Fast food brand Jollibee is a prime example of cultural branding success in the Philippines and Brand Finance’s Alex Haigh explains how its business strategy leverages national and cultural identities to differentiate and elevate itself in a crowded market.

Business of Brands is a mini-series that analyses the strategy of top-performing Asean brands and what marketers can learn from their growth story.

In the modern marketplace, culture isn't just an accessory to branding, it's the very ground from which enduring brand identities grow. As businesses globalise, those rooted deeply in unique cultural identities are blossoming, demonstrating the profound impact of what is commonly termed as “place branding”.

The concept of place branding is a potent business strategy that leverages national, regional, local and cultural identities to differentiate and elevate a brand in a crowded market, including developed nations and emerging economies.

Located in the bustling Southeast Asia region, the Philippines, known for its vibrant culture and spirited community, has shown significant prowess in this arena, as evidenced by its impressive performance in the Brand Finance Soft Power Index 2024. In terms of international perceptions on overall soft power, the Philippines placed 52nd among all 193 nation brands, moving up nine positions from 2023’s rankings.

Soft power is defined as a nation’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena (states, corporations, communities, public, etc) through attraction and persuasion rather than coercion. Each nation is scored across 55 different metrics to arrive at an overall score out of 100 and ranked in order from first to 193rd.

The nation brand’s improvement in the culture and heritage pillar places it among the top 10 nation brands in Asia for this pillar, driven by favourable responses from North America and Asia for pillar attributes “rich heritage” (up 31 ranks to 47th among respondents in North America) and “food the world loves” (up 42 ranks to 25th among respondents in Asia).

Filipino brands, underpinned by the nation’s rising soft power, are increasingly recognised on the global stage, setting a precedent for how cultural roots can translate into international success.

But why does cultural branding matter so much, one may ask.

At its core, it offers authenticity, a quality highly prized in today’s marketplace, where consumers are not just buying a product or a service; they are buying into a story, a set of values and a community.

This understanding brings us to one of the most iconic examples of cultural branding success in the Philippines: Jollibee.

Top 10 most valuable Filipino brands 2024 chart - in first place is BDO, followed by Jollibee, and Globe

Filipino brand riding the soft power wave

Jollibee began as a small ice cream shop in the Philippines in 1975 but quickly transformed into a fast food giant that captured not just the taste buds but the hearts of millions.

Based on Brand Finance’s latest brand valuation ranking and customer research, Jollibee stands among the top 25 most valuable restaurant brands, within which it is the second fastest growing and the group owns a stable of brands loved across the world.

But their journey to present-day success was not without challenges. When the world’s largest fast food chains entered the Filipino market, many predicted Jollibee would not be able to withstand the competition.

Fast forward the brand’s evolution over the past four decades and Jollibee pleasantly surprised many with their hard work, commitment to the people of Philippines and unique offering of delicious, home-style Filipino food standing out as their secret ingredients of success.

Strategy for overseas expansion

With any global expansion strategy, it should be rooted in the hero product of the brand – Chickenjoy. The focus on Jollibee’s culinary excellence is epitomised by their famed Chickenjoy, which has not only captivated Filipinos but has been recognised as a top fried chicken offering globally.

The resilience of Jollibee speaks to its mastery of leveraging local tastes to build a powerful brand identity that resonates on an international scale. As the brand ventured abroad, it initially targeted the now 2.3 million-strong Filipino diaspora, providing a taste of home for its people living abroad.

However, they quickly transcended cultural boundaries and enjoyed unexpected support through their mass appeal to a diverse global audience. Per past media reports, Jollibee’s secret weapon and best-selling product, the Chickenjoy, is a globally familiar fried chicken with a “hint of Filipino taste that is universally delicious”.

To attract a global following, this flagship product has been infused with a local taste where relevant. For instance, without changing its basic profile, in Vietnam Chickenjoy is served with vegetables and sweet chili sauce instead of gravy, while in Saudi Arabia, it is served with bread instead of rice.

This international appeal is evident as a significant majority of their customers in markets like the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam are now locals rather than just the Filipino diaspora.

Jollibee's global expansion has been strategic and culturally intelligent, too. The brand’s mascot, a giant red bee, symbolises the industriousness and joy that the brand aims to deliver worldwide, covering all stakeholders associated with the business.

Integrating sustainability and reinforcing cultural power

In the pursuit of cultural relevance and resilience, sustainability emerges as the next frontier for brands aiming to solidify their identity and legacy. By weaving sustainable practices into their core strategies, companies can fortify their cultural power, appealing to a global audience that values environmental stewardship.

As Jollibee continues to spread its wings globally, it remains committed to sustainability, which has become a cornerstone of its brand strategy.

The “Joy for Tomorrow” initiative focuses on three pillars:

  • Food
  • People
  • Planet

This approach not only enhances Jollibee’s commitment to quality and service but also deepens their cultural resonance by addressing global challenges through a local lens.

Their efforts, from promoting responsible marketing to empowering local farmers through the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program, illustrate how sustainability is woven into the fabric of Jollibee’s operations, reinforcing its cultural branding power.

Conclusion

As we look to the future of this born-in-the-Philippines brand which is now fast becoming a regional and global restaurant brand, Jollibee’s trajectory remains promising.

The brand is not just expanding – it’s evolving, continuously adapting to the changing tastes and preferences of a global audience.

A key part of this evolution is Jollibee’s focus on talent retention. The unique and special culture within Jollibee, characterised by hard work, teamwork and joy, attracts and retains top-tier talent, essential for sustaining growth and innovation.

The road ahead is exciting for Jollibee. With plans to deepen its global presence and enhance its digital capabilities, the brand is poised to meet the future with the same joy and enthusiasm that have been its hallmark since its humble beginnings.

As Jollibee continues to serve up smiles across the globe, it stands as a testament to the power of cultural branding and diving deeper into the brand’s nuances, it’s impossible to miss how a light-hearted positioning, connected to the positives of an original cultural advantage adapted to different markets, can be a potent formula for success.

Jollibee’s brand positioning, combined with a clear strategic direction and strong investment, stand to unlock global success for a culturally rich Asian brand, empowering it to stand out as a delicious example of how deep roots can lead to broad horizons.