Saturday, 20 February 2010

Market positioning 2

SUBIC is Gordon, and Gordon is Subic.

The man has intimately woven the Subic brand into his persona, the two are almost now indistinguishable. From an American backwater with hardly any source of income apart from the entertainment spending of naval officers and men, Dick has made a destination haven of sorts for the place. Today it boasts of entertainment centers, gambling casinos and first class hotels.

And of course, it has business and industry too. Gordon wants to duplicate the microeconomy that is Subic, into the macroeconomy that is the Philippines, and he is building his platform on that promise.
And of course, what would an election be without Erap? The man for the masses he claims to be, with the common man’s aspirations tagged into his platform. And probably he is right to stake his wagon to such a horse. After all, these are the people who flock in droves to see his movies, and therefore it is only logical that they will be the ones to support him in his drive to regain the presidency.

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Brother Eddie? Oh, of course the man of God. Righteous, morally upright and incorruptible, with the fear of God on his side.

Brother Eddie wants to transform the country into a bastion of conservative Christianity, much like Pat Robertson of the 700 Club in the United States wants to do. And there too is a significant chunk of the electorate waiting to be tapped.

These men are the products, and we are the buyers. How they position themselves before us, dictates how we will assess them and make our choices. Do we want an honest and upright person?
Is technocratic competence more important for us? Do we need a man for the masses? Or is religious zeal uppermost in our echelon of values? Whichever trait appeals to the most voters should win, no?
In theory, yes. But just like the dilemma of market positioning, it isn’t always quite so simple.

Credibility in positioning is important. First of all, how believable are their declared attributes? Noynoy claims to be an honest lad. Does he have the credibility to do so?

Gordon passes himself off as a transformational technocrat. Does he have the track record to do it? And Erap comes with the guise of being a man of the poor. Do his deeds bear him out on this claim?
It is easy enough to claim any number of attributes, but proving it is another thing. And a false or weak claim to an attribute can very well derail a person’s candidacy, and expose him or her to being a charlatan.

The other important consideration is the uniqueness of a position. How crowded is their place in marketing space? Are others already occupying it? For instance, Gordon and Gibo have fairly similar stakes to the “technocrat” attribute. Just as Dick claims to be the management guru of the lot, Gibo also says the same thing about himself.

Who will people believe between them? Or will they end up splitting the vote into two?
The same goes for the “man of the masses” title. Manny Villar thought he had appropriated the tag for himself, but at the last minute Erap surprised everyone by having his candidacy accepted by the Comelec. Which leaves Manny in a very tight pickle indeed because his “Tondo boy” credentials are also the same ones which Erap is using to entice voters to his side.

It is going to be an interesting marketing game all the way to May!

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 20, 2010.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Market positioning

A SOAP is a soap is a soap. Well, in the old days at least, that was the thinking. As long as it bubbled, cleaned, and made one smell reasonably fresh, it had done its job. One soap was as good as any other.

Today, the choice for consumers is not quite as limited as that anymore.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

If one wanted to be doubly sure about cleanliness, there are any number of germicidal soaps out there in the market specifically for their needs. From sulfur and zinc soaps, to those with other germicidal ingredients, the choice is varied. For those whose main concern is moisturizing, for them too there is a wide variety of available products, which all claim to be able to add moisture to one’s dry skin. And then, of course, there is the craze of the moment—whitening soaps, which cater to the Filipinos’ obsession to be of the color they are not.

For them too there are a lot of products which promise to fulfill this vanity, and to make them look like they were born in Los Angeles, California instead of Angeles City, Pampanga.

There are even soaps which do not look like soaps at all.

Those among us of the more sophisticated bent go for liquid shower gels to cleanse ourselves, preferring the convenience and exclusivity of the product over the mass market appeal of the soap bar. From products sold by mass market FMCGs, to the more niche appeal of those from the Body Shop, to the really snobbish Molton Brown, there is likewise a large selection to choose from. So long as there is money to spend, there are products to buy.

All a matter of market positioning among the competing products.

Some products stand for cleanliness, others for moisturizing, a number for low cost, and a few for exclusivity. Each group appeals to a particular segment of consumer, whose needs and wants it is able to address.

The coming May 2010 elections is an interesting study in political market positioning among the candidates. From Noynoy to Gibo, Manny to Erap, Dick to Eddie, and Nick to Jamby, all project themselves somewhat differently to the electorate.

And whether or not their images will resonate with voters in terms of the satisfaction of the latter’s needs and wants, determines whether they will succeed in governing this country, or end up returning to their day jobs.

First off, we have Noynoy, the honest boy. Born to Cory and Ninoy, he promises to carry the torch of integrity, and rid the country of the scourge of graft and corruption.

His campaign slogan says that he will not steal, and will give back to the people every cent they paid in tax in the form of better services. To those of us who are fed up with financial scandals, tax cheats and other political shenanigans, his campaign is the beacon of hope for clean government.
Then we have Noynoy’s cousin, Gibo Teodoro. He positions himself as an intelligent voter’s choice. Brainy, articulate and extremely competent, his message to the voters is that he will elevate this country to greater heights. Ready to fly, is his slogan.

Manny Villar, the self-made billionaire from the slums of Tondo, comes to the voter with his “man for the masses” appeal. I’ve been there, done that, paid all my dues, is his rallying cry.
He is saying to the voters that if they vote for him, he will do all he can to elevate the plight of the poor, in the same way as he elevated his own station in life many years ago.

More next week…
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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 13, 2010.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

No exchange

IN the 1980’s, the first shots of the shareholder revolution were fired, in the United States and in Europe.

Prior to this, management boards were all-powerful, and were virtually running their organizations like total owners.

Shareholders, who often owned majority of the companies they invested in, were relegated to the role of spectators, watching, sometimes helplessly, as management ran their companies to the ground, or undertook some really bad decisions that jeopardized their investments.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

The rise in the vigilance of shareholders about the well-being of the companies they were invested in came at just the right time, as the companies they owned began to fail, one after the other, through a series of errors and ill-timed decisions.

The 1980s was the time when the Maxwell pension scandal broke out in the United Kingdom. Robert Maxwell, the larger-than-life media mogul who ruled over Britain’s tabloid press at the time, was caught fiddling with his company’s pension plan. Money that was supposed to go to widows, orphans and senior citizens was funneled to fund the man’s frivolous ways, and many of his retired workers ended up broke and penniless.

In the United States at the same time, corporate wrongdoing were a dime a dozen. This era was dominated by “greed” and “excess,” epitomized by Michael Douglas’ character in the movie “Wall Street.” The ‘80s was marked by takeovers, mergers and acquisitions that seemed to make no business sense, culminating in the famous RJR Nabisco saga, which led to the ultimate collapse of the mergers and acquisitions bubble in the United States.

Shareholder and investor activism, to a large degree, helped to tame corporations into doing the right things.

In Britain, their actions led to widespread pension reform, which ushered in the era of safe and reliable pension fund management in that country. In America, shareholders ousted a larger number of chairmen, chief executives and other senior managers, helping to instill prudence and common sense once more in corporate affairs. Without those drastic actions, life in corporate Europe and America would have turned out very differently indeed.

But what about in politics? What redress do voters have against incompetent and unfit officials, who happen to have been voted into power on the strength of false expectations? Is there such a thing as a shareholder revolt in political terms?

Yes there is, and in the Philippines we have tried it at least a couple of times already. In fact, we have names for them —Edsa 1 and Edsa 2, with numerous other mini-uprisings in between.
Problem is, we cannot have too many of them.

Coup d’etats are, in actual fact, illegal and against democratic principles. OK, Edsa 1 was wholly justified, even as Edsa 2 was much less so. But unlike shareholder revolts, which mostly strengthen the organizations where they take place, forced expulsion of democratically elected leaders is bad news for business. While investors may like to undertake their own revolts, they are mostly not too pleased when these revolts take place in the countries where they are in.

Which leaves us, the electorate, with only one choice this coming May. Since we cannot change our board of directors in mid-term, we need to make sure that those we elect are already the right ones to begin with.

Unlike in business, in politics, it is “no-return, no-exchange.”

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February
06, 2010.