Trailblazing brands grapple with competition

Published in Marketing Buzz, Business Friday, Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 10, 2016

OVERWHELMED by newfound success and higher-level challenges, trailblazing brands are sometimes tempted to throw in the towel even before they get into the mainstream.

But the thing is, whether brands are trailblazing or already in the mainstream, the challenges they face are more or less the same.

Here are some of these challenges.

Reinvention. The world’s No. 1 brand, Apple, recently reeled from a share value decline until bailed out by Berkshire Hathaway after Apple’s former billionaire investor Carl Icahn raised the white flag in April 2016.

Icahn came into Apple in 2013, a few years shortly after visionary co-founder Steven Paul Jobs died of pancreatic cancer and respiratory arrest in 2011 at a young age of 56.

Job’s trailblazing mind helped give birth to a line of Apple products that led to a cultural transformation. These include iTunes, IMac, iPod, pad, iPhone and the app store.

Relaunch. But there was a time when it was close to bankruptcy. Thanks to a brilliant relaunch campaign in 1997 called “Think different”, Apple was able to regain its footing and enter a new and prosperous era.

Trailblazing brands like Apple started small but judiciously kept the fire burning to become a major mainstream player with constant functional and aspirational reinvention that kept the brand alive.

Jockeying for distribution. Trailblazing brands may be up to greater challenges when it comes to distribution simply because of their business size and capital requirement.

Nonetheless, whether a brand is trailblazing or a major player, the same shelf space, position in the mall, location on the street, supply chain and logistics problems, etc. remain the same challenge. Here is where the professional roles and more so, relationships of key accounts managers, merchandisers, real estate brokers, etc. with the landlords, leasing managers, brokers, liaison officers are tested.

Likewise, the founding leader or owner’s vision, business sense and involvement are tested by the way he charts the distribution and brand expansion.

Time management. Focused visionaries who know how to manage their most important but non-renewable resource that is time often lead successful trailblazing brands.

This type of brand owner single-mindedly focuses on managing the brand to bring it to their customer satisfactorily.

These brand owners realize that time is the single most important non-renewable intangible asset of an individual leading a company.

For example, trailblazers do not engage in direct media negotiations. Instead, they leave the planning and buying of advertising time with expert consultants and agencies. They know that their time is better left for tasks related to strategic business decision making that can help the brand become bigger and stronger.

Hedging competition. The competitive environment is far cluttered compared to past decades. With globalization, comes free trade. With global and ASEAN free trade, are far more customer choices. Thus, branding is the single most important business strategy that can help a product or service own a space in the customer’s mind.

Many moons ago, Jollibee was originally an ice cream parlor in Cubao that evolved to a local fast food restaurant that aimed to compete against the global American brand McDonalds.

Its very Filipino menu line up that included Chickenjoy, Yumburger and Jollibee spaghetti were commodity menu offerings that any restaurant owner can offer.

Commodity restaurant

But then, business owners Tony Tan and his family had the vision to grow their business beyond a commodity restaurant.

Today, the Jollibee Food Corporation that continues to offer a simple menu lineup, patterned after McDonalds, is the largest fast food chain in the country with branches overseas.

What sets Jollibee apart through the years and fuelled its annual net income are the images of ‘langhap sarap’, sweet tasting Jollibee spaghetti, Jollibee parties and mascot and the combination of all other positive brand associations that reminded parents, families and children that a must fast food to visit in the Philippines, no matter how personal fortunes have risen and changed for the better, is Jollibee.

Challenge

Commodity products and services that have successfully become brands are challenged to maintain their course. Overwhelmed by success, some brand owners become worn out and lose the passion to win and dominate; others, lose the drive and energy to take their brand farther up the hierarchy. Some are bled dry mentoring; some cash in tempted by bigger acquiring parties and conglomerates; some lose their focus derailed and overwhelmed by new found arrogant, demanding professional kibitzers who pounce on brand owners they think are gullible while others believe there is no one to take it through the next generations.

Trailblazing must remember that today’s dominant brands were once trailblazers many years back.

The difference is, they kept their course, and today have become owners of not one, single brand but multiple brands; not one business but multiple businesses, a number even moving up to become conglomerates.

The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership Executive Education and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. De Asis is also an alumna of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and a PhD graduate of the De La Salle Graduate School, Taft Campus. Reach the author who is also a member of the Global Strategic Consulting Network at karenvdeasis@gmail.com

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