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Rule Breaking Series #1: If you're going to be the same, be different

This is Part 1 of our weekly Rule Breaking Series where we feature brands that defied rules and conventions in their category. We hope to inspire you with ways you can also stand out from the sea of sameness. Share with us other companies you think belong in this list and why!


To survive long in any industry, but more so in F&B, you’ve either got to have novelty appeal, product differentiation, a captive audience or be really good at what you do (A.K.A. queues round the block every lunchtime, etc.). Most F&B businesses aren’t quite that lucky and have to innovate to stay in the game.

Take Bubble Tea for example. When that first started in Singapore, it was an instant craze and the few players that were in the market made a killing. So naturally everyone else wanted in, and soon you couldn’t walk 10 feet without hitting a Bubble Tea store. Where was the product differentiation? It was all a sea of sameness.

Swimming in a sea of sameness

After the novelty had worn off, those stores struggled to stay in business in the sea of sameness. Lower demand coupled with high competition doesn’t make for a healthy bottom line. It’s here that innovating the brand is key. Changing the way Bubble Tea should be consumed goes a long way to bringing demand back and having your business be the one that stands out from the rest. That’s where product differentiation comes in. And these businesses certainly had to innovate. It took some flair and innovative design to be able to vamp up plain old common-garden tea! We are talking jazzing up the colours, the flavours and the names. New ingredients were brought into the mix. Even the cups they were sold in got a makeover. The tea wars were on. But most where still thinking inside the box, or inside the plastic cup, should we say. There were new colours and flavours, but it was all still, well, the same old bubble tea recipe – a flavoured iced tea drink with bits at the bottom.

But then, one company came along and literally flipped the concept.

Adding the wow factor

Tofu Magician blew the bubble tea innovation game out of the water. These guys understand a thing or two about product differentiation! And as with most successful innovations, they did it by changing something really simple. (You know those face-palming “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.) While all other bubble tea businesses were thinking of the next look, the next colour, the next flavour, Tofu Magician decided to flip the concept from Drink Then Eat to Eat Then Drink. They enticed consumers with attractive skewered white jade mochi-like balls balanced across the top of the cup in all their glory, not hidden at the bottom as some kind of after-thought. Their beverages look different, taste different and promise an experience. It’s a far cry from the traditional beverages in the category, which have always been served so that consumers drink first and eat what’s left – you know, the way it’s always been (yawn). Bring back the fun!

What Tofu Magician understands is that the consumer (you may call them fickle, but it doesn’t change the reality you are dealing with) craves originality and different experiences. So, when the brand hit town, taking its inspiration from the popular Chinese craze, it was an instant success, because it used its own secret sauce – product differentiation! It provided a wow factor that screamed “we’re different!”. Powerful word-of-mouth marketing meant the brand didn’t need to advertise to have its Paya Lebar Square store sell out by the end of every day. It’s novel, it’s interesting and everyone wants to give it a go.

We challenge you

Remember, just because “that’s the way it’s always been” doesn’t mean that’s the way it always has to be. So, what can you do differently with your brand offering to challenge the norm, challenge the industry even, and innovate in a different way? Can it be like innovating Bubble Tea, as simple as changing the order of the experience?


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