To hub or not to hub
Google Desktop Search is an absolutely lovely tool. I just installed it and have been going through old stuff I’d forgotten I even had ever since.
One Golden Oldie I came across is an article in Export Today, October 2000 issue. It was called ‘Hot Spots’, by which were meant Asian cities that could qualify as ‘Top Direct Marketing hubs’. At the time, the Government of Singapore had just pronounced as one of its strategic goals the development of the Direct Marketing industry into a regional hub.
According to this article, four years ago Singapore rated high as a candidate for the top spot among Asian DM hubs, along with Hong Kong and, I’m not making this up, Sydney. It makes inspiring reading, as it rates Singapore’s chances to make the top spot high due to ‘airmail services [that] are reliable and competitive, all the mail actually gets posted, which doesn’t always happen in Asia’ and the fact that ‘list owners are willing to supply their lists [to places where intellectual property is treated with respect].’ Not to mention ‘a large number of professional direct marketing companies, direct media agencies, mail personalization production houses, telephone marketing organizations and a reputable mail delivery structure,’ of course.
Funny that. What happened in all these four years? There’s still a sizable industry here. Sydney is simply too far away and Hong Kong is still busy redefining itself after losing its position as Gateway to China. Speaking of which: China itself is growing like nothing else before but still nobody trusts any Chinese supplier with their data files. For those who need simple words: plenty of people over here and plenty of opportunities over there. Get it? Why is everybody sitting on their hands?
The directional signs are not good either. Direct Marketing agencies in Singapore still operate on shoestring budgets. TNT, a major force in the industry, just moved its Asiapac headquarters from Singapore to Shanghai. And then there’s Singapore Post. Postal operators are always key players in every DM market across the globe.
Ah, yes, SingPost. The other day I attended the World Mail & Express Conference (Asia edition) in Hong Kong. It’s a major conference where all of the postal operators and big DM players go to discuss developments in the region. All of them? Well, Hong Kong Post was one of the main sponsors. So was DHL, which belongs to Deutsche Post. Philpost was there. China Post provided a speaker. But where was Singapore?
Exactly nowhere. Which, I hate to say, seems to be reflecting a general malaise in all matters Singapore DM. The Government is heavily into promoting the IDEAS melting pot including a teaspoon of DM but seems to forget that there’s already an event that can make a true claim to regional fame: DMAsia, held since 1996. DMAsia is also the most heavily underpromoted regional event I’ve ever seen. With an evolving DMChina, I wonder if it will survive without some serious support for very long.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Singapore’s opportunities for the future lie in making its service industries relevant to the region. In markets like Malaysia and Taiwan, retaining customers has become more important than finding new ones. And for those that like took look a little bit farther out: a recent Nielsen study showing diminished returns for mass media advertising in China’s overheated automotive market proves that there are giant opportunities ahead in Direct Marketing.
The Export Today article could’ve been written today. Let’s hope the next four years bring more initiative and less lethargy.