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Engaging Singaporeans with your F&B brand requires a special three-pronged strategy, as Nada Young explains.
 
There’s no doubt that New Zealand companies create great food and beverage products. We’ve got access to excellent raw materials, fresh water and clean air. We have sophisticated technology and we’re innovative.  
 
For the gourmets among us, perusing Farmers' Markets and gourmet supermarkets like Nosh rates highly on the pleasure list. We make an easy connection between the quality of the products on offer and their delightful contribution to our lifestyle, and we have no problem parting with our cash to attain these delicious treats. 
In many ways, our purchase of daily staples like toothpaste and washing powder follow a similar pattern. We may think of ourselves as rational grocery shoppers – purchasing products based on their quality and price – but the truth is that our emotions are at play even with such mundane decisions as which brand of flour we pick off the shelf. Even when we are told that the product inside is exactly the same!
 
Our connection to particular brands is influenced by years of accumulated experience and manipulative marketing.
The same process occurs the world over and Singapore is no exception. The big difference is that many of the New Zealand brands we know and love simply do not resonate with Singaporeans. 
 
Singapore is considered the showcase market of Southeast Asia and it’s an important strategic market for any F&B exporter with their eyes on Asia. It’s commonly accepted by buyers across the region that if your product is doing well in Singapore, then it is likely to be successful elsewhere. 
However, with fierce competition from around the world, particularly from our cousins across the Tasman, Singapore is a fast paced, global market and it can be a brutal proving ground for New Zealand exporters. 
 
Finding a way to connect with Singaporean consumers in the same way that you connect with your New Zealand customer base is vital. Not only will it support your sales in Singapore, but the strength of your brand in this tiny island nation will have a positive ripple effect across the whole region. Think of Singapore as a giant F&B Expo that buyers from across Asia frequent to check out the latest and greatest international brands. 
 
Of course, the million-dollar question is how do you achieve this esoteric ‘connection’ with your consumers?
Singaporeans are city-slickers and they’re extremely busy; they’re workaholics. According to research complied by Groningen Growth and Development Centre and data published by the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), Singaporeans work some of the longest hours per week out of any developed country. On average, some 2,287 hours a year are spent grinding away at the office.
 
These city slickers don’t have time to browse the supermarket aisles, examining the merits of one product versus another. They’re in and out as fast as humanly possible. Convenience is also high on the priority list. With a mass of restaurants and street stalls, plus a supermarket in every neighbourhood, there’s a plethora of choice within easy reach. 
 
Penetrating this rich cosmos takes a concerted effort. Head consultant at Platform Public Relations, Adlena Wong, recommends the following three step strategy:
 
1. Take the ‘long-term engaging’, not the ‘short-term hard-selling’ approach.
If you want your products to be in Singapore for good, then your public relations, marketing and communications strategy should reflect that. With a new brand and product line, it is always wise to introduce yourself, as you would when you meet the acquaintance of a stranger. Start with storytelling the origins of your brand (the who, what, when and why you are here) in a refreshing, yet down-to-earth, manner; through platforms – strategically placed bus stop ads, in-store communication, editorials in commuter papers and of course, the social networks – that will garner the attention of the locals and drive them to the stores to purchase your product. 
When they are warmed up to what you stand for, the subsequent phases should focus on geo-targeted sampling (the audience will not know how good your products are until they try them) and keeping the ‘talk factor’ going on in the media through consistent engagement with journalists and tastemakers.
 
2. Don’t just chase the PR ROIs, create advocacy for your brand.
It is very tempting for clients to focus on how many pages of press coverage a PR agency can garner for them. That’s old thinking. Because Singaporeans are increasingly turning to peer-endorsed reviews for their next purchase decision, a PR blitz is usually not complete without the agency amplifying a campaign with a ‘brand-bassador’. 
 
A case in point: Soyato. This locally born and bred premium soy ice-cream brand does not look local at all. The brand – down to the packaging and taste – makes consumers think it’s from Japan. This bodes well for sales because Singaporeans won’t hesitate to make a beeline for anything Japanese as they know that anything made in Japan is of superior quality, taste, and is healthy. 
Soyato then selected up-and-coming personality, the amiable and good-looking OonShuAn (who makes regular appearances as a celebrity reviewer on Clicknetwork TV and played a lead role in a Jetstar TVC), as their ambassador. Now Singapore’s sold! The company has populated local media and has exporters and franchisors knocking on the founder’s doors mere months after Soyato’s launch.
 
3. Win over the ‘heartlanders’.
Singapore has an ageing population with most of its younger folk being too preoccupied with work to do much grocery shopping. As such, most of the decision makers who plough the aisles of the NTUCs and Cold Storage outlets (Singapore’s two biggest grocery retailers) tend to be the older generation; homemakers with grown-up children and retirees aged 45 and above interested in local ‘goss’ and which celebrity is the new face for their favourite detergent brand. Charming them over requires a more personalised approach – through small-group in-store product demos or specific media touchpoints like the Mandarin newspapers and television channels, and out-of-home ads on buses and in MRT stations.
(Source: www.platformpr.sg)
 

Nada Young is Asia market director at Incite, a New Zealand-owned export services firm connecting international F&B clients with the right partners in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Based permanently in Asia, Nada has extensive networks across the region and first-hand experience supporting clients to develop their brands in Southeast Asia. Email [email protected] or visit www.exportincite.com

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