We live in a world of almost infinite choices.
Most of us wake up in the morning and have to pick from ten different brands of coffee and choose between three ride-hailing apps to get to work. On the streets and online, we are bombarded with thousands of new products vying for our attention.
How can startups stand out in this crowded landscape?
Branding and design expert Lim Sau Hoong believes that telling a compelling brand story is key. She has partnered with Singapore Management University’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SMU-IIE) in The Brand Hackathon, a 48-hour intensive collaboration between founders and designers to co-create compelling brand stories.
Sau Hoong has been integral in some of the world’s most famous brand stories. As a visual advisor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, she helped put up a masterful sensory feast that presented China at its best. Prior to being the curriculum director of the Brand Hackathon, she was the Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai, and was a judging panelist at the Cannes and New York Advertising Festival.
She shares some useful tips to get started on creating a brand story:
Have an honest conversation with yourself about your motivations and goals
A successful brand story powerfully communicates the core values of the entrepreneur, according to Sau Hoong. “It is a relatable journey that evokes a strong emotional connection between the company and the customers.”
Take Airbnb as an example. A decade ago, who would have thought that millions of people would willingly stay at the home of a stranger, or open their space up to some random person they met on the internet? Airbnb spun a story that talks about “coming home” wherever you are, and that story formed a trusted community of travelers and homeowners now worth billions.
Humans are hard-wired for stories. Important ideas are passed down through fables and fairy tales; history’s most important information are translated into stories. We trust, understand, and are generally more receptive to good storytelling.
Think big but focus on the small details during execution
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government used the opening ceremony as an opportunity to reposition the country as a modern and progressive society. “They were not shy about delving into its centuries long tradition of innovation and invention,” said Sau Hoong. The over ten minutes long opening ceremony was a masterful sensory feast that presented China at its best – complete with reenactments.
The secret was in the details, with China focusing on what is intrinsically associated with them. Similarly, the 2012 London Olympics achieved great success, albeit at a lower budget, by highlighting what is most popularly associated with them in pop culture: a very witty James Bond-esque entrance of the Queen.
In the grand scheme of things, all Olympics opening ceremonies could have been the same: an opening number by the host country, lighting of the torch, and entrance of the athletes as the main points. The success of Beijing’s opening ceremony boiled down to the details and execution.
Make your story relevant for the times
A good branding story is not exclusive to new products or companies. Established brands can create authentic stories to revive their brand, expand their reach, and remain relevant to the times.
“In late 1980s I was tasked with repositioning Guinness (Stout) for a fast evolving demographic,” said Sau Hoong. “Previously, Guinness Stout had been associated with macho men and hard manual labour.”
Sau Hoong focused on communicating the updated brand values of Guinness, and chose a suave Hong Kong actor George Lam as the new face of the brand. Guinness’s Work of Wisdom campaign resulted in 100 per cent brand awareness. “The Guinness brand and the Guinness ‘man’ was transformed from a tough lorry driver to an urbane sophisticate”, said Sau Hoong.
This move by Guinness was prompted by the need to appeal to a new generation of drinkers in Singapore and to make its brand relevant again.
Connect design and technology to tell your story
It takes a lot of introspection and work to create a compelling brand story. For companies to gain and maintain the loyalty of consumers, they have to put a lot of thought into how they position their products. “While product development is important, you must not forget who you are creating the product for,” said Sau Hoong.
Design and branding are a necessary part of company and product building, but it is something that most entrepreneurs and startups have trouble doing because there aren’t enough programmes that focus on it.
Enter SMU-IIE’s Brand Hackathon.
While most hackathon events are directed at developers and startups finding tech solutions to problems, the event in January 2019 is focused on branding, touching on elements of storytelling, corporate identity and product design.
It aims to promote collaboration between the creative industry and the startup ecosystem in Singapore and open the doors for the growth of cultural or creative startups co-founded by tech engineers and creative designers.
Want to learn to tell a compelling brand story? Apply now to join SMU-IIE and Sau Hoong in the Brand Hackathon.
Brand Hackathon is a two-day design and branding hackathon organised by the Singapore Management University’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It happens on January 19-20, 2019 and is currently accepting applications. A total of 10 teams with up to 3 founders/participants will be selected to join the programme. To apply as a founder or designer, please click here.
The Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) at SMU is a practice-oriented institute that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship excellence at SMU and beyond. The institute features an innovation academy providing cutting-edge experiential training programmes for students and professionals, a full-service, equity-free incubator with a highly influential mentorship panel, and a world-class start-up competition named after our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Disclosure: This article is produced by the e27 content marketing team, sponsored by SMU-IIE