Monday, July 30, 2012

What Chinese Want: Book Review



With a population of 1.3 billion sprawled over a gargantuan 9.6 million sq km, the People's Republic of China is widely known as the factory of the world. The middle kingdom's dominance of global economic and socio-political affairs is impressive, with many regarding them as the "factory of the world". Its ability to mobilise epic resources to achieve ambitious goals are also much-lauded.

However, what is the average Chinese person really like? What elements constitute the building blocks of China's society - the very essence of being Chinese?

Enter Tom Doctoroff's cleverly crafted book What Chinese Want - Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer. Written from 14 years of experience working and living in China (Doctoroff is the Greater China CEO of J Walter Thompson), the book is a comprehensive treatise on modern China, capturing its worldview, business environment, consumer markets, societal fabric, and engagement with the world.

In Doctoroff's philosophical - and wonderfully poetic - lenses, the Chinese worldview can be distilled into three eternal truths:

1) A fatalistic, cyclical view of time and space characterised by meticulous interconnectivity of things big and small. This is epitomised by the "Yi Jing" or Book of Changes which is an ancient divination system.

2) A morally relativistic universe in which the only absolute evil is chaos and the only good is stability, a platform on which progress is constructed. In his book, the Chinese place a huge emphasis on stability, supported by their tripartite beliefs in Legalism, Taoism and Confucianism.

3) A view of the family, not the individual, as the basic productive unit of society. This theme is carried throughout the book, with the Confucian precept of nation, community, and family taking precedence over self even in hyperconnected China.

From the rarified air of Chinese billionaires, incremental - as opposed to radical - approach to business innovation, uniqueness of China's digital generation, to the need for ego projection through materials purchases and the tentative steps taken in global engagement, What Chinese Wants covers a lot of oriental ground. Backed by profiles of real life Chinese whom Doctoroff interacted with over the years as well as adequate statistics, the tour de force of today's China helps one understand what makes the contemporary Chinese tick.

Perhaps the most enlightening chapters are the ones that cover Doctoroff's forte - consumer research, marketing and advertising. We're taught that brand development in China is virtually non-existent with its overt emphasis on sales as opposed to marketing, and that consumption is an ego-projection exercise for the rich, middle class and mass markets alike. Interestingly, foreign brands are useful for external consumption, a tool for "pragmatic advancement" whereby one's status is matched with one's Pradas, LVs, or Apples.  Back in the recesses of one's home, the cheaper and more cost-effective local brands like Haier or Anta may abound. 

The tenets of modern Chinese society revealed how it tenuously balances the inherent conflicts between community good and personal ambition. Adopting a family first, country second and anti-individualistic mindset, the average Chinese has taken to the Internet as a "largely anonymous open microphone for self-expression". While the occasional protest is allowed within certain constraints, the Communist government's firm hold on the rule of law has made civil society virtually non-existent in China. Indeed, the Chinese are paranoid about safety and security, shunning actions that will rock the boat.

Ending the book with 10 myths on modern China, Doctoroff surmises that the impending changes in China with the rise of a more vocal and educated generation will not result in a erosion of its fundamental values. China will never become America, and the growth of the Chinese economic juggernaut poses no real danger to the rest of the world.  While China's more than 500 million Internet users changes how young Chinese view the world, the party is still in control of digital discourse, allowing the masses to "let off steam" while monitoring bulletin boards and chat rooms to "expunge discussion of sensitive topics".

Overall, the book produces an incredibly accurate insight of the Chinese consumer despite being written from a Western perspective. I like how the author peppers his observations of everyday life in Shanghai with uncanny insight into how one can worm one's way into the Chinese heart. While there are occasional sweeping statements that may be more poetic than pragmatic, it is clear that he has a deep grasp of the subject.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Touring (and Tasting) the Tiger Beer Brewery

Tour of Tiger Brewery

Have you wondered what ingredients go into that perfect brew? Or how cold your Tiger beer should be served?

Well, you can join the Tiger Brewery Tour for an intoxicating insight! Thanks to Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), my colleagues and I from the Association of Singapore Attractions had a chance to learn how the world famous Tiger beer is being made on a daily basis. Stimulating the five senses - sight, sound, scent, taste and touch - the tour allowed one to experience the Tiger brand in a holistic fashion. 

Held at the APB plant itself at Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, the tour takes one through a visitor's centre with an orientation video, the Brew House where one learnt how the various ingredients come together, the Packaging Gallery enlightening one on the bottling and canning process, as well as the Tiger Den and Tiger Tavern.  You can book a tour by signing up here (note that they're only open from Mondays to Fridays from 10 am to 5 pm).

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Touted as "The Ultimate Tiger Brewery Experience", the tour was both educational and entertaining (especially towards the end).

Tour of Tiger Brewery
At the visitor centre, one can play a game of beer trivia. I'm sure you have no problems recognising the brands made, bottled or distributed by APB.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Tiger Beer memorabilia through the ages. These are certainly collector's items for Tiger beer fans through the years.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
A delivery "truck" awaited us as we walked through the grounds of the premises.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Before we entered the Brew House, we were given a briefing by our rather sober guide on the step by step process of beer making.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Can you name the four ingredients that goes into a beer?  Give up? Well, they are malts, hops, yeast and water. A sample of these were availabel for visitors to see (unfortunately we couldn't taste them).

Tour of Tiger Brewery
We next walked into a huge plant where the process of milling, mashing and boiling, fermentation, storage and filtration are done. Unfortunately photos are not allowed. However, you can see some photos of the boiling and fermentation tanks and pipes here.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
The old trucks carrying barrels of beer were quite a sight to behold. Compare this to the more modern version seen earlier.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
"Tiger tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night..." Guess who penned those words?

Tour of Tiger Brewery
The Packaging Gallery enlightened us on the process of how beer was bottled or canned with an "interactive" movie starring local actor Gerald Chew.  Following that introduction, we were whisked to a room full of equipment. Here you can see how beer bottles are electronically scanned for defects.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Its probably every man's dream to have one of these at home or in the office...

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Apparently, the Tiger beer taps at pubs and clubs have evolved over the years. Not that anybody quaffing a draft would have noticed anyway...

Tour of Tiger Brewery
These rather antiquated looking cylinders, tanks and jugs help to explain the various steps involved in beer brewing back in the good old days. I guess beer making is both an art and a science.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Meanwhile, Underwater World GM Peter Chew shows us how to pour the perfect glass of beer with the right amount of head (foam) at the top.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Another interactive game where kids (or adults) could occupy themselves while learning a thing or two about the bottling process.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
For the beer geek (eg Daniel Goh of The Good Beer Company), these little factoids should slake their thirst for knowledge. Of course the biggest news now is that global brewing giant Heineken is offering to buy APB with a $5.1 billion takeover offer.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
More yeasty blasts from the past with these heritage beer trays over the ages.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
The Tiger Den offers lots of merchandise for aficionados and collectors alike.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
I'm sure many of us would have seen a Tiger beer glass (or 3 or 10).

Tour of Tiger Brewery
Finally, the most important stop for the afternoon was the Tiger Tavern. Decked in warm hues of dark wood and leather, it brought back an old world charm.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
We were more than surprised by the generous buffet spread which awaited us that day. The food certainly filled our stomachs.

Tour of Tiger Brewery
My choice of beer that evening was an Erdinger, flanked by two glasses of cider ordered by my other colleagues. Cheers, Yam Seng and Kanpai!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Every Employee Should Be a Blogger


Source of image

Lately, I've been perplexed by a paradox in the world of social networks and online influence:

Why are so few Singaporean brands gaining traction on social media platforms despite the huge number of Singaporeans online?

The answer I suppose is that there aren't enough people doing the job. Relying solely on your executive team is like trying to put out a raging forest fire with a water pistol. Most Corporate Comms and PR departments are also highly stretched and may not have the answers to the burning questions of consumers and clients alike.

You can of course identify who your most ardent fans and advocates are, and to get them to help seed and spread positive messages about your organisation. Enrol their help to "balance the forces of good and evil", and incentivise them to share stories of how they love, cherish and adore your brand (till death us do part).

Unfortunately, even your most die-hard loyal customer isn't going to keep talking about your brand. Hey, he/she has got social commitments to keep, children to feed, a day (and sometimes night) job to worry about, and a life to live.

However, there is a huge opportunity that many companies here are missing. This incredible set of "assets" is present in each and every organisation.

Yes, I am talking about you, the board member/boss/employee of the organisation.

Think about it. If every staff in a company of say 500 employees are encouraged, engaged and empowered to blog, comment and post about your brands, you would instantly get 500 "fans" or "friends".

These are not just ordinary members of the public. On the contrary, they would become your chief brand advocates - the true believers of your organisation and its products and services.

Board members and CEOs would exert even more influence, in view of the strengths of their networks and their reputation. A corporate chieftain with an unparalleled following in the industry can wield tremendous influence on behalf of your organisation.

The question, however, is that very few organisations have done it successfully, if at all. Why is this so?

First, the culture of the company must be suited for internal brand advocacy. Replace the climate of fear with an atmosphere of trust. Build esprit de corps and camaraderie amongst every member of the corporate family. Conduct frequent formal and informal sharing sessions within the organisation, to keep everybody abreast of the latest developments.

Next, your internal advocates need to know what the guidelines are. How much can they reveal about your organisation and its brands? What are the OB markers for digital discourse and when should they consult your corporate gatekeepers (aka Corp Comms)?

Establish a "code of ethics" and behavioural guidelines to make it crystal clear what would be encouraged and supported, and what would be discouraged. Having said that, treat each "transgression" with a light touch as opposed to a heavy handed rap on the knuckles. Remember that our goal here is to nurture brand emissaries not discourage brand dialogue.

Training and equipping is next. Where possible, help staff and board members to understand how social media works. Develop a programme to encourage digital natives (who are probably the younger employees) to mentor their analogue counterparts on the rules of the electronic engagement.

(Yes, this could be as extreme as getting young officers to teach their bosses how to blog!)

Finally, you should encourage your staff/board members/head honcho to go out there and spread the word. Institute common reminders and words of encouragement to seed their conversations online (and offline) with mentions of your brands. Make it easy for them to do so by offering rich content: text, photos, videos, apps, and other formats that they can easily embed on their platforms.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Dealing with internal stakeholders can be one of the toughest jobs in the world. I should know!

However, doing so successfully could reap huge gains in online influence and brand advocacy. Through the multiplier effect of staff networks, every message/announcement/update would spread a lot faster and wider through these multiple streams of information.

Would such an idea work in Singapore? Why or why not?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Relive the Glorious Past at Singapore HeritageFest

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Join in the heritage party this July!

Celebrating its 9th year at 9 heartland malls, 2 satellite hubs and lots of other places, Singapore HeritageFest 2012 serves you a yummy spread of heritage goodies across the island. With the theme Recollect, Reflect and Reconnect, the National Heritage Board's annual extravaganza promises lots of activities that tug at the heartstrings while bringing back fond memories of yesteryear.

Indulge your lust for a blast from the past! From batik to dance to cinemas to traditional toys to food (we're Singaporeans after all), feast on the good old days at our heartlands. Embark on a heritage walk at Tiong Bahru, enjoy traditional Indian dance performances at Hougang Mall, learn the intricacies of Peranakan beadwork at 112 Katong, or go moist-eyed with nostalgia as legendary storyteller Lee Dai Soh shares his timeless craft.

Happening from now till 29 July, this year's festival also features 4 heritage trails and a heritage game. From Tiong Bahru to Joo Chiat to Woodlands and Sembawang, explore your neighbourhoods and learnt cool stuff that you've never known before. Relive the Kallang Roar at a football game like no other.

Thanks to invitations from my colleagues, I attended the official launch of the festival last Saturday at Velocity graced by MICA Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and emceed by Fly Entertainment CEO Irene Ang.  Catch a glimpse of the action through photographs here:

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Do you know that Irene Ang was a national fencer at the Pesta Sukan games? Don't pray pray OK!

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Minister Yaacob expounded on the importance of anchoring one's identity and heritage amidst global uncertainties.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
An energetic dance performance by these young dancers kicked off the event launch.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Chandra and Suhaimi entertained the crowd with their hilarious banter.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Even the audiences got into the act, with their version of the "Kallang Wave".

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
An Eurasian dance performed by these youngsters show that heritage is for all ages.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
I love the elaborate outfits and elegant dance moves performed by this young "newly wedded" Malay couple.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
I'm sure you all recognise Patricia Mok, who upped the celebrity comedian quotient at the launch.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
These twirling Chinese dancers were later joined by Pat Mok, who showed that she could dance!

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
After the launch, the VIPs toured the exhibits focused on the theme of sport.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
What better way to prepare for the upcoming London Olympic Games than to find out these facts about the Olympic movement.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Jot down your favourite sporting heroes through the ages. My two personal favourites are Tan Howe Liang, Singapore's only Olympic medalist and sprinter extraordinaire C Kunalan.

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
Water Polo guys always looked buff and hunky through the ages!

Launch of Singapore HeritageFest 2012
"When I grow up, I want to be a champion!"

For more details of the Singapore HeritageFest, check out this calendar of events. Escape from the bustle of modern day living and step back in time today!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Super Heroes of Singapore's Blogosphere

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Winners of the Singapore Blog Awards posing with GOH Minister Heng Swee Keat and VIPs from SPH

Donning "superhero" outfits and "larger than life" persona, bloggers of all stripes, shapes and styles congregated at the Singapore Flyer's Food Trail yesterday afternoon for some hot, sweaty fun at the 5th Singapore Blog Awards. Organised every year by the tireless team from Omy.sg, the ceremony has grown from year to year, attracting social media mavens and sponsors across an ever growing list of categories.

Like in previous years, I was privileged to be a judge helping to seive out the best from amongst the good. It ain't easy, I assure you! Competition is stiff and I am very heartened by the sheer effort and energy put in by the various contesting bloggers. In any case, congrats to all participants of the awards - you guys are all winners in your own ways!

As a blogger myself, I totally understand the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into the craft. Hours and hours of toil goes behind the shiny facade of blog awards, flashy photographs and creative videos.

Nobody is "just a blogger". We juggle multiple responsibilities - work, studies, family, friends, social activities, sleep, household chores. Often, there is a time and energy cost involved in each blog post published, video posted, or photograph uploaded.

But you know what, we bloggers love it. There is a certain adrenaline rush in publishing and printing stuff online. Perhaps that's why the "Superheroes" theme selected by Omy.sg this year is especially apt.

Anyway, enough of my self-absorbed rambling. Let's check out some highlights this year.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
"Mister, can you bring me home tonight...." (eerie voice)

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Strike a pose and pretend to be a comic book hero!

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Our programme booklet for the afternoon, starring both DC and Marvel superheroes. Would fanboys may flip over this "travesty"? :)

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Our energetic emcees for the afternoon. The lady in pink has a super "machine gun" mouth, announcing the long list of accolades in double quick fashion.


Winners of the Super Blogger awards - the shining beacons of bloggers in Singapore. Flanked by Chim Kang, Omy.sg's head honcho, they are (left to right): Eunice Khong, Catherine Ling, Peter Breitkreutz, Yong Wei, and Christine Ng.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a rousing speech to warm the hearts of the many bloggers and gave away the prizes to the award winners.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Kevin Soh, winner of the GMarket Best Online Shopping Blog award. If you need help to "monetise" your blog, Kevin would be the da man to approach.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Unfortunately, Panasonic Most Popular Local Celebrity Blog award winner Jeanette Aw couldn't be with us. Nonetheless, her moving image raised lots of cheer from fans.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Yi Wei, winner of the Domino's Best Food blog, shows that foodies can still cut a svelte figure.

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Talking about food, we ravished attendees tucked into local hawker fare like hokkien mee, carrot cake, mee siam, satay and bak kut teh.


As I was busy stuffing my face, they announced the winner of the Best Family Blog, Leonny of Our Everyday Things. It must be difficult to maintain a blog with 3 active kids like her! (image courtesy of Omy.sg)


The crowd favourite and most talked about winners must be Dr Jiajia and Big Bro. If you haven't checked out their singlish-accented-super-funny Youtube channel (with a staggering 4.15 million video views), you ought to do so. What's especially heartwarming is the fact that 7 year old Jin Sen is dyslexic. (image courtesy of Omy.sg

Singapore Blog Awards 2012
Finally, some shots of "real" superheroes. Unfortunately, I'm unable to identify the girl in green. Can anybody help me?

Congratulations once again to all winners and a special thanks to the hardworking team from Omy.sg for making this a possibility.