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Why marketing in VisMin is tough

If you ever had worked with brands in the Philippines, you will notice that Filipinos are not made equal. Brands need to balance familiarity, respect and relevance to thrive in any market, but doing that in a nation of over 7,100 islands is especially tricky.

Two of the brightest spots in the country are the emerging markets south of Manila. Retail, FMCG and tech brands and malls are popping like mushrooms in Visayas and Mindanao (VisMin), presenting a fresh revenue stream for the marketing industry.

But it’s no low-hanging fruit, according to head honchos at Campaigns & Grey (C&G). To date, the WPP-owned is the only multinational advertising agency in both regions, based in Cebu and Davao respectively.

“Purchase patterns and decision-making are different in every VisMin city. Some tend to really appreciate a brand’s equity, like Davao; while other cities are more value-centric, like Cebu. It’s a different mindset per area,” explains C&G Cebu’s managing director Raymond “Mong” Lapeña (pictured left).

Raising standards

It’s part of the job description that marketers need to deal with hard-to-please customers. But through solid planning and hard-hitting ideas and messages, agencies can cut though cultural nuances and language barriers to reach the target audience.

What makes this especially tough, according to C&G, is when brands are reluctant to spend and see the immense value of specialized marketing communications to their businesses.

While business is booming, the agency said that both regions still need a lot of growth in terms of results-oriented creativity, pointing out that VisMin companies tend to be “traditional and unsophisticated with their marketing communications.”

In their quest for good value for their ad money, VisMin clients are seen to be generally satisfied with simple, hard-sell approaches usually developed by small shops for very minimal costs.

And what you spend is what you get – regional ads that are mostly shoddily produced that pale in comparison with the production quality of national, big budget ads.

It’s a situation not just frustrating for creatives, but also for C&G’s bottom line.

“In VisMin, most local businesses are family-owned, so account managers present concepts directly to the owners – the decision-makers. A company owner often feels that the investment in advertising is money coming straight out of his own pocket, unlike bigger companies which have formal marketing departments with budgets already allocated for marketing and advertising. As a result, we are forced to charge lower creative fees to VisMin clients than those in Manila,” C&G Cebu’s co-managing director Emily Macachor (pictured left).

Lapeña points out that there is a substantial need to educate advertisers her that business results well justifies the costs.

“Convincing clients that there is a whole team that’s thinking of ways of developing equity for their brand is not easy. They would not want to spend premium for the work and are often happy on spending low on the project by giving it to a freelancer. They don’t see the work involved and all the brain-racking behind every presentation,” he adds.

As such, extra hours have to be worked to remind clients of the merits of working with a legitimate, professional advertising agency. More often than not, to be famously effective in the VisMin region involves a good deal of back-rubbing – at least for the mean time.

“In Manila, advertising work is very fast-paced. The competition is very stiff, so clients feel the urgency to keep up or stay ahead of others. In Cebu or Davao though, a lot of companies are not yet very open to investing in their marketing communications, so part of our job is to constantly assure our clients that their brand is in good hands,” Gigi says.

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