Monday, January 31, 2011

Reaction to EON's "White Paper on Branding the Philippines: Championing the Filipino".

Hey EON! How's this for "branding".
It's yours for free.

This reaction to a re-tweeted link by Our Awesome Planet's Anton Diaz has been in draft mode since January 28.  Despite a pressing need to attend to a couple of projects that'll put butter on my pandesal, I'll write out a couple of thoughts which I hope will help people in government and people 'hired' to make money of it get a bead on what really needs to be done.

The re-tweeted link was originally tweeted by Blogwatch's Noemi Lardizabal Dado and it leads to a blog post "White Paper on Branding the Philippines: Championing the Filipino".

The blog post indicated that reactions were being solicited to a "working draft of a white paper resulting from a recently held Forum on Branding the Philippines led by EON The Stakeholders Relations Firm and ECCP and attended by representatives from Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Makati Business Club (MBC), -Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (ANZCHAM), American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) ECCP, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the Philippines ( JCCIP), Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CANCHAM), Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), -Sycip, Gorres and Velayo Accounting Firm (SGV), and the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office."

My first reaction is that the high priced EON The Stakeholders Relations Firm (in other words, Public Relations company) was basically crowd sourcing inputs for branding ideas.  This is actually, some times, a clever way of tapping the enthusiasm of lots of people online FOR FREE with really no need to give credit.

My second reaction is that it basically says that EON The Stakehgolders Relations Firm managed to wrangle together "representatives" of big name/big deal business groups.

In simpler terms, it's actually a PR for a PR Firm's project saying "Hot dang! We're doing something important. Ug ug!"

Moving on, the "white paper" it released through its own website and through Blogwatch asserts a need to brand the country.  Here is an excerpt from the text version found on the link retweeted by Anton Diaz:
As the world becomes more competitive, people, organizations, companies, and countries become more interconnected than ever. Economies battle to gain a bigger share of investments, tourism, consumers, trade, and power. A country cannot leave its reputation to chance. It must endeavor to develop itself into a country brand. Because when all else is equal, a strong country brand makes the difference.
The Philippines must be able to identify its key competitive advantage and leverage on it. What differentiates it from the rest of the world? How does it want to be known? What does it hope to be associated with? What would make its endeavors recognizable and appreciated?
The answer to these is a positive and compelling brand image for the Philippines, a country brand that works like a magnet which aligns various messages that every city or region sends out into the world (Simon Anholt, 2005). The key is coherence. Messages have to be inter-related, aligned and supportive of the mother brand.
Unfortunately, some recent initiatives of the Philippines in promoting itself for investments or tourism have failed to recognize the critical need for alignment and consistency. Observers remarked how members of Philippine contingent during international conventions or exhibits develop information materials and design booths as if they are from separate countries. At home, no common design element and message is present in government agency websites or in the multitude of brochures were printed about the Philippines.

Now, here's what I know about "branding".

While I was waiting for my son to finish running around with his yaya at SM's The Block, I went inside Fully Booked and looked for a copy of the Social Media Bible.  I didn't find any in the shelf that carried books by Seth Godin and some other guy.  So I turned around and saw on the opposite shelf a series of books on "branding" as well as "brand management" and I read the titles of a couple of these books.  After reading the titles and some of the rave reviews on the dust jacket, I decided that I already knew everything I needed to know about 'branding' and it would be superfluous to actually buy the books.

It's not that I am completely dismissing the importance of branding and brand management, but rather, pointing out that the thriving business of selling people on the necessity of branding as well as so called "new techniques of marketing".

My perspective on marketing is greatly biased towards the idea that it becomes superfluous when you have a product that you can supply consistently at  price, quality, and quantity that people desire.

There was a time when I went crazy over so many purportedly new marketing concepts and then I encountered the reality that much of the BBB or brisk big business in the world benefited little from these marketing concepts.

In the Philippines, for example, I personally know one of two dozen of the country's biggest paper importers. Guess what he thought of marketing or branding when I told him about it?  In not so many words over tea and dumplings, the man said that he doesn't concern himself with marketing since he basically just talks with twenty people who buy all of his goods.  Once in a while he gets a little competition and this is usually when he turns to a number of tactics which have more to do with sourcing supply, financing, and customs brokers.

Marketing, he said pointedly, is a game played by the people who resell his paper in various forms and it is the game of the smaller fish.  It can be a way for the small fish to get bigger, but it ultimately entails so many costs and so many variables -- including the vagaries of human desires -- that make it unwieldy as well as prone to failure.

The better game, he pointed out, was discovering what people "need", securing the supply to the thing that is needed and supplying that "need".  He said that he found it unnecessary to create "need" (a function of marketing) and that discovering "needs" was as cheap as buying a newspaper, then placing a few phone calls (via landline) to a few friends who knew a lot about what he wanted to know.

Now, perhaps what my friend said seems to be so pre-Facebook and Social Media Marketing, but it should lead us to look at a couple of fundamental points that I believe should be addressed first even before we go into the idea of 'branding' the country.

Image from
The venerable Mr. Ben Kritz, whose insights and opinions are better and more thought out than most Filipino columnists, has this to say about the failed branding campaign that was "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" (and because the title says it all, you don't even have to read all one thousand words of it.)

The “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” Embarrassment and Pinoy Culture: A Case of a Product-less Brand
Measures to encourage fundamental cultural change must be developed: ideas that require individual and national self-reliance, accountability, and long-term considerations of actions and consequences – in short, things that advanced societies can do as a matter of course and that primitive societies must learn.
By addressing the fundamental character aspects of culture in this practical way, the more easily-understood symbolic aspects can be addressed more directly. Thus, a tiny tarsier and smiling coconut tree would actually mean something positive, rather than simply being visual cues for the pwede na yan approach – a cultural trait that is probably not particularly helpful in tourism marketing. Culture, the definition of a nation or a people, is essential to society, but cannot be fabricated and only reveals itself in the long-term through results. The results the Philippines have achieved to this point speak for themselves, and speak volumes for the culture. As spectacularly as “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” failed to impress, it is really no better or worse than any other slogan that might replace it – not so long as the slogan is advertising vaporware on a national scale.
Now instead of paying EON for a branding thing-a-magig (which I am sure will be nice and shiny), here are just three things to consider DOING before we get to "branding" the country written by BenignO.
The Philippines' Vital Few initiatives
Population and environmental impact
Every new Filipino person born will require space, food, fuel, and public funds to develop into a productive citizen. He or she will also require parents -- a resource essential to upbringing that is in short supply as well as employment overseas -- and absentee parenting -- is becoming more of a rule than an exception in our capital-deficited society.
We consume and depend on consumption to sustain the economy, yet our ability to produce and create is being atrophied by easy access to imported trinkets, imported food, and even imported capital. Increasing consumption without a commensurate increase in domestic capacity to both produce and create capital is a slow and imperceptible gradual imprisonment within a complex of dependency and a progressive erosion of self-sufficiency, independence, and reduction of ability to be on top of our future.
Poverty in light of this barreling down the slippery slope of wanton reproduction, consumption, and mounting neediness is therefore a simple issue that can be summed up in one little sentence fragment:
Law and order
Criminal elements can smell a weak and inept law enforcement capability and will. Gross loss of confidence in the police, perception of weakness, in-fighting, and lack of sense of purpose within the Government, and a President who seems more interested in sowing his oats than running the country, is emboldening criminals.
As such, we can now see the ripples of the degeneracy of our politics in the marked and renewed brazenness of elements engaged in banditry and thievery. All seemed to have come in the wake of the last six months' spectacular unravelling of the quality of the police, the impotence of the justice system, and the continued abuse of the powers of the Executive branch to grant clemency or amnesty for political ends.
Constitutional Reform
The overarching mission in the Philippines (as it has been for the last 50 years) is invigoration of the economy and reduction of poverty. Constitutional reform (as it is being pursued in its renewed form today) is a component initiative of that mission. The context therefore remains the mission and the component initiatives (one of which is Constitutional Reform) should be defined within that context.
The only thing I would like to add to these three initiatives is a stronger focus on Disaster Planning, Prevention, and Mitigation.

In conclusion, by getting our acts together first, it will be easier to sell our country without having to spend so much on brand promotion that inevitably may just turn into so much fairy-dust once the shit-hits-the-fan (another bombing, another hostage crisis involving foreigners, another massacre, another natural disaster, another slew of foreign investments deterred by 'protectionist' policies, etcetera).


benign0 said...

If we just have to come up with a "brand", we don't need all those characters that what's-his-face branding consultant recommends we engage. Their approach sounds like some kind of perverse management-by-committee on steroids (with the proportionate price tag attached!).

There's this article that is partially spot on and the insight is right on its title "Finding Your Niche", where I submitted this comment:

What's our biggest export? People. What is our most valuable industrial input? Labour-added-value.

In short, our niche is people and labour.

The challenge is to UPGRADE these into premium offerings to the market from the current low-grade commodity prices these command.

Identify the key success factor to meeting that challenge, and THAT then becomes our brand. :-)

Paul Farol said...

Going by this, perhaps instead of exporting 'construction labor', we can export 'craftsmen' or even get foreigners to bring the raw material here which our craftsmen can turn into final products.

Regnard Raquedan said...


The way I see it, the country branding is to help our tourism sector. A good country brand can help make the Philippines an attractive destination to foreign tourists.

While there's nothing wrong with the three items you cited, they are more crucial to us locals (with the exception of public safety).

Even with country problems, tourism will continue-- thus the continued search for a great country brand.

Paul Farol said...

Thanks for writing and I am pleased that you took the time to assert your views on this here blog.

Your view is as valid as mine, but I respectfully disagree with your view that a new, high-priced branding campaign will benefit the country at this point in time.

Branding campaigns take time and a lot of money to become effective. And whatever money we do end up spending for a branding campaign may end up virtually wasted if a new crisis explodes.

So, I guess, the answer here is not really to improve what is essentially the packaging of the Philippines, but work on improving the product itself.

Just consider our transportation and the problems associated with it.

It is a vital component to any country that wants to become a go-to place for tourism. Yet, transportation around our islands remains largely inefficient, slow, and at times dangerous.

In my view, EXCELLENCE is a brand by itself and we manage to become excellent in a few key areas that make for good travel, we won't have to spend a lot of money promoting tourism -- the tourists themselves will do that.

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