November 21, 2014
Singapore-based Haw Par Corporation Ltd reclaimed the Tiger Balm brand in 1992 and went on to grow the business from revenues of approximately S$12 million in 1992 to over S$103 million in 2013.
During a keynote address at IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP)
Program in Singapore, Haw Par's healthcare division Executive Director, A.K. Han, discussed the challenges and successes of his more than 20 years' experience driving the Tiger Balm business.
When Haw Par first reclaimed Tiger Balm in 1992, Han observed that the brand had numerous challenges such as low brand awareness and product usage awareness, as well as brand perception issues including being seen as outdated.
Through a variety of measures including a logo redesign and product package modernization, along with a major advertising campaign including celebrity endorsements, Han spearheaded activities that would ultimately lead to a major reinvigoration of the Tiger Balm brand. This included expansion in over 100 countries and winning multiple awards as Singapore's most valuable brand. Tiger Balm products have even received unsolicited celebrity endorsement from stars such as Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Dr Oz.
Key challenges that Tiger Balm has faced during Han's tenure include marketing to younger generations that perceive the brand as old and the original smell which some found unpleasant. Another challenge was to create products that require more regular purchases; with Han acknowledged that a jar of original Tiger Balm can last a year, slowing repeat business opportunities.
To combat these challenges, Tiger Balm launched a variety of products including high-turnover items as well as specialized products to address health complaints common among younger generations such as back and shoulder pain from keyboard overuse. The suite of Tiger Balm products now includes a range of smells, colors, and product varieties such as gels, plasters, creams and sprays to accommodate a variety of demographics.
According to Han, another key element to Tiger Balm's success has been the quality of the product including its use of 60% active ingredients.
"In healthcare and medicine, nobody settles for second-class products, so quality helps us maintain our market position and our price," Han said.
Han also referred to the development of Tiger Balm's mosquito-repellent, which has become the best-selling in Singapore. Parents are willing to pay for quality when looking to protect the health and well-being of their children.
Product visibility was identified by Han as a significant challenge in overcrowded retail outlets, particularly when competing brands market very similar looking products to Tiger Balm. Han said that some measures the company undertakes to mitigate this issue include the use of creative retail displays, as well as entering non-conventional outlets such as hardware stores where Tiger Balm can market products to people involved in physically demanding occupations.
Despite ongoing challenges across a variety of fields including brand and intellectual property protection, trading costs, regulatory constraints, unique international market considerations including culture and language, product liability costs, a highly competitive market, and counterfeit and parallel stock challenges, Han believes Tiger Balm, and Haw Par have continued to succeed by being willing and able to adapt effectively to constantly changing market conditions. Han concluded, "From the beginning I said, if we don't revive the brand and fight, we're not going anywhere. If I don't adapt to my environment, I die".
IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program runs ever November in Singapore. For live insights from the program follow on Twitter at or check out OWP pictures on IMD's flickr account.