Antonius Nababan: Selling the Public on Bacteria

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BACTERIA is something that most people consider to be hazardous to health. Generally, people would not believe that any company would try to market bacteria. However, there is one company that does sell one species of bacteria. What’s more, the company believes that consuming this bacteria is advantageous to health, particularly with respect to the digestion tract. Who, then, is the person behind the marketing of such bacteria in Indonesia? What strategy has been adopted to market a product that is now considered favorable to health whereas previously it was thought to be harmful? 
Antonius Nababan joined PT Yakult Indonesia Persada as a junior sales supervisor in 1992, one year after the company was first established. Before joining Yakult, Antonius, an accountancy graduate of HKBP Nomensen University, Medan, worked as a civil servant. 
When he accepted the position at PT Yakult Indonesia Persada, he knew nothing about the company or its products. His first assignment was to manage the “Yakult Ladies”. “This is interesting. Yakult Ladies have no regular activities. We recruit and train them in entrepreneurship and salesmanship. Then we teach them business etiquette so they know how to deal with customers. In this way, they can be independent,” said Antonius, now the general marketing manager of PT Yakult Indonesia Persada. 
The marketing strategy employed by the Yakult Ladies emphasizes the health aspects of the product. However, the introduction of Yakult products on the Indonesian market also opened up employment opportunities for housewives. 
In 1995, Antonius was promoted to the position of senior supervisor and was assigned to supervise shop canvassing activities. Next he was promoted to his present position to supervise the marketing of Yakult products nationwide. 
To market “bacteria” obviously requires creativity. The great challenge is how to communicate this product to prospective buyers. One of the ways employed in this respect is to educate the public so that people know that the bacteria in Yakult products is good for health. “It is the biggest challenge that I have to deal with,” said Antonius, a father of two daughters. “One of the ways to communicate with prospective buyers is through our Yakult Ladies. They must give a scientific explanation about Yakult. This is the spirit of Yakult. In addition, everyone in Yakult must really understand the benefits of Yakult products. This means that all our employees, either in the factory or in other divisions, especially in the sales marketing division, must be marketers. All of them. Even a director of this company must also be good at promoting this product,” he said. 
Nowadays, the market development of probiotic drinks is quite challenging, especially because Yakult, which previously had no competitors, is now facing rivalry from similar locally made drinks. How does Yakult view the competition to win the market in the probiotic drink segment? “I’m perhaps the one person who feels happy with the emergence of competitors. When there is competition, I believe our speed will be faster. Automatically, we are taught how to understand our present condition and predict the future. Without a competitor, we may run at only 20 km/hour, for example. Now that we are engaged in competition, our speed will increase,” he said. 
As the “commander” of the sales of Yakult products, Antonius always tells his team that they and their competitors are in fact developing the market. The market for probiotic drinks will continue to develop because many new players are involved in the competition. 
Antonius usually likens the market for probiotic products to a balloon. If there are only a few people to inflate the balloon, the balloon will remain quite small. However, if many people inflate the balloon, the balloon will be very big. That’s why there is always a challenge in developing the market. In addition, Antonius always treats employees with respect. When he deals with a Yakult Lady, for example, he raises the woman to a position higher than his. “We have to appreciate them no matter how low their position is,” said Antonius. In this way, the woman will take pride in her job. 
Finally, for Antonius his philosophy of life is to live life as it comes. He does his job today as best he can and tomorrow will be an improvement on today. He leads his life in a simple way and always tries to avoid any imperfections. (Noor Yanto)
The Jakarta Post, July 23, 2008
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