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Brand marketing: challenges and opportunities

Brand marketing and positioning is going through major transformations beyond the pandemic, as competition to stand out from the crowd heads up for both B2B and B2C businesses. In this episode of our Target Market Podcast, we speak with Simon Hakim, CEO and founder of Hunter, a Melbourne-based creative branding agency.

He reveals how brands need to be on the 'offensive, not the defensive' while unpacking the importance of diversity.

The pandemic has been a whirlwind for every organisation, some have grown immensely and others have quietly folded. Can you explain the importance of building brand equity in tough times?

This is going to sound kind of strange coming from someone in creative branding. But, it's less to do with building brand equity and more to do with business survival. I also believe there's a lot of luck and a lot of innovation in there.

We're seeing this as an opportunity to kind of reset, and rethink not only the brand but your business model in its entirety.

What are some great examples of brands surviving and thriving?

To give you a couple of examples, if we look at the hospitality industry, it took a pandemic for them to work out that they could pivot their business, to do some awesome food and beverages direct to consumer (DTC).

They're using technology in venues like a simple QR code to show menus, take orders and payments. The menu you order goes straight to the kitchen, there's no need for someone to come and take in order and payments go straight through to the bank.

We've also seen distilleries pivot - everyone needed hand sanitiser. You've got these traditional distilleries making hand sanitiser, or even fashion designers making PPA. Then in a global sense, you've got all these different minds coming together to try and solve this world pandemic problem through a vaccine.

In times like this, it's how do we adapt our business? How do we create something new, that's going to keep us moving forward?

What are some tips you can give to companies who are doing it tough but still want to invest in their brand?

Irrespective of whether the company is doing well or not, the first thing we look at is to determine where the business currently is and why it's there. Often we ask :

  • What does winning looks like for you?

  • What's losing look like?

  • What's stopping you from getting that winning position?

  • Is what we're trying to determine is okay? Is it a major problem?

  • Is there something challenging that we can't deal with? Or is it an opportunity?

Once we agree on what it might be, then you can work out ways to solve it. When you're tasked with difficulties, the immediate thing is panic but if you kind of stop and assess. We've been running Hunter since 2010 and there's been plenty of those moments when you go "oh crap," the world is falling apart.

But then you just stop, think and assess.

We do that constantly. You assess the situation, and then you deal with what you can deal with, you put aside the things you can't.

For those that have said "nobody's buying my product anymore", for instance. Well, why aren't they buying your product?

The best way to answer that is to go out to the market. Not go and ask your peers, sure, that's part of the process, but go in and ask the market, try and build out some kind of hypothesis of why people may not be buying.

You might also feel like, okay, things aren't going well, because your tech from a DTC point of view isn't up to scratch. We saw plenty of instances where all of a sudden this ecommerce platform that you kind of call the DTC website isn't functioning the way it should, because all these orders are coming in and you can't deliver, or you've got issues in the checkout process.

Whatever it may be, they're the things you need to sort out. When you go through that process, ask yourself, do we invest in product, do we invest in people, do we invest in tech?

When you're asking brands these questions, do you get some brands who have no idea what they're doing?

Totally, we basically have five questions and what we do is we ask different people, different founders within the business. It could be some of the c-suite, incorporates, to answer those questions. You can see whether a company is aligned or not.

One of our clients, Sensory Lab, has two founders, they're completely aligned on what they want to do. Go to another company, where we were working with someone else, another two founders, you can sense the tension in the room where they're looking at one another unsure. Part of our role and part of that branding process is to align those. So once you align them, then it's easy to kind of help them on that journey of where they need to go.

We've seen you on LinkedIn discuss brand strategy and positioning where companies should be "on the defence" when in fact they should be on the offence, can you unpack that for me?

This is kind of my passion and I really love this question. I love this area. Simply put, we talk about this kind of world of disruption and if you go to 2010 when we started Hunter, we've been talking about this idea around disruption.

It's not new, it's been around since the early 90s. You could probably go back in history, and it's turned into something else. We say in this world of disruption, big brands have the most to lose. The reason is we've kind of built this old world and this old world that we believe in no longer exists. When you learn marketing and you're taught all these case studies, that's the old world, the fundamentals.

But the new world throws so many unknowns at you, the old world rules don't apply. What we find is that there are all these inefficiencies within the business, there are these traditional plant planning processes that are kind of obsolete. I'm not saying throw away all the marketing knowledge and all the business knowledge. But use your brain and go, I know the basics, I've got experience, but how do we navigate through to this unknown world, and in 2021, and the start of 2022 is great examples of that.

How can companies unlock brand innovation?

Most brands, most companies that are leading in their field, won't actually innovate, they won't do anything different. They just hold the position. All their strategy is about defence and then you think about the model that they've set up, the entire business organisation, the process that they put in place, is all about defence. If I'm the CEO of a large corporate, I don't want to shake things up, I don't want to lose my job over some stupid decision or some big risks that I might have taken.

I want to make, like these little baby steps to show that we're doing things but pretty much maintain the status quo. Then you can look at complete industries, if you look at the taxi industry, that didn't change at all until someone like Uber came along and challenged them. Think about music, it first started with iTunes, then it started with places like Spotify, where you can stream music on demand.

When you think about that taxi industry, everyone was up in arms. They didn't address the fact that taxis are unreliable, they were dirty when you went in them and there was this question around safety. I'm not saying everything's perfect but what it did is allowed for disruption to come in creating change, and unfortunately disruption.

In 2020, we've seen it take something quite dramatic in order for people to make a change, otherwise, they won't change. In fact, it's part of their DNA not to change, they just love doing what they love doing. Otherwise, they'd probably be somewhere else trying to change the world.

Do you have any examples of an offence strategy?

On our website, we've worked on a lot of beer brands in the past. What we've seen and what most people would say is that there are these massive, flavourless, mainstream brands that continue to push these sort of same old bland products across the globe. I wanted to give a heads up that one of the brands that we worked on, which is called Genuine Miller Draft, they've just done a complete global rebrand.

Our word back to the client was we don't think the beer is good enough to be a player in today's world. But instead of dressing that problem, they're trying to dress it up with a rebrand. In that instance, I don't think that works. What we tend to see is these bland products with bland cookie-cutter brand campaigns that are locked into place18 months out.

Then they're going to roll out their campaign over the 12 months, or whatever it might be six months, whatever and then all of a sudden, a company like Brewdog, announces they're going to give a million pints away in one month, just completely left field. Now, it's newsworthy, everyone's excited.

It's a great example, a big brand that set all its plans in place, signed all that stuff off, they can't react, because everything's locked away. It's a great example of an offence strategy in a world that is pretty much dominated by players that play defence.

My other favourite kind of category to look at is supermarkets. Every time I talk about supermarkets, people think "this guy is crazy'', but they're kind of lifeless places. Every time I ask someone most people hate going into them. It's that task or that chore at the end of the week, we have to go to our groceries, and no one's enthusiastic about it.

When you think about that business model, it's really just supermarkets, there is a distribution point for brands. They don't have to be entertaining, they don't have to be engaging. In plain speak, it's all about just getting cheap to the consumer. Not necessarily good, not necessarily better, but cheap to the consumer.

When the brand is tied into a retailer that has this lack of warm experience or experiential experience at the store level, they kind of left at the mercy of these retailers to do whatever they do. Basically, the brand is all about defence.

How long could we stay on the shelf? What do we need to do to support our staying on the shelf? Not, hey, the supermarket model is completely wrong, imagine if we reimagined what it would be like to bring our brands to consumers, and turn these places into people that actually would love to go on life, be their own, enjoy that brand experience. That's an opportunity that's missed.

As an experienced leader within the creative space, what do you think businesses get wrong when it comes to branding?

This is a really easy question for me to answer. The one thing they get wrong is they diagnose the problem incorrectly. Often they're like hey we need a new website, rather than we need a new website because we believe there's a problem over here.

As I mentioned, the Miller Genuine Draft or MGD, before the problem is not the brand, the problem is the product. It's all out of date, so you can do whatever you want with the brand. But I don't think it's going to change the product.

What trends do you think will emerge in the creative branding space?

What we're seeing is we're seeing far more collaboration. Groups coming together to solve problems, but also different hybrids, coming to solve marketing problems or business problems, which is pretty awesome. This borderless world that we now have, makes more of that come to fruition. Instead of thinking about remote workers, think globally, you could hire someone who's a specialist over in the UK, to work with us on a problem we've got in Australia, the US or Asia.

You're going to see a lot of that happening. I dislike this idea around diversity and it's almost like this checklist on businesses. If we're going to be the right business, we must have diversity. To me, it's a no brainer, you get different people in the room, you get people with different backgrounds, and different nationalities and it's only going to make for better solutions. You're going to get this grittiness of people challenging one another, bringing their different experiences to the table.

I watch the SBS news, it has diverse news, diverse opinion, diverse people, that to me, is Australian. The beauty about the younger generation, they're not going to say that person's black, this person is Chinese, that they're just gonna see normal people. They're going to say, that guy's got an opinion, that person's got an opinion, let's come together and discuss that. That is going to build a better world. And that's the stuff that we'll see more of.

What should companies who want to invest in their brand stop doing? And what should they start doing?

If we go back to the one thing that I get them to do first is assess that problem, challenge or opportunity within the business. I'd say the first thing I'd like them to do is stop wasting money. We see so much money being wasted, particularly by marketing departments. Stop wasting your money on things that aren't going to get results or create value.

What I'd like to see is the focus back on less about the frivolous, 10,000 Facebook likes or a post was shared by all these people. What's the business problem challenge or opportunity we're trying to solve? And then what value? Are we actually trading for that business through the brand? If you're not creating value, our role is to help create value for business time.

When we start working on something, we want it to be more valuable than when we finished. From start to finish. I don't want to say, we got a high engagement campaign, but it absolutely did nothing for the business. To me, that's something that's failed and through learnings, I get that we've all been there.

But focus back on creating value and whether that value, in the sense of what value are we creating for the business and for customers? Then how are we going to measure that, then build upon that year on year?

Tune into the full episode here.

Target Market is a podcast series by AZK Media, where the world’s most premium thought leaders across technology, marketing and data come together to share their insights. Hosted by Athina Mallis.

This article was published on Little Black Book Online.


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