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Speech by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister, Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and Transport, at the Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2009

10 Dec 2009

Mr Lawrence Leow,
President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises;

Mr Robin Hu,
Senior Executive Vice President, Chinese Newspapers / Newspapers Services, Singapore Press Holdings Limited;

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen;

A very good evening to all of you.

1. We are all familiar with brands. Many of you here are experts on brand management and brand equity. For most needs, as consumers, we have plenty of choices. Yet for some, despite the choices, we prefer to stick to our favourites.

2. We are also familiar with what can and most likely will happen to brands during a recession. Most brands will survive, others will emerge and the most established brands may disappear. Let me share with you some thoughts on what I would regard as useful lessons from this downturn. As we all know, 2009 has been a momentous year for Singapore and the rest of the world. We faced a major global recession that has affected many governments and companies across the world.

Lesson 1: Good brands will stand the test of time

3. Take carbonated drinks as an example – the brands Coke and Pepsi have withstood the test of many economic cycles. Recessions have typically forced companies to change for the better, usually for pure survival reasons. Companies will examine their processes and brand positioning in a bid to at least maintain market share of a shrinking pie.

4. Recessions are also wake up calls for companies to examine what value their brands provide for consumers. Recessions also call into question consumption patterns and frequently lead to fast changing expectations.

5. Recessions almost always bring about pressures to reduce investment in brand management efforts. This is understandable as the assessment is that sales would be falling anyway. However, as many of the consultants would agree with me, the ability for brands to maintain consistency and a bond with consumers, is crucial to not frittering away years of hard-earned brand equity. In short, the resilience that recessions endow brands is therefore critical to their longevity. We may not have the likes of Coke or Pepsi but we certainly have our own promising brands that have been resilient through past crises. Many will be mentioned this evening.

Lesson 2: Branding applies to Governments too

6. Never has so much attention been paid to the plight of economies and the ability of the respective governments to respond quickly. From the onset of the crisis in late 2008, media reports have been furiously tracking and dissecting the different stimulus packages. As quickly as these packages have been announced, judgement has been passed about whether these packages are consistent with ongoing fiscal or economic policies, and whether they will be effective.

7. It can be seen that each country, or more specifically each government, has implicitly a brand to defend. At the country level, this brand can represent the value proposition it brings to a business and the values that are embraced by both the government and the local community. Many would regard our brand as Singapore Inc, which refer to our efficient and single-mindedness in public services, our pro-business focus, our adherence to the rule of law and stand against corruption, and our consistent approach towards dealing with new challenges or economic conditions. Consistent with this branding, the Government resolved to respond swiftly and decisively to the crisis. Working closely with the key business chambers, we quickly assembled a substantial Resilience Package to help ailing businesses and minimise job losses.

8. I am happy to add that many business owners have said that these policies that were implemented made a key difference in sustaining their businesses. In fact, some firms intend to increase hirings in order to prepare themselves for an anticipated recovery. I believe that Singapore's response to the crisis have further strengthened the Singapore brand. With the trust that our country has the ability to formulate sound policies quickly, and that companies here are able to ride through the storm, global investors would be more willing to invest in your companies.

Lesson 3: Ability to adapt is critical

9. The global economic landscape is changing rapidly. We need to develop strategies for Singapore to achieve sustained and inclusive growth in the new world.  The Economic Strategies Committee, announced by the Prime Minister in May 2009, has been tasked to review this.

10. I am co-chairing a Subcommittee that will look at how we can develop a vibrant SME sector and nurture globally competitive companies. While the Government aims to build a conducive and supportive enterprise ecosystem, companies, too, must continually evolve and upgrade themselves in order to seize new growth opportunities. Branding would be a key strategy to achieve this.

11. Towards this end, I am happy to see that our SMEs are seizing new growth opportunities by building their brands. The SME Development Survey 2009 conducted in 2Q09 by DP Information Group showed that more than half of SMEs actually see the economic downturn as an opportunity to grow and are planning to take on some expansionary actions, which include activities like brand building.

12. Indeed, I would like to encourage more SMEs to view branding as an investment rather than as a cost. Branding goes beyond advertising, promotion and packaging. As mentioned, branding shapes the company from the inside out. It builds the foundation of corporate culture upon which each and every employee lives and breathes the brand promise. It is a long term strategy that requires commitment from top management, regardless of whether the economy is booming or slowing down.

13. Branding is also a key factor for overseas business development. Where relevant, ride on your Singapore heritage, not just in form but in substance, so as to establish trust as early as possible.

14. We would like to see more Singapore brands emerge as global players and excel in the international arena. The recent APEC Leaders and Ministerial meetings held in Singapore have helped to open more doors to new markets for your products and services. Companies should also look at the upcoming Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games as a great opportunity to expand your brands overseas.

15. Companies should be aware of the wide range of government support for branding and design through SPRING and IE Singapore, for example the BrandPact programme, the industry branding programmes or GET SINGAPORE, which is a collective brand that acts as a focused marketing platform to showcase well designed, high quality Singapore brands both here and abroad.


16. I applaud the organisers ASME and Lianhe Zaobao for championing good brand building practices amongst the SMEs. In closing, I would like to congratulate the Winners for achieving this esteemed mark of success. Winning this Award will definitely serve as a springboard for your future growth endeavours.

17. Thank you and have a great evening ahead.