Fortune favours the brave

Wednesday, 01 March 2023

Justin Papps GAICD
Partner, Sayers Brand Momentum

    To build marketing momentum, brands must continue to focus on relevance and distinctiveness in a market recovering from the pandemic, yet facing cost of living challenges. Board members who see marketing as a driver of growth, rather than as a cost of business, will be better placed to see their brands through challenging times, writes Justin Papps GAICD. 

    Right now, we are seeing marketing truisms play out on a scale that we haven’t seen since the months following the global financial crisis in 2008. As a result of the pandemic — and now the rising cost of living — the truism that those who continue investing in their brands during a downturn will recover faster than those who stop investing is now being put to the test in real time.

    The current environment has led to what the Standard Media Index (April 2021) first termed a “two-speed” recovery for brands — delineated by those who remained steadfast in spending during the challenges of the COVID pandemic, and those who did not. Those who dialled back their ad spend

    in recent years — or who disappeared altogether — have emerged to a very different, more complex and fragmented media landscape. That landscape has become even trickier recently, as rising energy prices and other increases in the cost of living batter consumer and business confidence alike.

    Companies are now faced with a number of challenges to create velocity for their brands and, in turn, drive momentum. Even more critically, the cost of reinvigorating a brand may be a lot higher than it would have been had a constant — albeit possibly reduced — presence been maintained through the pandemic and in the current inflationary environment.

    Rebuilding share of voice, reclaiming share of mind, and understanding and measuring attention are high on all chief marketing officers’ (CMO) to-do lists, but the reality is that these are relevant regardless of whether you were in market or not in recent years. It’s perhaps less a question of a two-speed recovery and more one of brands moving at similar speeds from different starting positions. The real battle is now being fought in driving home distinctiveness and relevance in a more competitive, cluttered and arguably cynical market.

    How does a brand win in this environment and overtake the competition? By being brave. If there is a silver lining from recent events, it is that smart marketers are taking the opportunity to execute particularly strong creative advertising campaigns that cut through the morass of earnestness, sameness and safe ideas that might pass research, but don’t pass the yawn test.

    Independent agencies to the fore

    The work of advertising agency Bear Meets Eagle On Fire for ROLLiN’ — NRMA’s new digital car insurance brand launched under the auspice of IAG’s CMO Brent Smart, who has since jumped ship to Telstra; the latest Suncorp Bank work by The Hallway and CMO Mim Haysom; or the reliable work of the champions of the long idea, BMF, and their work for Aldi; are all great examples that prove those who apply the fundamentals of great brand building — and great creativity — can succeed.

    Let’s be clear, there is an important difference between good fundamentals and dangerous conventions. Confusing the two right now can be detrimental to a brand.

    Good brand fundamentals favour distinctiveness, but in the current climate, there can be a certain temptation for marketers to play it safe and rely on convention. Unfortunately, oversimplifying campaigns with aged tropes is simply disrespectful to the consumer. Because consumers get nuance, they get humour and they respect difference.

    The different and distinctive work is what is inspiring interest and ultimately moving the needle for brands — not the dreary sameness of Madison Avenue spots that have not changed in decades.

    Even the federal government got on board before the election with its “ReMade in Australia” campaign by The Monkeys, for recycling and reuse of materials. It is great work from a system that had previously risked stifling creativity for the sake of passing the research test.

    Brand building

    For board members, there are four key things that can be done to help build the brand during challenging times. Support for management as they navigate new challenges is paramount in marketing as much as it is in supply chain, operations or finance:

    1. Back marketing as a growth driver, not just a cost of business

    In challenging times, it is easy for management to cut marketing budgets as they may appear as a variable cost. Ensure that management are thinking in the medium and long term when it comes to brand growth, and not taking short- term actions with long-term consequences.

    2. Continue to think of brand as more than marketing

    While many boards understand that the brand is more than advertising and a logo, it is critical that boards think about brands in their entirety — from investor and customer experience through to employee behaviour, sales and service support, and aftercare. Every interaction either builds or detracts from the brand. Keep your perspective wide and your antennae up for actions that may erode the brand, even if they seem incidental to the balance sheet.

    3. Think beyond the current crisis

    As we learned after the first wave of the pandemic, brands that cut spending and disappeared had a bigger job to do rebuilding consumer trust when the tide turned. Some brands are now facing into a second challenge, driven by rising cost of living impacting consumer spending, which means they risk falling further behind. For boards, the question for management is, “What are we doing now with our brand, to ensure we are well-positioned on the other side of the challenge we face?”

    4. Be brave... and get out of the way

    As board members, it is critical to remember that you are not always the target audience of the brand and that the campaigns your management and marketing teams create may not be something you would respond to. Resist the temptation to put your own subjective lens on the campaigns your team are creating — and focus on who the real customer is and whether or not this campaign reaches them in a distinctive and relevant way.

    Reigniting the relationship between brands and customers in a way that re-energises people should be a key focus for many brands right now. It is less important what you did, but vitally important what you will do. Back the judgement of your management and marketers, back consumers and back bravery over safety.

    Justin Papps GAICD is partner and co-founder of Sayers Brand Momentum. He has more than 25 years’ local and international brand and marketing experience, working in creative agencies, as a global CMO, and as a partner at PwC.

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