Making Singapore the hub for Asian branding and marketing

Multinational companies are keen to tailor products to suit Asian consumers, who are a growing market. The Economic Development Board has been nurturing talent in the consumer business and professional services sectors, helping these companies to brand and market their products. Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in them.

As the world's biggest brands reckon with the rise of the Asian consumer, one thing is clear: This massive buying force is not one that can be managed effectively from afar.

Economic Development Board (EDB) managing director Yeoh Keat Chuan explains: "Adapting products, brands and marketing messages from Western markets and selling them in Asia will no longer suffice.

"To capture a slice of the Asian market, consumer-centric companies need to understand the similarities and differences between Western and Asian consumers, and create or tailor their outreach accordingly."

The world's growing middle class is projected to hit 4.9 billion by 2030, with Asia accounting for 60 per cent of the segment's spending, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

To better tap that potential, the world's leading brands have been looking to establish Asian bases, many in Singapore.

Here, they enjoy not just sound business infrastructure but also strong support services, including research expertise, branding and marketing services.

Last year, FrieslandCampina, which is behind brands such as Friso, opened a development centre focusing on dairy-based beverages and infant nutrition products for Asians.

Unilever, which has made Singapore its global headquarters for brands that include Clear, LifeBuoy, Lux and Pond's, chose to work with Singapore-based agency Arcade, together with Lowe and Partners, for its Clear shampoo global campaign.

Last year, Unilever also opened Four Acres Singapore, an $80 million leadership training facility - the company's first global leadership development centre - which will train 900 leaders from around the world each year.

It will draw on Singapore institutions such as Insead and the Singapore Management University for insights into how Asians buy.

Singapore's strong digital marketing sector is also helping brands navigate cyber channels.

The Republic already handles the bulk of the region's digital marketing work. About 80 per cent of the work done by the 6,500 people in the growing communication sector also has regional scope.

Investment has gone into building that talent pool.

EDB has been collaborating with brands and local creative and digital agencies to nurture both entry-level and mid-career talent.

Two years ago, the WPP group, the world's second-largest advertising conglomerate, extended its fellowship programme to Asia.

It chose two candidates from Singapore to be part of its three-year elite management trainee programme.

With Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) Asia Pacific, EDB has implemented its Strategic Attachment and Training programme.

Called the BBH International Strategy Scholarship, it offers three places a year for attachments at both BBH Asia Pacific and BBH London.

"The growth of these industries presents opportunities for Singaporeans across different disciplines, from social sciences and business to science and engineering, to embark on exciting careers in developing new products and brands for the Asian consumer.

"We need to ensure that Singapore will continue to be the leading hub in Asia for consumer businesses to develop, manage and grow global brands," says Mr Yeoh.

This article was first published on May 19, 2014