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The writing has been on the wall for quite some time now. The way for MSMEs to level the playing field is to strengthen their skills in the field of digital technology.
Although the BSP had already laid out the groundwork for cashless transactions long before the pandemic, it was during the lockdowns that we saw the process go full tilt. Maya, GCash, Lazada, Shopee, Grab, Angkas, these all became bywords as our negosyantes went all-in on e-commerce.
Closer to home, it became more apparent just how far-reaching it was among our MSMEs when, during our Go Nego shows on Facebook Live, and even at our mentoring roadshow – 3M on Wheels, we would encounter micro entrepreneurs telling us how they got their start by live-selling on Facebook. Some of them did so well they began asking how they could level up their selling game.
This was a question I believe was discussed well during our Digital Sign Up Now last Monday.
Why is digitalization so important? Large companies comprise only one percent of the total number of businesses here in the Philippines, yet they have so many resources at their disposal to market their products and services. MSMEs, on the other hand, can only operate at a fraction of this level, yet they generate more than half of the jobs in the country. For years, the battle was skewed to favor the big companies, but no more.
Digital technology is helping level the playing field in all aspects: be it capital, access to markets, and even mentoring. Our fintech companies are starting to offer small business loans and lifting the barriers to capital that used to stand in the way of our MSMEs’ expansion. So many learning resources are available on YouTube and these can teach you everything from how to bake pandesal to simple bookkeeping for small businesses. But among these three pillars of entrepreneurship, it is in the area of markets that we are seeing the biggest shift so far.
During the pandemic, a lot of small businesses were born, and many of them found that selling through social media was the best way to get around the mobility restrictions. With the pandemic now practically behind us, what’s next?
I believe that it’s not enough that our MSMEs put their products and services online; they must learn from the many influencers who use the different social media platforms to sell their products. After all, who better to sell their own products and services than the people who are closest to the business?
The game has changed. With all the social media channels and with the success of influencers showing the way, these MSMEs can become their own marketers to promote their products and services. For those of us who have been in the business long enough, the shift is simply mind-blowing.
I remember when we had Sharon Cuneta as an endorser, and how she did such a good job of enticing her millions of fans to buy Selecta ice cream. We also signed up matinee idols and national celebrities to endorse our other products. They did not come cheap. After you pay their talent fees, you still have to spend millions more on radio, TV, and print ad campaigns.
Back then, it was difficult for a young creative to design a clothing line and sell to people outside of his or her own circles. It could take years to grow that business enough to continue on to another line. Without a celebrity endorser and millions needed to spend on advertising, it could be a long, hard climb to achieve a scale comparable to established brands. Yet, we now see many small companies come up with their own small batches of products and sell them online, then expand their lines in only a matter of months.
A big factor in promoting awareness and encouraging purchases are the influencers. Their primary platform is social media, and their skill is in engaging the audience enough to influence them to act or think a certain way.
While it seems like the world of social media and influencers is the Wild Wild West right now, there is some method to making the most of these social media channels. Each social media platform offers unique advantages to MSMEs who must familiarize themselves with how each can help them grow their businesses. TikTok, for example, puts entertainment first and foremost, while platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are suited for more aggressive selling.
However, the speed at which influencers are made (and torn down) is so dizzying it can be challenging to keep up with who’s who right now. Another challenge is that today’s audience can smell a marketing pitch a mile away. MSMEs, with their homegrown charm, have authenticity on their side.
One of our mentee-entrepreneurs, for example, posts on TikTok videos of how she makes her bagoong alamang. It’s not hard to imagine how a YouTube mukbang (those videos that show a person eating in front of the camera) of someone enjoying her homemade bagoong with green mangoes would help boost interest in her product altogether. Entrepreneurs know their products and services better than anybody. Who else can make better influencers than the entrepreneurs themselves? They are also personally invested in protecting their brands.
The feedback given by social media is priceless. One of our panelists during the summit remarked that not only does social media help you become visible, it also puts your eyes on the market. It is the golden age of marketing, and given the accessibility of these digital tools, there is very little reason for MSMEs not to explore and seize the advantages they offer.
That is why Go Negosyo’s Angat Lahat sa Digital Alliance champions the digital transformation of MSMEs; their growth will ultimately benefit even the large corporations, and their growth can be accelerated if they are given the tools and the opportunities.