5 tips on how merchants can thrive in the age of Internet

Katherine Visconti
Experts in marketing, media and telecommunications dish out up-to-the-minute advice for the rapidly changing internet age

MANILA, Philippines – In the internet age, what can merchants do to improve business? 

Experts in marketing, media, retail, tourism and telecommunications dished out their advice and current strategies to some 200 merchants who attended the 14th Annual Ayala Malls Merchant Forum from March 19 to 20.  


Insights came from the likes of Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Pancake House chairman Martin Lorenzo, Unilever Philippines Vice President for Corporate Affairs Chito Macapagal, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, Coca-Cola Marketing Director Anubha Sahasrabuddhe and Globe Telecoms Landline Head Luis T. Villanueva. 

Here is what they had to say: 

1. Tap into Filipinos’ emotions

Coca-cola has been in the Philippines for exactly one century giving the iconic beverage company ample time to study the Filipino consumer. 

“What’s unique to the Filipinos is the depth of emotion they feel,” said Coca-Cola country marketing director Anubha Sahasrabuddhe.

“Whether it’s high times or low times, the emotion is front and center,” she stressed.


EMOTIONAL. Coca-Cola Marketing Director Anubha Sahasrabuddhe says, "People want to cry. The depth of emotion is best expressed that way, happy or sad." 

She acknowledged that Coca-Cola advertisements purposely tap into Filipinos’ emotional core. 

As an example, she highlighted their tearjerker 2011 advertisement, which depicts the true story of how Coke sponsored Christmas trips back to the Philippines for 3 Filipinos working far from home.

A man taking care of children who hadn’t seen his own son since he was 1 year old, 11 years ago. Another man who couldn’t afford to visit home because he was working to buy medicine for his nearly blind father. And a female caregiver who hadn’t seen her daughters’ daughters. 



“So you’ll see that in local Filipino campaigns the emotionality of things is very profound which makes it very different from the rest of Asia and to parts of the Western world,” said Sahasrabuddhe. 

Emotionality is also what Filipinos are looking for in news, explained Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. The veteran journalist cited Rappler’s mood meter as a way of marrying readers’ gut-feel with factual stories.

“Why is the mood meter important? Neurophysysicts tell us that 80% of how you make every decision in your life is powered not by your intellect but by your emotions,” said Ressa, referencing Jonah Lehrer’s ‘The Decisive Moment: How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind.’ 

2. Harness social media to spread the news for you

The Department of Tourism’s recent “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign is the quintessential example of having the public do a brand’s legwork for it. 

The country brand achieved worldwide reach on twitter and the world wide web, all with very little media spending. The campaign was created as one that social media users would want to pick up, play with and spread. Public buy in was key. 

But merchants want to know how they can manage a crisis when they don’t have access to the newsroom, asked the event moderator, ANC host David Celdran.

Veteran journalist Maria Ressa responded, “They should be in heaven. The days of the gatekeepers are gone.” 

EMPOWERMENT. Veteran journalist Maria Ressa tells merchants, "If something happens, you are the newsmaker."


“Now you have as much power. But you have to build it,” added Ressa.

She suggested starting with those who already believe and buy into the brand, the employees. Each one can represent the brand on social media.

“When a message is spread on social media, researchers have shown that it is 78% more effective when sent by a friend,” said Ressa.  

“Don’t look at the internet as an add on, it is a must have now,” she said, “Develop your reputation online early.”

3. Offer do it yourself options, let consumers harness their own creativity

As in news, design and even marketing is not limited to professionals anymore. Everyday people can play an important role. 

DIY. Style mavens agree that consumers are playing a larger role in shaping fashions, sometimes even creating designs themselves.

With the range of technology and apps at peoples’ fingertips, everyday people can bring their own designs to life agreed a panel of 4 style mavens, including: Bijou’s Interior Designer & Jewelry Designer, Santiago Mangada Puno’s Creative Director Lady San Pedro, Santiago Mangada Puno’s Executive Creative Director Marci Reyes and Philippine Tatler’s Editor-at-large Mia Borromeo.  

“With instagram and other new innovations, everyone can sort of DIY (do-it-yourself), be your own photographer or decorator,” said Lady San Pedro.  

Mia Borromeo pointed out that brand campaigns, like the one for the Department of Tourism, can successfully bring in consumers creativity and DIY mentality to spread a message. 

4. Act ahead of the trend

“Before going green was popular we had that gut feel that you have to bring back something to society,” said Unilever Vice President for Corporate Affairs, Chito Macapagal. 

BEYOND REQUIREMENTS. Unilever's Vice President for Corporate Affairs says, "We are not required to have a domestic waste water treatment plant but we went beyond compliance."

Unilever, the company behind big brands like Lipton, Dove and Sunsilk, began pursuing sustainable agriculture in 1995. In 2001, Unilever cut water consumption in their factories 7.2% from the year before. Their initiatives included using sustainable sources of animal products, more environmentally friendly packaging and biofuels, among others.

The moves had a massive impact since Unilever products are available in 90% of the households on the planet. For example, 14 million washes are done every hour with their detergent so just urging consumers to reduce water temperature and energy has a huge cumulative effect. 

4. Consumers hunger for authenticity

Being authentic is crucial agreed several panelists.

“If your ad is good it pushes an emotional button,” said Ressa, “But what goes viral are the things that strip away facades and hit fundamental truths.”   

Coca-Cola has had several successful viral videos. Their OFW clip on YouTube alone has over 1 million views. Their country marketing director thought it was necessary to harness real people and real stories, like a 100 year-old man and his journey to see the birth of a new grandchild. 


“What we know now is that the big institutions, governments and companies are afraid of losing control,” said Ressa, “but you actually need to loose control to go viral, to join social media.” – Rappler.com

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