I struggle slightly trying to define the Singapore brand. Clean and green? Efficient and safe? Hip and happening? Certainly, ‘Brand Singapore’ seems to be a lot more desirable these days. Singapore has been voted the top choice in Asia for expats, and also the best place in Asia to live, work and play, in a worldwide survey by Mercer. For an ordinary Singaporean like me, it seems as if in the short turn of the last decade, my country has suddenly become ‘cool’. Even my Malaysian friends who swore they would never live in sterile Singapore have swallowed their words and moved here.
But can the Singapore brand really be pinned down in a couple of words? And who holds the final word on our brand? Are we branding to appeal to an international audience, or is our brand an articulation of who we really are? I have a sneaking suspicion that how a foreigner views Singapore might be different from how we see it. To those visiting our F1 race or moving here for work, we may be about buzz, opportunity, east meets west. To us local folks, Singapore is home – familiar hawker centres, where things work, where neighbours don’t look like us but we get along, and where we revel in food and being kiasu almost in equal measure. The Cover Story in this issue looks at how the Singapore brand is evolving, and whether it is distinct from our identity, while Colin Goh shares his thoughts on nation branding in Thinking Aloud.
For me, Singapore stands for an immigrant nation that has, through sheer hard work and determination, overcome the odds to reach where we are. Our multicultural society is precious, so too the heritage our forefathers brought. Now that we’ve reached a state in our development where we are no longer struggling to establish ourselves, perhaps we can afford the luxury to sit back and ponder how we want to define ourselves in the next phase. Our brand is evolving. And beyond the glistening towers of Marina Bay Sands, or the slogans of business efficacy, I hope we will not lose our soul in marketing our country, or neglect the development of our character as a nation, because being compassionate, generous and peace-loving as a people are just as valuable to the Singapore brand.