Branding Bading: On Branding, Queer Representation and Creativity

INTERVIEW Branding Badings: On Branding, Queer Representation and Creativity Why this LGBTQ+ creatives and marketing agency isn’t out to rival the country’s giants but is OUT to make a difference, one results-driven “baklaan” at a time. We’ve interviewed Studio Hibang’s Managing Director Paul Sumayao and his thoughts on the power the creatives hold today, queer representation, and brand life in the digital age. Studio Hibang (SH): What are key learnings you’ve had (and will have) during this pandemic? Paul Sumayao (PS): A lot! Besides surfacing how inept our government really is, in itself, the global pandemic has surfaced polarizing discussions as to the directions of our new lives as individuals and as a community. While we all figured out a new way to live, brands rushed to their drawing boards to pivot AND figure out ways to not just survive, but thrive. This need for reflection, I think, have always been around the corner, lurking in the shadows like an unpaid billing statement. We were trying to delay this ‘change’ for a while until it finally caught us in a corner and forced us to adapt. SH: Does this mean that the pandemic has caused more good than harm? PS: Not at all. Like I said it has surfaced the evils and the best among us in equal portions. Now it’s up to us how to move forward. SH: You’ve worked with several fashion and food brands before over the course of your career. Will you call yourself a brand expert? PS: Never. I wouldn’t call myself that. Not in a million years. No one really is a brand or branding expert. No one has ever perfected a brand: even Google, Apple and Nike are ‘imperfect’ brands to someone who’s into Yahoo, Samsung, or Adidas in that order. So no one should call himself/herself/themselves a brand(ing) expert. Photo by Balazs Ketyi SH: Okay, but why is branding important? PS: Products die, but brands live forever. Well, not all brands, but a Brand tends to have a life outside just a simple logo, packaging or website. Most entrepreneurs make the mistake of saying “Hey you, I’m a brand: I am this, I am that” in the beginning. True branding lies in what your customers eventually say or feel about you. Great visual branding will make you memorable, but what makes it effective is your customer being part of your brand narrative like actors in a play instead of being simply an audience member. A customer’s participation in the brand should go beyond just buying. “Fast forward to the pandemic and I’ve seen, first-hand, opportunities in assisting brands through creatives or marketing, and in turn assisting LGBTQ+ Creatives through representation.” BKL/Bikol Bakla: Anthology of Bikolnon Gay Trans Queer Writing at the 2019 Metro Manila Pride SH: Was it this realization about brand(ing) that lead you to open Studio Hibang? PS: Not exactly. A few years ago during one of the strategic planning sessions I’ve attended as an employee, we were asked by the facilitator about three ‘dream statements.’ I was asked the same question again in graduate school in 2019 and when my mentors Rica and Carlo Buenaflor asked the same question, I knew the Universe was trying to say something. My dream statement was to be able to give back to my community (in this case, the LGBTQ+ community) through a project or an enterprise which I own. When the BKL/Bikol Bakla anthology was put out in 2019 I knew it won’t be the last and that there is more. Fast forward to the pandemic and I’ve seen, first-hand, great opportunities in assisting brands through creatives or marketing, and in turn assisting LGBTQ+ creatives through representation. Hence Studio Hibang was born. SH: And why call it Studio Hibang? PS: My partner Jedi actually coined it while we were discussing potential names for the agency. I was in my last few days of employment.  I wanted something very Filipino, cheeky, and memorable. In Filipino it translated to madly or crazy in love and it just made so much sense. It’s a value proposition (for our clients and their customers) and at the same time a feeling. He uttered it over breakfast and before lunch I already paid for the business name registration online. Haha. I also liked the wordplay around “Hibang” and “Ibang” (difference, variation) and how we’ve always wanted to offer something different. SH: You’ve recently called out folks who think that in these times, creative positions in organizations are “non-essential.” PS: That’s right. I’ve seen stories from Facebook groups where executives have collapsed their Marketing teams to beef up other departments such as Operations or Logistics in light of the pandemic. Totally understandable from the bottom line end, but I’ve always felt it’s counterproductive. Photo: Tim Mossholder SH: And why so? PS: You see, the pandemic has posed challenges to keep businesses afloat, but it has surfaced new territories for brands to conquer. In the Philippines, the growth among small businesses has been massive. We’ve seen global trend reports on the growth of hyperlocal markets and I think our country is poised for this. In these new territories, visuals, creative strategy, and brand communications are all important. Who will create content to ensure your brand gets across? Who will be there come up with creative strategies to acquire new customer base? In the simplest terms, who will create the social media visual advising your customers that your deliveries will be delayed? SH: ‘New territories’ seem like an exciting idea. Tell us more. PS: Well, these ‘new territories’ aren’t entirely new. Of course there’s e-commerce. And then there’s logistics such as delivery. And then there are other services like digital marketing and new means of communications. There are newer formats in hyperlocal retail. What makes these novel territories are usually the manner by which a company or a brand pivots itself into. So the question really is within these new territories the company is trying to win over, who will