Profile: The waking of a sleeping giant

Mabel Tay is applying all her marketing nous to SingTel to revamp its image from staid to sexy. You know Singapore Telecom (SingTel) had to be serious about changing and revitalising its image when it took on seven-year Motorola veteran Mabel Tay as its director of corporate brand marketing. This is a woman who signed up to learn how to spin like a DJ, rollerblades and mountain-bikes, all because she firmly believes that to understand your core market, you have to be part of it.

"SingTel is a great company, well managed with great products. The marketing of products and services will have to take a different tack, though. We are going to take all the good stuff and augment it," she says.

"Essentially, we are going to revitalise the brand, and from the shareholder perspective, increase the brand value," said Tay who initiated Singapore's biggest account review this year when she decided to consolidate the assignment.

At the time, SingTel had been working with Dentsu Young & Rubicam (now Young & Rubicam) since 1988, and Leo Burnett since 1998.

The consolidation to "drive shelf velocity, increase business, market share and our margins" reflects the increasingly competitive domestic environment the former monopoly faces in battling challengers StarHub and M1.

The next six to 12 months will be crucial in the turnaround process, but Tay is gleefully confident that new agency partner Y&R will hit the ground running: "I'm already seeing a change. It is no longer an advertising supplier relationship, but a partnership," she says. "It's unchartered territory and finding the right partner in Y&R is like having a trusted compass."

Right now, Tay is focusing on issues such as brand voice and brand architecture.

"We have a lot of historical data and research. It helped that (Y&R has) insights into the business and took that knowledge and applied it in their pitch to us," she says. "Y&R also brought serious resources to the table.

They are harnessing their global telco specialists network and they are putting together an independent B2B team to help us to manage our corporate business."

Y&R bagged both the above- and below-the-line accounts, worth an estimated $30 million (US$18.1 million), after a pitch process which took four months.

The agency had previously split the above-the-line portion of the business with Leo Burnett, while the below-the-line work had been handled by a range of agencies.

The prospect of what lies ahead is fuelling Tay's excitement and enthusiasm, not least because on the retail side, Y&R has committed to setting up a satellite office at Singapore Post Centre, where Tay's office is located.

The new Y&R site will be staffed with suits, creatives and a studio - perfect fodder for a hands-on marketer, who faces a range of challenges in recreating the image of the SingTel entity. "We are a multi-brand company and it made it more challenging when brands were managed by multiple partners.

To bolster the brand, you have to stop the fragmentation," she explains.

Other challenges include bringing the brand to the next level, fighting off competition and getting in touch with young consumers - a tall order, but one that should prove second nature to Tay, who also counts P&O, Singapore Press Holdings and Sanyo among her previous employers. As she puts it herself, "People see SingTel as formulaic and stodgy. But I think it is an awakening giant."


On informing Y&R that it had won the SingTel account I said to (Tanuj Philip, managing director of Y&R Singapore), 'I hope you have your dancing shoes on because you won the account'. After that, I couldn't hear anything else. All I could hear was screaming.

Beating the competition I don't think it's unbeatable. With some initiatives we're looking at, including aligning with strategic partners and focusing on a brand voice and architecture, I see this as low-hanging fruit.

Technology marketing There are no fixed rules to the marketing of technology.

It's a challenge because anything goes. There isn't a guide book.

Youth target Talking to the younger segment is one of the biggest challenges that all incumbents face.

The road ahead Appointing the agency is the easy part. The hard work is just beginning.

On inspiration The external market is really rich fodder for my marketing work. When I travel, I get inspiration for ideas and I do trendspotting.

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