brand authenticity

Monday, 25 July 2022 16:23

Helping businesses across Australia harness office technology to improve productivity, efficiency and growth.

Discussion between Lee Shorter, Practice Manager at Aquent, and Paul Nelson, Managing Director of BrandMatters.

You can view the video interview on our YouTube channel here or scroll down to view it at the bottom of this article.

PN:
At BrandMatters, we're experiencing a sharp increase from the market and our clients with enquiries for employer branding and employee value propositions, or what we call an EVP. Joining us today is Lee Shorter from Aquent, a global workforce solutions organisation, to discuss the current state of the employment market here in Australia.

Lee, a lot's changed in the past 18 months in the world of recruitment. Attracting and retaining talent has become a major challenge being faced by many organisations across Australia and around the world, where closed borders have had a huge impact and led to skilled immigration shortages. Lee, as a professional in the area, could you set the scene for us? What are the major challenges organisations are facing in recruitment at the moment?

LS:
Over the past sort of 12 to 18 months there has been a complete shift in the market. We have gone from being in the midst of COVID, where we had businesses making huge rounds of redundancies for obvious reasons, contractors being let go. So, we had a lot of candidates on the market that were looking for jobs, but companies were not looking to hire. Now that we're through the worst of that and coming out of the back of it, there's been a complete shift to how companies are really picking up their hiring efforts, looking to build up their teams again. Projects are kicking off again, funding is being given for new projects. Everybody is now looking to hire and they're all needing the same skill sets.

They've all got volumes of roles that they're needing to fill and so it's a really competitive market. We've shifted from having lots of candidates and no jobs, to now having not many candidates but a lot of jobs. That's means it's taking a lot longer to hire, and companies are needing to be flexible with the way that they recruit and the people that they recruit. And it's also having a knock-on effect to existing workforces because they're the ones that are having to pick up the slack. So that then creates a problem for the employees who are potentially feeling overworked and then maybe looking to leave themselves which is then further adding to the already difficult problem.

PN:
Aquent specialises in placing digital and creative talent in the brand and marketing and creative services industries, so in your experience, what are these employers looking for in an organisation? What are the main factors driving their decision making?

LS:
We do a lot of research into this, and our data shows that a very small percentage of people are active with their job search at the current time, probably only about 15-16% of people are actively looking. These are people that are on SEEK, on LinkedIn, on company careers pages, reaching out to hiring managers, trying to find an opportunity for themselves, but still a very small percentage. What the data also shows is that around 60% of people, if they are approached about the right opportunity at the right time, would consider a move.

And so that's very important when it comes to things like employer brand, the ways in which we can entice people to an organisation, what would prompt them to leave one role for another role if they're not actively looking. Things like pay is obviously important. We're seeing an increase in salaries because the demand is so high, people are looking for up to around 20% increases to change jobs, which is quite considerable. But I think that the top three things that people would be looking for and why they would change jobs would be interesting and varied work, strong leadership, and most importantly, flexible working.

PN:
That hybrid working these days has changed everything, hasn't it? If you don't have it, then it's an absolute turnoff. Losing good people is always tough on organisations, especially losing creative people or those highly valued by clients and service organisations. So, what makes talent leave good jobs?

LS:
There are a couple of reasons, the main one being poor leadership. People are three times more likely leave a job because of poor leadership than they are for more money. People think, "Oh, you're looking to change jobs, it's because you want a bigger role, or a larger role, or things along those lines", but really most people are leaving managers, rather than jobs. That creates a problem. In this scenario, there are things that can be done in terms of leadership coaching to increase staff well-being and happiness.

I think that as well as that, placing importance on retaining your existing workforce, rather than throwing all of your efforts into hiring new staff is critical. People more likely to consider leaving in a situation such as, “I'm coming to the end of my contract, but nobody's spoken to me about an extension, all they're concerned about is bringing new people into the business”, or if “I've been pushing for a promotion for the past 18 months and all of a sudden, they're hiring for the role that I feel like would be a logical next step for me”, again, these are all reasons why people would look to move on.

PN:
In terms of attraction and retention and the role of employer branding: what are organisations doing retain their best and their brightest?

LS:
There's a lot that can be done in terms of attracting new people to your business, but that should not come to the detriment of the existing workforce. So, keeping your existing workforce happy should be a key focus. An unhappy workforce is going to spread externally because if people can see that average tenures are really short, people are leaving at six-12 months in, then that is going to make them think, "Oh, actually there's something inherently wrong within this business and that's probably not something that I would want to get into myself." And people know people, and especially in the creative and marketing industries, people have friends that work in the industry, they will talk, people will post on LinkedIn about positive experiences they're having with a particular employer. So that all plays into ways in which they can attract people to a business.

I think it's important as well for businesses to really speak to their top performers and see whether internal people are perceiving their brand in the same way that the company thinks that their employee is, or external people perceive their brand, because they can be two completely separate things. That can be done through things like interviews or surveys with your staff, they're the ones that are living and breathing the brand and its values and then trying to link that into your employer brand and your employee value proposition, so that it really resonates with the existing workforce.

PN:
We do a lot of work in employer value proposition development and the market has moved quite a bit there, which is the rate of inquiry coming through to us with people seeking to work out. How do I attract and retain the best? How does my organisation be known as the place to work and the people to work with? So, I guess the question is around employee value propositions, how important are they in overall terms? Do you hear a lot about them in your day-to-day activities at Aquent?

LS:
It's extremely important. We hear about it all the time and it's something that we are consistently asking our clients because we are representing their brand to the market. We need to know the ways in which we can entice people to their business, when there's so much opportunity out there for people. How can we position you as the right next step for them to take in their career. So, I think you need to look at your employee value proposition and really see whether that actually aligns to what's important to people now.

Previous employee value propositions may have contained things like, “We've got a strong office culture and we have lots of social events, we've got ping pong tables and a beer fridge”, all of this kind of stuff. But if you are not in the office, that's irrelevant. And so, your value proposition then needs to pivot and align to what's important: flexible working, long-term opportunities, career development, education and training, all of these kinds of things are what people value. And so that then needs to be translate across and into your employee value proposition.

What I also think is that companies, particularly when they're looking to attract new people to their business, are placing too much importance on what they want and what they need versus having a strong employee value proposition that's going to be employee centric. We always link it back to this notion of, what's in it for me? If you have a look at a job description or a job advertisement, and you'll see a laundry list of, “We need five years’ experience in this. You must have experience in that, this software is of vital importance.” You can actually turn people off, when instead reframing that to “What are you actually going to get out of it? What benefit are you going to get from working with us? We can offer this, the projects that you'll work on will allow you to do X, Y, and Z. This is what our employees are saying about us.” People then no longer have a reason to turn down an opportunity, but rather look at it and think, "Actually, this is something that I really want to explore."

PN:
It feels like there's a real mutuality there, where rather than the employer just saying, "Here's what we expect of you”, the employer is also being able to go back to the employee and say, "Here's what you can expect from us in return," so that mutuality actually occurs.

You've also talked about the fact that the market has changed, and organisations have had to pivot, especially as they have done through the working from home with flexible and hybrid working environments. Given all that, how many organisations are you seeing that are actually updating that employee value proposition, or just leaving it live and relying on what they used to say, to attract and retain the best versus updating it to a more current context?

LS:
I think that there are some companies that are updating, but definitely not enough and I think it really needs to be looked at. Firstly, if you don't have an employer brand or an employer value proposition as it is, then it needs to be pulled together. If your EVP needs updating, it's important that you involve your people in that process. They're the ones that are living and breathing your brand and its values on a daily basis. They're the ones that really should have input into what these brand attributes are, and this can be done through things like workshops. I always find that an external party facilitating that helps because there's no bias either way towards an organisation, or its people, or its values. And when operating in a workshop environment, as yourself what's important to you? What do you enjoy about working for this business? What opportunity have you been afforded?

It's also important that it's not just words on a page, that once you've assembled your employer brand and you've put together an employee value proposition, that's seen to be actioned, people know and are actively aware of it. If your employee value proposition contains things like, “We value training and development and lifelong learning”, but in reality, you don't afford people the opportunity to go and do courses or attend conferences or events or get paid time off to complete an education course that is really going to benefit them, then this will not benefit business. If you're not living and breathing the values that you say that you have, then it's pointless really. And the same goes with various other things like diversity and inclusion, if that's part of your EVP, ensuring it actually is and that it isn’t just a token gesture is critical. For example, do you have D&I counsel? Are you placing importance on diversity and inclusion? Are you including that in your hiring processes? Are you affording opportunities to the same people regardless of their background, or their gender, or their religion? All of these things are critical.

I think companies need to get better at that, it's not just about having a strong employee brand, or a strong employee value proposition, but actually bringing that to life within your organisation. Say, for example, we've seen things like having an employee value champion, where certain people within the business that really embody everything that your values stand for, having them get involved in the onboarding process of new starters and educating them on what the values are and how they can help bring that to life. And it comes back to getting your people involved because as I said, they're the ones that are living and breathing your values.

PN:
It just can't be posters on the wall or some nice creatively written words in a PowerPoint deck. It's got to be authentic, doesn't it? It's got to be demonstrated through leadership as well. They've got to live that and breathe it on a day-to-day basis, it's going to turn up for their employees on a day-to-day basis, absolutely. So, as we bring this to a close now, Lee, it's been difficult to predict the future with just so much change going on in the marketplace, but where do you see the talent market going over the next few years? And you importantly, how can businesses prepare for this?

LS:
In the immediate term, the companies that are coming out the back of the COVID and thinking right, we're now through the worst of it, we can go back to normal and go back to how things were, but aren’t realising that things have changed and change for the better, they're the ones that are really going to struggle when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. We were hoping or expecting that with borders reopening that we would see this influx of international talent coming into Australia, that hasn't really materialised as yet. I think that will take some time, I think over the next 12 to 18 months, we'll start to see that increase and so, that will definitely help.

But I think that the companies that will get through this next 12 to 18 months in the strongest position, are the ones that can align their values and what they're positioning to existing employees and potential employees, ensuring it really aligns with what they're looking for. So having a strong employee value proposition, having strong initiatives around diversity, inclusion, sustainability and demonstrating that they can offer career progression, that's of vital importance to people at the moment. If companies can start to implement this, they are going to have a happier workforce and a workforce that is going to advocate for them and attract other people into the business, people who are increasingly hearing positive things about this organisation. So that's how I see things playing out.

PN:
Lee, we really do appreciate you talking the time with us today. There are some deep insights you've provided and we are very grateful for them.

LS:
Thanks again for having me.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022 08:43

Discussion between Jayson Walker, CEO and Director of Tribel, and Paul Nelson, Managing Director of BrandMatters. You can view the video interview on our YouTube channel here or scroll down to view it at the bottom of this article.

PN: I thought we'd just start by talking about the Tribel story. You built a business out of Aon and brought a number of your team with you. It might be scary for some people having stepped out of a very large organisation like Aon. What led you to do that?

JW: Very scary I must say. Bringing a team of very capable, passionate people in the financial advisory sector during a period of significant change as a result of the Royal Commission, to embark on exiting a large global corporate like Aon was a very challenging thing to do. I, like the rest of the team, am passionate about financial advice and the wellbeing it helps provide to the broader community. It wasn’t actually a difficult decision to make. The scary part was concluding the transaction in a management buyout with a large global corporate, but more importantly, engaging the team who were going to come along with that transaction to be part of the journey.

PN: Your product is your people. It's absolutely critical and you've done a sensational job doing that. Despite doing so well, the market is still highly competitive. It's very crowded and you've got to cut through the clutter of all that change and bring clients on the journey. How are you doing that?

JW: It goes back to the start of the journey that we set in place for the first three years. Funnily enough, the first of May this year, 2022, will be our three-year anniversary of the management buy-out. That was all about making sure that we provided clear, concise communication to our clients. We had a clear, clean brand, which although had some references towards our global parent, was able to set us aside. There's lots happening in the financial planning industry. It's about making it simple for the end consumer to understand. The market has moved into that space. It's now providing clear, concise messaging to help people get educated and understand more so that when they do come to us, we're a facilitator of the end outcome, which is a better financial wellbeing outcome over time.

PN: What about the process of moving your clients across from the security, safety and familiarity of Aon through to Tribel? How did that go for you?

JW: We spent a lot of time in the way we positioned the brand. Gratefully, the journey of the team moving out of Aon into the new environment meant that from a client point of view, the core factor of their relationship with Tribel, (as with Aon), was as an individual and those individuals came with the process. Because they were part of the journey, they were the ones who helped create the brand, the name, the vision and what we want to stand for. The conversation that they were having with clients was passionate, heartfelt, transparent and honest about why. I think that made it easy for us.

PN: Building trust and meaning in this environment is so challenging. Talk to me a bit more about financial wellness, what that means and how that turns up as a benefit for your clients.

JW: Wellbeing overall has a number of pillars to it. It can be five, six. In my world, that's three. One is social wellbeing. The other is physical wellbeing. The other is mental wellbeing. What sits behind all of those is financial wellbeing. There's lots of research in the marketplace that if you manage someone’s financial wellbeing, it helps deliver on those other three pillars. It gives people more time to focus on looking after their physical wellbeing. It relieves the stress and pressure around their mental wellbeing. It takes away all those challenges. We've all heard statistics of how many people get divorced and the underlying factor in divorces these days is generally financial.

If you start to look after those things, then you help people feel comfortable in their life. This isn't about making people wealthier than what they can naturally be with their capital contributions through income. This is about making people feel comfortable and not stressed. Research around the globe shows that if you can focus on financial wellbeing, it underpins those other three pillars and helps someone become well totally, in all of those areas. We focused on that. It's about making sure we deliver on their financial wellbeing to then help people with those other factors in their life.

PN: It’s managing the whole person, isn’t it. Rather than just their own personal balance sheet or being their personal CFO, you're actually thinking about their goals or aspirations, their functional needs and critically their emotional needs as well.

JW: We've still got a bit of a journey to go. We've now built that solution around financial advice, accounting and finance. The next stages of our growth will be, how do we enhance and help people in those other wellbeing areas such as the social, emotional and physical? That'll be a journey we look to go on over time.

PN: Let's talk about the financial planning industry. Over the last three years you’ve traversed a phenomenal amount of change, lifting out a team, setting up your own practice, building that out and dimensionalising that beyond financial planning. What are the broader challenges and opportunities the financial planning industry itself is facing? We know about the Royal Commission and the impact that's had, but that's only part of it, isn't it? What about the other challenges and opportunities facing the industry?

JW: There really needs to be a considered view about a total restructure of the industry in my opinion. If you look at its complexity from a compliance and regulatory point of view, a bit similar to our tax system, it's a patchwork of fixes that have been put over problems for decades and decades without a fundamental restructure of outcomes that deliver to a client's need. Cost of advice is unachievable for most Australians. Why is that? Well, we have a compliance and regulatory framework that costs significantly more money than it used to. Ultimately, the end-consumer has to pay for that. I think there's definitely a position for regulators and legislators to think about how financial advice is reconstructed. Ultimately, in my view, it's a liability issue. Today, we have independent financial planners who have their own licence. There's then aggregated financial licences which we're a part of who provide services.

How do all of those individuals provide comfort to their consumer or their client that in the event of an error occurring that there's fundamentally a support system that provides compensation for that? Today, it's all positioned at an individual financial advisor level. As a result, that stops attracting individuals into our marketplace. They think, “well, if I've got to be liable for 100% of everything I do and there's a cost associated with doing that”. That detracts from new entrants thinking about joining our industry. Whereas you have mid-sized firms like ourselves, larger firms and boutiques where the business should be wearing the liability for the advice provision to a consumer, based on the infrastructure it supports. I don't have all the answers naturally, but there's a need to think about a total reworking and structural change for the industry around how consumers access advice affordably and remove a lot of the historical legislation and regulation that provides no protection for the end-consumer.

PN: You've done a sensational job of attracting and retaining the best and the brightest across your firm. As we close, what advice would you provide to anyone who is considering a career in financial planning? From my point of view, it's such a critical, fundamental plank in people's futures and financial planners have a critical role to play. If someone was thinking about a career in financial planning, what advice or guidance would you provide for them?

JW: It's an interesting question that you often get posed. The conversations you have with individuals is firstly choose a career which is about helping people, supporting individuals who do not have the knowledge, capability, or experience to put themselves in a better financial position and achieve their lifestyle goals. And secondly, look at our profession for what it will be, not what it was.

If you look back in history, it took 475 years for accounting to be considered a profession. If you look at financial advice in Australia, it started with the life insurance days. It's only around about 75 to 80 years young, and we are on the cusp of being considered for all intents and purposes, a profession. There's hallmarks around a profession and that's education standards, associations, regulation and oversight by regulators and legislators. We're not far away from that. What I would say to individuals considering a professional career is look at where we will be and jump on that journey. Don't look where we've come from, because in any industry that has had a journey, you can always find areas of turmoil and challenge that they've been through to get to where they are today.

PN: Your final answer there basically summed it up in terms of your future focus and what you've already created and certainly what you will continue to create going forward. Jayson, we really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining us.

JW: Thanks, Paul. Nice to be with you.

 

To see Tribel Advisory, click here. 

To see Tribel Accountants, click here

To contact BrandMatters click here.

Thursday, 27 January 2022 09:29

Australia’s largest not-for-profit organisations that empowers researchers to identify ways to treat, prevent and cure multiple sclerosis (MS).

Over the course of the past few months, the world has seen an enormous shift in the way consumers live, shop, interact and do business with each other. 

There are very few brands who have not been affected in some way, shape or form by the pandemic. Businesses have needed to be agile, often changing direction and indeed strategy to reflect the rapidly evolving context we find ourselves in.

And in our immediate context, just as we have begun to taste some degree of freedom and the gradual unwinding of the pressures of lockdowns and restrictions, it appears inevitable that our environment will again shift to feelings of isolation and the associated anxieties that that comes with. 

But what does this mean for your organisation? Well, you have likely already recognised the level of change required to navigate this context, as well as the immediacy to which these changes were made. You now need to consider whether your brand narrative is appropriately defined to reflect the changes you have made and determine whether you need to overhaul your brand positioning to stay relevant in the minds of your key audiences.

Ultimately, this period represents the perfect timing to reflect on your brand and refine the brand narrative for what will be the new normal. It is time for brands to walk a mile in the client’s shoes and focus on what they really need and want from you, at both this point and beyond.

Preparing your brand for a pivot

If it is the case that you have actively considered refining your brand narrative, you must first define the existing state of your brand, and then determine the future desired state of your offer. In order to prepare your brand for any percentage of strategic pivot, you should first consider:

1. Have you determined how your brand is currently positioning itself?

2. Can you identify, understand and compare the positioning of your direct competitors? 

3. Have you responded by developing a right-sized brand pivot that is considerate of these factors? 

Once you have an understanding of your dynamic market, you must put in place the contingencies to navigate the degree of change from what is existing. Your brand positioning must be aligned to the longer-term strategic thinking of your organisation. If your response to this period is not aligned with your brand, it will appear unauthentic and will not resonate with your audiences (at worst it may result in customer backlash).

Brand positioning is long term, so don’t rush, cut or run

Whilst it is important to establish a higher aspirational goal for your brand in light of the pandemic, the risks of repositioning your brand should also be considered. If you make a decision to shift your positioning, you need to be sure you aren’t completely abandoning the established position that had recognised you as a real force in the marketplace, especially for something you may not have earned credibility yet or is simply opportunistic. This can leave your brand in no-man’s land and in this overly competitive context, may cannibalise your existing and future sales.

As we always insist, a brand position needs to be credible. Part of that means aligning yourself in a place between what you're already communicating, against where you'd like the brand to be; what your audience currently believes, and what the audience would value. It's about balancing the experience of the brand, with the promise of the brand.

The most appropriate positioning for your organisation, in the context of the pandemic especially, should exist somewhere in the centre of these requirements. If your brand is positioned only by what existed before (what they already believe), it wont ever grow. If it is positioned too far towards where you hope it will go, especially towards rapidly expanding COVID markets, it won’t appear credible and sustainable. This process is one to be treaded carefully, you need to reinforce what you are in your customer’s minds, as well as stay relevant by nudging the brand to where you believe it needs to be.

Why revisiting your brand positioning so important in these turbulent times

Revisiting and refining your brand narrative can ensure your brand remains relevant during this period and beyond. Currently, consumers and employees are feeling vulnerable, uncertain and need reassurance. Brands need to lead with a distinct focus on their culture, their narrative needs to be reflective of both the internal and external. It is important that brands demonstrate their values, both to their customers and their employees.

Many agile brands have been able to easily adapt their messaging through the pandemic period and although we have gradually felt more comfortable and less apprehensive with the way we conduct business, the period to follow is the most crucial to get right. The next few months are likely to symbolise the ongoing nature of this pandemic and the new future we find ourselves in. Some brands have found obvious synergies in their past values, but many more need to dig a little deeper to find their right positioning to take to their evolving market.

It is time to take stock, weigh up the options and make your strategic moves. Unfortunately, during a crisis these strategic moves need to happen quickly. The key to getting this right is to dig deep into your brand values, and core purpose and ensure your marketing and messaging is aligned with our customer’s needs and addresses their new pain points. It is vital to rely on the experience and knowledge of your best people to lean in and make informed decisions. 

Where to begin your brand positioning journey

Repositioning your brand represents a complex, strategic brand conundrum. But the benefits of defining the unique, relevant, credible and sustainable position that you own in this dynamic market will help to ensure your clients and prospects can clearly differentiate you from your competitors.

If your organisation needs assistance in the evaluation of your existing and future brand positioning, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

One of the core purposes of a brand portfolio strategy is to help customers navigate the scope of a company’s offer in a way that best reflects the brand’s promise. Now, given the turbulence of markets, shifts in competitor service disciplines, your own tactical and strategic pivots, and the evolving sentiments of consumers post COVID-19, the importance of a strong and clearly defined brand architecture cannot be overstated. 

As we all emerge from the immediate and significant challenges of the pandemic and begin to settle into our new economic reality, it is increasingly clear that attention spans are shorter, discretionary budgets and spending diminished, and ultimately, brands are trying harder to secure their share of both market, mind and wallet.

In this state of flux, a brand architecture review can help an organisation streamline their brand portfolio so as to maximise return on investment and minimise confusion in the market.

There are a number of brand architecture models that may be appropriate for your unique organisational strategy. Considering the ever-changing environment we find ourselves in, which brand and product architecture strategy is the best fit for you?

BA blog 2 image insert

Our publication e-book – An Introduction to Brand Architecture outlines the core brand architecture structures that are available:

In this COVID-19 environment, if you are changing markets, channels or products your existing brand architecture is going to be implicated. There are certain questions we are being asked at BrandMatters in relation to this, notably, will your existing brands stretch to new markets, or could you serve the same or new markets with fewer brands? For businesses looking to pivot their core offer and brand away from displaced markets or towards more lucrative COVID markets, how do you inform such decisions? How do you mitigate risk and maximise the opportunity?

As marketers looking to find answers to these fundamental brand architecture conundrums, some of the most significant considerations you will need to assess when undergoing your brand architecture review include…

How many brands are appropriate for your organisation?

The more brands you have the more thinly spread your (dwindling) marketing budget will become. A good first step in a brand architecture review is to logically assess the number of brands you need verses how many you currently have, considering also the necessary market requirements and demand post-COVID. It’s essential your offer doesn’t appear to cannibalise itself. If your organisation has made acquisitions, mergers or diversified recently, asking whether there are there brands that are now competing due to overlaps in service offering or across similar channels is essential. It may also be the case that incremental additions over time have created complexity and confusion, which are likely to have been accentuated in the context of the pandemic.

Brand distinction, in terms of quality or features, is one way to ensure that customers aren’t interpreting your brands as too similar, whereby the price becomes the determining factor in decision-making. In my experience, when customers experience difficulties understanding the full scope and relationships between brands, they seem to be restricted from fully connecting with the brand and are also more likely to make price-based purchasing decisions or search elsewhere. In this turbulent and over-communicated context post-COVID, attention spans are undoubtedly lower, and your brand need to be aware of this when it comes to the organisation and presentation of your brand portfolio in the market.

Testing your proposed new brand architecture structure through brand research will help you ensure you succeed in implementing an optimal model. Without properly stress testing your new or revised go-to-market strategy, you risk investing heavily against an unproven brand architecture strategy that may not be custom fit or suited for growth post COVID-19.

Building in flexibility

A brand framework that has been designed for today’s crisis without adequate flexibility given to future challenges will inhibit growth and increase of market share. I have found this fundamental flexibility is not always considered in brand architecture strategies. So, building flexibility into a brand framework requires longer term strategic thinking, and an understanding that markets that previously existed to serve customers are now intrinsically altered from what they were before. 

Another useful way to demonstrate flexibility is to provide greater certainty around the levels of risk in the investment your organisation is making with any potential brand architecture. This is essential for the marketing function of any organisation to demonstrate flexibility to C-Suite executives, where your role in the overall position of your organisation can look to showcase higher-level strategic thinking that gratifies budget expenditure. 

Where to start the brand architecture journey

Before and throughout the pandemic, BrandMatters has been assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their brand architecture to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

We’re offering a comprehensive productised solution that enables organisations to map their suite of products and services, and inform decision making in the management of these portfolios, in a cost-effective, efficient and accountable way. 

If your organisation needs assistance in evaluation of your brand architecture, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Optimal brand architecture ensures that the brands that exist in an organisation’s portfolio are consistently adding value to justify the costs required to sustain them. Given the changes thrust upon us by COVID-19, many organisations and marketers are struggling with the management of their go-to-market strategy and brand portfolio to best meet the evolving interests of their shifting audiences. 

Organisations need to ask themselves one critical question: Is our current brand architecture, the way in which our products and services go to market and the inter-relationship between them, still fit for purpose, or, does it also need to evolve.

Brand architecture is always most efficient when it is aligned to and reflects your business strategy, giving relevance to how your brands can meet your objectives. This is never truer than now as we move into the post-COVID world, where the needs of the market and targets segments are swiftly evolving. Or, in the words of Simon Sinek, “It doesn't matter how much we know. What matters is how clearly others can understand what we know.” 

Ultimately, an optimised brand architecture structure is the anchor by which all brand decisions can be made. But in a world in flux, where internal business perspectives and external customer perspectives have shifted, where is the best place to start this brand architecture process?

Understand your current portfolio structure

It’s essential as a starting point to map out your existing brand architecture as it currently stands. Our publication, An Introductory Guide to Brand Architecture can help you understand the various brand architecture models that organisations adopt. 

Taking stock of your current situation is an important early step in the brand architecture review process. Many organisations grow organically over time: brands are acquired, brands extensions introduced, innovation and NPD is a constant. 

Mapping your current brand portfolio will enable you to understand the interrelationships between each of your brands, establish whether any of your brands overlap or cannibalise each other, and determine the relevance of each of your brands within the marketplace.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, many organisations have shifted their processes and sought access to new markets. Some have acquired incremental additions that over time have created complexity and confusion, where certain brands may be competing due to overlaps in service or product offering. And in a period of declining marketing expenditure, there may be increasing duplication of effort across the business that is bringing unnecessary cost and inefficiencies. 

It is only by taking an inventory audit of the existing portfolio can these factors become apparent, which is why this is such an important step in the organisation of your brand architecture.

The critical role of brand research

Brand research is also an essential step in the brand architecture review process. It not only identifies current market perceptions of your brand, but it will also inform the perceived impact of potential architecture alternatives. Researching your market can uncover the differentiating factors that can influence future decision making and de-risk the evolution of your portfolio structure.

Given the turbulence of markets recently, your existing brand research is likely outdated and not representative of the state of play through which you are likely to base your tactical and strategic considerations on.

Even short term, cost effective brand research can help measure the immediate impacts of the apprehension in the market, which will provide insights and analytics to prompt more extensive brand research to help identify and then address your unique situation post-COVID. Just last month, BrandMatters completed a quantitative research dip of over 500 SMEs across Australia for Vero’s SME Insurance Index COVID-19 Pulse Check, providing insights that helped hundreds of brokers understand the changing nature of the current climate and the impact these pressures are having on their key clients.

Turning insights into an evolved architecture

The complexity level of your brand architecture will depend on your current business model, the number of brands housed within your organisation, and the capacity to pivot and flex as required. 

In an environment where the market is evolving by the fortnight, it is important too that your architecture is built with flexibility in mind. An architecture framework that has been designed for today should include the capacity to incorporate mergers, acquisitions, brand collaborations or extensions, pivots and new target markets. 

In this COVID-19 world, if you are changing markets, channels or products your existing brand architecture is going to be implicated. Asking whether your existing brands should stretch to new markets, or could you serve the same or new markets with less brands? For businesses looking to pivot their core offer and brand away from displaced markets or towards more lucrative COVID markets, how do you inform such decisions? How do you mitigate risk and maximise opportunity?

The question we’re being asked by clients is "If I move my brand into that more lucrative market, can I do it credibly, or am I hindering my own brand as it’s simply a bridge too far? 

Future proofing your brand architecture with an inherent flexibility is crucial. It is more than likely the short-term tactical decisions you have made during COVID-19 pandemic were made to stem declining sales, as opposed to strategically reposition your entire organisation. But all organisations face different pressures, the number of changes in go-to-market strategies and brand portfolio organisation reflect this.

Where to start the brand architecture journey

In response to these challenges, BrandMatters is assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their brand architecture to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

We’re offering a comprehensive productised solution that enables organisations to map their suite of products and services, and inform decision making in the management of these portfolios.

If your organisation needs assistance in evaluation of your brand architecture, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Right now, markets are anxious and unstable. Competitors are confused and unpredictable. It’s a COVID world and the need to cut through and have your message be heard and understood has never ever been more challenging.

In this context, the C-suite is extremely hesitant to invest in brand and marketing.

In fact, according to McKinsey in B2B, nearly 50 percent of companies have cut their short-term spending in response to the crisis and declining demand, and a similar portion expect to reduce their long-term budgets as well.

Yet marketing industry luminary Mark Ritson has gone to pains to highlight that a recession is a great opportunity for brands to grow market share, if you can make the rest of the C-suite understand that marketing is an investment and not a cost. From Ritson’s analysis of the 1920-21 recession and supported by more recent research work on the 2008-9 recession by Kantar, there is a substantial volume of data to back this up.

So how do you get the C-suite more engaged in the role of brand and marketing, so they understand the difference it can make?

Through BrandMatters’ own research we conducted a few years ago as part of our Brand Leaders report we believe we’ve got several insights that could also be applied in this context. As part of this research we unearthed a broad range of views, the Brand Attitude Spectrum. As part of the research and conversations with some of Australia’s leading CMO’s we identified that Australian organisations hold a wide spectrum of attitudes towards the role of brand and marketing, with three main groups being identified:

1. Embracers – where brand sits at the heart of the organisation.
2. Aspirers – where brand is seen as critical by some stakeholders within an organisation but other stakeholders are more circumspect.
3. Doubters – where brand is a function of the marketing department, seen as a cost and not a strategic asset.

As part of our research we unpacked the attitudes and behaviours of each of these groups and then explore the implications this has on the role of brand within organisations moving forward. By understanding where your CEO and where your organisation sits on the spectrum, you can then devise strategies to support the Embracers, inform the Aspirers and educate the Doubters on the critical role of brand and marketing especially in these times of crisis.

At BrandMatters, we believe that through a deeper understanding of the characteristics of each of the prevailing attitudes, marketers can understand the size of the task and equip themselves to educate the organisation in the benefits and returns in brand and marketing investment at this time. After all, there has never been more at stake to position your brand against an existing, new or evolved audience and communicating that accordingly.

To read the chapter on the Brand attitude Spectrum, or to download the entire report, click here.

6-point checklist for brands in managing a crisis.

As Winston Churchill famously quoted "Never let a good crisis go to waste". As a leader during crisis, he became more strategic, communicated both effectively and inspirationally. Brands can take some learnings from this during the COVID-19 crisis in asking how they maintain trust? How do I communicate and enhance consumer confidence?

In an era of corporate transparency and economic crisis, the actions of businesses, industry and brands are under greater scrutiny and judgement. It is vital that brands don’t knee-jerk react, but maintain their integrity, understand what their customers require, stay true to their brand values, and continue to communicate in the most appropriate and manageable way.

It is easy to get distracted, panic and make drastic, non-strategic decisions in times of crisis. But in the past (admittedly this crisis is unlike any other), those who hone their brand, that focus on communicating the right message at the right time will be well placed to see this through.

Here is a 6-point checklist for brands on a mission to find the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.

1. Review your balance sheet - but not at the expense of your skills base

Now is the time to conduct a review and focus on what you don’t need. Financially reviewing your business and cutting unnecessary costs straight away, will allow you to focus on what is important and continue to move forward in a positive way.

When reviewing your operational and capital expenses, there will be a lot of challenging decisions, especially when it comes to human resources. Remember the value in employees, what they were doing for your business before the crisis, and how vital their experience and skills as we move through its duration.

Where skills are lost, a key question is how quickly would you be able to gain those lost skills back once the crisis is over? What is the cost-to-benefit ratio of future recruitment against current resourcing? Are there other ways to reduce overheads so as to ensure you maintain culture and morale?

As all organisations are looking to streamline their operations, it’s critical to figure out what you need and what is prudent to ditch. Look after employees, customers, and suppliers, as they are the three most important groups for your business when we lift out of this tough period.

2. Review your business strategy

Crises drive the need to reframe business strategy. How you are going to get through the next 3 months, the next 6 months, the next 12 months? Business has changed so dramatically since COVID-19 has engulfed the world. Of your revenue streams, which are still performing? Which ones can no longer be supported in our new reality? How ready are you for a more digital environment? Are there any easy to access opportunities within your current market that you could easily pivot to?

To survive, many brands have pivoted dramatically into completely new markets, where areas of demand have been identified as potential opportunity. Some great examples we have seen here are gin distilleries pivoting to hand sanitisers, or manufacturing companies producing equipment for healthcare professionals.

They have asked themselves the important question “What can we do with what we have?” The answer may not be what they were expecting, or what they dreamed their future would look like. But these pivots, transferring resources and skills into unfamiliar areas, may well be what keeps them alive for future business opportunities.

The key takeaway is innovate: think about every angle possible, and utilise your resources wisely.

3. Balance the short-term revenue generation strategies vs long term viability

A potentially damaging strategy that an organisation could take is to sit tight and wait for this crisis to blow over. There is no worse strategy than doing nothing. Fear can often lead to knee-jerk decisions such as selling off assets or cutting costs to the point where they cannot operate. An example of short-term reactive decision making, airlines and travel companies may have thought that holding on to their customers money would have allowed them to get through this period. It was soon obvious that for this sector, the crisis ran deeper than holding on to cancellation fees. This sector is not going to return to its former normality for some time, if at all.

Looking longer term, generating entirely new revenue streams is critical for the climb out of this downturn. There is a massive opportunity for brands to reinvent themselves in exciting and new ways to meet the demands of the world moving forward. Profits and dividends will come later if you make the right moves now.

4. Ensure you keep the communication clear, concise and consistent.

Now is not the time to underestimate the power of communication. Customers are online, they are watching the news, listening to latest updates and in their spare time, they are seeking their entertainment online or communicating with friends online. Now, more than ever, concisely and consistently reaching your audience (potential new and existing customers) is vital.

As a brand, you need to consider your communication strategy both internally and externally. Your messaging must evolve, be reflective of the daily situation and considerate to your customers’ needs, without being opportunistic or playing on fear.

If your website or social media communications have not evolved since the crisis began, your brand may be perceived as being out of touch, or insensitive. Regardless of what your product/service provision, you need to empathise with your customers. Place yourself in their shoes to determine what solutions you can offer to their problems. Your message must continually evolve as we move through the crisis, with a sense of togetherness that will keep you connected to your customers.

Internally, communication is just as important. Don’t ever feel like you are over-communicating with your team. With communication comes confidence and reassurance. Silence can breed anxiety.

5. Don’t stop marketing

Once you have your business strategy and messaging refined, the next step is execution. If you don’t start marketing, no one will be aware of your new positioning or messaging. If you haven’t already developed your marketing campaigns and lead-nurture sales funnels, now is the time.

Create content that resonates, educates and motivates your audience. Pick the most effective channels in which to focus your communications and ensure your marketing is highly targeted. Use your owned media as much as possible as these customers already know and like you. Customers who are already in your sales funnels, or engaged in your brand in any channel are an important asset. Now, and now more opportune than ever, is the chance to reach new audiences.

6. Review, Review, Review

Look at your current KPIs and ask: are these all still relevant? If met, will they help you survive this crisis? You need to be realistic in your goal setting. Now may not be a time to look at profit as a singular metric of survival: ensuring efficiency and effectiveness may be more beneficial, or activity vs output may be a more relevant metric.

It is also important to take the temperature of your audience, get a good read on whether your messaging is resonating, and how your brand is performing compared to your competitors.

Surviving the Covid-19 crisis in the short term may not be enough. Like past crises, it too will pass. However it will create a new normal, and it is in this context your organisation needs to learn how to thrive again.

With more than $200 million dollars raised to aid the Australian bushfire disaster by everyone from celebrities and organisations to local fundraisers, it is truly incredible how people, in times of crisis, come together to support and help one another.

Generous donations aside, we have also seen a number of brands respond to the disaster by using their core products and service offering to help those affected by the ongoing fires – brands acting through their core brand purpose.

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, there is an increasing request, need, drive and sometimes even demand for companies to take action and have a voice around important current affairs, may they be social or political, or in this case, environmental. It is predicted that this will continue to be increasingly the case throughout the 2020’s.

A multitude of brands are responding to the current crisis:

  • Banks: Having finished off last decade with quite a negative reputation generated from the Banking Royal Commission, the Australian financial services sector have started on the right foot by being quick to roll out a natural disaster program for customers in communities impacted by the bushfire and drought emergencies.

The Australian Bankers Association announced a suite of fee-and-loan-repayment changes to help customers get through the crisis. Member banks include the big four banks and a host of other lenders, including Macquarie, AMP, Rabobank, Suncorp, ING, Bank of Queensland and ME Bank.

Some, such as NAB, have gone further and set up a $4 million fund to help customers and staff displaced by the bushfires. NAB customers who have lost homes, including affected business owners and farmers, this bushfire season can access $2000 grants, to help cover costs such as temporary accommodation, food and clothing. Westpac and other banks have provided similar offerings.

Telstra has also offered a number of other relief packages to aid those in need, including: Satellite Cells on Wheels to boost coverage where is needed, assistance packages, free payphones in affected areas, pre-paid handsets, recharge vouchers, access to broadband in evacuation centres, improvements to Triple Zero (000) and assistance with family and friends of those affected, who currently find themselves outside of the country and are wanting to check up on their loved ones.

  • Coles: have given $3 million in gift cards to over 6000 rural fire brigades across Australia.
  • Woolworths Group: almost $1.3 million raised for the Salvation Army in the months to Christmas, since surpassing $3 million including donations from its own customers.
  • Milky Lane and McDonalds: offering free burgers and meals to all fire-fighters.
  • Arnotts, Freddo, Mars Australia and Coca Cola: have all made generous pledges whilst also providing and distributing, through organisations such as Foodbank Australia, their products to all those affected by the fires. Coca-Cola Australia is honouring Australia’s firefighters with the creation of a limited-edition Share a Coke with the Firies.
  • Sports: both Tennis Australia and Cricket Australia have used their upcoming and current events to donate and raise money for the, with many players pledging to donate money according to the number of aces or wickets they receive during their respective events.
  • The Arts: from comedians and knitters, sewers and crafters, to jewellery makers, designers, ceramic artists to fundraising gigs across the country – the art scene have using their skills to raise and donate money where possible. The line-up for bushfire fundraiser concert is a smorgasbord of Australian talent as well as some huge international guests.
  • Architects: a new volunteer organisation called Architects Assist, comprised of over 130 architecture studios, has formed to help bushfire victims rebuild, offering pro-bono design and planning assistance to people whose houses, businesses and community centres have burned down.

These great acts of kindness will help bring some relief to those who have been affected by the fires. However, it is important for brands to ensure the way they respond in times of crisis, or when taking any stance, is not seen as an opportunistic move to increase sales in the long run. In order to be successful in doing so, brands must ensure the following:

  • Authenticity

Consumers can see right through brands that don’t respond authentically or with integrity, which in turn can convert to distrust towards the brand. What could be perceived as a kind gesture or widely applauded stance to a social crisis, if perceived as hollow or opportunistic, can turn ugly very fast.

For instance, P&G’s brand, Gillette, received a lot of backlash when they released their 2019 campaign “The best Men Can Be’ against toxic masculinity. Consumers saw it as an attempt to capitalise on the #MeToo movement, when this brand had little history in having this stance in the past. Some could say that the brand was known for disfavouring women at times, by adding premium prices to their women lines. The decorrelation between their brand purpose and values with the pro-social message lead to the campaign’s overall fail.  

  • Timing

Acting fast, especially in times of crisis, is crucial and in some way is also linked to authenticity. Brands need to lead when it comes to taking a social stance and not appear to be jumping onto a bandwagon. Gillette’s campaign came the #MeToo movement had gathered pace. Being too late can be perceived as being inauthentic, and therefore can cause a negative image in consumer’s minds.

  • Empathy

In an age in which understanding your customers and building relationships with them has become key to standing out in crowded marketplaces, empathy takes on a new level of priority. Empathy allows brands to build an emotional connection with their audience, to engage the people who use their products in real conversations and to inspire connection. A lack of empathy can in turn lead to…you guessed it, inauthenticity and distrust.

Empathy and authenticity must also be perceived by not only the brand and its communications strategy, but also from its people, otherwise a disconnect between both of these can end disastrously as well.

Consumers are looking more and more at brands to take action. The recent climate change protests and the ongoing fires, have been good examples of how companies across Australia have done so, creating deeper and stronger connections with their consumers than what advertising and campaigns have ever done in the past.

For brands wanting to respond to the bushfire crisis, empathy is delivered not just in donations of money or goods (however gratefully received), but in how the products and services they deliver can contribute to the recovery effort. The question brands need to ask is “what can we do to improve the conditions of those caught in the fires? If they need one things from us, what is that one thing?”

Whether that one thing is free burgers, scoring aces, mortgage repayment suspensions…brands are able to contribute authentically from within their own products and services to support the recovery effort.

If brands focus on doing what they do best, in an authentic, trustworthy way – it is more likely to be perceived as part of their core values rather than an opportunity for promotion. It has been truly heart-warming and inspiring to see so many brands put their hand up and offer help in their own unique ways.