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TO survive and prosper in the 21st century's volatile business environment, Singapore companies need to implement a sound strategy for innovation, branding and managing intellectual property that helps them stand out in the marketplace and gain a competitive edge.
Spring Singapore recently introduced a raft of supportive initiatives to help companies do just that. These include five new Collaborative Industry Projects (CIPs) that will enable more than 400 SMEs (small and medium- sized enterprises) to integrate innovative technology solutions, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) and mobile marketing tools, into their businesses to help them build sustainable growth.
"Through the CIP initiative, we hope to increase SME adoption of technologies across multiple industries," says Chew Mok Lee, Spring's assistant chief executive.
"RFID, image recognition and mobile marketing technologies can not only increase competitive advantage, but also help companies overcome high business costs and be manpower-efficient."
SMEs can also tap Spring's Capability Development Grant (CDG) and Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) to upgrade their capabilities and improve business productivity.
BUILD INNOVATION INTO THE BUSINESS MODEL
Sometimes, companies do not need to introduce new products, services or processes to get ahead of the pack. They simply need to modify their business models. Because this approach involves transforming the way companies deliver existing products made with existing technologies and sold in existing markets, it can be a more affordable way to improve profitability and productivity.
Take, for example, Adonis International, a name synonymous in Singapore with quality beauty and wellness treatments. Faced with stiff competition from new market players, the company realised it needed a fresh business concept. With the help of Spring's CDG, the company engaged a consultant and got to work.
Adonis was introduced to design-thinking methodology - a creative tool for solving problems and discovering opportunities. With the consultants' help, it revamped its business model and put its new approach into practice at its luxury boutique hotel, the Adonis, which launched in 2014.
The CDG helped Adonis defray up to 70 per cent of the cost of its business innovation project, including consultancy fees.
Today, the company focuses on designing unique guest experiences. On arrival, hotel guests are greeted with a complimentary "Sunset Love" mocktail. And as part of the hotel's new 4B concept - bath, bed, breakfast and bar - each room comes with a mini bar stocked with complimentary organic beers.
Since implementing this approach, the hotel has received four-and-a-half-star ratings on travel site TripAdvisor, and is projected to contribute an additional 5 per cent to the company's overall sales in its first two years of operation.
CREATE A STRONG BRAND
Brand development is another tool used by successful companies to stay ahead of the pack and increase market opportunities.
This was the solution local urban greening solutions company, Greenology, turned to in 2013 when it realised its competitors were replicating its eco-friendly products and selling them as their own.
Greenology decided it needed help building a stronger brand that delivered a more consistent image to build consumer trust and showcase the company's value. Taking advantage of Spring's CDG, it hired a brand consultant to help it map out a new brand story, vision and identity and revamp its marketing materials, including brochures and the company website. The consultant also helped Greenology develop a new strategy to market its products, and position itself as a pioneer of sustainable "green" walls in Singapore.
The strategy paid off. Greenology has since received sales enquiries from a broader customer base, and its total revenue has increased to more than S$2.5 million a year, up from about S$800,000.
Today, armed with a new brand "attitude" that's more distinctive and appealing to customers, the company plans to expand its footprint to China, Malaysia and the Philippines.
PROTECT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Intellectual property (IP) is a key asset for most businesses. It underpins competitive advantage, is a source of revenue where it can be licensed out or sold, and often accounts for a large proportion of a company's value.
And with businesses constantly under pressure from increasing globalisation, competition and IP theft, the need for strong IP protection has never been greater.
These challenges prompted Action, a local hair salon, to pilot an IP portfolio management system to track and manage its assets - and especially its novel concept of a pampering hair spa. Without an IP rights regime, the salon feared it would be powerless to prevent other hair and beauty salons from copying its idea.
With the support of a Spring ICV, the salon implemented Scope-IP, an IP management diagnostic tool, to help it assess its IP deployment and management systems. This also gave it a better grasp of IP commercialisation options and intellectual property best practices.
Action also introduced non-disclosure agreements and contracts for its international partners and staff, and registered its trademark logo and brand. This allows a business to gain statutory monopoly of its mark, and protect its market share.
Today, armed with a strong IP regime, Action can state with confidence that its concept, products and services will not infringe the intellectual property of others. As a result, Action has seen a significant increase in enquiries from franchisees wanting to use its business plan and brand name to operate independent branches both in Singapore and abroad.
To survive in today's volatile and challenging business environment, it is vital for companies, especially SMEs, to find ways to stand out from the competition. It is by ensuring that they are offering something that is truly unique, that grabs people's attention, and cannot easily be copied that companies can maintain growth and keep competitors at bay.
A version of this article first appeared in SPRINGNews.