We asked four in-market experts for their insights into Singapore's consumers.
- Rowena Bhagchandani, CEO and co-founder, BLK-J
- Tripti Lochan, CEO of VML SEA & India
- Wayne Arnold, Global CEO, MullenLowe Profero
- Nick Handel, CEO, McCann Worldgroup Singapore
What distinguishes the Singaporean consumer market from others? What are the most interesting trends in Singapore that make its consumer market unique in Asia?
Nick Handel: A series of paradoxes confound the stereotypical image of the city-state. On the one hand, it is an ultra-modern, garden city, filled with skyscrapers and built on an infrastructure which is the envy of the world. On the other hand, it is also a giant neighbourhood in which technology and social media is arguably helping to keep traditional cultures alive. Whereas local media might occasionally point to the apparent erosion of Singapore’s founding values, there is also a strong sense of national optimism, momentum and globality.
Tripti Lochan: Many make the mistake of painting Singaporean consumers with one broad stroke of modernity. Distinct cultures make up the Singaporean consumer market and make it a cohesive melting pot. Specific local tastes drive decision-making and preferences in Singapore. At the same time, there are aspects that unify all Singaporeans no matter what culture they belong to. ‘Kiasu’ - a peculiar Singaporean fear of missing out drives every decision they make, is a perfect example. If there is a trend, everyone has to be on it.
Rowena Bhagchandani: With strong digital connectivity, a well-connected flight hub, world-class hard and soft infrastructure, governmental openness to the world, high spending power and a tendency to travel frequently, consumers in Singapore are highly exposed to influences from around the region and from around the world; possibly slightly more so than consumers in many markets.
Because there are options aplenty, the country is small and its citizens are well-connected, small missteps from companies can be punished with multiplied severity whilst tiny wins can equally easily result in publicly-acclaimed victories for brands.
What are some of the cultural issues brands need to be aware of when marketing?
Wayne Arnold: Marketers still need to recognise that local is best in Southeast Asia. This provides unique challenges as economies of scale become a much bigger factor for brands trying to engage with increasingly tighter audience segments. Similarly, creatives need to get increasingly hands on, as technology means the execution is often more important than the idea itself. So creatives need to have a deep understanding of the media platforms their work will appear on. Sadly this is not always the case.
Tripti Lochan: Consumers in Singapore have very high expectations of brands to offer the best value. This is manifests in many ways, be it high quality or feature-rich products, best offers/deal, seamless customer or user experiences, etc. Singaporeans have become so accustomed to getting the best, that they wouldn’t think twice before switching to something else that they perceive to provide better value. They are also sensitive towards any setbacks that diminish their overall experience, and can be turned off by a brand easily.
Nick Handel: Despite its diverse ethnicities, religions and languages, Singapore has a strong identity and a clear value system. Being respectful of, and relevant to, local culture and nuances is therefore incredibly important, as Singaporeans can also be incredibly unforgiving to brands which step out of line. A survey by a US-based marketing technology firm found that 78 percent of Singaporeans will not patronise a brand after just one bad experience with it.
Rowena Bhagchandani: Singapore is a multi-cultural nation but with a dominant Confucian philosophy at play – work hard, be responsible for your family (both literally and figuratively; your community and countrymen) and honour well-established traditions and the social norms upon which society is structured. When marketing, the rules are simple: don’t disparage any of those principles and don’t disrespect those few commonalities that strongly bind this multi-cultural society together such as its food, language, or national symbols.
Is there anything advertisers need to avoid?
Rowena Bhagchandani: Common sense should prevail – when it comes to different segments in society, do unto others as you’d have done unto you. Also, don’t tread into political, racial or LGBT waters in an antagonistic way.
Wayne Arnold: Singapore is fundamentally a conservative culture, and the consensus generally likes it this way. So, if you’re a brand that likes to live on the edge, this might not be the market to test the boundaries. Conversely however, Singapore attracts amazing talent who want to push the envelope and so the paradox is that some of the most creative work comes from this market, but gets exported elsewhere in Asia. I don’t think this is recognised as much as it should be.
Tripti Lochan: Despite being a melting pot of cultures, most Singaporeans do not appreciate being lumped together and considered as the same as other countries. For example, the Chinese population in Singapore is vastly different from consumers in the China market. Despite being bilingual, many young Singaporean Chinese are more proficient with the English language, and relate less to Chinese traditions and cultures. Also, to fly in the face of the establishment is a big no for brands.