SingTel marketing chief Johan Buse: we have struggled to make Singaporeans love us

SingTel's Johan Buse at the APPIES this morning

SingTel’s Johan Buse at the APPIES this morning

SingTel’s top consumer marketer has admitted that the telco giant has struggled to make Singaporeans love its brand – on the day it emerged that its customers would pay double for excess data charges.

“We spend a lot of money on advertising. But money doesn’t buy you love,” said Johan Buse, VP, consumer marketing, SingTel, talking to an audience at the APPIES event in Singapore this morning.

“Telcos are the most-wanted target online – us in particular,” he said.

Research from 2011 found that Singaporeans found the company to be “stiff, boring, arrogant, robotic, cold and unfriendly.”

“We found that Singaporeans love Google, Apple, Shangri-La and Singapore Airlines. But not us,” he said.

“Those brands deliver tangible products. We sell air. We are a communication company. We are more difficult to love.”

However, a customer care team set up to handle complaints online has helped reverse negative sentiment towards the SingTel brand online, Buse said.

“If you start a dialogue, if you respond in a personalised manner, customers will understand and the situation can be demystified,” he explained.

He referenced one comment by a customer complaining about SingTel’s slow network speed that attracted 12,000 likes on Facebook in two hours.

“We got flamed. So set up a Facebook page inviting our customers to give feedback on our performance,” Buse said.

The company has also produced campaigns around the things that, according to research, Singaporeans love the most – food, music, sports and shopping.

Campaigns to “build brand love” have included an impromptu music event featuring a Korean band and a stunt involving British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.

Buse’s comments come on the same day that a story in the Straits Times pointed out that SingTel mobile users will pay twice as much for excess data charges from next month, contrary to what the company had told the market two months earlier.

In an answer to a question about the story, Buse said: “Price is a very sensitive topic. But if you look, we’re cheaper than carriers in the US or Korea.”

“When you get bad PR, the important thing is to keep the customer informed. Our customer service team has been working overnight to give people advice on our data bundle.”

SingTel is mid-way through an integrated advertising pitch that saw incumbent agency BBDO pull out of the running less than a fortnight ago. BBDO is to make around five per cent of the agency redundant as a result.

Buse declined to comment on details of the pitch.


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