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Branding a nation with passion

Singapore's latest tourism slogan will work only if our people embrace it in their daily lives

We may live in an increasingly globalised world, but when it comes to defining a nation competing for visitors and investment, it is important to stand out.

Here in Asia, we are all familiar with national branding campaigns such as "Amazing Thailand", "Wonderful Indonesia", "Malaysia Truly Asia", "Incredible India!" and, until recently, "Your Singapore".

Now we can add a new one to the mix for Singapore: Passion Made Possible.

In the quest for a more compelling value proposition, this campaign is Brand Singapore's latest move to win over hearts, minds and wallets.

Like all marketing campaigns, people tend to interpret it from personal experience and unique perceptions and the new slogan has certainly provoked much debate and discussion.

Developing brand strategy and positioning usually begins with an intense effort to understand consumer perception and define the core essence of the brand in question.

This is then distilled into a slogan or motto that aims to become a crisp, powerful expression and ultimately the signature of the brand.

A simple exercise to test the credibility of a brand slogan is to randomly ask a cross section of people: "What is the one word you would associate with (X)?"

Would "passion" be the most common answer when asked about Singapore? Perhaps not.

Typical responses in an informal survey of my MBA students at the NUS Business School included "successful", "efficient", "safe", "competitive" and "wealthy" - many reflecting on what Singapore has achieved through decades of hard work.

When we get excited over any new brand campaign, be it for a product or country, it takes years of consistent delivery and evidence for certain qualities to become associated with a brand.

Shifting consumer minds takes more than a simple rebranding exercise.

In developing a new brand position, another question one might ask Singaporeans is: "What is the one quality you would like visitors to associate with Singapore?"

Perhaps in the research by the Tourist Promotion Board, the majority of respondents called out "passion" and "possibilities" among the national qualities to which we aspire.

The decision on which unifying quality best embraces all that Brand Singapore wishes to be in the eyes and minds of visitors is not straightforward.

This is because the Singapore name has many manifestations which are highly visible to foreigners but which, locally, have receded into the background of our minds.

If we intend for "passion" to be associated with Singapore, "passion" must also resonate at the level of its "sub-brand" - firms such as Singapore Airlines, for example, as well as other businesses and organisations that are identified with the nation.

INTERACTION

With this in mind, Passion Made Possible as an essence of Singapore should also find consistent expressions through interaction with these sub-brands.

The Singapore brand has many touchpoints for visitors.

A strong Passion Made Possible campaign brings them here and an exciting itinerary allows each individual or group to experience Singapore's points of passion.

But for brands promising to offer "a unique experience", there is one important aspect of brand repositioning that is most challenging - the people.

For Passion Made Possible to work as a brand, Singaporeans must embrace it as a visible truth in our daily lives.

Passion springs from the heart through human emotion, so interaction with or simple observation of how Singaporeans connect with visitors and with one another becomes an inseparable part of establishing this brand persona.

Hence, the campaign should also cultivate a national movement of brand ambassadors who exude the manifestation of Passion Made Possible.

Mr Satya Nadella, who was appointed Microsoft CEO in 2014, successfully steered the company's brand mission from a vague "Be What's Next" to a business "that empowers every individual and organisation on the planet to achieve more".

He achieved this by transforming the culture and values of Microsoft and rallying its 100,000 employees behind the new mission.

He understands that authentic brand values start with employees who embrace and live out brand values.

Similarly, each Singaporean locally and around the world is in control of each interaction with foreign hosts or visitors.

What will be the defining impression and experience from Singapore's brand ambassadors in these moments of truth for the Singapore brand?

Chen Xueliang is an adjunct senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

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