Analysis: Will the SG brand mark provide a shot in the arm for local brands?

Singapore will be introducing a local brand mark for local consumer lifestyle products from November this year. According to the minister for trade and industry, Chan Chun Sing, the Singapore brand mark will be for local consumer lifestyle produces, starting with products related to food and beverage, fashion and accessories, beauty and wellness, as well as homeware and decor. Chan added that more details will be shared in due course. 

In a Facebook post, Chan said as Singapore charts its path in the COVID-19 world, the issue of food security and resilience will provide both challenges and opportunities. "I am confident that we have the right conditions to position Singapore as a quality regional food hub and we will continue to help our companies and workers build the capabilities they require so that our food manufacturing sector can continue to fly the Singapore flag high on the global stage," he added.  Additionally, Chan said the assurance of standards and quality have been an important way in which local products compete globally. Therefore, he deemed it important to deepen the trust premium of Singaporean food products, amplify local brands, and build stronger resonance with consumers.

The move to create a Singapore brand mark is seemingly not surprising, given the prominent support for local brands in Southeast Asia. According to a study done by Nielsen in 2017, consumer preference for local brands was found to be prevalent in Southeast Asia (50%) in the biscuits/chips/snacks/cookies category. It was also found that Southeast Asian consumers showed "stronger affinity" for local instant noodle brands compared to the global average (39% vs 21%). 

Branding players in the industry also approve of the move. Speaking to Marketing, Luke Lim, CEO of Louken Group, said it is a "logical move" for the government to leverage on Singapore's reputation as an advance, clean, green, quality focus, “melting pot of culture” nation, to build a mark that is symbolic to these associated words. With the brand mark, Lim said it will aid in brand recall for consumers and bring up the trust factor to products that have that mark on it. "Assuming that this mark is marketed well to create that brand equity, it will definitely bring benefits to Singapore products [on a regional level]," he added. 

Agreeing with Lim is Ambrish Chaudhry, managing strategy director, Singapore at Superunion, who said the idea of a Singapore brand mark is a strong move, in principle. As a response to the COVID-19 situations, consumers are now keener to support local manufacturers and businesses. Hence a label that shows consumers are supporting local businesses by purchasing the product will add heft to it, Chaudhry explained. Such initiatives have been implemented in Australia and Britain in the past and have garnered quite positive results, he added.

Furthermore, Chaudhry foresees that a “Made in Singapore” brand mark will go far in assuaging consumers in new markets that the product is trustworthy. “Singapore stands for many great qualities regionally and globally. Since the fundamental rule of branding is that trust allows you to charge a premium, kudos to the government for thinking of this [initiative] and I look forward to the roll out,” he added.

The move to implement a Singapore brand mark is also "a timely move", according to Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer at Bonsey Design. "Promotion of local goods under the 'Passion made Possible' banner will also imbue them with established ‘Brand Singapore’ values such as quality, safety and ethicality, all of which are valued by domestic and international audiences now more than ever," he added.

Hitchmough said the quality and availability of Singapore’s home-grown produce has been under-supported to date compared to other regional markets such as Thailand with its highly developed tourism status and Thailand Trust Mark. This is partly a reflection of Singapore's focus being predominantly on other sectors such as finance and biotech and partly the slow development of local products. "But the last few years has seen significant leaps in the range and quality of Singaporean produce in the food sector," he added. Thus the implementation of the Singapore brand mark, on the face of it, is a smart and necessary move. It also fits in with what seems to be an ongoing policy of linking different sectors more strongly with the momentum achieved by Singapore’s "Passion Made Possible" destination brand positioning.

Meanwhile, Wong Mei Wai, founder, CEO and chief change catalyst of brand change consultancy APAC Global Advisory, is of the view that the Singapore brand mark is a “move in the right direction” when it comes to cultivating, nurturing and growing local brands, given the general lack of realisation of the importance of [local] brands.

“Having been the previous brand custodian of iconic Singapore brands including brands like Tiger Beer, F&N and Aspial's jewellery brands, I have often observed with a level of concern of the sale of some of the iconic brands like Tiger Beer- which are no longer Singaporean owned. Further exacerbating my concern is the seemingly small number of local brands that are ready to take their place,” Wong elaborated.

However Wong also cautioned that this implementation of brand mark seem to be a short-term solution. “What we appear to be doing now is to give our local brand equity a ‘shot in the arm’, due to the pandemic and a need to support brands in this environment, through ‘injecting’ deserving local brands with the Singapore brand equity,” she said.

"The implementation of the Singapore brand mark needs to be curated so that 'sticking' the mark on, for example, packaging carries meaning beyond the optics - only then can we properly claim to have started that journey to significance for 'Made in Singapore', 'Validated by Singapore' or 'Approved by Singapore', leveraging in what we are known for (such as trust and assurance)."
 

Competing on a global level  

While the Singapore brand mark seems to be a good idea, it eventually has to stand the test against international brands. “Ultimately, Singapore brands have to still go through the fundamentals to achieve its status to play on the regional or global stage,” Wong said, adding that brands have to be able to understand and meet global consumer insights and needs through innovation. Additionally, Singapore brands themselves will need to build their branding fundamentals. Until this happens, the Singapore brand mark can only act as a "door opener". To take on the regional/global stage, brands have to concurrently be built to be able to compete with the strong competition in complex environment outside home.

Wong added that the marketing or brand change strategies of Singapore brands will need to be holistic and taking into consideration the industry, markets, category and competition as well as their own capabilities and competencies to deliver this at a world stage

Hence, while the Singapore brand  mark is supported by an ecosystem that leverages on attributes like quality, efficiency, trust and (perhaps even) technology, Singapore needs to adopt a "holistic approach"  that supports both the "outside" and "inside" of the brand. The marketing and brand change strategies will also need to be take into consideration the industry, markets, category and competition as well as brands’ own capabilities and competencies to deliver this at a world stage.

Adding on to the conversation, Louken Group’s Lim also said Singapore can look to focus on qualities that are symbolic to Singapore when marketing the brand on a global stage. This would elevate the brand mark and make it stand out on a global platform. 

Besides working on the branding on an international level, having local support is also paramount. "If this initiative is to really make a difference, then it needs to be fully supported in the retail environment with local produce being given special attention and promotion," Hitchmough said, adding that pricing needs to be reviewed as well, as much local produce is not only of high quality, but high price too.

"Steps could be taken to make it more accessible and incentivise ‘buying local’. If we expect international markets to buy into this push, then it certainly needs to be given every chance to succeed with our own consumers," he said.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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