The Singapore Brand
There has been much talk of Minister Chan Chun Sing’s suggestion that there should be a Singapore brand. I think it is a good idea. In fact we have been trying to embody something like it ourselves for quite a while now. Since we are a consultancy we cannot obtain a Certificate of Origin for our programmes – that applies only to actual goods. (Such discrimination against the written word is galling – but writers and artists are used to it.)
Over the last 50+ years Singapore has been driving up standards of both output and behaviour. A political system originally designed to build a magnificent, state-of-the-art city has largely succeeded in its first purpose. Its objective to maintain standards, keep ahead of the technological revolution and make life in the second decade of the 21st Century fulfilling and safe for its citizens is well under way. From many points of view those who live in Singapore are the best protected people in the world from the worst dangers of life.
SIngapore is not perfect. It does make mistakes from time to time. It now regards them as lessons; fifty years ago they were regarded as sins. Its executive and legislature are inevitably close in a community of only six million people. However, Singapore knows that transparency in matters of the court are key to its reputation as a fair and just society – an aspiration it has always had and which it has worked tirelessly to achieve. Free speech is closely guarded as a hallmark of the system but also as something worth defining sensibly in a communications-troubled world. The worst aspects of bad western behavior are avoided in Singapore as Nick Leeson discovered when he tried, in a bar, to exhibit his outstanding achievement – his bottom.
But what should a Singapore brand be? What should it guarantee? Are there specific goods and services that it should represent or should it be available to all who pass some test of competence and reliability? Who would certify a product or service to be eligible to use it? How would standards be checked? Asking customers for opinions is fraught with difficulties including the danger of disclosure of confidential information by bankers, lawyers, doctors and anyone who has personal data on their books. Self-certification, simple as it is, would invite scoundrels from throughout the world pirating the claim and that could be extremely damaging to the country’s reputation.
As someone who has lived in Singapore for over 40 years – almost all the second half of my life – I can say that the choice to do so was not taken lightly. Its appeal as home was not based on some sentimental or nostalgic recollections. There are few government handouts – citizens and permanent residents are rightly expected to stand on their own feet and pull their weight. Though it must be said that in the exceptional circumstance of the pandemic, the government use of money has been both wise and generous. I can sum up my admiration for, and happiness with SIngapore in two words: Common sense. Everything Singapore does, has a point.
If we have a Singapore brand it should of course embody the very best of good behaviour politically, socially, economically, commercially. A brand cannot separate these things and if one fails, the brand fails. So creating a brand will be a BOLD move, something Singapore recognises it can do more often. As a mature, cohesing move I can think of few better. As a symbol of both achievement and aspiration it should be a daily reminder to those who use it that the law never covers every eventuality and personal standards count more today than they have for the last century. “The strength of the ship is the service; the strength of the service, the ship” as Ronald Hopwood so wisely said in ‘The Laws of the Navy’.
Above all, SIngapore is never slow to proclaim its successes. It is rightly proud of them. A brand by definition is itself a proclamation of success. Branding Singapore successfully requires the skill of proclaiming some inevitable hype in a modest and humble way. Done properly, branding Singapore could be another useful step in its proclamation of independence to the world.
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If we do it, It needs to be a firm, modest and embracing branding.
I think I am entitled to say that…Singapore should be the Essence of Branding.