We met up with brand specialist Sylvia Cardim de Melo to talk about Singapore’s advantages, unbeatable service in São Paulo and outstanding Portuguese quality.
You have a vast branding consultancy experience – is there anything which makes Singapore brands stand out in comparison to the ones from the US or Europe?
Due to Singapore’s small size and concentrated economy, one tends to notice new brands faster than elsewhere and they tend to be start ups, which are on the rise. In the last couple of years in Singapore we have witnessed Redmart disrupting grocery shopping, Clubvivre in the restaurant scene, Styletribute in luxury fashion, Luxola in the beauty industry and so on. They are agile and quick to market. It’s a small country compared to most in Europe, so first mover advantage becomes critical. Singapore at the moment is the place to be, if you want to be in the business of brands.
Would say that European brands think more long-term than those in Singapore?
I’ve witnessed more long-term planning in European companies than here. However, governance and urban planning on the other hand are well planned in advance here in Singapore, which is an interesting contrast. One example is the MRT system, which has become a brand by itself.
I also noticed that certain big Asian brands have been working with consultancies for over 10 years, which means that either the consultancies are not implementing a strategy that works or the companies fail to learn and create these strategies themselves.
You have been a strategy consultant for years. What made you take the step to become an independent consultant?
Prior to moving to Singapore I had been in Brand Management for 7 years. Although my dream was to one day become a CMO, when I arrived in Singapore I found myself leaning more towards one day becoming an entrepreneur. I took the position of a brand strategist, which was a really good transition from being in the corporate world to going on my own, because I wasn’t ready to make the jump straightaway. Being a brand strategist gave me the overview of how different brands from various countries and industries in the region work.
This year an opportunity arose, as many Portuguese brands were interested in expanding into Asia. All these brands were producing amazing quality products, but don’t put a lot of emphasis in the branding. So I decided to resign from my job and create House of de Melo, a company that houses those companies wanting to establish their footprint in Asia. Today I’m fortunate in that I get to choose which brands to work with, as a brand that is part of House of de Melo must fit my lifestyle, so that you can find them in my house. I am still freelancing with other companies, but it feels very good to venture out on your own.
What makes an appealing brand?
I have always been a firm believer that a brand’s success comes from a strong and true identity and that they exist for a reason. Either because they want to disrupt an industry, they want to create a legacy or want to improve a certain aspect of someone’s life. If they do that in a consistent way through their image, than they will be successful. Some Singaporean brands, such as Clubvivre, have this consistency in all aspects. Companies that can deliver that are on the right path to success.
Do you choose products and services based on their brand?
It might be weird to say that, but I absolutely judge a brand by its cover, although we are always told not to do it. The reality is though that we are bombarded with choices to make in our life. We always look for things that immediately connect with us on a subconscious level.
The first time I discovered Clubvivre was with a Google search, looking for a chef for my birthday party. I immediately connected with the brand and was taken by their intuitive online presence. I didn’t even look at other options, trusted this impression and wasn’t disappointed.
Want to host a surprise party or just dine with some friends at home? Get quality food prepared by a chef in your own house.
Having lived in Miami, LA, Europe and Singapore, where do you see yourself at home? Or perhaps what makes you feel at home?
It may sound cheesy, but home is where my heart is at the moment. I left São Paulo when I was 12 and lived in Miami for 7 years and several years each in LA, Milan, Parma and Lausanne – if I don’t follow where my heart is than I’ll always be homesick. As I am a person that lives in the moment, I made sure that I have roots in every city I lived in. Right now I feel very much at home in Singapore.
What do you miss most about São Paulo?
Something that São Paulo has, but Singapore is still miles away from, is the restaurant service. I have travelled around the world, but nothing beats the service of a restaurant in São Paulo. While people in the US are motivated by tips, São Paulo offers genuine service.
Why do you like to entertain home?
My husband and I are little social butterflies. He comes from a very big family and always has been around a lot of people, while I loved to help my mum in the kitchen, developing a sense for hosting people at home. When we came to Singapore, we realised that the atmosphere is great for hosting parties, which was also a great opportunity to get to know people. We love opening up our house to people, while getting to know them.
What does it take to be a good host?
You have to pick up on small cues, like people’s food allergies. If I know that you are a vegetarian, I will prepare enough vegetarian dishes. Second important point is serving enough water as that is often overlooked. While we like to pair the alcohol with the dishes, we also want people to go home with a positive feeling, not a hangover. Music is also important and should be curated for your guests. For example, play some Bossa Nova Jazz, if you have more sophisticated guests. Lastly, you should invite people that have a certain connection or similar interest.
Where do you find creativity and inspiration when it comes to parties?
Right now we are doing a lot of Portuguese inspired dinners as a way to promote a top Portuguese experience for our guests, as that will help people understand what sets Portuguese products and brands apart. I’ll be happy if someone leaves my house, thinking they have learned something new about Portugal and even considers visiting the country one day. One of my friends in Singapore is a leading interior designer and happens to also be Portuguese, so I take inspiration from her as well. But I like to keep things simple and put the emphasis on the food and ambience.
How to throw parties and dinners within budget? How do you plan?
We want to invite people to our house as often as possible and don’t like to compromise on the quality of the food. Hence, I am trying to be smart about promotions. As we are hosting regularly, I buy larger quantities of the wine I like on promotions. Buying a couple of cases upfront might be a bigger cost, but the cost per bottle is much cheaper and will make the difference. In the end it is the quality of your party, food and drinks that will make people come back.
What would your ideal home dinner look like? Who would you invite?
I would say my wedding all over again. I can’t wait until we are 10 years married and we can do a big bash. We had around 250 guests at the wedding – us being the common link between all of them. We had people flying in from Brazil and the US, a great band and fabulous food.
We also celebrated my 30th and my husbands 40th birthday with a 70s party. Clubvivre found an amazing shop house as the venue, including an old convertible car. We had vintage drinks and decoration to make it a full-blown experience that people still talk about.