Why defining brand strategy is vital to capitalising on quick wins

Troy McKinnna

Troy McKinna is an entrepreneur and brand building specialist. He is the co-founder of Agents of Spring and Calm & Stormy. A sought after innovation consultant, facilitator and speaker who helps senior leaders and teams build customer-led growth strategies. He is also the author of Brand Hustle – 4 critical foundations to accelerate brand growth.

Big brands were once protected from small brands by high barriers to entry. Big brands had the resources to employ big agencies, to crack big ideas and to invest in big campaigns. They had the luxury of time to debate strategies and work on long-term innovation pipelines. Retailers used to partner with big brands.  

However, the dynamics of business have changed. It is no longer a game of size, but one of speed. The old advantages are now disadvantages. Supply chains have been democratised, media channels have exploded, and retailers are thirsty for innovation. To thrive in the new world order, brands must act fast against a clear strategic direction.  

Even before the banking royal commission highlighted the disconnect between the big bank’s offers and their customers’ needs, ME Bank knew there was a significant customer problem to solve. Former ME Bank CMO, Rebecca James, helped define the bank’s core purpose – “to help all Australians get ahead. Everyone is highly anxious about their finances, so we rallied against financial anxiety. We were a financial coach for Australians”.  

With customer clarity, ME Bank made quick decisions about communications and new products, accelerating the brand’s growth. They developed products designed to reduce financial anxiety, and as Rebecca called them ‘weasel-free’.  

“Weasel free products have no “gotchas”, are clean and have a simple design,” she says.    

A great example of the voice ME found for the brand was an April Fool’s day prank that launched the ‘Cardashians’. A range of credit cards with no limit, called Cim, Chloe, Courtney and Cris. The tagline: “ME’s new family of credit cards for when you need to keep up.”  

Four Pillars Gin is another high-growth brand with clarity on what it stands for, and what it stands against. Two of the brand's key pillars are to elevate the craft of distilling, and to share the craft of modern Australia.  

“We recognise we’re part of a movement,” Co-founder of Four Pillars, Matt Jones, says. “It’s to sort of push against the clichés of Australia overseas and celebrate modern, creative, diverse, contemporary, urban Australia in all of its weird glory. It can serve up the world’s best coffee, but not bother putting shoes on.”  

So when the team behind the re-opening of St Kilda’s iconic Espy raised the idea of a developing a gin, they jumped at it and developed Sticky Carpet gin. As Jones puts it, the gin was a “a tribute to Australia’s great hotels and their front bars, the carpets sticky with beer and thick with stories”.  

For Jones, brand building is an act of improv, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Improvisation is about acting quickly with a natural fluidity, he says.  

Developing brand hustle is not just for young brands either. Diageo turned around the fate of the Bundaberg brand by focusing on the customer and clearly defining the brand’s direction.  

In its Queensland heartland, sales of Bundy and cola cans were declining by 20 per cent. Nationally, the brand was declining at 9 per cent. By using a combination of new consumer-led products such as Lazy Bear, impactful communications and sales presence they were able to turn around the brand.  

To do this, former CMO of Diageo Australia, Adam Ballesty, says the team first identified Bundy stood for ‘celebrating the best of Australia’. When the Australian cricket team were found to have tampered with the ball, “five of us sat around a table, and went, right, do we have a voice? Do we need to go out with something? What is it?” Ballesty says. “And the guy running the brand, he said, No, no, no. We’re about celebrating the best of – not pointing the finger at the worst of. So I’m like, great, end of meeting, and we’re done.”  

In contrast, when three-time surfing world champion Mick Fanning retired, “you quickly get the distillery to create the Mick Fanning blend, and you send him six bottles saying, Thanks for a great career. We have loved you. You stood for this, as we do,” Ballesty says. This authentic gesture was rewarded with Fanning posting a picture to his 1.1 million followers on Instagram.  

In a business era where speed is the new scale, brands need to be clearly defined to facilitate quick decision making, just as ME Bank, Four Pillars and Bundaberg have done. Can you articulate the problem your offer solves? Are you building a presence in the sales channels that deliver the best customer experience and are you consistently embedding memories in the minds of your customers?

Tags: marketing strategy, brand strategy

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