Neighbourhood Branding

April 20, 2008 Blog 12 comments

Can we give our HDB estates more heart and soul?

Read this excellent post on Branding Insider about Place Branding and how it is moving into smaller municipalities and towns in the United States. It triggered off this idea about the branding of residential communities in Singapore.

What if we brand each and every one of our estates in Singapore? In other words, give them a greater individual identity, uniqueness, colour and point of differentiation. After all, Singapore, though tiny, isn’t just a homogeneous and uniform mass. It would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

This isn’t just about slapping on a fancy logo, or creating a visible campaign about cleanliness, civic consciousness or civil defence. It isn’t about a fancy schmancy advertisement on TV, newspaper or radio. It also isn’t about getting more people to do more of this or more of that.

Rather, it is about identifying the core essence of each town council, each estate, each road and even each block of flats on our island. It is about knowing what makes each and every estate special and different in the eyes of its residents, visitors and other stakeholders. It is also about seeing how these points of distinction can be better articulated using the touchpoints of branding – key messages, taglines, advertising, elevator pitches, websites, blogs, lovemarks and events.

Neighourbood branding is also about putting down on paper what some of us already know as common wisdom, but which few others would appreciate unless they also stay where we call home. It is also about coordinating and putting it all together in a holistic package without losing the spontaneity and natural affinity of a thousand different expressions of affection for one’s “kampong”. It also involves getting buy-in from all stakeholders, especially those who live there, and embarking on a consolidated action to win hearts and minds.

In a nutshell, neighbourhood branding is about giving a greater sense of body and shape to the many different estates in Singapore. What makes Ang Mo Kio so special, Serangoon Gardens so memorable, or Bukit Merah so intimate to our hearts. Why do we choose to stay for more than 30 years in the same old estate instead of upgrading to a fancier address? It is about giving greater heart and soul to our communal dwelling and commercial spaces around that special place called home.

Do you think that such an idea can work in Singapore? Is there a need for it in the first place?
Also, who should be the one doing it?

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. Our inner self creates our external world.

    Many companies made the mistake of creating something that’s not in their being, and then passed it off as their corporate branding. What happened is that their customers saw through the bluff and never support them with either revenues or loyalty.

    “Be. Do. Have” is the way to create branding. Going by the other way is courting trouble.

    Branding comes from within and that thrust upon.

  2. Pleazzz lah! With so many spats on going between neighbours, it’s hard to get people to even come down for community events. People are becoming too self-centred and selfish. sigh.

  3. i’m a little skeptical about such a branding. branding can only work if there is buy-in. the govt can try to catergorize the estate. but can an estate even decide on one uniform image they want? there might not even be a 66% majority vote.

    the residents are so now divided over basic issues of who puts the plants where/who feeds the animals/cull everything in sight.

    i honestly don’t think singaporeans are ready for it.

    most of the town councils are just sterile. they jump to the tune of who complains loudest and try to match that to their strict guidelines without flexibility.

    then, there’s the tiny issue of property prices. those in the ‘branded estates’ might get inflated yet again. not that it isn’t already.

  4. eastcoastlife,

    Sigh… I guess you are right about the uncivic-minded neighbour, who still exist in droves in the different estates in Singapore. I suppose I was inspired by how States and cities in Australia like Melbourne, Sydney and Perth have marketed and positioned themselves so well, and how we can have a little bit of that “zonal consciousness”.

    Speaking of which the Peranakan Museum will be opening next Friday, with a carnival over the whole of next weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Let me know if you are keen to pop by and I’ll try to arrange something. 🙂

  5. imp,

    Haha… I guess I was trying to suggest something more bottoms-up in a bright-eyed bushy tailed manner. Am certainly aware of the realities of the situation, and the immense difficulty in getting everybody to think in one direction. At the back of my mind, I am sure that such a concept of place identity exists in the various neighbourhoods in Singapore, but somehow it doesn’t quite get crystallised.

  6. vivienne,

    Agree with you on that. I think any successful branding exercise must first look deep within, and the same applies to neighbourhoods. What I have in mind is something more organic and driven from within as opposed to something that is influenced by external factors. Of course, different people may have different interpretations of what their neighbourhood is about and finding that middle ground could be a challenge.

  7. It’s a great idea, and might enrich and bring the various estate alive.

    But then again, will the branding be what the residents want? Or what the Government wants?

  8. Ditto what Ed said.

    Also I think that a lot of neighbourhoods in Singapore already have their individual character or personality. Bottling it in a brand might kill it, really (exhibit A: Holland Village or Dempsey, even though the latter isn’t residential). The more important role a government can play is to see what factors worked well in a particular neighbourhood (e.g. low rent, certain existing demographics, certain mix of commercial and residential appeal) to make it flourish in the first place — and then LEAVE IT ALONE, but maybe try to replicate those factors in, say, new housing estates (not existing neighbourhoods that are doing just fine without government tinkering).

    Personally, I’ve been thinking more and more that the whole model of strictly separating commercial use from residential purposes is at odds with building lively neighbourhoods and creating of viable alternatives to Orchard Road 😛

  9. ed and tym,

    Good points raised there. Personally, I feel that any kind of brand should have strong sense of belonging in order to succeed. Of course, the dilemma (which I have faced myself) is when the multiple stakeholders don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye.

    Maybe what tym highlighted is valid on identifying neighbourhood “best practices” that can be transplanted from one to another. Of course, these have to be subject to factors that are comparatively equal from one estate to another.

  10. Eeeeeeeeee … you used “best practices”! That immediately makes me think something is probably not the best idea around 🙂

    (Yes, I’m biased.)

    Addendum to the general discussion: the other problem is that the “branding” of neighbourhoods in Singapore tends to happen after the mainstream media runs some glowing story about what a nice place the neighbourhood is turning out to be — which then leads some kaypoh government agency to immediately swoop in and tinker with the mix, which was doing fine by itself in the first place, thereby ruining it entirely. Having one’s neighbourhood written up in the Straits Times is starting to turn into a death knell …

  11. tym,

    Haha…. I can tell that you are the anti-thesis of marketing and other gobbledygook which disguises itself as guru speak. Or gahmen speak. Well, I guess there is a certain effect which mainstream media does to a quiet and rustic neighbourhood.

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