19 September 2020
What is good branding and why is it important?
Branding has been the determinant to influence and build affinity since the dawn of men. Good branding brings out the best in a person or company and inspires others to take action. It differentiates oneself in our competitive world and builds loyalty. It also ensures business efficiency and profitability. It is not only important, but crucial for every business. Aside from being able to deliver, no establishment has ever gained greater success without good branding – that is the reason why people choose to stay at a certain hotel, why a particular sports shoe is preferred or even why a given politician gets elected into office. The better the branding, the more powerful a brand becomes.
What are the highlights of your career?
The day-to-day running of branding agency Neighor is a great experience in itself and filled with plenty of stories. We are especially thrilled when our projects and clients succeed or even when we win accounts and accolades. Looking back, some of Neighbor’s highlights were:
We won the Silver Pencil award at the The One Show – the Oscars of design – in New York.
We won the Wooden Pencil for D&AD London – the Oscars for design and advertising excellence.
We were appointed the design consultant for the Prime Minister’s Office.
We became the brand consultant and custodian for Bay Hotels & Resorts’ new chain of hotels and resorts to be set up in Asia.
We celebrated our 20th year as Takashimaya’s appointed creative agency.
We won the appointment as Paragon’s creative agency; there were altogether 11 agencies considered for this appointment.
We did a successful rebrand of an already affluent Dream Medical Group from Korea to prepare its expansion to other Asian countries.
We were approached to brand a new chain of ultra-luxury resorts for an international hotel conglomerate.
We were named the Singapore Agency of the Year by APAC Insider recently.
When you set up Neighbor, did you think it would one day become inadequate in providing solutions to businesses today?
We thought we had all grounds covered since inception because our expertise covers the three major specialties of branding, advertising and design. Along the way, there were job requirements that far exceeded what an agency can do or times when there were surprising requests (like designing and installing airplane graphics); we simply do not know what kind of brief each new client brings to the table. We have recently set up a consortium of established specialists in their own right in answer to this, aptly named Compendium. In addition to branding agency, it comprises of accomplished architects, interior designers, material specialists, marketing, public relations & social strategists, IT experts, influencers etc. The objective is to readily address our world’s evolving and challenging requirements to achieve streamlined and integrated results. Case in point: a hotel conglomerate approached us to help them brand a new chain of ultra-luxury resorts and also to provide the whole plethora of services to ensure all that is required to executed effectively and to deliver results. In other words, the responsibility of new concepts, branding, production, business consultation, marketing and launch were placed squarely on our laps. Compendium answered that purpose with a cohesive strategy and comprehensive proposal that impressed the client.
Which brand do you think needs help?
It goes without saying all brands, no matter how successful, can and should always improve their brand development. Throughout my 30-year career, I have observed varied inadequacies or room for improvement for both small setups and MNCs. For example, what is next for a sports brand besides executing the same formula to success since decades ago? Or wouldn’t it be more inviting to devise an open concept for high-end jewellery stores and bid farewell to the dated enclosed layout in the name of exclusivity? Why can’t visual merchandising from one industry be applied in another for a refreshing experience? Why can’t certain car companies achieve a coherent brand voice? All factors play a part in the communications of the brand. Companies should be mindful that good can become great and great can become stellar.
I’ve also noticed how Korean cars are still on a journey to discover their brand identity and build a stronger brand loyalty. It doesn’t help that they entered the global market much later than their competitors. They started off by incorporating external specialists and local industries – but with mixed results. Developing a car brand is a comprehensive business.
Successful brands have put broken down the company’s DNA to formulate a brand map so that the brand voice can be heard. On top of product development, they build the brand identity and drive good marketing. The reward is a captivated target audience that understands what the brand stands for.
You’ve done work for quite a few hospitality clients – what do you think could be done to help them today, given Covid-19?
Neighbor serves a dual role as both brand consultant and the executor of creative strategies. To help our hospitality clients, the proposal can come in the form of 3 sections; past, present and future.
Past: the client has to consider what works well in the past that could still be implemented in these challenging times. Identify programmes that should have been developed prior to Covid-19 and review if they can commence now. Questions such as: if we had known beforehand a pandemic is imminent, what sort of preparation and business adjustments are needed.
Present: Other than some of these considerations mentioned, the client may examine other programmes that feed the bottomline if they do not wish to sit the pandemic out. A great example is Work From Hotel packages for those who prefer less family distraction during work hours. Another instance is hotel collaboration with the government as quarantine facilities. Basically, commercial application that can be implemented for a property with multiple rooms and facilities but yet without incurring logistic disruption and costs. The clients should also take this opportunity to review, consolidate and improve their business and brand development. Now is the time to build a stronger affinity with their audience and to draw commitment from travellers once the pandemic is over.
Future: nothing lasts forever, clients need to implement plans strategised during the present to emerge a stronger brand and better prepared for the next disruption.
What’s your favourite piece of work?
This is a tough one but here are some:
Works in our hall of fame are usually the ones that bring the greatest success to our clients.
Our series of branding advertisements for Paragon Shopping Centre has helped their click-through rate spike 300%.
Our design efforts for national events handled by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Rebranding Dream Medical Group is also a favourite because our brand proposal went against the client’s initial direction but it eventually paid off. It proved to be the right course and achieved brand vision and business objectives.
We took immense joy in branding a series of hotels and resorts especially since the client trusts us enough to give us carte blanche.
Traditionally handled by Japanese branding agencies, that Takashimaya’s 10th anniversary campaign was spearheaded by a Singapore agency like us is truly a first and garnered very positive feedback – even from competitors.
What sort of challenge interests or excites you and the team at branding agency Neighbor these days?
The annual Mid-Autumn Festival is a fairly important event for restaurants, hotels, bakeries and food brands. Each year, a great deal of of design work and marketing effort is employed to gain the biggest share of the pie in this multimillion-dollar event. We have done a fair amount of work for F&B clients such as restaurant identity, food photography style guide, art directing food stories and of course, creating Mid-Autumn campaigns. Our packaging design, advertising campaign and collateral designs for Singapore Airlines and Takashimaya are some examples. It would be interesting for us to handle from conception to production and we can potentially produce work that exceed expectation. The real challenge is to retain the heritage of the festival and bring forth new ideas and designs that would enrapture the audience in the sea of competition.
Do you secretly harbour ambitions beyond branding?
Definitely, creativity is limitless and it extends beyond applying them in our work. Our clients inspire us too. Occasionally, we would like to have a hand in designing our client’s products as well.
Other times, we would direct this energy to other areas that would hopefully make lives better or more interesting. One example done by our branding agency is Seat! (see above), a piece of furniture that’s essentially a bench we designed and fabricated meant for both people and pets.
The DailyTote is a double-sided tote with a hidden calendar.
Our creative energy also got us designing the LevelUp, an eco-friendly cardholder for office lifts that require security cards.
We also seek collaborations with others from time to time to come up with category-defying and avant-garde work.
What is your dream project?
We love radical projects that break the mould of convention and stretches our skill sets and beyond. Quite amazingly, our work experience has proven that when a client appoints and trusts us by giving us free rein, we – and they – succeed. There are times when we hope to contribute in a smaller capacity and secondary role as, say, an architect or interior design in branding projects involving buildings and spaces. It’s a great way to integrate branding and the building to realise a brand vision. The same could be said of us playing the role of an industrial designer in addition to branding: cars, watches, eyewear, furniture, accessories and more.