The Wisdom and Perils of Business Expansion Amidst Crisis – The Marketing Mentor

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At the recently concluded 12th Mansmith Market Masters Conference, we asked three seasoned marketers about growing and expanding amidst crisis. They are Greg Banzon, COO and EVP of Century Pacific Food; Harvey Ong, COO of Alfamart Philippines; and Alvin So, Regional Head for ASEAN of Bayer Consumer Health. Here is a 4-point summary of what they shared.

Q1: How do you spot and maximize opportunities while effectively managing cost during a recession?

Greg: Be operationally efficient, don’t just cut costs and be stingy. Always have a base plan created from actual scenarios, then, a contingency plan with defined risks. This involves having both a short-term and long-term view while adopting agile thinking. In the end, choose which among many to prioritize – so look at market size, attractiveness, and similar factors.

Harvey: You cannot afford to wait for research as things are changing so fast. Talk to as many people and business partners to get anecdotal evidence and formulate your own hypothesis. Look at the trends in China and other countries which were hit by the pandemic first. Their reality may become our reality after. Organizations need to be agile and adjust fast. Big companies have to let go of having too many processes to standardize. Leaders need to create a culture that provides psychological safety so that employees will be willing and able to deviate and innovate.

Alvin: Opportunities exist, pandemic or not. Bayer shifted its resources and invested in increasing production capacity to support the significantly higher demand for nutritional supplements across Southeast Asia. As a result, we were able to serve consumer demand and help improve health of our consumers.  At the same time, we saw an opportunity to reduce investment in advertising and promotions for non-nutritional brands because of less demand, as people stayed home and were less exposed to allergies and other ailments.  So even in a recession, there are opportunities to both grow and be more financially efficient.

Q2: How do you mitigate risk during uncertain times?

Greg: First and foremost, start by ensuring the safety of your employees. Track their journey during work, while traveling home, and inside their homes to avoid them getting sick. Then define risk at all levels so you can mitigate, do continuity planning, and practice a dry run.

Harvey: The safety of our employees was most important. We didn’t want them getting sick, and passing this on to their families and our customers. So we strictly followed health and safety protocols. We reviewed where store employees were assigned, and we tried to move them closer to where they live to shorten their travel time. To manage our financial risks, we were stricter in managing our cash flow, particularly our merchandise inventory, as well as operating expenses. We drew the line on closing down stores. The most we did was shorten the operating hours. We kept our stores running because our customers counted on us. Remaining open was in keeping with our purpose of uplifting lives in those communities.

Alvin: Two risks to mitigate: 1) Business risk (like higher costs of raw materials and shipping, leading to lower profitability that needs to be offset with removal of bad costs that do not create value) and 2) organization risks (the people in the business). We look into both their physical and mental health, so we have people programs like meetings-free Fridays, or fun virtual team building (with no business discussions).

Q3: How do you co-create the future with key channel members?

Greg: Go deep, get value-added insight for both parties. Extend time horizons from short-term and medium term to long term (including knowing the vision, and values of clients). Do a dry run from the perspective of channel members. Distill your discussions into a few points, because channel members need to talk to so many other suppliers. That’s one reason why Century is now in over 80 countries.

Harvey: Our most important relationship is with our vendors and suppliers. They are our partners in taking care of our shoppers, and we work closely to understand consumer habits and trends. Being transparent and providing direct, timely and honest feedback on how each side can improve is also essential.

Alvin: We co-created in two levels 1) as first / early mover in e-commerce platforms.  We were the first healthcare company to engage closely with our e-commerce partners a few years ago and as a result, we became the top brands in e-commerce with a much higher share than what we had in retail stores, and 2) in Digital, we launched the first ever Consumer Healthcare Tiktok Campaign in Asia with the Berocca 2pm Tiktok dance challenge in Vietnam.  The insight was very simple yet powerful, our energy levels are lowest at 2pm. Everyone can relate to this, and we invited our consumers to take the Berocca 2pm challenge and showcase their dance moves in Tiktok.   It was a massive success.  We got over 300 million views in 2 weeks, and we were even awarded a Global Trendsetter Award by Tiktok

Q4: Any practical tips for entrepreneurs and marketers?

Greg: Crises, no matter how big and expansive, have a lifespan, and they never last forever. Try to forecast impact and duration and how to maneuver your company.

Harvey: Always start with the consumer and ask yourself if your product or service is relevant. If not, improve it. If yes, ensure you have access to funding for expansion separate from the money you need for your base business. Importantly, are you organized for growth? Do you have the capacity and capability to do more? And finally, also consider the opportunity cost or the consequences of not expanding. Remember, your competition will not be keeping still.

Alvin: Start with an ambition. Having ambitious thinking will ultimately lead to success even if your original plan changes drastically. Therefore,  be flexible and agile in strategy and execution.  Success will follow.

Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Mansmith offers an all-access pass to various past conferences! Visit www.continuum-edu.com for details.

The Next Wave of Digital Transformation – The Marketing Mentor

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At the recently concluded 12th Mansmith Market Masters Conference, we asked three seasoned marketers about the next wave of digital transformation. They are Ana Aboitiz-Delgado, EVP and Director of UnionBank of the Philippines, Dr. Nicco Tan, Vice President of Genting Malayisa; and Neil Trinidad, Chief Marketing Officer of Lazada Philippines. Here is a 4-point summary of what they shared.

Q1: What is one thing you want people to know about digital transformation?

Ana: All aspects of our lives were forced online. The challenge is to continue to leverage this technology in order to continue to be relevant in how we work, engage, and improve lives.

Nicco: Enjoy the ride. That’s life, but know that it’s not just digital transformation. This progress is also about the human heart and the human spirit.

Neil: The pandemic pushed us beyond our comfort zone, and those in ecommerce are experiencing hyper acceleration. Remember three points: 1) There will always be new solutions (so continue to try, scale, and repeat), 2) Double down on building trust, because trust builds loyalty, and 3) Now is the best time to try and learn new things. 

Q2: What do you need to consider and not overlook before undergoing digital transformation?

Ana: Focus on people before any transformation. Everybody must know why your chosen platform is burning, explain why. Also, get experts to brief you, secure the support of your board, and assess if you have the right talents (and if you need to bring new people in). Keep learning and unlearning. For example, senior directors of UnionBank had to go through learning robotics 101, coding 101, etc. 

Nicco: Do a digital assessment audit by ensuring four things: 1) That decision makers are on board, 2) Capabilities are present (structure, tech, skills, digital natives vs immigrants, people to bring in vs. for retirement), 3) Performance expectancy is solid (incentives), and 4) You know the effort expectancy (ease of use / usability).

Neil: Understand your consumers. What their consumer journey is, their pain points. Use data and do focus group discussions to understand. The key is to educate first time online shoppers among many competitors, do online posts to test ideas quick, and get consumer feedback. Test not to reduce failure, but to learn in real time via AB testing. 

Q3: What is the next big thing that should be expected in digital transformation?

Ana: It depends on the industry you are in, but once digital transformation is in place, continuous openness to transform is a must. We need to move toward hyper personalization at scale using technology. To build engines of intelligence to form a picture of customers, to add value in their lives–get to know them beyond our industry.  

Nicco: Marketing Tech Stack is knowing how tech can help your vision. Think about affordable personalization tools. Eventually, people may even be paying through a watch screen and not mobile phones.

Neil: Use the tech platform to do livestreams (see now, buy now), make your customers stay within your platform longer by shopping, watching, and playing to stay. Lean on partners and allies with similar strengths to grow your digital journey.

Q4: Should companies catch up or just jump to the next big thing?

Ana:  Develop a two speed organization- one that’s focused on the present and one that is building tomorrow. 

Nicco:  Everyone is in the same boat, it’s just a matter of investment as fast is not always good. If you don’t know how the tech will work, you can’t maximize it. Customers may not be interested in an entire range. You can be superior in x while the same in others and yet you may be preferred over other brands. Digital is horizontal: you need many internal partners, for instance, as data needs to be passed on to someone.

Neil: There is no shortcut. Always have the right fundamentals.  Your purpose can change from platform to sharing opportunities. Barriers to entry are now lower. 

********  Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.  Attend Josiah Go’s 5th “Business Model Design and Innovation 2.0” starting August 3, 2021.  Email [email protected] for details. 

Q&A with Multisys CEO David Almirol Jr. on Strategy – The Marketing Mentor

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David Almirol Jr. is the Founder and CEO of software engineering solutions provider Multisys Technologies Corporation. It was founded in 2010, and in 2018 PLDT, through PLDT Global Investments Holdings Inc., acquired a 45.73% stake for P2.15 billion. David was bestowed one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awards of the Philippines in 2020. In this interview, he shares his views about strategy and resilience in challenging times.

Q1: What has made Multisys so successful so far?

A1: So far, what made Multisys successful somehow is because of its impactful developed agnostic platforms and game-changing solutions.

Q2: Which comes first in consideration, the software itself, or the clients who need the software?

A2: We consider or focus on the software first – but predictively making sure that clients will need it now or later.

Q3: What was your first big break in Multisys that gave you momentum? How did you get this big break?

A3: Our first big break was when PLDT invested to Multisys, they amplified our strengths and they guided us patiently to align our directions. I guess, they saw our burning passion and our ready solutions aligned to their vision of helping more Filipinos through technology and innovation.

Q4: Your first business, a computer business in Isabela, failed and you lost all your investments saved from being an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). You also lost your family’s house thrice, but continued and eventually recovered and thrived after. What key lessons did you learn from these experiences that you were able to apply in Multisys and your subsequent businesses?

A4: I learned so much from failures. I considered them my ‘natural mentors’. I learned also to surround myself with good people, people that look at your strengths not on your weaknesses. I also learned to surround myself with good partners, partners that holds your hand through thick or thin, and aim to help each other and grow together as friends and business partners.

Q5: You like to use the analogy of playing chess (example: sicilian defense – dragon variation) to explain your moves. What is it about chess strategy that you would like to share with our readers?

A5: Chess strategies are quite hard to explain because there are so many variations. So many openings, middle games and end games. Sometimes we lose sometimes we win – even chess grandmasters experienced loses. So it’s okay to lose sometimes, but we should learn from those loses. There are patterns and rules to win the game. It’s about knowing your pieces, appreciate their strengths whether they just a pawn, a rook or a horse. You cannot win even if you are the king, we need all of the pieces to move accordingly. Teamwork. Patience. Sacrifice.

Q6: What achievement are you proudest of in Multisys, and why?

A6: I am so proud of the whole Multisys family, it’s not an easy achievement. A lot of rocky roads at start, but we walked together. We failed so many times, but we rised up together. We will continue to hold hands and dream for this family to achieve more by bringing more innovation and promote Filipino ingenuity in the global arena. This dream alone, made me humbled but proudest.

******** Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Attend his 5th Business Model Design and Innovation class starting Aug. 3, 2021. For inquires, please email [email protected]

What CEOs Expect from Marketers Post Crisis – The Marketing Mentor

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We asked three CEOs from different industries what they expect from their marketers during (and eventually after) the COVID-19 crisis. These three CEOs — Aleli Arcilla, President and General Manager of Reckitt Benckiser Philippines (better known as the maker of Lysol, and Strepsils); Johnlu Koa, Founder and CEO of French Baker; and Jet Parma, President and Country Manager of agri-based Syngenta Philippines—built on each other’s views during the recently concluded 12th Mansmith Market Masters Conference. Here is a 5-point summary of what they shared. 

Q1: What do CEOs want marketers to do more?

Aleli: Ask for more collaborative support.

Johnlu: Be in the know of what is happening in the business landscape and know their implications to the business.

Jet: Be much speedier in execution. Plans can be perfected while in execution instead of being implemented late and therefore losing relevance.

Q2: What do CEOs want marketers to do less?

Aleli: Don’t ask for excess money (marketing budget).

Johnlu: Less talk, more action, and no blaming.

Jet: Less time planning (more agile action).

Q3: What are big COVID-19 realities marketers should acknowledge?

Aleli: Digital acceleration has become a digital revolution.

Johnlu: Be realistic with your marketing mix strategy, as the economy has contracted and product and service substitution is a reality. It would be wise to have alliances with suppliers to survive together, with each party willing to give up something for the others.

Jet: Know that competition will be fiercer since all other businesses also want to survive in the marketplace.

Q4: What skills and behaviors should marketers need to face in the post-pandemic world?

Aleli: Finding opportunities in adversity and to see the new realities ahead of others. Also, skills in personalization and understanding of the consumer journey, as they are currently shut out of the world. Precision targeting to maximize return on investment, experimentation, AB testing curiosity, and being nimble, resilient, and having endurance.

Johnlu: Thinking strategically or else your brand image will be affected permanently.

Jet: Be ready with growth options based on possible short-term, medium-term and long-term scenarios for the CEOs to choose from.

Q5: What important message would you want to share to marketers?

Aleli: Marketers should think like torch bearers. They are the heart of the organization; they should keep learning and make their idea archive full and robust. Be insightful so you have more options because you have a story to tell.

Johnlu: Organization is shaped by culture. Corporate versus entrepreneurial culture are different that is why opportunity seeking speed are different.

Jet: Customers want to be cared for, not sold to. Companies need to be caring.

Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.  Attend Josiah Go’s 2nd Advanced Strategy and Marketing Course starting July 12, 2021.  Email [email protected] for details.