Branding: Back to Basics

Brand Academy 2018 welcomes a new batch of marketers with workshops from industry veterans

By Paul Catiang


It was the first of four Fridays. Junior marketers representing PANA member companies gathered for Day One of Brand Academy, the association’s workshop that introduces new brand builders to the field.

Brand Academy 2018 kicked off at the offices of Mullenlowe Philippines in Makati, where the participants spent the whole day in sessions with some of the Philippines’ leading marketers. While the sessions include a healthy serving of marketing theory, much of what was discussed was based on the speakers’ greatest strengths: their personal experience and insight.

For Day One, Brand Academy covered the basics: Branding 101 with Rudy Villar of Havas; Strategic Planning with Christine Lao of Golden Arches Development Corp; Building Brand Love with Adi Hernandez, also of Golden Arches; and Brand Insistence with Grace Magno of SM.


Marketing and Branding 101

“If you were a brand, what would you be? Why?” Rudy Villar began his session on the basics of branding. He ran the participants through a number of familiar slogans, symbols and icons, and public perceptions, images, and associations. He glossed over branding’s millennia-long history of practices: the punishment and identification of criminals; the ownership of slaves; assurances of quality among medieval bakers and goldsmiths—marked pottery and livestock dating back to ancient times as far back as 3000 BCE. Branding as a practice dates back to around 5,000 years.

Modern branding dates back to around 60 years, in the postwar era of the 1950s. In postwar US, people needed reassurance that everything was going to be all right. Unilever and Procter & Gamble soap products sponsored TV shows bringing this reassuring, positive message: soap operas.

Villar also illustrated a number of concepts using one of his longtime employers: SM. It all started as Henry Sy’s humble postwar operation, selling shoes he’d gotten from American GIs. Even at that early stage, he got into product development and product extension by selling other shoe-related merchandise: shoe shine, socks, clothes, and other accessories. By 1958, he established the brand by giving the store a name: Shoemart. Sy also invested in glass windows and air-conditioning. He also kept his store’s doors open so that passers-by would get a taste of the cool air from the inside, enticing them to have a look around. With the inventory fairly complete for its time, people got whatever they needed—this delivered both brand experience and brand promise.

Branding goes beyond logos, Villar said. In the case of retail, this takes place in the store, online, in a catalog, or over the phone. Branding becomes the physical, real-time delivery of the brand promise. A store is thus the primary means of brand engagement. This gives brands a chance to create emotional connections with consumers and influence their choices.

Effective brands keenly understand their core shoppers’ needs and keep the shopping experience relevant to these needs through several elements: the staff’s behavior and disposition, store design, all the way to brand values.

Lastly, Villar discussed the newest frontier for branding: the digital space. He emphasized the need to customize content for digital—even for specific social media platforms—and that brand builders must think like publishers and create and sponsor content that is relevant to their branding.


Strategic Planning

Christine Lao drew heavily from her McDonald’s marketing experience for her session while referring to Philip Kotler’s book, Marketing Management, for the theory. She set the tone with a line from Kotler himself: “It is more important to do what is strategically right than what is immediately profitable.”

When it comes to strategic marketing plans, Lao said that the direction must come from the corporate level while taking all departments into account. In her case, marketing has to keep corporate’s objectives in mind while devising strategies that operations can easily implement. Because the store staff faces the customers everyday, this means any strategy that involves the staff must be simple and quick to execute.

Lao also defined three aspects to the marketing process. First is the objective: “Where do I want to be?” This general direction then makes some options available; these options comprise the second aspect: strategy. This asks, “How do I plan to get there?” Lao said this is about deploying limited resources best. Finally, once implementation is underway, the focus shifts to tactics: “What specific actions have I taken?”

This marketing plan has partly resulted in a number of McDonald’s TVCs. The Moving On series of Burger McDo commercials took a risk by possibly associating the burger with heartbreak; all the same, the two commercials managed to emphasize moving on while marketing the product to its target market: college students who needed an affordable and filling meal on school days.

Meanwhile, the Perfect Pair TVC drew parallels with McDonald’s world famous fries and chicken with a classic 80s love team: Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, associating some kilig to an already-resonant pair of menu items.


Brand Love

Adi Hernandez spoke on building brand love. This begins with brand trust, which was discovered to be the #3 driver of informal eat-out visits. Because McDonald’s aspires to be the brand the public trusts to act responsibly and give back to the community, much of its marketing expresses this aspiration.

Hernandez enumerated the Five Cs of McDonald’s branding: Customer obsession, Conversations, Courage, Consistency, and Community. She discussed many campaigns—TVCs, social media, corporate policies, and charities—that illustrated each of these. Perhaps one campaign that captures the Five Cs is the McDelivery Pin. It addressed a major, seasonal need in the Philippines by creating a convenient delivery pickup point and wifi hotspot near cemeteries during All Souls Day. In doing so, McDonald’s was able to render service to its consumers, respect a Filipino tradition, and generate sales while delivering its unique brand experience.


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Brand Insistence

Grace Magno of SM Supermalls spoke on brand insistence—and appropriately so. The holding company’s malls are ubiquitous enough to illustrate brand insistence.

Magno gave the five drivers of brand insistence as awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility, and emotional connection, which SM embodies in its own way.

The sheer number of its malls nationwide attests to the high brand awareness for it. It’s common for travelers new to a Philippine city to look for the nearest SM in case they need something; whatever they need, SM is likely to have it.

SM also practiced relevant differentiation early on. Its stores would stay open through lunchtime and on Sundays during a time when it was customary for establishments to close. This cornered the lunchtime and weekend shopper markets for years before other stores learned to stay open. The first store’s air conditioning and open doors also proved an additional enticement.

For value, few promos beat SM’s three-day sales. Customer surveys revealed that this is the one time most people would go to buy the things they normally don’t want to buy but have to, like household necessities or random gifts. The low prices and the three-day period gives shoppers the option to get the most value for the price.

SM is likewise accessible—many of its malls are within one ride away from most residences. Even in areas without an SM, one major driver of customer traffic to a neighborhood mall was this kind of accessibility.

Lastly, SM cultivates an emotional connection with customers through CSR activities like the Angel Walk for persons with disability and engagement programs for children and youth. The company also makes space for certain needs, like breastfeeding stations for women, government services for OFWs and Filipino citizens, and even employment for seniors.


Responsible Brand Building

In the middle of Day One, PANA President Anna Legarda-Locsin welcomed the participants both to the association and to Brand Academy. In her address, she also took the discussion to a deeper level: going past the current and innovative brand building practices, she spoke of what brand builders are responsible for.

For PANA, this means being responsible for shaping the audiences and consumers advertisers serve. Brands need to show insight into consumers and responsibly communicate a reflection of the times. This calls for truth and courage to speak up amidst fear and hesitation. This also means building brands with a purpose—a purpose bigger than itself such that it contributes to society and the country. Legarda-Locsin also said that brand builders have a responsibility to each other as a community of the country’s best brand builders.

Workshops like Brand Academy are here to foster the growth of the members by linking the junior marketers to a network of mentors and peers, that the member companies can learn from each other.

Day One wrapped up with the assigning of a case study for PANA’s 60th anniversary. Participants were asked to draw up a case study for the association’s new theme, Championing Responsible Brand Building and develop a brand communications plan to convey this message.

For 2018, Brand Academy is designed like a caravan going to four different locations: Mullenlowe Philippines, Facebook Philippines, Globe Tower, and Discovery Primea. The first three locations cover a different aspect of the marketing process: creative agency, digital platform, and service provider, with the fourth serving as the venue for the synthesis.