Sumegha Rao
Aug 24, 2023

Navigating Singapore’s strategic role for global brands

Location is vital when serving global brands from APAC, opines Sumegha Rao of WPP@Unilever Singapore.

Photo: Unsplash.
Photo: Unsplash.

People consider London and New York to be the nerve centres for global advertising. For global brands who want to win in Asia, a hub in Singapore is critical.

But leading a global brand is about more than location; Asia is home to almost 60% of the world’s population, and therefore, is home to the most consumers in the world. This makes it a number one priority for clients. Decision-making for the biggest global brands is largely ‘Asia-first’. As a result, fostering a better way of partnering with clients in Asia matterswe see it in annual appraisals, and we know this approach gets results.

Being co-located with clients—in the region—engenders greater understanding, trust and results in real day-in, day-out collaboration. We become a strategic extension of the client’s team and, in doing so, transform not only the client/agency relationship but also create lighthouse brands that drive commercial growth. We are also able to relay more cultural, category and consumer intelligence about how and why people react differently to global brands, market by market, and that one size never fits all in the region.

This approach results in a massive step-change in the work. The approach to briefs becomes holistic and rooted in strong local market data and rich cultural insights. We can ideate with a view to solving client problems in their entirety, for the region, and we can serve that client in APAC, for the APAC market, where there is strong economic growth and consumers expect to hear from brands—even global brands—locally.

APAC: Strong economies for brands

If you dig down into what is happening to the global economy and compare that to the regional economy, it is not hard to see why global brands are seeking to be served in APAC for their own market. APAC—as a region—is outperforming much of the rest of the world.

The Asian Development Bank’s July 2023 data predicts robust economic growth for the APAC region. Consumption and investment are forecast to boost aggregate regional growth to 4.8% in 2023, with the projection for 2024 expected to be 4.7%.

Headline inflation for the APAC region has eased and is moving in the direction of pre-pandemic averages as fuel and food prices come down. Of course, the region is not disconnected from other mature economies. Interest rates in the US and other advanced economies are likely to shape regional APAC growththat is only to be expected. But, for now, the indicators for APAC are looking good and the prospects for global—and local—brands pursuing the APAC market are good too.

APAC: In all its complexities

But let’s not get too carried away with economic indicators. APAC is a vast, diverse and dynamic region. That makes it challenging for global brands to crack. There are different cultures, religions and traditions. The region also boasts more languages than emojis on an average smartphone.

This is why brands would do well to refrain from viewing the region through a western lens, from a western location without the knowledge and experience of local customs, traditions, cultural savviness, market intuition, digital dynamics and with little understanding of political nuances, regulations or how consumers operate because of these.

This is also why brands must think global, act local. But ‘glocalisation’ is not about translation; it is about transcreation. Timeliness is the trick too. The APAC region is a patchwork of seasons, festivals and country-specific nuances that force brands to be fleet of foot and quick to adapt.

There is a lot for global brands to learn about how each country—within the region—functions, how its trade flows, how the local economy is evolving, and all this filters down in people’s lives and impacts how they live, work, what they buy and consume.

For example, in Indonesia e-commerce is a way of life that has made virtual shopping malls a craze, riding on the nation's smartphone obsession. India is a chaotic symphony of languages, cultures and cuisines so brands that resonate with the local ethos, create lasting connections. Japan and Korea have discerning tastes. These countries aren't just trend followers; they're trendsetters, making it critical for brands to match their aesthetic and quality standards.

In China, social currency is digital gold. As a result, brands that create experiences worth sharing reap social media riches. Cracking the code of Thai humour isn't just about making them laugh; it's about forging a genuine connection. Brands that embrace this effortlessly blend into the local culture, creating an unspoken camaraderie that transcends advertising.

Circling back to Singapore

So, why is Singapore a pivotal location from which brands can win in Asia? Singapore sits at the heart of multi-cultural Asia—it is a melting pot of global cultures, with a large and diverse diaspora of talent from across the region and the world, delivering an Asian lens to global brands.

It is in Singapore that global talent converges and acts on profound insights into Asian cultures. From Singapore, agencies and clients can harness a powerhouse of expertise and strategic prowess. And it is here that the insider perspective acts like a compass, skilfully steering global brands through the intricate maze of opportunities that pulse with exhilarating potential within the region.

Sumegha Rao spearheads cross-agency strategy for WPP@Unilever Singapore.

Campaign Asia

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