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YEN Member Spotlight: Ernie Manansala, Tribe Agency

Ernie Manansala
This month's Young Executives Network (YEN) Member Spotlight features Ernie Manansala, CEO of Tribe Agency. At 30 years of age, Manansala has 10 years of industry experience. We recently spent some time with Manansala, discussing a variety of topics that we thought would be of interest to fellow SEMA YEN members.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do. How long have you worked in the industry?

I started at 19 years old as the marketing manager of König Wheels. It was a perfect time for me to be a part of that company. We had the best line of wheels that year, and the founder of König believed that based simply on my creative passion, I could help bring the brand up to the awareness level that he wanted.

How did you get your start and what positions have you held at what companies as you progressed to your current position?

I have been on and off in the industry for about 10 years now. The reason I say that is because we launched NOS Energy Drink, which now plays a major role in the automotive industry. In reality, it truly is a beverage company that had many learning experiences after we were acquired by Coca Cola, where I remained for a few years to bring the brand to the top-five energy drinks in the nation.

We understand you’re quite the gearhead and have built a number of cars during your time in the industry. Do you have a favorite amongst the cars that you’ve owned?

Yes, I will admit I’m a “gearhead,” but not so much as a builder or mechanic, but more of a designer and driver. I have always hand-drawn cars and eventually started rendering. People began to see the ideas that came to life as the renderings became cars that debuted at the SEMA Show. I would always come up with renderings to show my brother and his feedback alone was enough for me then.

Do you have any bucket-list builds?

Working in the field, I met my best friend and mentor, RJ De Vera. He gave me the “Car Crazy” illness and now nothing is safe! I have designed themes for a variety of cars, from the Mitsubishi “i” to the Nissan “GTR”—totaling about 17 builds for the SEMA Show and our clients. All of them are near and dear to me because when I look back at each car, I remember a time in my career that really helps me understand where I am today and what I can achieve for tomorrow.

I drive a BMW 525i and I love it; it really suits me at the moment. Although, I am the guy who drives a company car every day, from the Fiat 500 on Monday, Mitsubishi Evo on Tuesday, to our Outlander Sport, ’93 Mazda RX7, my ’98 Toyota Landcruiser (my zombie evacuation machine), ’88 Mazda RX7, ’93 Lexus SC 300 (2JZ) and lastly, the most precious to me, my NSX. I have a few more cars that I want to have for my personal collection, such as a yellow Acura Integra Type R, a Toyota Corolla “86,” Nissan s15, Nissan GTR R34 and Toyota Supra. I’ve got a thing for that generation of cars. Last on my current list is a Porsche 356. I just need to get it!

Let’s change gears and talk a bit about your experience at NOS Energy Drink. You were in “on the ground floor” when they were developing their brand and presence within our market. What was that like?

It was nothing like it seemed to be. It was a lot of hard work and learning. I think back and wonder, “Would I ever change anything?” The answer is no. Just imagine waking up every day feeling so happy to be who you are and loving what you do. However, like with any job, there were challenges, chief among those for me was facing the reality of having millions of dollars at stake. Every move and thought I made was always being monitored. Loving your job is everything and that’s all I needed to commit to my job. The outcome of my hard work and dedication is that NOS is currently the No. 1 energy brand in Coca Cola’s portfolio and NOS is the purest brand in the market in both the automotive and beverage industry today.

We understand that you’ve recently started your own marketing agency, Tribe, which provides marketing services to the automotive aftermarket and the action sports industry. In what way was the experience building your own company different from your time at NOS? Any similarities?

I was only 22 years old when we started NOS. I was a loose cannon back then. All jokes aside, I was offered a job at Facebook shortly after NOS, but I didn’t really know what I wanted at the time. I never thought I would leave NOS or Coca Cola, but I felt like there was a missing link. I've always been told that I am a creative thinker and artist, and I never really thought about it until my friend Mark Arcenal made me think otherwise. He helped me understand that “creativity” is a crucial part of any business and is also the heart and soul of a company. This really put things into perspective. I declined the job offers that I had lined up, including an opportunity at Facebook. My head hunter hated me.

There are a lot of great business people in the world today, but there are only a few “creative” people who can ensure that everything comes full circle. Designers only design to see the end “look.” On the other hand, I’ve always looked at the bottom dollar because I was so invested into every department at NOS and CCE. Brands today are missing out on transitioning to the new and realizing that the old just isn’t efficient after a while. You learn a lot being a part of and working at one of the largest companies in the world and that’s what I took out of being at NOS. I had to both view things from 10,000 feet in the air and roll up my sleeves at ground level every day. This meant that I did not just contribute creatively, but I also managed the business and was the grunt of every company decision and operation. Tribe is simply that—a group of people who are a part of something with one thing in mind—“building brands.” At the moment, we are known as the “social media intelligence” agency, but overall, we are just your everyday marketers, packing a punch with some powerful creative spirit, comprehensive strategies and ideas for the end consumer.

How have the experiences at NOS and Tribe and now working for your clients affected your business outlook on the market and how companies go to market with products and services?

The difference is crazy. NOS was a $2.99 item with huge volume, and now we are working with clients with a six-to-seven-figure MSRP value. My biggest thing is that brands need to be O.P.E.N.—On demand, Personable, Educating and Networking.

These are the core fundamentals that we preach to our clients and friends. Our clients and friends understand why and how O.P.E.N. works and because of their understanding we have seen ROI increase for both our clients and brands that we own today.

How important is brand identity to companies today and what advice regarding branding would you give to someone developing a business within our industry?

I’ve been asked this question a lot and it relates back to my time at NOS. At the end of the day, NOS, at its most basic element, is sugar water. It’s all about branding and who has the coolest juice in that market. Essentially, branding becomes king with your product and helps set it apart from everything else on the market. Every company needs to adapt to today’s ever-changing market and consumers, which is no easy task. With branding, you should always keep an O.P.E.N. mind, whether it’s an agency or anyone with a fresh thought. Put your money back into the company where it belongs, and invest in adapting to ideas and “creatives.” Focus on outputting great work and the rest will follow.

Building a new brand, revitalizing a brand or maintaining a brand? Which excites you the most and why?

Building, revitalizing and maintaining a brand all excite me equally because branding and brand management is my overall passion. Coming up with creative ideas to meet ROI, embrace communication, compete against another brand or answer any statements that start with “how do we?” always make me push myself and my team to limitless boundaries. In the end, when you see what you have accomplished with a brand, you see your ideas come to life and you feel a sense of achievement that’s really like nothing else. I often find myself thinking, “Wow, a computer, note pad and a crazy dude with the right ideas can really accomplish a lot,” and that moment is when it’s worth all the hard work.

Are any of these more challenging than the other?

Yes and no. Honestly, it’s more the people behind the brands. I was brought up by some of the most brilliant and complying mentors anyone could ever ask for and with that being said, learning how to work with your team and being willing to adapt to changing environments and moving targets is key. Brands that don’t adapt to changes or challenges are the brands that we tend to stay away from. Any brand can be a challenge, and all brands have challenges. The key there is to see each challenge as an opportunity. NOS energy drink had so many challenges to overcome, but now it is one of the top-five energy drinks in the nation. I know that any brand can be brought to life as long as it has the right people doing the right things to market the brand.

What would you say are some of the common challenges and pitfalls faced by emerging brands in today’s marketplace?

Being satisfied with status quo. Brands today, just like their employees, have to be willing to learn new things and grow. Before NOS, I was just a graphic designer by trade. When I joined NOS, I forced myself to learn sales, field marketing, branding and more. I learned to look at things in new ways. At that time, I was ready to do anything to see the business grow, but I think when you can roll your sleeves up and do the hard work yourself, there is nothing you can’t get through.

Another pitfall today is that people aren’t building proper ROIs for their social media efforts. It’s not just about the number of fans; it’s how you interact with them and how they interact with you. For the automotive market, social marketing is really nothing new to us; it’s just the tools that we have to use are changing. When NOS started, we did nothing but focus on local events, MySpace (new at the time) and, more importantly, forums and online communities. Social Media marketing today isn’t something that you have never seen before, it’s just been reincarnated to a more powerful monster of interconnected communication outlets on the web that are at your control now more than ever before.

If a company were to do nothing else to build or develop their brand this year, what one thing would you say should not be missed with regard to strategy?

Again it would be O.P.E.N.—On demand, Personable, Educating and Networking. You will see that this will apply to everything that you need to have your company stay afloat throughout the highs and lows.

Build it and they will come. Seems like this has been a mantra of our industry since the early days. Is it enough today for a company in the aftermarket to have a really great product or service?

It’s certainly a good start. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth marketing and a good product, but also understand that the digital realm allows you many benefits over traditional marketing techniques with regard to speed of communication and measuring your return all while establishing and growing your brand in your customer’s eyes. Impressions used to be the hot thing in marketing. Now everything is about a “Like” because “Likes” are for everyone and you can make an impression on that one person behind that one “Like.” “Liking” something is also easy for a consumer or fan to do. It takes less effort than writing an e-mail or dialing a phone. It allows your brand to put out an idea or an offer, or simply communicate with your customers and receive instant feedback about what they think. Due to this fact, there will be no more wondering if your traditional media ads will reach the viewers it was targeting and waiting behind a computer hoping for an e-mail or sitting by your phone wondering if it will ever ring. Instead, you are in control of your brand and business, and the social media communities now build the ROI with real-time feedback from your customers, allowing you to be more agile and adapt at speeds never before possible.

Are there any specific advantages that you feel the younger people in our industry may have when it comes to dealing with branding in today’s marketplace?

Yes, 100%. I just turned 30 and I feel it already, but I really do believe that this generation will be the leaders of tomorrow. I think today’s YENsters have a different mindset than the Baby Boomers. We understand how much and how quickly change affects us today, and we understand how it is possible to make something out of nothing overnight. NOS took seven years to sell to Coca Cola; Facebook is only nine years old, Groupon is only six years old and Instagram is only one year old. This shows that technology and speed is on our side. If you don’t believe me, I am living proof. I never thought I would come out to the public with this, but just like the late Steve Jobs, I didn’t finish school. I jumped right in to the industry and hit the ground running. What choice did I have? I feel that my generation’s tech savviness combined with ever-changing technology and a drive to succeed and push ourselves to new limits have taken myself and my team to the heights that we’ve achieved today. YENsters can use those same benefits to their advantage.

Any disadvantages?

Not really. The only thing that I can foresee is the lack of experience, which only comes with time and the advice of good mentors, so don’t discount the older members of the industry completely! There’s still a lot you can learn from them.

What’s the best piece of business/career advice you ever received?

“Focus on quality and the rest will follow” – My mentors.

Who do you go to for business advice?

Well, I don’t think it’s fair to give away all of my secrets, but the people I go to for business advice change from time to time; there isn’t one set person. My family plays a huge role in my life. It’s said you should not mix business with family, but without my family I wouldn’t be who I am today. I always go to them for advice because they are the reason why I work so hard. Also, I wouldn't be anywhere without RJ De Vera and Mommy B & C’s help and advice. Carl Sweat, my former president at Coca Cola, because he always makes me see things 10 years ahead of time. Victor C at ID agency, because he's always pointing me in the right direction. For my agency life, Marc Arcenal at, because he keeps my creative passion burning. My little brother Mark, because no one knows me better than him and, lastly, my team at Tribe—they are the heartbeat in everything I do.

Any parting thoughts or advice that you’d like to share with your fellow YENsters?

I tend to be honest and sometimes not politically correct, but I think that when I say that SEMA may seem like the “cool kids club” to those on the outside looking in that it may ring true to some. But in all honesty, the people of SEMA and the people in YEN and those relationships have taken me, my companies and clients to places we never thought would be possible. So believe in your YEN members and SEMA leaders because they are the purest people in the industry and have the right resources and knowledge in their corner for the industry at all times to help you achieve your dreams. Get involved, and make those contacts.