Views

Brand Singapore gets unique boost

Tourism concept resonates with foreigners while appointment of female Muslim president evokes progressive vibe

Brand Singapore has moved into a new era with two recent major developments - the launch of the best country brand concept and having a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman as president.

The new brand concept launched in August by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Economic Development Board has many facets beyond its tagline "passion made possible". I believe it is the most engaging and inclusive way of presenting the country so far.

Initially, social and mainstream media reactions, mainly to the slogan alone, suggested that some Singaporeans did not "get it". But what matters more is how "passion made possible" has resonated much better with outsiders.

A set of online video interviews show that foreigners find the new brand concept "perfectly apt" and can see how it references the opportunities for personal advancement that are available and realisable here.

The concept's best attribute is its authenticity - how, instead of using commercial actors, it profiles real people and how their passions are made possible in Singapore's conducive and nurturing environment.

These citizen brand ambassadors range from a Michelin-starred chef to a teenage champion indoor skydiver. They reflect the shift in brand focus "from place to person" - from what you can do in Singapore to what you can be.

Tourists and anyone else looking to visit or relocate to Singapore can also identify with the passion of, say, a nature guide or a traditional opera dancer.

To some vicarious extent, foreigners will know that in the Lion City, they can pursue their own passion of bird-watching or seeking culturally-rich experiences on their travels.

"Passion made possible" has been launched in 13 of STB's 15 top markets internationally so far. The concept's other attractive aspect is its approach of collaborating with, and thereby also promoting alongside, foreign brand ambassadors. This is something unusual in the branding industry.

For example, the launch in Britain was held with London Cocktail Week last month, where two British authors launched their book about great cocktail bars around the world, devoting four pages to Singapore's liquid enticements.

In Japan, the friendship between a famous Japanese actor and a Singaporean designer was shared in a YouTube video, as part of a Singapore design showcase exhibited in Tokyo.

SIGNIFICANT SHIFT

The other significant shift for Brand Singapore is, in some ways, even more visible. The walkover election in September of President Halimah Yacob drew considerable concern among Singaporeans over its process. But having her as head of state is already having, and will continue to have, tremendous impact on how people around the world perceive Singapore.

In addition to gender and religion, observers are taking note of the President's own ethnic minority status and humble socio-economic beginnings.

Regional reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, as expressed in this statement by a Malaysian politician, that Singapore's new President is "an iconic image that emphasises harmony and stability... as the world is still struggling with regressive issues regarding women and Islamophobia".

Clearly, the power of the presidency as a symbol and role model for multiculturalism - and, more contentiously, also for meritocracy - was appreciated and intended, as captured in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the swearing-in, that the new President represents "who we are and what we want to be".

The irony here is that the "fine city" of rules and regulations is, in some ways, more welcoming and flexible than many other nations in some areas of the flow of goods and services, people and ideas.

Among the selfie-hunting crowds that rush forward at all the new President's public appearances will be young Singaporeans who, growing up with an authority figure like her, must surely be positively influenced - at least in some way, and if only sub-consciously - in their own sense of multiculturalism.

This connects with the new brand concept's aim to showcase the attributes of the typical Singaporean's earnestness, energy and enterprising spirit. When it comes to branding, coherence is always useful. And here is an unintended aspect of symbolic symmetry: Singapore's new President - once an ordinary woman; now head of state - is herself an emblem of passion made possible.

The writer - author of the book 
Brand Singapore: Nation Branding After Lee Kuan Yew, In A Divisive World - 
is the keynote speaker of the City Nation Place global forum in London this week. This article was published in 
The Business Times yesterday.

TourismHalimah YacobBusiness