Ilog Maria®: A Brand Built on its Singular Focus on Honeybees

In previous blogs, we’ve emphasized several times that the very definition of a brand is centered on a singular concept or idea that is owned inside the mind of the prospect.

The most successful brands are also the most disciplined, especially in terms of their ability to remain focused on and consistent with their brand positioning or brand mission. In previous blogs, we’ve seen how Indonesian mega-brand Gojek® remained focused on ‘Removing Friction from People’s Lives‘ as it expanded its product range. We’ve seen global Filipino brand Potato Corner® singularly focused on being ‘The World’s Best Flavored Fries‘. We’ve learned how the people strategy of Starbucks® remained true to its mission which is focused on ‘One Person, One Cup at a Time‘.

Similarly, in our last blog on Apple®, we explored how the brand’s ‘Walled Garden’ product and process strategy supports its singular focus on ‘Think Different‘.

The hardworking honeybee.

In the case of another Filipino brand Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm®, what immediately comes to my mind is the humble but hardworking honeybee. More specifically, its singular focus on honeybee-based natural products for personal health and the home.

The brand was founded in 1987 by Joel Magsaysay, a former engineering executive of SGV who made a decision to leave his comfortable corporate life to pursue his calling. He officially registered the brand as Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm® in 1994, naming it after the Blessed Virgin Mary because of what the founders believed as her miraculous intercession that ended a five monthlong drought in the province where the Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm® is located.

We agreed that it was to be ‘Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm‘ in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary with whom my mother, Lilia, had prayed for rain. It was to be an auspicious name for us. It was to be the start of our journey to the Lord. A journey marked with many signs as wondrous as this first one. A continuing journey…“, says its founder, the late Joel Magsaysay, in an interview back in 2007.

Two Sprays is Enough

The brand’s popular Throat Spray which was my first encounter with the brand many years ago.

My first encounter with the brand many years ago was through its honey-based throat spray. I remember it giving immediate and effective relief with just two quick sprays into the throat. It also had that specific natural feel to it in the mouth. Aside from easing sore throat, other benefits includes freshening breath, quieting smoker’s cough, and keeping gums healthy. We always kept a spray handy in the home and in the car as a convenient solution to a sore or itchy throat.

Many years ago, during one of our trips to Tagaytay, a popular local tourist destination where the active Taal Volcano is located, which is around 60km to 70km south of Manila, we took the chance to visit the Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm® in nearby Silang, Cavite. It was during that visit when I saw for the very first time the wide range of honeybee-based products that the brand had developed over the decades. Aside from the throat spray, they had products which capitalized on the many nutritive and healing qualities of honey, bee pollen, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.

The wide range of honeybee-based products of the brand.
The original and very first product of the brand.

After the tremendous success of its original product Ilog Maria Virgin Honey, the brand now produces natural and organic products ranging from, soaps, body wash, facial scrub, feminine wash, lip balms, to even wood polish! Anything that can be made from the by-products of honeybees, using the most natural method, for the brand believes that products are more effective when made using natural methods and not processed at all. The brand also believes that by keeping honey pure and unprocessed lets it retain is healing and nutritive properties.

Love Affair with Honeybees

Joel Magsaysay’s love for honeybees began in April 1970’s when during one of his wind-surfing trips to Anilao, his friend Eddie Boy Ochangco told him that they should bring honey next time they went sailing to keep their energies up for their physically grueling hobby.

Founder of Ilog Maria, the late Joel Magsaysay with a colony of honeybees. He passed away on June 22, 2016 due to successive strokes.

We were in deep water… Huge, rolling ocean swells pushed us farther from shore. April Amihan winds whipped whitecaps all around us. The wind was coming from shore. We were beginner windsurfers, left alone by tired or distracted instructors. We had been trying from morning to raise our sails; unsuccessfully. The wet and the cold were taking their toll; we could not even close our hands. Our arms, legs and backs ached. Our knees shook. I turned to Eddie Boy Ochangco, who was falling all over the water with me, “what can we do to increase our stamina?” He said, “Next time, we take honey. I know someone who cultures bees.” This led to Ian Aranza, who it turned out, lived about 2 kilometres from me in Mandaluyong. He was a long lost godson of my father. His mother was the high school classmate and dancing partner of my father. Serendipity, I learned, is one of God’s ways of speaking to us. He led, I followed. I have been following Him ever since that April day in Anilao in the late 1970s.

That led to a series of events which eventually transformed Joel’s pursuit of honeybees from a mere hobby to eventually a full-blown livelihood and farming lifestyle. Not the least of these series of events was meeting Violane who shared his love for farming and beekeeping. They eventually tied the knot and became lifelong partners in building what is now one of the largest honeybee farms in the Philippines.

“Ian Aranza, my beekeeping mentor who was migrating to the USA, gave us all his bees as our wedding present. We put them on our old homemade bee trailer. We had a real honeymoon.”

Joel Magsaysay
Newlyweds Joel & Violane with their bee trailer filled with the bees gifted by Joel’s mentor Ian Aranza.

Tenacious Focus

One of the hallmarks of brilliant brands is their tenacious focus on a singular idea or concept. I always emphasize to my students that ‘singular focus‘ doesn’t necessarily mean simple and unsophisticated. It actually means the opposite. It means that the brand goes as vertically deep as possible in its chosen open hole in order to achieve a unique position in the market which is very difficult to copy or knock over. That is because, a brand that is focused will exhaust all areas in its brand architecture that further strengthen its positioning. And the combination of all these focused but complex and varied activities ultimately creates a deeply-rooted and well established brand leader in a specific market space.

In the case of Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm®, I wish to highlight two examples under its place strategy that demonstrate its singular focus on honeybees:

The first example under the brand’s place strategy which is key to their success is their choice of the farm’s location.

We chose this place because of the natural springs. Our farm has seven springs of cool water that never dry out. Why? Because our farm also is one of the rainiest places in Luzon. These springs feed the Malaking Ilog — the largest drainage basin in Silang. Our honeybees always need fresh water to cool their hives and to feed their young. We chose Silang also because it has very rich volcanic soil — almost the best there is. This means that you can grow anything here,” Violaine added. 

One of the 800 colonies in the sprawling 30-hectare Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm

Joel continued that they chose Silang because a whole lot of coffee is grown here. Coffee flowers bloom many times each year and it is a good source of nectar for the bees, who turn it into coffee honey. Silang also has a lot of coconuts that flower the year round, providing an excellent source of pollen for the bees. Lastly, the couple said, Silang has a perfect climate year round that is good for honeybees and even better for beekeepers and their families.

The second example under their place strategy which is worth highlighting is the establishment of the country’s first-ever honeybee museum which they called ‘Museo sa Ilog‘.

The honeybee museum, the first of its kind in the country, opened in Ilog Maria back in 2007. It’s a nature preserve for the purpose of educating the public on the importance of our great pollinators — the honeybees. 

The brand’s Museo sa Ilog inside the farm, the first of its kind in the Philippines.

We have been hosting educational trips for schoolchildren for years. We used to do these in the open, because we had no venue. When it rained, we had to run for cover. With the Museo, we can show schoolchildren and educators that it is possible to earn a living through stewardship of nature, how to enhance and preserve it,” Joel enthused. 

Part of the experience in the museum is a short video about what honeybees do that few normally get to see and tells how the Magsaysay family harvests bee products. Visitors get to learn the little known facts and importance of bees. For example, honeybees must collect nectar from about two million flowers to make a pound of honey. This extensive distance is equivalent to two trips around the world. Bees pollinate 80 percent of our plants and crops and over 90 different kinds of vegetables and fruits like mangoes, papayas, coconuts, bananas and more. Some pollen can be blown by the wind from flower to flower but honeybees remain the top pollinators.

Because of the brand’s singular focus on honeybees, these types of strategic place decisions have clearly served the brand well over the decades which ultimately helped secure the brand’s leadership in its chosen field.

Because the quality of the brand’s products are so good, the owners didn’t see the need to market them in Metro Manila or at the malls. The brand’s reputation was established purely through word of mouth. And evidently, ‘word of mouth’ has reached all the way to the United States, Europe and other Asian countries because orders have also come in from abroad.

“The bee benefits man more than any other insect does. It is the only insect that can be made to work for him. People think first of honey and bees wax when they think of what they get from bees. More important is the work these insects do in nurturing fruits and flowers,” says Joel.

This brilliant brand leaves us with two key lessons with regards to brand positioning:

First, through the discipline of a singular focus based on the positioning of the brand, there is no limit to the creativity and imagination that can be pursued to bring the brand’s purpose to life.

And second, once a brand has locked into its singular focus, it allows the brand to go deep into its chosen open hole and establish a strong foothold which is difficult to copy and to knock over.

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