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The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled “Rallying Around the Research Can Never Be Wrong.” In it, Christopher Cua, the Marketing and Finance Director of Chatime, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in market research.
The Role of Market Research in Keeping Ahead of the Competition
Anyone who’s ever set foot inside a Filipino mall in the last few years knows the power of milk tea. Whether it’s at the food court or simply mixed in with other retail stores, it’s hard to walk around a mall without spotting a milk tea place or two.
One of the milk tea chains one is likely to see is the Taiwanese brand Chatime. With over 100+ stores in the Philippines, the brand has seen considerable growth since it first touched down in the country in 2011.
Marketing and Finance Director Christopher Cua has been there every step of the journey so far. He, his cousin, and his cousin’s wife split managerial duties of the brand three ways, with Cua responsible for both the finance and marketing side of operations. “We’re really a small team,” Cua said. “So we really have a hands-on approach to our marketing.”
To say then that the milk tea market is competitive would be an understatement, with the Philippines ranking second in overall milk tea consumption within Southeast Asia. Yet Cua has a disarmingly simple strategy for keeping Chatime ahead of their competition.
“Honestly, you just have to follow your market,” Cua said. “This means spending on market research studies is an utter must, and it needs to be followed.”
Thus, Chatime has doubled down on researching and developing flavors that are a hit with their market. Cua even pointed out that Chatime was actually the first to bring brown sugar milk tea to the Philippines and that their most successful campaign was the launch of their Thai milk tea collection back in 2017. This dedication to rolling out new, innovative products to differentiate themselves in the market stood in stark contrast with their initial approach of holding as many product launches as they could.
Cua offered up Chatime’s past practice of experimenting by launching a load of fruity drinks one after the other. Yet they found that these variants always underperformed when compared against simply launching another milk tea line or chocolate variants. Cua and his team were then able to back up this finding with external research that found that Filipinos value “sweet,” “creamy,” and “rich” flavors. Thus, they saw it apt to concentrate on launching flavors that had all of these traits.
“We used to think more product launches would mean good publicity and then sales,” he said. “But we found out it’s better to just really focus on innovating one to two flavors that’ll be a likely hit. It’s quality over quantity.”
Another place that Chatime has doubled down on is their social media marketing strategy. Cua acknowledged that market research has shown them they have a mostly young clientele. This means their marketing has to revolve around the use of Facebook and Instagram―to the point that all of their marketing is now done digitally.
There are many factors that Chatime’s marketing team consider when deciding what content to post. First, Chatime as a brand must embody a youthful, fun character. For Cua and his team, this means that Chatime’s Facebook feed is filled with witty memes, colorful posts, and generally attention-grabbing content designed to be easily consumed while quickly scrolling through one’s newsfeed.
Marketing on social media is also effective financially. Cua recounted a time in the past when they invested in a billboard but saw far greater returns on their Facebook posts. “Posting on Facebook is pretty much free,” he said. “And much more efficient at reaching our targetaudience.”
It’s this precise selection of what mediums work best for them that Cua believes has led to Chatime’s recent success in the country. It’s all too often, he observed, that some companies will use the wrong channel for the wrong message. For instance, they veered largely away from long-form posts or even videos that are more than just a few seconds long, finding that they’re ineffective at holding their audience’s attention.
Of course, Cua and his team are not above listening to outside advice. Every now and then, they would meet with other Chatime franchisees from countries like Australia and Indonesia to discuss what has worked for their business and what hasn’t, effectively creating a community where they could all learn from each other. They also listen to inputs from branding agencies and at one point Cua and his team were even able to come up with a brand-new tagline for the brand with the agency’s help.
According to Cua, “Our tagline was once ‘Good tea, good time.’ Now it’s ‘Shaking tea up,’ which is a play on words that tells our audiences two things. One is we’re shaking things up, meaning we’re always innovating. Second is that our tea is always freshly shaken, which means it’s freshly made and speaks to the quality of our product.”
Cua has high hopes for the future of Chatime. Since 2018, he’s observed that tea is going more mainstream and that people are slowly willing to pay more for something that satisfies their cravings―their market research has found that the average consumer is actually willing to pay at least PHP150 for a drink. “When we were first starting out,” Cua recalled. “The best we could hope for was PHP100.”
Additionally, Chatime has started to look at expansion beyond Metro Manila. “We’ve actually started to roll out publicity material in Bisaya. If current trends keep up, we’ll probably do more of those,” Cua said.
Whatever the future holds for Chatime, one thing is for sure: wherever the market research shows the customer is, their brand is sure to follow.
To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Christopher Cua, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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