hawker fare at restaurants, but what's new here is the use of expensive upmarket ingredients in the creation of these culinary delights.

4) Quality Italian, French, German and American food at local coffee shops and hawker centres. Two notable examples are Botak Jones at various coffeeshops around Singapore and Erich's Wuerstelstand at Chinatown's Smith Street.

6) Bespoke and artisanal jewellery, cakes, wines, poetry, art and other similar products and services, created by urban professionals who have found their second callings in life. By eschewing mass manufacturing, these businesses create a new niche for consumers increasingly disenchanted by "me-too" products and services.

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7) Unconferences like Barcamp Singapore which have no fixed venues, no fixed speakers, no conference fees, and is determined entirely by democratised decision making.  Who needs an agenda when you have passion and interest in the topics being discussed?

8) Music groups and artistes like the Dave Matthews Band which encourage their concert attendees to record their music, film their concerts, and distribute them free on the web.  This helps them to seed word of mouth while keeping marketing and advertising costs low, and frankly, attending a "live" concert is never quite the same as watching one on Youtube anyway.  

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9) Offering a pay for performance model for consultancy services as opposed to a per manhour model. In other words, if your business don't enjoy increased profits/improved publicity/heightened employee satisfaction, our agency doesn't get paid.

10) The whole idea of land-scarce Singapore itself being a "city in a garden". You've got to give credit to the originator of this wonderful innovation which we're all enjoying now. Now, cities around the world are trying to emulate this example.

11) Vertical farming and how it could be a solution to the world's food woes, particularly in crowded land-scarce cities. By bringing the cultivation of food sources closer to the consuming market, transport and logistic costs are reduced while maximising land use in a productive manner. 

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12) Of course, Apple's iTunes itself was a radical innovation which transformed the entire business model for music and led to making it feasible for music and movies to be sold a few dollars at a time online.

I'm sure you know a lot more businesses and companies that embrace the tenets of zagging - feel free to add on!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The 7 Disciplines of Success

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I am great fan of motivational guru Anthony Robbins and have invested some time lately to listen to his recordings based on his bestselling book "Unlimited Power". Although this has been around for quite some time, its lessons are everlasting and relevant for all time.

Today, I'd like to highlight Robbins' 7 Disciplines of Success. These tenets are based on the approach of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and model themselves after a successful person's beliefs, syntax (language), and physiology.

What are these disciplines?

1) The first discipline is one of acting from personal power. Our ability to take action and to overcome the fear of failure is the most important lesson on the road to success. In fact, there aren't any failures, only outcomes that eventually lead to a winning result if taken in the right spirit.

2) Next, one should take charge and be totally responsible for one's world. As you think, you become and you manifest the outcomes of that thought process through words and action. Think of the solution to the problems and change the things which you don't like.

3) Being successul requires you to stretch yourself - if you can, you must go beyond what you're currently doing. Put yourself on the line when you have to perform and do the things which you falsely believed that you cannot do. Here there are 4 simple steps to follow:

a) Make a commitment to do something beyond your ability.
b) Make a public declaration (a blog or Facebook page is a good place).
c) Model someone who is already producing the result.
d) Follow the model and act as if you do know how to do so even if you don't.

4) Be committed to unconscious competence as opposed to needing to gain complete cognitive understanding. Just as you do not need to know how electricity works to flip the light switch at home, focus on being good at what you do as opposed to needing to completely understand how everything works.

5) Act from a position of personal integrity. Being whole or true to yourself, live according to your beliefs and your principles.

6) The meaning of communication is the response that you get. In other words, the physiology and tonality of your words and phrases must be changed to ensure that the receiving party understands and appreciates what you want to convey. Intention means nothing. Results mean everything.

7) Finally, be committed to do whatever it takes to succeed. Commitment isn't just a buzz word. It is a way of life that one pursues on a daily basis, walking the talk and scheduling activities that contribute towards that end goal. There is a distinct difference between people who are interested and people who are committed. The former are daydreamers who hope to strike the lottery one day, while the latter work hard to make their personal visions come true.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Learning How We Make Decisions

Courtesy of Knowledge of the Day

I've just listened to a podcast by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers blog which presented a fascinating glimpse into the world of neuroscience and its impact on marketing. Interviewing Jonah Lehrer, author of "How We Decide", the podcast explained that decisions are primarily made when there is an interplay between the stimuli that we receive and their influences on different portions of the brain.

Perhaps the most fundamental point is that emotions play a big impact on decision making. In studies where brain injury patients lose the use of their emotional brain centres (the limbic brain system), these individuals are often unable to make the simplest decision such as deciding where to have lunch and so on.

This would imply that any form of marketing message must have an emotional stimulus that influences decision making. Going solely on logical and rational benefits alone will not work.

There are also two key protagonists at play in decision-making in any human being, namely:

- the insular cortex (or insula) which is the deeply embedded "pain centre" of the brain.

- the pleasure centres which are linked to the nucleus accumbens and the pre-frontal cortex.

The fear of loss (or loss aversion) which involves the former is normally a stronger neural pathway than the potential benefit of gain. Thus, advertisements that use loss preventive language ("Don't Lose this Opportunity", "Hurry, While Stocks Last!", "Season Ending Soon!") often works better than those that proclaim any potential gain ("Enjoy 50% discount!", "Live a richer life today").

In the same vein, people are often exquisitely sensitive to criticism. A negative experience will be remembered them far more strongly than positive comments and compliments.

A related issue is what Jason calls the "endowment effect".  A person provided with an opportunity to "take possession" of an item feels that it is a lot more valuable to him or her. For example, if potential customers walk into a store, tries on a piece of clothing in the dressing room and like what they see, they are more likely to have a sense of ownership over that item. This makes the individual more likely to buy it.

Such tricks in granting ownership can be used by companies that imprint a potential customer's name in their marketing materials, or to personalise advertising materials using the targeted customer's vital statistics where available.

The other strategy that companies can employ is to avoid triggering the pain centres of the brain by sidelining them such that sensory signals hit the pleasure centres instead. An example of this is the use of credit cards.  By making spending more painless, they make it easier for people to purchase items relative to using cold hard cash.

Similarly, avoiding the fear of loss is seen in how continuous "value for money" messages like "Everyday Low Price", or "Best Price Guaranteed" lulls people to purchase an item, even if the price is not discounted. By reassuring consumers' insulas that they're not going to be ripped off, marketers can trick them into believing that they're getting more bang for the buck.

However, one needs to beware of such tactics.  The repeated use of discounts may end up "training" consumers to only want to purchase during the sale and not normal rack rates.

In the same vein, the last thing you want to do is to infuriate your consumers by slashing a discounted price (because they have missed the sales period), and to show that only normal rack rates are available.

The lesson here is not to piss off potential customers!

Irrational decision making is also seen in how people prefer immediate gratification rewards vis-a-vis longer-term but less certain benefits. Our proclivity towards loss aversion which result in driving us towards low hanging fruits rather than potentially larger but longer-term benefits, sacrificing quantum for immediacy.

However, there is value in holding out for something better.  Being able to delay gratification has been shown to be highly beneficial for us as individuals. Experiments have shown that it is one of the greatest predictors of long-term success.  As such, while marketers would want to trigger the impulse reflexes of the pain and pleasure centres of their customers, consumers may want to think and reflect more carefully before pressing that "buy" button on their screens. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

When Push Comes to Shove

Courtesy of Ranker

What do you do when things which you have planned and worked so painstakingly hard for takes an ugly turn?

Do you...

A) Sigh, swallow, clench your teeth, pretend it never happened and soldier on?

B) Wail, wallow in sorrow, bitch to the whole world, and just give up?

C) Evaluate what went wrong, consider alternatives, and change your strategy or tactic?

Those who choose option A) are what I call the silent sufferers. These are people who are resigned to their fates, and who do not mind being ridden roughshod throughout their lives.

When life gives these guys lemons, they will make lemonade, adding lots of sugar so that the awful taste is drowned out by dashes of sweetness. Unfortunately, too much sugar, as the doctor tells you, is bad for health. Sooner or later, something is going to give.

Those who choose option B) are what I call the negative noisemakers. They are the influenced - as opposed to the influencers - and their world view and personal circumstances are often shaped by what's happening around them.

When something sh**ty happens, these folks will blame God, the weather, the government, their neighbour, their wives/husbands and everybody but themselves. Focusing on the negatives, their lives become a downward spiral.

Those who choose option C) are what I call the assertive achievers. They understand that things happen for a reason, and that every failure comes with a valuable lesson.

When things go awry, these folks take the bull by the horns, stare it squarely in the face, and learn what makes it tick. Recovering quickly from the emotional aftershock (after all they're also human), they will themselves to think positive and look for solutions - a better way to build a mousetrap, or perhaps to catch a different animal altogether.

The next time something crappy happens to you, think carefully about your responses and who you want to be. Choose to be an assertive achiever and learn to control the situation, rather than to let yourself be controlled. Focus on the future while learning from the past, and never fail to return to the drawing board.

The saying goes that whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger. May I add that it should also make you smarter and savvier in dealing with the road ahead.