Staff Reporters
Jun 15, 2017

Q&A: Local versus global brands in Singapore

We asked four in-market experts for their take on the prospects for local versus global brands in Singapore.

Q&A: Local versus global brands in Singapore

We asked four in-market experts for their take on the prospects for local versus global brands in Singapore.


  • Annette Male, APAC CEO, DigitasLBi
  • David Haddad, managing director, IPG Mediabrands Singapore
  • Rowena Bhagchandani, CEO and co-founder, BLK-J
  • Nick Handel, CEO, McCann Worldgroup Singapore

How much growth opportunity is there still for global brands in Singapore?

David Haddad: We’re at the tip of the iceberg. There is currently a huge push behind the Singapore Government initiative - Smart Nation. Being a smart nation means that Singapore is super- connected and tech forward, and the government is encouraging the start-up mentality. Singapore is one of the most successful examples of a start-up in itself.

The opportunity is for global brands to consider Singapore as a capability hub and the gateway to the rest of Asia; test and learn and scale fast using the diverse talent of Singapore and close proximity to mega-markets in the region.

Annette Male: The opportunity has not been exhausted by far.  Most global brands have smartened up and no longer trying to force their global guidelines into the local markets but allow the brands to retain their values but give enough creative flexibility to ensure it caters to the local palate without compromising on quality.  There is also a noticeable trend of global brands acquiring local brands to aid growth.

Nick Handel: Singapore is a deeply pragmatic market. If you have a product that provides utility and has a reason to be, then absolutely there is opportunity in Singapore. However, many of the major categories are already densely populated…so it would take real innovation to stand out from the existing players at this stage.

How are local brands trying to take on big brands in this country and what are the key rules / best practices for those trying to do so?

Annette Male: Local FMCG brands still dominate in this region over global brands, where they cater to the local tastes. Where this has been done well is where local brands stays true to its uniqueness. Behave in a confident tone.  The growing use of performance media and social allows them to gain incremental reach and as a result view their competitors on a wider scale than ever before.

David Haddad: One example of a brand I really admire in Singapore is Toast Box. It has stayed true to the very local and culturally relevant nuance of Singaporean Kopi culture. It has managed to bring this culture forward into the present day, and in doing so, preserved an important element of Singapore’s history and culture. I think Toast Box rivals the experience of the global mega-brands operating in Singapore.

Rowena Bhagchandani: In the past few years, an increasing number of local brands have been playing the ‘we truly understand and love our local-ness’ card. But big global brands are also trying to play the same card. It’s really a question of degree, and the trick for local brands is to find fresh, meaningful and better ways of making their local-ness more compelling. A lot of local brands believe there are cheap, easy ways to achieving success that will put them on equal footing with big brands in this country. While technology has become a great leveller in many ways with regards to improving processes, increasing efficiency and reducing costs, incisive strategic thinking and creative artistry can’t be replicated so easily yet.

What can global brands learn from local brand marketing?

Nick Handel: Tactical responsiveness and risk taking. Local brands can often be more sensitive, more responsive to local opinion and more engaged with issues, current affairs and consumer feedback. The mandate for global brands is to be additive to local culture and to somehow make a contribution to it. While 65 percent of people think the best way for a brand to make the world a better place is by providing consistently good, high quality products and service, as many as 92 percent believe that it is important or extremely important that brands respect local culture.

Rowena Bhagchandani: Being fully comfortable in their own skin and playing to their unique strengths. Locals clearly don’t shun global brands for being global and it’s a well-documented fact that Singaporeans are very well-travelled: they are global citizens as much as they are proud of their local roots. Global brands in Singapore thus shouldn’t feel compelled to appear more local all the time and can afford to wear their international badges with much more pride.

Annette Male:  It seems really simple but make it relevant to your audience.  Be a global brand with a local flavour. Be present with your content where they are: mobile first with a deep understanding of social channels and performance media to drive reach and engagement.

David Haddad: Singapore is a start-up nation that has nailed it. Like all start-up success stories there are so many lessons to be learnt here, and it all starts with asking questions and listening. Look at, and listen to, what local brands are doing. Be open to learning. There are so many success stories in Singapore at different levels of society and business, so take the time to meet diverse groups and surround yourself with the company you can learn from.

Campaign Asia

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