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Bootleg: Building stronger brands and businesses through marketing innovation

The previous years saw the milk tea boom in the Philippines. This period paved the way for the launch of Serenitea Milk Tea in 2008. Grounded on the simple joys of serving milk tea variants and snack options, Serenitea rose to become one of the fastest-growing and most recognized milk tea brands in the country.
A few years after its launch, Serenitea’s popularity was challenged by new players. This led to a saturated market, with several milk tea brands fighting for consumer acceptance and loyalty. Soon, the market players became engaged in one-upping each other with relentless product launches, price matching, new store openings and non-stop consumer promos.
Despite an established customer following, Serenitea’s owner, Juliet “Jules” Herrera-Chen, knew it was time to re-think the brand and its future.    
“We were somehow stuck, like the business suddenly reached a plateau state, not losing but not also moving up as how we wanted it. As a pioneer, we want to maintain our strong positioning in this category. I began to ask, ‘How can we stand out?’ ‘Can a good old brand be reinvented?’ We also wanted to bring it to a higher scale, not just milk tea. But how could we start doing these things?” narrated Jules.
Refreshing upgrade
That important starting point came when Jules met Aaron A. Palileo of Bootleg Innovation Design, a customer-centered and creativity-based firm that helps organizations innovate their corporate and brand strategies.
Bootleg specializes in finding new ways for companies to differentiate and innovate in their markets by uncovering their customers’ deepest and latent needs and motivations and then translating these insights into non-traditional and creative strategies. Bootleg applies a unique brand of consumer needs finding and market sensemaking involving “human sciences.” At the heart of their process are social scientists that are competent in social anthropology and psychology, disciplines that have developed effective methods to truly understand people and environments.
“We have a highly accomplished team of psychologists and social anthropologists who boast of professional (i.e. clinical and commercial) and academic experience and success,” said Palileo.
Launched in 2013, Bootleg was established by Aaron Palileo, Paolo Abella and Jay Amante, three creative entrepreneurs who know a thing or two about consumer insighting, brand building and designing experiences.
Palileo is a teacher at Ateneo Graduate School of Business where he has taught and mentored executives and entrepreneurs. He has authored books on creativity and innovation and has given talks and workshops on branding and innovation here and abroad. Abella graduated from New York Film Academy and has worked on commercial videos for multinational brands. Amante, who graduated from AIM’s Managing the Arts Program, owns Blanc Art Gallery, one of the country’s top art galleries.
Aside from the owners who themselves are experienced in balancing corporate objectives with creativity and innovation, Bootleg is composed of a multi-disciplinary team of brand strategists, industrial designers, creative practitioners, scientists, social anthropologists and psychologists with deep professional and academic backgrounds.  
Customized solutions
Bootleg’s rigor in terms of their research and strategizing processes gives clients the peace of mind and confidence in the results of the process because underlying this process is their sensitivity to their clients’ unique situations.
“We started by understanding what Serenitea’s strengths were to begin with. One is that it is the only brand that uses real imported tea leaves. The local culinary experts we spoke to validated that this was one of the things that made Serenitea special. We performed digital scans to monitor the sentiments of consumers online and found out that people already loved Serenitea’s in-store experience,” added Palileo.
Bootleg’s psychologist then interviewed various kinds of customers – milk tea fanatics (those loyal to Serenitea and its competitors) as well as high-frequency customers of other beverages like coffee and fruit shakes. Contrary to other research companies, Bootleg’s lead inter-viewer, is a licensed clinical psychologist, who spent several hours understanding not only the surface-level needs of customers but explored the interviewees’ buried and forgotten memories and experiences on milk tea, coffee, tea and milk.
Throughout the process, Abella, Amante and Palileo regularly met with the owners, Jules and her husband, Peter to talk them about their personal and professional dreams and aspirations. As per Palileo, “We asked Jules and Peter why they put up Serenitea, why they still run it, what they hope Serenitea to achieve now and in the next decades. We also asked them about their plans and dreams as a newly married couple. We always try to understand our client’s values and philosophies, whether they are SMEs or multinationals. We never develop strategies that will not fit our clients.”
After the insighting process, Bootleg developed long and short-term strategies for Serenitea. Bootleg guided Serenitea in crafting its long-term direction by articulating its overall brand vision, mission and value proposition. Bootleg developed a new tagline that perfectly captured the new brand strategy – “Have a Moment of Serenitea.” This tagline clearly captures the brand’s new direction of moving away from just a store that sold milk tea drinks to a place for rejuvenating beverage experiences.
These long-term strategies were then translated into a brand equity development plan, which plotted the specific product, service, price, place, promotion and frontliner strategies and programs.  Bootleg’s included a sensory experience that spanned the new logo design, store visuals, in-store music, furniture and other customer touchpoints that aim to deliver the brand promise.
At the end of the project, Bootleg generated the following outputs for Serenitea: a new understanding of their customers’ needs and wants on behavioral, psychological, and emotional levels, a better understanding of their direct and indirect competitors, their brand’s real strengths, a more focused long-term brand strategy that serves as a blueprint for present and future growth and a detailed marketing plan.
Bootleg also helped Jules implement the recommended strategies. “We suggested and coordinated with the graphic design agency that developed the new visual identity of Serenitea, overseeing the entire design process. We also recommended a marketing agency to help them implement the communications programs. Overall, we helped Jules create a better, stronger Serenitea – from knowing and building on her brand’s strength, market and consumers, competitors as well as future directions and growth potentials,” added Abella.     
For Jules, she also credits Bootleg for Serenitea’s internal operations control for cost efficiency. “The team even studied our costing, even found ways for us to eliminate unnecessary steps like too much inventory work. They also helped us develop several financial forecasts based on different scenarios. There’s really a science behind all of it,” she said.  
To know more about how Bootleg Innovation Design can help you make sense of your business and create better brand strategies, visit or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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