Brand it like Banyan Tree

June 6, 2007 Public Relations 8 comments


I recently attended a conference by the PR Academy on “Markets and Brands – Positioning for the 21st Century”, and was pretty inspired by some of the speakers. One of them was Ho Kwon Ping, Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and creator of one of the world’s most highly respected and heavily awarded resort brand.

In his keynote speech “Branding, Marketing and Credibility in a Connected World”, Kwon Ping dispelled the marketing myth that “branding is everything and everything is a brand”. His chief contention is that people are paying far more attention to hype than reality. Advertising after all is largely self praise and this leads consumers to treat them with suspicion.
An example is how Apple’s iPod is winning the race by sticking to aesthetic design and user friendliness. Apple’s legacy is ingrained from the onset in its business strategy and not just through advertising. On the other hand, Creative Technology’s advertising for its Zen MP3 players portrays a mixed up brand image, using totally unrelated symbols from panda bears to Paris Hilton!

The solution? Use icons as symbols of credibility, especially in the public sphere.

In this regard, Singapore should refrain from trying to position itself as “the hippest place in Asia”. Rather, we should capitalise on our achievements like infrastructure, CPF (a pension savings programme), ERP and others. Trying too hard to come across as slick and sexy when you are not just doesn’t cut ice with anybody.

The session ended with four key imperatives in brand building, which is largely modelled after Banyan Tree’s own success formula:

1) Start with the End at the Beginning. Branding should be woven and integrated into one’s business strategy.

2) Evoke Emotional Responses as opposed to just Nifty Product Images. In the case of Banyan Tree, their focus on providing a memorable guest experience helps connect them emotionally to their customers.

3) Holistic and Complex Integration of an Innovative Product Experience, Consistent and Excellent Delivery, and only finally, a successful Marketing and Communications Strategy. This follows the same principle as Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, where remarkable products form the core of marketing.

4) Have Universal Values that both customers and staff can feel a sense of pride in. Without a sense of mission common to your key stakeholders, your brand will ring hollow.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Apple is indeed one company that succeeded based on product design and know its target market. It also does well in item (3) you mentioned. I’m always amazed how a company that has such a impactful(yet trim) product line(Macs, iPOD) can survive for so long. Creative not only loses out in design, it fails terribly in (3). Eg. Zen’s accessories (eg pouches,etc) are extremely hard to find. Creative did have one good technology (sound-card) but did not know how to “tap” it to the fullest potential.

    This is the problem with many of S’pore-based companies and technology research – can have the best of “functions” but fail in aesthetic/design.

    The mindset of the organization has to change. It’s not just sitting at the desk/lab(the best scientists do that) that gives you results. Even scientists need to “be out” (all out) to “observe observe observe”. Holistic research leads to holistic innovations, and holistic integration finally.

    That’s what anthropology is all about. I hope more local organizations(even tech, R&D) start believing in them. Eg. Apple has anthropologists that work with their product engineers, and marketeers.

    (oops, I realized I’ve commented too long. sorry)

  2. tigerfish,

    Interesting points about anthropology and human behaviours. I believe that Creative Technology’s overt focus on technology and engineering brought about its fate today. Apple has always been about an attitude, a lifestyle and design. You are right about the state of design in Singapore, which is still at an infancy.

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