, Singapore

What Singaporeans should know about brand values

By Graeme Somerville-Ryan

Singapore is a truly international city. The island state attracts businesses, shows, and events like few other cities on earth. From a marketing point of view, if you keep your eyes open, there is something new to learn every day. Social media, branding, sales gimmicks—it all happens here. Inspiration can come from the strangest places.

Having failed to secure myself a taste of a watch-makers corporate hospitality at this year's F1, I was secretly hoping that my patience and good behavior would be eventually rewarded.

And one cold, dreary Singapore afternoon an email arrived in my inbox asking for the pleasure of my company on a guided tour of an aircraft carrier.

And by keeping my eyes open, in one afternoon, I learnt more about branding and corporate values from the US Navy than I have from 12 months of twitter, LinkedIn and Chris Reed.

And here's why Singapore should take note.

Marketing...what's really the biggest show in town?

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group just so happened to be coming to town. An aircraft carrier, a destroyer, cruisers, and apparently a submarine (I had a look, but couldn’t see it) - a fleet equivalent in size to the World's seventh largest navy - popped into Singapore for a brief layover. The scale of this visit: over 7,000 sailors with over US$30b in equipment.

In terms of a visiting carnival of technology, really only the F1 could compete with the toys on show, and possibly the budgets. It is fair to say I was pretty pleased to be invited on-board.

If the F1 brand is all about the glamour, the noise, the speed, the Tag Heuers, the Mumms, the Omegas, the Rolexes, the consumption, and the spending...what is the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON's 'pitch'? We marketing folk are always looking to steal ideas from somewhere, so I wondered what I could learn from the US Navy. Grey hulls are in this year?

Brand is being seen, but selling is through engagement

A brand is more than a poster or a logo. A brand is a promise. A successful brand engages with people and creates brand 'zealots' (Apple anyone?).

An Omega watch promises to tell the time...precisely. Mumm Champagne promises to make you look better to the opposite sex (as long as they are also drinking). Tag Heuer promises your wife will leave you for Jenson Button. If you’re lucky you might get the watch as compensation.

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON’s promise is simple—people will know who your friends are, and that they are supporting you in numbers. The Strike Group is essentially the world's largest and most effective billboard, with messages both subliminal and far less subtle.

As an added bonus, depending on whose side you are on, they can do far more than just sit around and look pretty. Getting a guided tour was akin to being given a product demonstration.

Showing people your products and developing consumer trust are some of the most effective marketing tools a company (or country) can use.

The Australians, in one particular marketing campaign, gave some poor sucker a one-way ticket to an Aussie beach for a year. The US Navy is, ironically, far more subtle. Getting invited onboard was just the first step.

The Navy then showed extraordinary trust in their visitors, allowing us to wander around the hangar bay, the flight deck, and the ship's bridge–taking pictures at will–all seemingly without limitation. It was like being in a candy store. And it was the best PR effort I have seen in a very long time.

And what can a slightly awe-struck marketer take away from this?

If you believe in your business, the more you can engage with people and show them how it all works the better. If you are in retail or hospitality, getting people into the shop is the goal. Once they are in, staff need to then connect with each customer.

Engagement is critical to the overall customer experience. If the US Navy didn’t get angry with me when I banged my head on an F/A-18, why did the Omega sales person look grumpy when I asked to see a fourth watch?

What are your brand values, and do you really believe?

What really stood out on my visit to the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON was not the steel. It was the people. Every sailor I met was a true brand ambassador. The 'tour guides' did not begrudge the fact they were letting foreign nationals onto their vessel, inviting strangers into their home, or being denied shore leave.

Lacking tour-guide 101 qualifications the sailor/tour guides were still personable, hospitable (as only Americans can be), polite, and seemingly pleased to be talking to you. In corporate speak, they were all living the Navy's brand values.

Brand values: Those wonderful, magical, mystical values all marketing teams sell to senior management. While my visit on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON was great fun, the single most important lesson I learnt was all about brand values, and the impact these can have on the impressions you leave with others.

What your business can learn from an enlisted sailor

While corporate values are espoused evangelically by management, I have rarely heard them repeated by the people who do the hard work. The people on the shop floors, the cooks, the cleaners, the junior staff putting in the long hours on the boring jobs, the middle management—few employees care enough to live by brand values.

And yet, when I managed to get lost - after disembarking from the ship - two young sailors made it their business to ensure I got back to the right place and was looked after, without incentive or the promise of reward. It cost them personal time on shore, but their brand, in this case the values of the Navy, meant my interests as a visitor were put first.

It is worth asking: “How far would my staff go to provide an experience that a customer will remember?” Even if the extra effort needed would not come with a reward? The answer to that question indicates what your employees think of your brand—and what they think of your brand directly impacts the impression they leave with your clients.

And good impressions are made by both small and large gestures.

But…I am still holding out hope for an invite to the 2014 F1 from Tag or Omega.

Note: The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group is now playing an important role in the Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.

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