CMO interview: Transforming consumer brand perceptions of Tip Top

Marketing and innovation director talks about how his team is raising the bar on consumer engagement, from digital media and two-way conversation to data insights

Graeme Cutler
Graeme Cutler

Embracing transparency and authenticity

Alongside agility and experimentation, another facet to how marketers keep up with consumers and influence perceptions is through two-way and authentic engagement. Tip Top has sought to do this through its ongoing ‘A Grain of Truth' campaign, where it uses bloggers and experts to engage with the community about what’s going on, talks trends in food and media, and try and overcome negative perceptions of baking products.

“In this case, we took it up a level and addressed the broader trend being driven particularly by social media, which was the rise of the new expert,” Cutler explained. “We’re finding lots of people have opinions, and it was starting to impact consumption of bread.”

Tip Top research had shown that as a nation, Australians are confused about what’s good for them, he said. “Bread is the posterchild of carbs, which people kept saying are bad for you, but we had lots of information to show that’s not the case, and we wanted to bust the myths,” he continued.

To do this, Tip Top engaged nutritionists and staff to take bloggers through the process of how bread is made, what’s in the bread and what’s not in it, and “told them the truth”, Cutler said. “Through their articles, we were reaching people on different level without talking about our brands,” he said. “This built up the support of nutritionist, and we used partners to give credibility and amplify that voice.

“Three years ago, we were not in that head space or looking to do something of that scale.”

Tip Top has also built a strong social following and is increasingly using these channels for consumer support and education. According to Cutler, brands need to be much closer to customer service than ever before because the timeliness of response is critical.

“You can’t sit on feedback, it has to be instant. That’s what consumers are demanding and we have to be agile enough to get back in the right timeframe,” he said.

Being transparent inside and out

Transparency is the thread underlying all of this, and being able to answer questions from a position of truth. And it’s this approach that’s being pushed internally at Tip Top as well as externally.

“We have information people want to know about, and we have to be more transparent,” Cutler said. “For example, people think there’s sugar in white bread, but we don’t put sugar in white bread. And the reason our bread lasts longer on shelf is because there’s vinegar in there, not because there are artificial preservatives.”

The next phase for marketing is to bring this transparency in-store, and secure the support of supermarket customers in bringing the broader bread category message to life for end consumers, Cutler said.

“We’re putting the category first and have invested a lot in talking to customers about the benefits we offer to the category,” he said. “We’re supporting that with innovation across our brands as well so we can drive growth for both parties. What we do with the end user is going to be beneficial to the customer because those insights are going to be brought into the way we do things. It’s a partnership, but we have to be constantly vigilant about sharing information.”

Understanding both customer and consumer need through data is vital to achieving this, and Cutler said it’s trying to get better at insights as a way of driving competitive advantage. One of the steps it’s taken is to structure things internally so there is a clear focus on developing insights, with a team now servicing the need for insights from both a consumer and customer point of view.

“We are developing capabilities in that space both for the consumer market and also our food service arm,” Cutler said. “We have a CRM system there to be more in touch with end customers ordering and use on a day-to-day basis. That’s critical.”

At the end consumer level, Tip Top is bringing in data from many sources, but Cutler said developing the point-of-sale data side is still a work in progress. The emphasis to date has been scan data, research, penetration data from stores and bespoke research.

“The challenge is the fusion of those, whether that’s through a system or process to get to that unique insight that drives competitive advantage,” he said. “That’s the fundamental challenge, not the systems or processes that exist.”

Baking in innovation

Product innovation is also part of Cutler’s remit, and to do this he has a team of 11 people focused on development.

“They’re looking for two things: Product renovation and launches that are smaller in nature; then more critical innovation streams that start 3-4 years out,” he said, adding that there are a dozen or more innovation platforms active at any one time.

A number of bread trends are driving efforts at the moment, including convenience, the push for real food and products that are better for you, and the next best thing.

“It’s particularly important for a category that has copped a lot of flak previously for not being as healthy – which is unwarranted, but it’s out there,” Cutler said. “It’s how we think about growing the category through innovation, and how we engage with customers, sharing with them our plans.”

For Cutler, being a successful marketing leader comes down to driving growth. The way Tip Top achieves growth is through its brand and innovation, he said.

“There has been a real shift in the dialogue at Tip Top, and we have moved from functional positioning and functional creative to much more experience-based connection with our end users around the brands,” he said.

“Both Tip Top and Abbott’s Village Bakery campaigns at the moment are great examples – there is product in the ad, but it’s not the main message. It’s more about how the brand makes you feel and if you can relate. We leave the functional messages for in-store, on pack and in social.”

But all of these growth efforts are in vain if the CMO can’t prove the marketing team’s ROI, Cutler said.

“When we see purchase intent and consideration going up to record levels, we know the approach is working,” he concluded. “The credibility and accountability of marketing back to leadership and the business is to demonstrate that what we are doing adds value and that it is working. Through our innovation record and way brands are evolving in the market, we are able to do that.”

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