By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Assistant Editor

The Philippine business world is no stranger to big brands. The malls and landmarks that stamp Metro Manila’s map house some of the biggest names in the world, from Samsung and Apple to Uniqlo and the homegrown Jollibee.

The same bee-fronted food and beverage giant, in particular, has become a de facto mascot of Philippine business, with an empire of restaurants all over the globe. But with globalization and the massive opportunities presented by digital technologies, many more could follow in the company’s footsteps.

At least, that’s what Martin Roll, an experienced global business strategist, senior advisor and facilitator to Fortune 500 companies, Asian firms and family-owned businesses, believes.

“You can point at almost any strategic business sector, and you have some entrenched players here whom have been here and doing very well for many years,” he said in an exclusive interview with BusinessWorld, noting the various family-owned conglomerates like Ayala Corp., San Miguel Corp., and Sy-owned SM Corp.

“That’s kind of from a domestic point of view. But when you look at it regionally or globally, I think there is still a lot of opportunities for the Philippines.”

Mr. Roll, who is a Distinguished Fellow and Entrepreneur in Residence at INSEAD business school and is the author of Asian Brand Strategy and co-author of The Future of Branding (2016), said that the country has all the elements to take its brands on the global stage.

“You are English speaking; you’ve got a long history; you were part of the colonized, you’ve got a bit of Spanish heritage and an influential culture, you have been influenced by traders by a lot of cultures over the years. You’re very nice people, you read a lot of popular culture, gaming, music, all those content pieces that you need to have to weave that into your brands,” he said.

As more than 99% of the business establishments in the Philippines are micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), most of which are family-owned, empowering Filipinos with the knowledge of how to build their brands can raise countless communities out of poverty.

Government support, however, is crucial to such an effort, as many MSMEs are struggling to get by and cannot afford to be bolder with their businesses. Mr. Roll pointed out that the Philippines can learn a lot from the efforts of countries like China and Singapore, which have successfully brought many of their citizens into the middle class through government support and entrepreneurship programs which taught them operational and technical skills, as well as the know-how to take advantage of digital technology.

“If you’re a small business owner, I mean, you cannot take two years to do this. Because you are fighting every day for your market to keep those five, 10, 15 people that you employ, it’s a survival game,” he said.

Digital training, in particular, is crucial in a world of rapid change. Though many Filipinos are digitally savvy, there still exists significant hurdles before digital transformation could become the norm.

“You’re definitely digitally savvy, and you’ve got very good digital marketing as you’re on social media. But that’s only one level of digital transformation. And often people confuse the two. Digital marketing and all that comes with that, it’s a very important part of it. And it’s normally where you start. But digital transformation ultimately, is about completely transforming everything that also needs to relate to all the functions supply chain to finance, procurement to legal culture and talent,” he said.

Ultimately, the country has its work cut out for it. In light of the vast opportunities brought about by globalization and digital technologies, the Philippines and its brands could be that much more prominent on the world stage.

“I think there’s an untapped opportunity for the Filipino brands to be a little bolder on a regional level. Because once you bring a brand out in the world, the way I see it, yes, it’s good for the company, and it’s going to create jobs, and it’s gonna create GDP, it’s going to create currency, all that kind of all the business KPIs. But there’s something which is much more unique. It’s also going to bring the face of a country to other people,” Mr. Roll said.

Mr. Roll, in partnership with the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA), held this year’s Brand Masters Sessions on Oct. 2, focusing on Asian Brand Strategy. In line with its thrust of helping its members and the advertising industry to champion courageous and responsible brand building, the organization created the PANA Brand Master Sessions — a mentoring event that brings the mastery of global caliber experts to Manila.