Courts marketing director Wendy Tan on how to win the hearts of cost-conscious Singaporeans

Wendy TanWendy Tan was marketing director of Courts in Malaysia for more than three years before returning home to run the retailer’s marketing in Singapore five months ago.

In this Q&A, she tells Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks about what it takes to be a successful retail brand, what she values most in an agency and how to earn brand love among cost-conscious Singaporeans.

You’ve led Courts’ marketing efforts in Malaysia and Singapore for almost four years. What’s been the toughest part of the job?

In Malaysia, it was the limited reach of our key media.

Courts is a heavy press advertiser. But there are only a few publications you can use to reach Malaysians in rural areas, and it was really difficult reaching a population of 27m many of whom live in the countryside and are less likely to read newspapers.

Our advertising is very tactical and product-focused. We need to show prices, features and functions, which are hard to communicate using television. We find that press is a lot more effective.

Retail marketing is not getting any easier. What’s the key to being a successful retail brand these days?

It comes down to understanding what the consumer really wants. Today’s consumers behave very differently to how they did in the past, when they actually believed what brands had to say. Courts has been around for a long time, but that doesn’t guarantee that consumers will like or trust us. You have to win them over on their terms.

How do you strike the balance between brand and price-led advertising?

Courts ad in the Straits Times

Courts ad in the Straits Times

It’s hard, and I think Tesco [the UK-based retailer] is one of the best at it.

Singaporeans are very much price and deal-driven. They want to know what they can get for their money, and are not at all brand loyal. They will always compare prices with other retailers, which now is very easy to do, and tell you when they can a product up the road that is 10 cents cheaper.

We always put the value message first in our advertising. That’s at the heart of our brand – value and affordability.

SingTel’s head of consumer marketing recently voiced his frustrations about how difficult it is to make Singaporeans love the brand. How much in love with the Courts brand do you feel Singaporeans are?

I think they love our low prices, but I wouldn’t say they love our brand.

In getting consumers to love the brand, it’s important for the marketer to understand that consumers want to be spoken to, not spoken at. It’s not about marketing to them, but connecting with them.

How do you instill brand love as a retailer?

Courts is a bricks and mortar retailer that has been around in Singapore since the 1970s. It’s a brand that Singapore consumers are familiar with. But we need to find ways to connect with Singaporeans in new ways to humanise the brand. We use our Facebook page as a tactical platform to launch promotions than and as a lively, fun way to talk with our customers.

What do you look for in an agency?

This is a tough question, since it’s increasingly challenging to define what makes a good agency. I want an agency to produce ideas that break through the norm, not just in a pitch or workshop situation, but in the regular conversations we have as a client, based on their observations of how our customers behave.

Which agencies do you use?

DDB and Rapp for traditional and online, and Maxus handles media. We have inhouse resources for production.

What are your marketing plans for the next 12 months?

It is Courts’ 40th anniversary in Singapore next year, so the next 12 months will be about celebrating that and breathing new life into what is a very established brand. We’ll also be making more of a push into multichannel marketing and exploring new ways to build the brand in digital channels.


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