CMO interview: Bringing a legacy brand back to its former glory

It might still be Don, but is it still good?

'Is Don, Is Good' became one of those iconic ads that most Australians over a certain age will remember. In fact, it was so iconic and so effective, it set Don up as the leader in the Australian smallgoods category even now, 30 years later. 

So how do you capitalise on an already market-leading position to improve growth and brand recognition, while honouring history? Fortunately, Don’s new marketing and innovation director, Nick Hickford, is well set up for this challenge. 

Hickford was Bulla Dairy Food’s former general manager of marketing and innovation for almost five years and helped transform the legacy brand into the number one most recognised dairy brand in Australia, much of it due to the advertising campaign, ‘Unfakeable’, which was delivered as part of its master brand strategy. It was so successful, it saw Hickford feature on the 2017 CMO50 list.  

While he wasn’t looking to leave Bulla, a brand he admits he loves, the opportunity to revive an Australian icon brand such as Don was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Since commencing six months ago, Hickford has set about establishing himself with the Don team and getting marketing in a good position to drive growth. 

“I’ve been loving the fact Don is a values and people-focused business. I came from a small family company at Bulla, so it’s great getting into one of the top 10 global food companies in the world. I also appreciate they leave the brands separate, so while the company is huge and you have great access to resources and expertise, you get to have control over your business,” Hickford told CMO

“The two things that have really impressed me so far are the people and safety. There is a huge depth of product knowledge across the team, which is critical to the category, and I’ll be looking to grow the team as we drive the business. 

“But first it’s been vital to get myself established with the team. The principle I work on is the trust equation; it’s a brilliant way to set and establish great relationships with people. With this category, product knowledge is really important, and I didn’t have that coming in, so the team is supporting me in that.

“Don also takes responsibility around food safety very seriously. It feeds a large number of Australians, so significant resources are spent on food safety.” 

Now that he has established his team, Hickford is looking to bring the Don brand back to its former glory. Success will be measured in two keys ways, brand metrics and tracking, and business growth. Marketing has set up an ROI model from a forecasting point of view, and measurement will be taken from there. 

The challenge, of course, is Don is already number one brand in consumer’s minds nationally. So Hickford’s marketing strategy moving forward has two goals: Bring order to an overcrowded category, and to drive growth.

He plans to achieve this by leveraging Don’s historic positioning. 

“The challenge here is Don is already the number one brand in consumers’ minds, by a long way. It is a really well known brand, and I’m intrigued by this, because it became this way due to a famous campaign in the early 1990s: ‘Is Don, is Good’. The guy who did it was also responsible for the Yellow Pages GoGo Mobile ad, so he was a bit of a legend due to these campaigns. This distinctive voice and style really set the Don brand up for life,” he explained. 

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve done research around finding out what our most distinctive brand assets are, and ‘Is Don is Good’ is it. It is the most recognised asset across the entire category for any brand. 

“So for us, we have to ask how to leverage that. Nothing since that has had as big an impact as this ad. We will be looking to bringing it back, but not in exactly the same way, because it needs to be relevant for today.”

Innovating a crowded category

No small task, but one Hickford is excited to undertake. To achieve this revitalisation, Don did some consumer research to ensure a good foundation of data to build on. Don will also be looking to make the category a little less crowded before looking to innovation. 

“I’m here to drive growth. Don has been doing well financially and has established a good a base, so now it’s time to drive growth."

Bringing some order to the category is key here, Hickford said. “There are a plethora of options for consumers, and my view is it’s hard to navigate the category and hard for shoppers to understand the variety of options that confront them in the supermarket. So the first thing will be to make it easier to shop and understand the category," he said.

“Ham and bacon are pretty simple. But go to a deli and the range is phenomenal. There are many people from Europe that understand smallgoods because it is a part of their culture, but for a lot of people, the vast range is confusing. We want to help consumers get a better handle on it."

The second thing is start driving category growth through products that enhance the consumer experience. 

“If you look at the last decade, 10 years ago you drove growth via price promotions. Five years ago it changed to innovation and new products," Hickford continued. "The next wave driving growth will be about making products easier to use and easier to choose. Consumers are just assaulted at the shelf. It’s hard to establish patterns and connections for products with a high turnover. So how do we enhance the experience to make it easier and more enjoyable to use? 

“Innovation is absolutely possible, we have lots of avenues. But before this we want to bring order to the category, clear out the clutter, then look at innovation.” 

Don, like many brands is also being challenged by the big retailers’ push to private label everything. 

“We’ve got a brand job to do, that’s the third string to our bow. We’ve got a great range, a range we haven’t communicated about enough to consumers in the past," Hickford said. "I believe brands do enrich people’s lives, brands give consumers surety, aspiration, nostalgia, and a sense of safety. 

“What I worry about is, as retailers drive a push to private label with more products with their logo on it, in a way we reduce that enrichment from people’s lives. Individual brands can give a greater level of warmth and connection than a retailer brand. 

“I don’t like the idea that the grocery industry is making consumer interaction with food more vanilla."

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu       

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