The pandemic has left the world in catastrophic ruins, but through all of that, Singapore has managed to stay above water partly because of its ability to quickly and assuredly shape a collective national narrative.
In fact, its strict and clear policies around the management of the pandemic and its ensuing vaccination programme even earned Singapore a spot in Bloomberg’s list of ‘best places to be during Covid’. This has managed to cultivate a spirit of togetherness in battling the pandemic—a spirit that is perhaps also cloaked in nationalism.
This generally positive outlook has undoubtedly improved the fate of local brands, as more Singaporeans turn to homegrown labels. According to a study by McCann Worldgroup, 44% of respondents in Singapore said it was ‘my duty to support local economy’ compared to the APAC average of 38% and the global average of 25%. This indicated that the pandemic increased a love of local in Singapore.
Richard McCabe, chief strategy officer, APAC, McCann Worldgroup, said that consumers in Singapore expect brands to play a positive role during this time, and to step up during difficult times.
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This correlates with the excellent performance of Singapore Airlines in the last year despite Singaporeans not having travelled in a long time. The brand came up third when we asked Singaporeans to name the strongest local brands as part of our Asia's Top 1000 Brands survey. In addition, it rose seven spots to 15th in our list of Singapore's top 100 brands, where its competition includes alll brands, not just local ones.
The airlines developed community-driven initiatives including celebrating and rewarding frontliners with its Miles of Good programme; deploying cabin crew to apply their professional skills as care ambassadors in hospitals while flights were grounded; and launching Singapore Airlines Academy, a new arm that offers training programmes across service, operational excellence, and digital transformation to upskill external businesses and organisations.
Belynda Sim, head of cultural intelligence and strategy director at TBWA Singapore, said that the airline managed to find relevant ways to trigger and sustain conversations by reminding Singaporeans of travel moments they miss, but also using its power as a national brand to bring communities together.
The airline’s online store KrisShop also revamped from an airline sales catalogue to an omnichannel lifestyle e-commerce platform, which led to a 121% increase in year-on-year sales to cushion the loss of travel retail. While not all initiatives were received well, it cannot be denied that Singapore Airlines stirs pride among citizens and is likely to remain top-of-mind when travel restrictions ease.
Jacob Wright, chief strategy officer, BBH Singapore, said that brand strength isn't necessarily connected to sales. For example, Ferrari has an incredibly strong brand presence, but most people will never own one.
“In fact, scarcity and inaccessibility usually make something more desirable, human nature being what it is,” said Wright. “With the restrictions on travel, people are yearning for it more than ever—it's the number one thing they want to do when this is all over. So brands with a strong and iconic connection to travel will perform well as people dream about where they will go and what they will do.”
Making a grab for it
Grab may have started as a ride-hailing app, but has mushroomed to what is now one of the most prolific startups in Southeast Asia—and has made a timely debut in the list of Singapore’s strongest local brands this year.
Whether it’s the US IPO that elevated its valuation to US$39.6 billion, or founder Anthony Tan’s family purchasing a bungalow worth US$29 million, Grab is a constant and inevitable feature in the Singapore news and business landscape. And despite being founded in Malaysia, there’s a prideful attachment to the brand in Singapore.
This can be attributed to Singaporeans being attracted to brands that continually innovate. According to the aforementioned McCann study, 58% of people in Singapore believe that the crisis will inspire new innovations, compared to 36% globally.
“Action, innovation and creativity are clearly key to Singaporean consumers, and [both Grab and Singapore Airlines] were seen to flex and innovate in supporting people,” said McCabe.
Of course, it didn’t hurt Grab that dining restrictions meant that ordering takeaway meals became synonymous to pandemic life in Singapore—and contributed to the company generating a cool US$12.5 billion in revenue in 2020.