Ten days after the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix and about a month after the launch of Singapore Tourism Board (STB)’s new brand identity of Singapore – “Passion Made Possible” – assistant chief executive of the marketing group at STB, Lynette Pang, sat down with Marketing for a quick breather and a chat about her past year in the job. Hectic would clearly be an understatement when one hears of the list of events Pang has attended and has lined up for the future.
While the world was introduced to the new brand identity of the little red dot simultaneously across 15 markets, Pang walked us through the journey her team began as early as 2015, as part of STB’s marketing strategy, outlined all the way until 2020.
“One of the key anchors under the 2020 agenda was to tell a great Singapore story. Like our CEO Lionel Yeo says, ‘Humans have health checks, brands also need to have health checks’,” she says.
“While the easier thing would have been to just stick to the ‘YourSingapore’ tag line and simply change the campaign, we felt that we needed to re-look at how the whole Singapore story was told – which kicked off the extensive review.”
Borrowing a word from STB’s creative agency TBWA\, Pang says the tourism body needed to “disrupt” itself and rethink the category. She adds that “YourSingapore” was created at the cusp of technological change with the now popular sites such as Facebook and TripAdvisor only starting to really take off with consumers at that point. The tag line was very much consumer-focused, and Pang described it as “cutting-edge and reflective of that era”.
“It took a long time to recognise that we needed change and so with the revamp this time around, we wanted to go deep. If a tag line is created by ground-deep research and insight, the likelihood is it will stay longer,” she says.
The new tag line is aspirational of who we want to be. It is about the spirit rather than external factors describing the destination.
One key shift the team at STB wanted from this new tag line and campaign, created along with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), was a push for it to be “inside out”. Meaning, it had to resonate with the people at home first. As such, STB began the journey by speaking to internal stakeholders, travel stakeholders, and of course, everyday Singaporeans. Also added to the mix were consumers from key markets.
“EDB and STB asked what attributes these folks would use to describe us. And then, we found common themes that stood out on what we could stand for and formulated concepts for testing,” she says
“We tested two concepts and decided we needed to go for a shift because many stakeholders and Singaporeans felt that we needed a brand that was true to us and others could say ‘yes that’s us’.”
But, as with any brand launch and revamp in modern times, the advent of social media has made it easier for the naysayers to have their voices heard. When asked how she deals with those who weren’t the fondest of the new tag line, Pang says this is expected of any brand launch.
When probed further if there was a lack of understanding of the direction, she explains that there are always people who may not have been exposed to the whole myriad of content, video and ads created as part of the launch and have only read the tag line and made their decision.
“We expected fans and naysayers. All brand launches face the same challenges. Looking at the tag line alone is just a small percentage of how you tell a brand story. We’re working with Zenith to ensure the content reaches our target audience,” she says.
Asked how she takes the negativity in her stride, she jokes: “Of course we will sometimes throw ourselves a pity party. But one of the things people don’t see a lot of the time is the prep work that goes into launching a global brand.”
“We worked with Edelman and within STB internally as well to ensure it wasn’t just our marketing team who could talk about the brand, but every officer within the organisation across all our markets. When we felt fairly confident, we went out with it to the industry.”
Pang elaborates that before the launch, the team had an extensive table-top exercise where it worked through worst-case scenarios.
“You need to be prepared for the good and bad. Of course we get personally affected, but I tell the team they need to be prepared for the backlash because it comes with the territory,” she says. Pang added:
Whether or not you are a great marketer depends on how well you handle backlash.
Leveraging on the overall industry
Undoubtedly, Singapore has changed tremendously since “YourSingapore”. Once seen as a retail heaven, Singapore retailers now constantly struggle to draw in footfall. Once proud to call Singapore their home, global luxury brands are now trying to break new ground and penetrate new markets.
“If you think back to 10 years ago, certain experiences were only had in certain destinations. But now a lot of global brands are expanding and travel experiences are becoming ubiquitous. So many countries are probably facing the same challenge of telling that story which is unique to their destination.”
As such, being able to carve out a unique position for your destination is a challenge many marketers in this field face. Pang adds that given the options open to consumers in the active phase of searching, Singapore will certainly face difficulty if it aims to compete further into the purchase funnel.
“For us, we know that when it comes to competing further down in the purchase cycle on product and price, it is not going to be a way for us to win. That’s why we shifted our work to impact and influence consumers earlier in the cycle when they are not really thinking of travel yet,” she says.
But, of course, that also comes with its own set of challenges. Another way STB is looking to make the Singapore brand stand out on the global stage is by fostering relationships with unconventional players. Earlier this year, STB launched the marketing innovation programme (MIP) and as part of the programme, it set aside SG$1 million in funding to help brands with their campaign distribution costs.
Through the MIP, STB said it would help with the costs incurred in the amplification of brand campaigns, including media buy, production and event activation costs. STB will also look to crowdsource marketing ideas across all industries to boost awareness and storytelling efforts of marketing Singapore as a destination.
“It is important we don’t just do the marketing alone, but we also help the industry. When we have an extremely strong industry that aligns with us in terms of brand and marketing best practices, Singapore as a whole is a lot more powerful. The sum of the parts is larger than the whole – that’s what we want to aspire towards,” she says.
Unconventional partnerships are also something Pang thinks marketers should leverage upon both internally and externally. For example, the marketing group has worked hand-in-hand with the HR team internally at STB to launch the STB Marketing College, a marketing capabilities programme.
STB has handed global marketing and sales capability firm Brand Learning its three-year contract to build its marketing college. This college will equip the team across the world to deliver STB’s exciting and ambitious new marketing strategy. The marketing college was created to experience a pioneering and leading-edge learning programme, blending face-to-face and digital learning across priority marketing competencies.
When first launched, STB said the marketing college was vital to the execution of the STB marketing strategy and would be instrumental in conquering new frontiers. In the near future, the programme is also anticipated to be available for its broader industry partners.
“We have done, and will continue to, consciously disrupt ourselves and be innovative, agile and creative. It’s important to ask how we can help the industry,” she says.
Keeping to the theme of unconventionality, Pang’s personal career growth in the marketing space has also been somewhat colourful. Describing her job with STB as “eclectic”, she says her role before the current one was more in business development. However, working on the brand relaunch is somewhat of a full circle for Pang who first started her career in Saatchi & Saatchi as a suit under David Droga’s leadership.
“I started my career in Saatchi & Saatchi and my first client was Singapore Tourism Promotion Board (as we were then known) and I was working on the New Asia campaign and launching it regionally,” she recalls.
“I was very lucky to be at Saatchi during the golden days of advertising,” she said. After which, she moved onto the client-side, working with the established studio Warner Bros in the film distribution business.
“What I learnt back then with Warner is how the film industry tests consumer responses and tweaks films to make them consumer-centric. Contrary to what people think, putting together a film product to cater to different customer segments is a very scientific process.”
Pang then moved into the tech space joining Yahoo in its early days. And while she enjoyed her time with Yahoo, she still wanted to explore her first love – theatre.
“I felt very strongly that I did not want to hit 50 without working in theatre. I had to get it out of my system,” she says. She took on the role of general manager at Singapore Repertory Theatre where she had to look over payrolls and balance the books and learn more on theatre sponsorships.
“After four years there, I left and joined STB to help develop the entertainment industry,” she says. At the end of the day, she says all of these experiences ultimately taught her to listen and ask questions to consumers, stakeholders and intermediaries.
In today’s world, you need to listen and work with many people across many different groups to get things done.