At 17, Mike Concepcion started honing his skills in retail by selling shirts with his cousin. A few years later, he started his own business in the form of eyewear boutique Ronnie & Joe. A year later, he brought US-based lifestyle store Commonwealth to the country. Now, he’s crossing over to the food industry, with the opening of Mighty Quinn’s in Manila where his family’s Standard Hospitality Group partnered with the owner of the New York barbecue joint. With him as marketing director, Concepcion has bigger shoes to fill, something he is more than willing and ready to take on.

How challenging is it to come up with marketing strategies for food brands? And how different is it from retail?

I don’t think it’s any different at all really. Marketing, at least in my perspective, is simply storytelling. I can’t stress its importance to our business enough. I find that it’s critical to our customers that they understand what we do and why we do it. The same could be said for the art behind our eyewear at Ronnie & Joe for example; that same passion, tradition, and the patience and years of mastering the craft also applies to how we approach any of our food concepts. For Mighty Quinn’s particularly, there is an incredible amount of preparation and a science behind what we do that you don’t necessarily see in the food line. We work with some of the best people in the field of barbecue, like pitmasters who have dedicated their lives to perfecting this process. It’s a process that hasn’t exactly been done in the Philippines before, so I feel it’s my responsibility to convey that message.

What’s the most effective way to stand out in a crowded industry?

Specialization. It’s a concept we’ve believed in since day one. Create a singular concept with focus and aim to be the best in it. It’s something we apply to our vision for both hospitality and retail. When people go out to eat, they don’t say “Let’s go have American food or Italian,” they say, “Let’s go have barbecue or go get ramen.” And when they do think of that dish, we want to be top of mind in that category by creating an extremely well-made product backed up by excellent customer service.

“Marketing, at least in my perspective, is simply storytelling. I can’t stress its importance to our business enough. I find that it’s critical to our customers that they understand what we do and why we do it,” says Mike Concepcion.

What are some marketing misconceptions you learned the hard way?

I’ve learned the importance to stay true to your message. Keep things organic and never forced. People have become so savvy on the internet that they see right through any ‘promo’ or hidden agenda. We like to keep things fairly straightforward and honest. There is also so much content these days, it’s incredibly important now more than ever to simplify.

Marketing has become more complicated in this digital age. Is it necessary for food brands to be wired and have presence online?

Social media is extremely important in what we do. It’s our generation’s way of communicating with each other, and for brands like ours, communicating with our specific audience. Omar Quiambao, who is my LA-based partner at Commonwealth, taught me that it is an opportunity to curate and present ideas from the brand’s specific point of view. It’s ingrained in our society and should be a part of any business. What will set you apart is your ability to understand how to use it the right way.

Should restaurateurs be scared of social media?

I think it’s encouraging. It keeps us on our toes. There will always be critics who don’t understand or may disagree with what you do. I’ve learned to just keep doing what we do and keep striving to do that job well. You will lose yourself in this business once you start to obsess over every comment. I feel that as long as you offer an authentic and value-for-money product, there isn’t anything you need to shy away from.

Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 14 No. 1