Skift Take

Singapore is developing more strategic storytelling, more digital content, and more experiential marketing campaigns to show that the city-state has a dynamic and creative personality.

Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travelhospitality, and destinations, Skift has launched a new series, this time focused on Chief Marketing Officers.


To better understand the big marketing challenges facing travel brands in an age when consumers are in control, Skift’s What Keeps CMOs Up at Night will talk with the leading voices in global marketing from across all the industry’s sectors.

These interviews with leaders of hotels, airlines, tourism boards, digital players, agents, tour operators and more will explore both shared and unique challenges they are facing, where they get insights, and how they best leverage digital insights to make smarter decisions.

This is the latest interview in the series.

The Singapore Tourism Board has spent the last few years emphasizing the cultural and creative aspects of the destination to add a new layer to the overall brand story.

Central to that goal, the completely reworked website relaunched in September 2014, which to date has driven six times more clicks to the tourism bureau’s partners.

Coinciding with that last year, Singapore’s most innovative creative talents came together to produce the Singapore: Inside Out project, which we covered last year. The huge pop-up installation welcomed 70,000 visitors in New York, London, Beijing, and Singapore, signaling a new focus on experiential marketing for the bureau.

Lynette Pang, assistant chief executive at Singapore Tourism Board, told us that her office is focusing more on video production, real-time storytelling, user-generated content, and data analytics.

The more digital delivery and data-driven strategy is an effort to rebound international visitation that dipped 3% in 2014 and 1% in 2015. Those drops are attributed to the slowing Chinese economy, significant drop-offs in gambling throughout Southeast Asia, and weak euro.

Following is a slightly edited conversation with Pang. She explains the challenges and successes of marketing a diverse destination with a single voice told by three different sources: the tourism board, destination partners, and consumers.

Skift: What are the biggest trends in digital marketing heading into 2016?

Lynette Pang: In 2015 you saw a lot of brands really going to content marketing with a very, very big focus on video as the language and the medium for entertaining. A lot of our work was video-led and entertainment-led with a mobile search approach. We really looked into creating snack-sized entertainment targeted at the small screen, such as our music video for the Philippines market, which turned out to be a very big surprise.

When we were brainstorming for the big idea for a campaign for the Philippines, based on our insight and our research, we knew that music was an area that Filipinos felt very passionately about, and that they follow intently. With this insight we did a bit more research on what are the top bands, what are some of the rising bands, what are the indie bands. So we decided on working with an indie band with a huge social following to develop a marketing campaign song. We kind of knew launching the campaign that we would have good engagement among the fans, but what we did not expect was to get a radio hit out of our campaign song. That was quite funny. We had a radio hit.

Also, 2015 ended on a very exciting note for marketers around the world with the retailing of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. At the beginning of last year it was really expensive to get the gear, but now the Samsung Gear VR is about $99 in the U.S. I think that’s really going to be an amazing tool for marketers to immerse consumers in the travel experience.

Lastly, of course, everybody is talking about data and real-time marketing. I think it’s really about relevancy in engaging consumers. Data can help brands to be more personal, more targeted. We’re seeing big brands, not in the travel category, but let’s say a brand like MasterCard with their Priceless Engine. I think they’ve really demonstrated how they put together real-time marketing and a very data-driven marketing approach. For Singapore Tourism Board, what we hope to do this year is really develop a couple of pilots around big data and real-time marketing.

Skift: Looking at 2016, what keeps you up at night? What do you see as some of the greatest challenges for marketers in tourism today?

Pang: For Singapore, 2015 was a bittersweet year. It was the year of our Golden Jubilee. It was a year of celebration for our 50th birthday. At the same time, while there were a lot of celebrations and great events and great product roll-outs in Singapore, it was challenging from the perspective of the global economic outlook from our source markets. Coupled with currency fluctuations, it was a bit challenging for us to deliver our results.

Given that economic background, the challenge for us as marketers was how do we make the destination compelling? How do we tell a compelling destination story and communicate value. I think that really was our big marketing challenge last year, from a very macro perspective.

Skift: With those challenges in mind, are there any ways that you’re adjusting your strategy heading into 2016?

Pang: There are three cornerstones to our strategy. Simply put, it’s about telling a great Singapore story. The second pillar is really about fans, targeting the right fans. The third strategy, really, is around ensuring effective delivery.

Around storytelling, obviously it’s going to be about our brand. How do we communicate our brand? How do we tell our brand story authentically with meaning to inspire, to elicit emotion. Two, about fans, that’s really about our market portfolio mix and our segmentation strategy. Third, on delivery, it’s really about efficiency in selecting the right platforms, about thinking digital and data-driven. That’s really the cornerstone of our marketing strategy for Singapore. We will continue with that.

Skift: Building on that, what exactly is the story of Singapore in 2016?

Pang: For many destination marketers, the challenge is always this. For a travel destination that is as diverse as Singapore, how do we stay very singular in communicating the benefits that Singapore will bring to the visitor, and at the same time communicate the diverse richness and depth of the destination? That is extremely important. We’ve had a slightly different approach in 2015 apart from the traditional marketing work that I’ve talked about in the area of digital and our integrated marketing campaign. We’ve also invested more in experiential marketing, specifically in the area of leisure and culture.

One of the big ideas that we developed and executed last year was a project called “Singapore: Inside Out,” which is really experiential marketing. We brought Singapore and their creative talents to three major cities around the world: New York, Beijing, and London, where we encouraged people off the streets to come in and taste, smell, and see for themselves all that is Singapore.

It was a very different kind of Singapore that we were portraying in Singapore: Inside Out. We were showing Singapore through the eyes of Singapore creative talent. We had a pop-up in New York. We had a pop-up in Beijing, and we had a pop-up in London. I’m very pleased to say that we had close to 70,000 visitors across the three cities and Singapore. That was really about the leisure experience of Singapore, the creativity of Singapore.

Skift: How does the Singapore Tourism Board measure the success of that type of experiential marketing?

Pang: With pop-ups and projects, you always look at a couple of measurements. One, of course, would be the number of visitors. Two, it’s really about the number of stories, the tonality, the international media value. And the more qualitative part would be the key opinion leaders who attend the events and the advocacy they spread on their own social networks. We had a mix of measurements. For example, in terms of visitors, we had about 70,000 visitors across four cities. We had close to about 300 Singaporean creative talent involved, and we earned 460 stories.

Skift: That was very expensive to put together. Do your stakeholders feel that it was worth it?

Pang: If you ask many of the stakeholders who participated in the project, I think the feedback we got was that it was a refreshing take on how we positioned Singapore to the world, to let the world view Singapore in a very different light. That’s important because as destinations become more and more similar, we really need to go out to tell the authentic story and the local talent story.

Skift: That shift toward promoting Singapore’s creative talent has been evident throughout the YourSingapore website since it relaunched in September 2014. How successfully has the site helped shift perception around the new brand positioning?

Pang: That was really a 360-degree shift that we had to make on so many accounts. Our old portal had a lot of facts, a lot of information, a lot of listings. What we wanted to shift to was more of a storytelling approach. We worked out a concept of three different voices: the brand voice, which is the Singapore Tourism voice, the voice of consumers, and the voice of influencers. What that really means is that there will be articles commissioned and written by the Singapore Tourism Board. We also work with a range of global and local publishers and writers and partners, from CNN to Time Out, and we integrate consumer voices from TripAdvisor to really develop a lively and rich portal.

I am very happy to say we received very positive consumer feedback on the quality of the content. From our surveys, 76% found the site design appealing, and 67% felt that they were inspired to visit Singapore. That was really important to us because one of the key things about the rich storytelling was to actually inspire, to trigger curiosity about the destination. Visitor engagement went up more than 12 times since the launch, and we have driven six times more clicks to our partners. Storytelling is extremely important to really drive results.

Skift: Can you explain your partnership with TripAdvisor more?

Pang: We have a very close relationship with TripAdvisor and that goes beyond content. With them, it’s about pulling the user-generated stories within their content into our portal. Beyond that, our relationship with TripAdvisor is such that they also do a lot of training of our tourism stakeholders on how to sell and list their content better, and to engage better with consumers on TripAdvisor. That’s kind of like a symbiotic relationship with many of our stakeholders.

If you look at the content on YourSingapore, as the Tourism Board, we try to feature and highlight a very broad spectrum of partners. If you look at how we’ve actually curated the site, there are a set of verticals focusing on our attractions, our dining scenes, our nature and wildlife, our arts and neighborhoods. Through these verticals, we feature stories and the content of our partners. We also strongly encourage our partners to work with us on story angles, so that when we feature them it’s not just a lot of facts, but it’s more of a story.

Skift: Is there anything new in terms of how you’re using social media?

Pang: How we approach the medium today is very different from how we approached it in the past. Perhaps a couple of years ago, there was a planned editorial content calendar. That was about saying, “This is my brand story, and I’m going tell the brand story, and I’ve got all of the story worked out.” I think today, with the data-driven approach and everything becoming more real-time, I think we need to ask ourselves, based on the data and the trends, how can we create a story that is relevant to what is driving consumer interest at this moment? The challenge is, how do you integrate your brand story?

It’s really about being more agile. It’s about being more responsive. It’s about being data-driven and insights-driven and crafting a story, a piece of content. So it’s shifting from being extremely planned, and yes, planning is still good, but you also need to be responsive. That’s what’s driving a lot of the work that you see in campaigns like MasterCard’s Priceless Engine. That way of marketing is really a creative mainstream concept now.

Skift: So is that a shift for you to start looking at other consumer brands for marketing inspiration and strategy?

Pang: Definitely. If you’re a brand and you’re hoping to innovate and you’re hoping to disrupt and to stand out in your category, you need to start looking beyond your category for inspiration. That’s very important for marketers. The other piece about what we’re trying to do around social is really not so much about the technology, but really whose voice are you using. Maybe in the past it’s been very much a brand voice. I think if you look at travel trends today, visitors and consumers are so curious about local culture, right? They always say today in travel, “Local is focal.” One of the things that we’re thinking about is, how do we use Singaporeans and locals as advocates and editors on our social platforms?

Skift: If your marketing budget was doubled, how would you invest it?

Pang: Love that question. What has been keeping me up at night, apart from strategies and tactics, is really about how do I develop an excellent marketing team? If I had double the budget, I would invest it if I could in a marketing college for the marketing team. If anything, you’re talking about competitive advantage, it’s really about talent. Talent is our competitive advantage and it’s our killer app. If you look at a lot of great brands, great marketing, there is a lot invested in talent and capability. I feel extremely strongly about my team and the value of an internal training system to develop best-in-class marketers.

This series is presented by Boxever. The Skift content team maintains complete editorial control over these interviews and the selection of subjects.

For more insights from Boxever, please see the following reports:


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Tags: cmo series, singapore, tourism

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