Promote the Most Important Brand Of All: Your Own


For my parents’ generation, career advice was relatively straightforward: get a high-paying job with a large, stable company and you’re pretty much set up for life. Even today, this is still considered conventional wisdom, especially in Asia where large conglomerates dominate several industries. I once had one of those “stable” jobs, a marketing management position with a multinational company called Nokia, at the height of its dominance as the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer. We all know what’s happened to Nokia since then.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a stable job anymore. Last year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported the average employee tenure for technology companies is three years, or less than two years in advanced markets like the UK. (The same report quoted that the average employee tenure at tech giant Google was only 1.1 years.) Whatever we once believed as the covenant between employee-employer is now a thing of the past. There is every likelihood that a marketer, either by choice or by circumstance, will be moving from one employer to another every few years. Yet the average marketer still neglects to look after the most important brand of all: his own personal brand.

Author Reid Hoffman goes one step further, arguing that one should manage his career as if it were a start-up (The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, available on Amazon). A simpler way to start is to ask yourself: What can we learn about how the world’s biggest brands are managed and how can they be applied to your career as a marketer?

Great brands are unique

What is your personal brand’s unique selling proposition? Identify what it is in your field that you specialize in. It’s not enough on your CV or LinkedIn profile to say that you manage ad agencies and are responsible for CRM. Instead specify how you specialize in transforming traditional marketing organizations into digital marketing organizations. Talk about how you have a track record for gleaning new marketing strategies from analyzing available data. Share how you have taken many US brands and made them relevant across multiple Asian cultures.

Recount your past successes and, in all likelihood, recurring themes will emerge. Stick with those themes and elaborate on them through blog posts, drawing on examples from your career or from your observations in the industry. Volunteer to speak on these topics at conferences or media interviews. A powerful brand’s uniqueness echoes across all forms of media. Your personal brand should be no different.

Great brands are authentic

The world’s most powerful brands are true to themselves, credible, consistent and never claim to be more than they are. A major Singapore company was recently caught paying bloggers to praise its services and malign the competitors’. Whenever a brand stoops to such inauthentic behavior, being found out is inevitable.

In a competitive job market, many fall to the temptation to overstate one’s qualifications or claim understanding of topics on which one actually has limited experience. This is unnecessary. Your own career offers a wealth of lessons and experiences to draw from. Authors are constantly advised, “Write what you know.” The same consideration must be taken in defining your own personal brand.

Great brands stand for something

Power brands have values and are not afraid to express them, even if it means alienating existing customers. Much has been written about Starbucks’ stance on diversity and marriage equality, which caused some conservative Americans to call for a boycott of the brand. CEO Howard Schultz admits publicly, “Not every decision is an economic decision.” The move may have been unpopular in some sectors but it also forged stronger bonds with a core set of loyal brand advocates.

Brand loyalty is built when a customer decides that a brand shares similar values. Similarly, as a brand, you should never shy away from having an opinion on something you feel strongly about. Too many Marketing blogs and social media posts are full of politically correct, often-repeated, safe content. They are also dull and indistinguishable. If you want your personal brand to stand out, take a stand on issues and passionately defend them.

Great brands form alliances

Apple Pay x MasterCard, Spotify x Uber, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto, LEGO x Star Wars…great brands aren’t afraid to collaborate with other brands. Such associations can bridge a brand towards a different audience, others can nudge the brand away from its roots towards new areas.

In building your own personal brand, make sure to form relationships with others with similar domain expertise. If there is someone whose career you admire, reach out and meet over coffee. If you are in similar fields there should be no shortage of things to talk about. There’s no limit to what opportunities may result. This is where social networks liked LinkedIn can also be a powerful tool.

Now more than ever, your career needs to stand for much more than simply which company you currently work for. Identify your career’s strengths and start putting together a strategy for how to grow your own personal brand.

A version of this article was published in Marketing magazine’s January-February 2016 issue.


5 tips for digital content

Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

Seizing Social Media Moments

Great content in the hands of an empowered team mean social media marketing success

SingTel’s #HawkerHeroes campaign celebrated Singapore’s food heritage with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay

Events unfold on social media in real time. That means your social media marketing team needs to have the know-how, the creativity and the authority to take advantage of events as they happen to create relevance and excitement around your brand.

Much has been said of how Oreo took advantage of the blackout at this year’s Super Bowl and became the most discussed ad campaign that night. Taking advantage of such opportunities is made possible only when you have a team that can develop an idea on the spur of the moment and have the willingness to run with it, despite the risks. In Singapore, one of the year’s most discussed events was when haze from brush fires in Sumatra caused unprecedented air pollution in the island state. A small number of brands jumped in with their take on events, including SingTel, who featured a hazy skyline on their Facebook cover photo.

SingTel reacts to social media moments every day, most of the time with helpful tips for customers or with an offer to help when they need support. Last April, SingTel’s social media team sent a special gift to a lucky cat, who had trouble adjusting to a new but smaller mioTV set-top box. The team sent the cat’s owner a brand new cat bed and a bag of goodies, together with a personalized hand-written note.

Big corporations like SingTel aren’t always associated with random acts of compassion and spontaneity. Thankfully social media allows such opportunities to be discovered regularly. And occasionally, companies also create these moments themselves.

In 2012, SingTel threw a free live concert by Korean pop band 2NE1. The event was promoted entirely via Twitter and hints to local fan clubs. Thousands of screaming fans turned up at the event in Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Earlier this year, SingTel invited customers to share how they intended to use the connection speeds of the newly-launched 4G mobile network via the Twitter hashtag #Need4GSpeed. These situations (e.g. “I want to watch my Korean dramas before my tears dry up”) were then converted into comedy skits by funnyman Hossan Leong and his team of actors. The campaign resulted in 23 videos uploaded within eight hours and #Need4GSpeed trending for two days straight.

In July, SingTel issued an invitation to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, insisting that Singapore hawker cuisine deserved global recognition by challenging him to learn three popular local dishes. The campaign, centered around the hashtag #HawkerHeroes, set Singapore ablaze with discussion and speculation as to whether the Michelin-star chef could beat local hawkers. As the debate quickly became a matter of heritage and national pride, the story garnered coverage in local media and the #HawkerHeroes hashtag trended on Twitter for four consecutive days. The campaign reached its climax as Ramsay arrived in Singapore and thousands of fans were able to meet him and sample his cooking,

#HawkerHeroes was a rare example of great content around a celebrity and an enabled social media team are combined with an issue that audiences are passionate about. The result was one of the biggest campaigns of the year in Singapore.

View the entire presentation below. Presented at Spikes Asia 2013 in Singapore. 

What makes great Social?

A presentation for Social Media Week Singapore 2013

L-R: Rod Strother (Lenovo), Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Jenna Boller (Social@Ogilvy)
L-R: Rod Strother (Lenovo), Miguel Bernas (SingTel) and Jenna Boller (Social@Ogilvy)

As part of Social Media Week 2013, I made a brief presentation at Ogilvy Singapore on the elements of what I consider to be “great” social media marketing, followed by Q&A. While there are many, many variables that make for an effective social media marketing strategy, I distilled these factors down to three key points.

1. Supported at the top of the organization

Your social media strategy needs to be supported by senior management. A common mistake is that much of social media (e.g. the management of a company’s Facebook page or Twitter handle) is relegated to a small group within marketing or corporate communications — often by the team’s most junior members.

At SingTel, the decision to invest in social media both for marketing and customer operations is driven by the CEO himself. Across the organization, it is clearly understood that SingTel’s strength as a brand relies heavily on how it is perceived and discussed in social media. Senior management support also ensures that there is adequate funding for media campaigns and content and human resources to manage day-to-day operations, such as community management and customer support. The digital marketing team is also frequently cited by senior management for its contributions to the business.

If your social media is to be anything more than a sideshow, it needs to be embraced and championed by the company’s senior leadership. In order to gain this level of support, your social media strategy will need to be …

2. Built around clear business objectives


Your social media strategy needs to be plugged into the core of your business. This could be either through revenue (as with ecommerce-driven social media strategies like Dell) or through cost transformation. For example, SingTel sees social media as not only as a means for more open, direct interaction with customers but also as a cost-efficient channel for customer service. Today, nearly all marketing campaigns have social media elements. Social media is also one of SingTel’s fastest-growing customer support platforms, with entire teams dedicated to servicing customers through Facebook and Twitter.

Your social media strategy’s deliverables need to be clearly understood and measurable in terms of its contribution to the bottom line. This is essential because …

3. Social Media isn’t free

Many social media “purists” will argue that great social media doesn’t need paid advertising and that content and creativity alone should drive audience engagement. Personally, I find this point of view both narrow and naive. If social media is a credible part of your marketing mix, why shouldn’t it cost money?

Much of what will attract and keep audiences involved is content … and good content doesn’t come cheap. But the greatest content in the world is still ineffective if no one knows it exists. This is why many social media campaigns often require some paid media up front to get the interest ball rolling. This is essential especially when the social media activity is part of a larger campaign and you need to synchronize messages across multiple touch points within a specified period of time. You have to assume that not every piece of content will be a runaway “viral” success. That’s why paid media can offer your campaign a very effective boost.

In any case, if you have succeeded with points #1 and #2, securing adequate funding should not be an issue.

You can follow view the full presentation below. (Click on the links within to see examples of video content created for social media distribution.)

Read about SingTel’s latest social media-led marketing campaign here.

SingTel’s Digital Marketing Team receives the Leaders Award

(L-R): Allen Lew, Country Chief & Group CEO, Group Digital Life; Johan Buse, VP Consumer Marketing; Miguel Bernas, Director, Digital Marketing; Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore
(L-R): Allen Lew, Country Chief & Group CEO, Group Digital Life; Johan Buse, VP Consumer Marketing; Miguel Bernas, Director, Digital Marketing; Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore

Last night the Digital Marketing team was honored once more — this time with the Leaders Award, awarded by SingTel top management, in recognition for our work communicating to customers Singtel’s mobile network upgrades late last year through digital, social and customer care channels.

We could not have done it without the help of our colleagues in Marketing, Networks, Corp Comms and Customer Ops, and, of course, our agencies MEC and OgilvyOne.

In response to criticisms from customers about SingTel’s mobile coverage, the company embarked on a massive upgrade programme last year. We decided to take a very transparent approach in communicating with customers, engaging them through social media and a special webpage on Since then, we have realized a positive shift in sentiment in social media and, more important, helped ensure the stability in SingTel’s business performance, especially in mobile.

On a personal note, this award is well timed because it also comes just two years after I celebrated my second anniversary since joining SingTel. This also marks the second anniversary of the Digital Marketing team!

How Twitter makes brands more human

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter has the distinction of being the most personal. What does that mean for your brand?

Twitter birdTwitter officially launched in Singapore today with a media briefing and cocktail event at The Bank Bar + Bistro. Although Singaporeans have been using Twitter for years, the “launch” marks the introduction of advertising opportunities on Twitter, such as promoted tweets, trends and handles.

Avid Twitter users who are anxious at the idea that their timelines will soon be filled with irrelevant ads need not fear. Twitter ads are designed not to be intrusive and will only appear to audiences for whom the ad is relevant. (At least that’s the promise.) Meanwhile, there are probably marketers out there rubbing their hands together thinking, “Yes! Another channel to blast out my message.”

As a digital marketer and social media practitioner, “blast” is a word I have come to despise. We are frequently asked to “blast” ad messages out to consumers, as if campaigns were grenades pitched into crowds of people, hoping that among them are the right target audience and that our ads will enter their brains like shrapnel. (Everyone for whom the ad has no relevance is simply collateral damage.) Those people completely miss the point of social media.

You don’t “blast” messages in social media. (That’s what print and television do.) Social media is a conversation medium, a channel to interact with consumers on a personal level. And arguably no other platform does that better than Twitter.

SingTel + Twitter

SingTel has been using Twitter since last year through two handles @SingTel and @SingTelSupport, the latter dedicated to customer care. As of this writing, SingTel has over 9,000 followers combined. As the number of followers grow, the opportunity to share marketing messages also increases.

But the real opportunity is in allowing consumers the chance to experience a friendlier, warmer, more human SingTel. Due to its size and market dominance, it is fair to say SingTel does not come up tops on your list of brands to have a conversation with. Twitter gives even a monolithic brand like SingTel the chance to change that.

SingTelSupport Twitter

This is why we made the decision to interact with customers through individual Twitter handles, showing customers that when you interact with SingTel, you are dealing with a real human being, not a faceless corporation. Now SingTel can delight consumers not just through high profile campaigns like the SingTel-staged surprise live performance of K-pop band 2NE1 at Clarke Quay last year, but also through small, everyday interactions with customers.

Very recently, Singapore actor and performer Hossan Leong had trouble with his home broadband connection and decided to tweet:

Hossan-SingTel 01

Sahgiel, one of SingTel’s customer care staff who monitors social media chatter relating to SingTel daily, responded within minutes. This led to an arrangement for repair work to be done shortly thereafter.

Hossan-SingTel 02

Not only does this case demonstrate the effectiveness of Twitter as a customer support channel but it also illustrates how a negative experience can be transformed into a positive. (And all of Hossan’s 15,000 followers got to witness it.)

We all need the Human Touch

My favorite example of giving SingTel the human touch through Twitter happened just last week.  A young woman complained about her mobile reception through Twitter, which prompted another SingTel staff member to respond.

Caroline 01a

Through this exchange, Caroline informs the customer of recent upgrade work and provides a link to where Singtel reports its network enhancements on a regular basis. But in this case, her timely interaction also sparked a new conversation between the customer and another friend.

Caroline 01b

While “a bit stalkerish but efficient” isn’t exactly the most glowing of endorsements, in social media that’s about as good as it gets. The conversation then goes into how hard SingTel’s customer care team works, noticing their “crazy hours” and using “wow” and “whoa” in appreciation.

Caroline 02a

What started out as a complaint about SingTel becomes a conversation about how the company is “stepping up” its customer service.

Finally, one of the women realizes that Caroline is most likely following the whole exchange. Caroline then humbly interjects “Yes I am :)”

Caroline 02b

The fact that a brand’s tweets can be promoted as a paid ad doesn’t change the rules of social media. Twitter represents a marvelous opportunity for brands who appreciate its value – not as a medium to “spam” ad messages but as a channel for meaningful dialogue with consumers.

Chances are, your consumers are talking about your brand right now. Are you ready to be part of the conversation?


You can find Marketing Interactive‘s coverage of Twitter’s Singapore launch here.

How video content can build brand affinity and educate customers

Highlights from the Digital Marketing Spotlight conference

I recently spoke at Campaign Asia‘s Digital Marketing Spotlight conference in Singapore. In my presentation, I shared how companies can convey brand values that are difficult to get across in a static medium like print.

Let’s take SingTel as an example. I opened with a video on a heart-warming project (led by SingTel in partnership with OgilvyOne and Newton Circus) dubbed Project Silverline, a programme that asks people to donate their old iPhones so that they can be loaded with software specially designed for the elderly, a demographic often left out of the burgeoning smartphone industry.

I also shared my favorite video from Home Without Walls , a series of videos featuring portraits of typical Singapore families.

In addition to tugging at heart strings, video content is also a powerful medium to educate consumers. SingTel recently used our made-for-Youtube series TGIS to explain the complex technologies behind high-speed fibre broadband internet, while presenting a very human face for a very large (and sometimes seen as impersonal) telecommunications provider. The team deliberately avoided using senior management-level company spokespersons so that viewers could get to know the real people who make their internet connections possible.

After my presentation, I joined a panel of industry experts to discuss the challenges of recruiting, training and nurturing digital talent.

(L-R): Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Enrique Pinilla (3M), Damien Cummings (Samsung) and Rosmalia Hardman (W Hotels)

The group discussed the scarcity of digital talent in Singapore, coupled with the challenges of competition from creative industries and the attractive “new media” companies emerging in Singapore. We also discussed the need to invest in constant training and the move by companies to establish centres-of-excellence that are designed to instill a more digitally-oriented company culture.

For more information on how SingTel is using video content like TGIS and Home Without Walls to reach its customers, check out this story published by news website and content aggregator, the Huffington Post.

You can also browse through my presentation “Harnessing the Power of Digital Across Platforms” by clicking on the link below.

When “Fans” go too far

As a rule of thumb, you should not delete fan comments on your Facebook page. But you should also know when to draw the line. 

On 18 September 2012, SingTel announced that it had secured the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champion League on its MioTV service through the SingTel Facebook page. Because the announcement went out just hours before the season’s first game, the announcement drew criticism from a number of fans.

As community managers, one should always expect an angry comment here and there. (That’s why you have a Facebook page in the first place: to have a two-way dialogue with customers.) But this time one “fan” in particular crossed the line. He began to hurl very crude and very personal abuses at one of the Customer Care staff members who manages our page. (I won’t repeat the language used but if you’re really curious, you can browse through the discussion thread here.) This prompted me to post this in response:

While a few fans appreciated the show of support towards a team member, others quickly transferred their anger towards me. (One even went as far as to post my LinkedIn profile to the thread and encourage others to attack me directly.)

Was crying foul the right thing to do? Did it succeed in quieting the displeasure from the community? It’s naive to think a single comment is capable of instantly reversing sentiment but sometimes, that isn’t the point. Sometimes the point is standing up for what your values are and what your brand represents. In this case, SingTel’s Facebook team takes pride in having an open forum where customers can criticize our services. This includes allowing people to express themselves as emphatically as they want, even allowing the use of swear words and stretching the rules outlined in the page’s House Rules. This policy is what allows us to identify how we can improve our services and, often, even troubleshoot issues through our Facebook customer service team, as many customers have experienced first hand.

But leniency must have its bounds. We are also a company that stands up in defense of our own. Sometimes you need to remind people that (as a trusted industry colleague very nicely put it), “Just because you ‘like’ a page doesn’t give someone the right to act like an a#*ehole.”

This exchange with our Facebook community has attracted some attention and the incident was covered in today’s edition of Singapore tabloid The New Paper (see below).

You can read the online version of the article in The New Paper here.

There is also an ongoing discussion in HWZ forums here. (Just try to ignore all the racist comments.) Join the discussion or simply comment on this blog.

Blog at

Up ↑