Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beyond meaning well

Given where we are as an economy and as a nation, it’s not surprising every Pinoy wants to offer our two cents. And we all mean well! And it appears Mar Roxas is acknowledging that with his clarification on the renovation of NAIA 1. He probably needed sufficient time – rather new to the job – to get a good handle on the challenge. Early on he was for focusing on Clark. And it wouldn’t be surprising (given all the hoops the government has had to go through with NAIA 3) that there was a school of thought that we ought to start with a clean slate, and Clark offered that option.

Not knowing Mar Roxas, it appears that in tapping the expertise of the folks behind Singapore Changi Airport, he was benchmarking not parochially but globally – which is bound to ruffle feathers! When do we start to learn to be outward-looking? Haven’t we been punished enough – becoming economic laggards – by our inward-looking bias? It cannot be overemphasized that we are competing not only for tourists but in the bigger global investment and trade arena. It’s noteworthy that the cabinet’s economic cluster is well aware of the challenge and raised the issue of our airport woes. And since they impact our competitiveness efforts, the NCC has rightly taken the initiative as they focus on upgrading our airport and elevating our image.

Defining a challenge means identifying both the soft and hard elements of the problem. And again, Mar Roxas seems to remind people about this: we must put priority on the structural issues of NAIA 1, i.e., the hard elements. The aesthetic obviously is among the soft.

Applying the same yardstick, the challenge to raise our image has its soft and hard elements. The soft elements start with the fight against corruption that President Aquino is pursuing. And, of course, we’re not just about beautiful tourist attractions but more important is the beauty and hospitality of the Filipino. We also have been home to foreign companies and that our financial and commercial infrastructure is fairly well-developed. Yet, one of the biggest turnoffs to foreign investors is our oligarchic culture nurtured by political patronage and crony capitalism – the latest being the Senate investigation on the alleged insider trading that allowed the Pangilinan group controlling interest over Philex. Foreign investors are well aware that the chips are stacked against them – until they indulge in our game! And that is reflected in the meager foreign investment levels that we generate. What are we doing to truly level the playing field? Have we internalized that beyond our cacique orientation, progressive investors bring along technology and innovation that we sorely need to raise our competitiveness? We have for decades been indulged in self-flagellation, and wonder why neighbors continue to outdo us in exports?

It will do us a world of good when presenting and communicating the image we want to the outside world, that we are able to address these soft factors. And we should do the same with the hard elements. For example, what are we doing with power generation? That is something we must address in our image-building initiative. That we have a high-level effort (from the top of the house?) to fix the problem and make our industry cost-competitive, for instance? How much have we integrated manufacturing zones with infrastructure and logistics? In short, how efficient and cost-effective is our manufacturing environment? Again, it is something we must include in our image-building communication campaign. In a word, even advertising must pass the test of transparency! And transparency comes from authenticity!

Communication in marketing or advertising has to satisfy the hurdles of rational, emotional and experiential benefits. Enormous resources can be wasted if communication is not world-class, and cannot appeal to the human senses – or what marketers call 360-degree marketing. And just like Mar Roxas is benchmarking globally in raising the yardstick to measure NAIA 1, efforts to communicate and elevate our image must likewise be benchmarked globally. Consumers especially in this day and age are well-informed – and so smart marketers do, and indeed must, have a lot respect for them.

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