Brand Strategy

From banking to superannuation, investment management to financial advice, the design and distribution obligations (DDOs) legislation will disrupt a large proportion of the financial services landscape in Australia.

Announced in 2019 and set to take effect in October of this year, the DDOs are the latest in a shift towards more customer-centric regulation and guidance handed down by ASIC, the origins of which can be linked to the findings and implications of the Financial Services Royal Commission.

The DDOs, at their most basic, require organisations to place their customers at the heart of product governance and design and distribute their products and services around meeting and exceeding their customer’s expectations.

Whilst these regulations have already placed significant pressure on the financial services industry, they also represent an opportunity for many brands in the sector to take responsibility for their actions, rehabilitate their damaged reputations, and rebalance the trust equation with customers.

What do the new obligations mean for brands in the financial services sector?

The DDOs will create a fundamental shift in how products are designed and distributed to retail customers. No longer will product issuers and distributors be able to assume that basic product disclosure is helping their customers to make informed decisions in the increasingly complex financial services environment.

There are a few critical brand strategy implications of the DDOs that financial services brands need to be aware of;

1. Target market determination: Designing products to meet customer needs.

The main component of the DDOs is the introduction of a target market determination (TMD). It is the first step in the obligations, and it is crucial as every subsequent component of the DDOs are dependent on it. There is also considerable effort required to get it right.

A TMD requires an organisation to describe the likely objectives, financial situation and needs of customers in a target market. The products features must be described, and the organisation needs to clearly explain why the product is likely to meet the needs of the specific customer market.

Brands in financial services will need to have a deep understanding of their customers – based on structured and well-articulated research, behavioural economics, analytics and enhanced segmentation. It is now not good enough to rely on generalist psychology and more basic personas, especially as customer needs continue to change over time.

Investing in a robust TMD research approach in the short term will allow financial services brands to reap rewards over the long term. Knowing and understanding customers is more critical than ever, which should place an enormous priority on market and customer research, helping to understand why customers choose a brand and products over an alternative.

2. Ensuring simplicity and accessibility through marketing and brand architecture strategy.

Once the TMD is completed, the distribution of each product must also be revisited to ensure that it aligns with customer’s expectations.

Traditionally, many financial services products have been marketed towards the masses in order to build wider awareness and attract sales. The DDOs stipulate that they now need to be marketed towards specific channels that align with a specific target market.

Brands and their products are now also required to be clearer and easier to navigate, which will hopefully allow prospective customers to make better and more informed decisions about a product that is right for them. This has significant repercussions for the brand’s product architecture in its existing portfolio; does it support or hinder customer choices, does it make it easier or more difficult for the right product to reach the right customer?

The existing regulations surrounding financial services products have also been criticised because they do not support customers when they are seeking to switch to a different or more suitable product. It is also difficult for customers to understand the unused features that they have not been accessing. With the new DDOs, this is also set to change, with distribution now simplifying the product offering and making it easier to leave if the customer chooses to.

3. The revised system is continually monitored and built to improve over time.

The final component of the DDOs is designed to ensure that performance is monitored to improve the entire system over the long term. This centres around how complaints, feedback and priorities are managed by financial services institutions, the data of which is now reported and analysed by independent operators.

Brands in the sector will now have to front up, resolve complaints and respond to feedback in a way that solves the root cause of the issue across the entire target market. This has repercussions for culture in an industry that had once previously lacked transparency and prioritised profits over people.

How can financial services brands capitalise upon these new regulations?

To meet and exceed beyond basic compliance with the DDOs there are three specific priorities for financial services brands:

  1. Prioritise customer research and analytics: Given the TMD is the first and most crucial component of the DDOs, it would appear that understanding the motivations, needs, attitudes and pain points of customers has never been more important. A thorough and well-articulated brand research program, one that monitors and tracks the health of a brand and its products over time, will be crucial to ensure these perspectives are aligned internally and externally.
  2. Re-evaluate existing product architecture: It is crucial to re-evaluate product portfolios and ensure that the go-to-market strategy reflects the product’s specific TMD. The way a portfolio is managed and organised across sales and product design have a powerful influence on how customers navigate brands and make purchasing decisions. But product and brand architecture is complex and they evolve over time in an organic manner. Brand’s should look to remain relevant by realigning, restructuring, reorganising or reinventing their product architecture through brand research, which will help their customers to navigate their offer and make better purchasing decisions.
  3. Establish purpose with a focus on culture and accountability: ASIC has in part instigated the DDOs to help rebuild trust in the fragmented financial services industry. And for brands, trust begins with culture, organisational purpose and vision. Brands in the sector need to identify their reason to exist, to get up out of bed, to serve their customers. A focus on a culture that encourages and delivers the appropriate behaviours through every stratum of the organisation – including middle management and especially client-facing staff. For financial services brands that means creating a vision that creates buy-in from all employees to say ‘hey, we are here for a broader purpose than simply profit’ – we must be here to do more than just create value for ourselves and for our shareholders.

The DDOs represent a unique opportunity to rebuild trust in financial services brands. 

Before the announcement of the new DDOs, financial services organisations had been maligned at the Financial Services Royal Commission for their inwardly focused remuneration schemes that prioritised sales and profit over customer benefit.

The DDOs should be seen as the clearest piece of evidence that the regulators are going to manage this ‘win at all costs’ culture and place the responsibility back on brands to rebuild trust in the sector.
With so much riding on these regulations, it appears the industry is aligned and now ready to embrace this level of change. For example, we have already witnessed throughout the past 12 months of economic downturn, a more sensitive and customer-centric approach from the Big 4 Banks who have supported Australians throughout the pandemic. Acting as a major shock absorber, their actions have included mortgage loan deferrals, reductions in repayment amounts and decreasing variable home loan rates, to name a few. This suite of short-term measures provided assistance for customers who had been put into financial hardship through no fault of their own.

For brands in the financial services sector, this is the type of work they will need to continue to do. To truly deliver to the specific DDO regulations, and then to exceed beyond basic compliance, financial services organisations will need to think holistically and embrace the changes to rehabilitate their image and re-establish trust amongst the wider public.

Unsure where to start?

Reach out to Paul Nelson or any of the BrandMatters team to discuss how you can prepare your brand portfolio to capitalise on these changes.

What makes clients buy or use your services?

This is the most fundamental question that drives every aspect of brand and marketing strategy within financial services organisations.

If your organisation could succinctly articulate the benefits your client experiences when they do business with you, especially in these turbulent times, then you would be one of the few financial services brands that have a compelling point of difference and a strong value proposition.

A customer value proposition (CVP) is the benefit that sits at the intersection of client need and organisational offer. It is made of an understanding of what an audience wants and what an operating model can tangibly deliver. It is aspirational but achievable, it encompasses why existing and potential clients should choose your brand and be disinterested in alternatives.

In financial services, a well-defined customer value proposition:

  • Inspires and delivers meaning and confidence for existing clients
  • Presents a meaningful, engaging representation of a brand for prospective clients
  • Creates engagement and pride amongst employees in being part of the brand
  • Delivers a unified, meaningful, compelling and consistent understanding of the brand that resonates with all stakeholders (investors, clients and employees).

Building an engaging and relevant CVP in financial services

When you are seeking to build out a proposition that resonates with your clients and cascades throughout your business, there are six crucial components that you should consider.

1. Define a specific target market

By clearly identifying the clients who are likely to be choosing and buying your products and services, you will avoid appearing like all things to all people. This is a common mistake in financial services, where organisations are determined to meet the diverse expectations of multiple audiences, and in doing so, fail to deliver true value to any of them.

Dividing potential clients along relevant dimensions through brand research can help to provide insights into the most appropriate demographics, buying behaviours, attitudes and client needs your brand can best deliver to. This will make the task of segmenting prospective audiences much more effective, by clearly articulating the segments which are most available and attractive to you.

2. Understand the value equation you expect to deliver upon

For your clients, value can be as simple as what they get in return for what they pay. Although it sounds straight forward, the value equation is different for each segment of the market that you may be targeting and is more complex in financial services as these relationships are generally over longer periods.

It is important to think about both the tangible and intangible attributes and benefits that you are seeking to deliver to your clients. In financial services, it is often this perceived intangible value that is built over the long term that resonates most. It might relate to returns on investment and sustained performance, which translates to clients who value premium experiences. That is the financial return that they receive for the services they are buying from you – enduring prosperity.

3. Craft a precise offer that can evolve over time

If you understand what the exact product and service that both existing and prospective clients come to you for, and then build your offer around delivering that perceived level of value, your proposition will sit in a rare intersection of - client need and organisational offer.

Placing data and insight alongside the value your current offer brings to clients can allow you to map your buyers and price accordingly. This requires evaluating the way your organisation currently delivers value to its clients and then ensuring it remains innovative, relevant and differentiated over time.

4. Prioritising the benefits that your organisation delivers

Organisations in financial services often become stuck at this stage because they aren’t able to pull apart their key service benefits without considering which ones are the most important to their clients, and the interrelationship between these benefits.

In this prioritisation process, consider first the underlying attributes of your service, then consider the functional benefits that that service produces, and finally, articulate the emotional benefits that your clients experience as a result of these.

5. Compare your value proposition in the competitive context

Once you have clarified the emotional benefits of your particular service experience, compare your value proposition against your competitors in the market. This is not an exercise in comparing functional product and service offerings. You are trying to understand their tangible differentiation and positioning in the market and how you can be tangibly different from them.

Expand your existing frame of reference to include alternatives to choosing your product or service. In financial services, value propositions are compelling when they effectively demonstrate why your clients should choose you over any other option.

6. Provide the appropriate evidence and proof points

Once you have addressed these value proposition essentials, you need to create and continually reinforce evidence to ensure your clients will derive the benefit and value you’re promising.

Proof points can be as broad as case studies, testimonials, thought leadership; any active involvement that demonstrates to your client why they should believe in your organisational promise. Evidence why they should choose you over any alternative, help them justify their investment and remain loyal through more challenging periods.

Customer value propositions are built from the foundations of a brand’s positioning, which is the guiding essence that sits in the heart of the business. This positioning defines the brand’s proposition, a short summary of the purpose and guiding philosophy of the firm. To learn more about specific examples of CVP’s we have created for others and what we could create for you, please reach out here.

Value propositions ensure the effective translation of strategy into execution

A compelling value proposition in financial services helps organisations to consistently translate their business strategy and brand positioning into execution in the market.

They have enormous value in helping your existing and potential clients navigate the breadth of your offer externally, whilst also clarifying and confirming your organisation's value for internal stakeholders and employees.

At BrandMatters, we have been building engaging value propositions that deliver meaning and confidence for businesses throughout the financial services landscape for nearly 20 years. If your organisation would like help in prioritising and articulating your unique service benefits, feel free to get in contact with us here.

The Australian edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 was released at the end of February and it appears that across the breadth of Australian businesses and institutions, trust is at an all-time high.

Briefly cast your mind back to 2019, and at that point, Edelman’s insights were a stark contrast to what we saw this time around. The 2019 edition showed enormous inequality in trust levels, with a more trusting group building from the informed section of the public, versus a far-more-sceptical mass population. The only real trust to be found was in employers, with Australian’s appreciating their employers and rewarding them with greater loyalty, engagement and commitment. This had significant implications for your employer brand, and in defining an employee value proposition that would resonate throughout your organisation as it evolved across the changing conditions in the economy and society.

Here are our four key takeaways from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, as well as the implications for your brand.

1. The influence of environmental, social and governance competence on trust levels is significant.

Businesses in Australia have looked to align with the significant pressures around climate change and ethics, to the point where they are now trending towards ‘competent’ territory. This is significant as just two years ago, the Barometer reported that no institution was ethical, let alone competent. It appears that climate change is of increasing concern for Australians, and it is certainly of much greater concern than fears over contracting COVID-19.

This puts immediate pressure on businesses who are not putting their corporate, social responsibility and sustainability position on the same level as (or above) COVID-19. We saw enormous amounts of sustained change in response to the immediacy of the pandemic and its impact on daily life, but the pressures of climate change and the impact of ethical reform is a much longer, strategic consideration for brands going forward.

Your brand may need to reconsider its messaging and look to better reflect the changing mindsets amongst potential clients. A refreshed brand positioning or a rethinking of your corporate narrative can help your organisation align to these revised expectations and better reflect your values.

2. Employers continue to be crucial - defining this relationship in the changing context is essential.

Just as it was in 2019, employers remain a crucial bond of trust across Australia. This employee-employer dynamic has changed, however, with businesses being required to rewire their approach to working arrangements and create a future of work that works for all. The national ‘work from home’ experiment has allowed employees to juggle professional and personal obligations and collaborate with colleagues virtually. For enterprises of all sizes, the level of trust required to ensure organisational accountability has remained high, and this has solidified the bond with employees.

It is important to consider your existing employee value proposition and define how it currently turns up through these revised working arrangements and economic conditions. Brands that take a proactive approach and clearly articulate their employee value proposition in this context are likely to see this bond extended. This places an emphasis on their culture and flexibility and helps them be perceived internally and externally as a more enticing employer of choice.

For more information on how to build an engaging employee value proposition, click here.

3. Salient and contemporary thinking will be critical as information hygiene shapes behaviour.

The 2021 Barometer showed that the Australian public is highly conscious of the way they digest information and are increasingly aware of the political, media and scientific literacy they read. This is now seen as much more of a personal responsibility and being informed across multiple sources of news and contemporary information was of increased importance.

Brands that can demonstrate an understanding of this through active and well-evidenced thought leadership will benefit from this renewed awareness amongst the general public. But it is important to remember that this perspective and thought leadership content should be validated with insight and analysis.

Brand research is a powerful tool that can help throughout this process. Research allows your brand to take a deep dive into the state of the new market, to find out what clients expect of you, to discover what their new current needs are, and to establish how to reconnect with them both rationally and emotionally. Brand research will ultimately help to build to this trusted, evidenced perspective throughout your thought leadership thinking.

4. Trust is at an all-time high across all Australian institutions, and it appears that it’s ours to lose.

Trust is one of the most valuable assets for any organisation, and in the B2B context, trust and culture – the values, mission and habits of an organisation – are interdependent. When an organisation has a strong and positive culture and an authentic offer to the market, trust and brand advocacy are built over time. The insights from the 2021 Barometer are a direct reflection of this sustained effort from Australian institutions, but it is important to remember how fragile that trust is, and how quickly a reputation can deteriorate when culture and trust aren’t aligned.

Trust is a crucial pillar in business and as it rises, so does consumer confidence. Organisations that lead with their brand values will be better positioned to capitalise on this rise in consumer confidence. 

Organisations have had the opportunity to transform the very human, day-to-day interactions between themselves and their employees and rejig their existing approach. When this is clearly articulated through a mastered and evidenced EVP, and when trust has become part of a company’s culture, they become known as valuing their employees, and prospective talent is drawn to them. Their existing employees are engaged and committed and trust that what they are doing, matters.

Building and maintaining trust in your brand, matters

First and foremost, brands need to uncover what is important to their customers; once this is established and understood, then your brand strategy should be a promise to deliver this.

At BrandMatters, we understand the criticality of building trust throughout your brand strategy. Whether it is in relation to articulating a strong brand positioning, crafting a differentiated brand narrative, or building out emotionally engaging customer or employee value propositions, everything communicates and has an underlying impact on developing trust in your brand.

At BrandMatters, we have been in frequent contact recently with asset management firms that require strategic brand advice on how best to build out a differentiated offer across the increasingly cluttered and complex financial services landscape in Australia as we enter 2021. Previously defined propositions, that had been built out from market and client research, now feel somewhat outdated and not necessarily aligned to the evolving expectations and revised demands of members, investors, clients and shareholders. Asset management brands need to think more strategically about the structure of their business and how they go to market, to gain the confidence and support of their clients.

Brands in the sector have new conditions to navigate and the major pressures and trends impacting the asset management sector are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. By understanding these conditions, organisations will be better placed to respond proactively to the opportunities that have presented themselves.

Managing Director, Paul Nelson provides his insights on some of the most significant challenges and brand opportunities for asset managers in this new era.

1. Evolving expectations and demands of clients

Asset management brands are now expected to deliver better experiences for their clients throughout this continually evolving context. More sophisticated clients are showing signs of refusing to return to their pre-pandemic ways of interacting with asset management brands. The prevailing levels of cynicism, confusion and mistrust with the structure and presentation of the asset management industry has contributed to more demanding clientele, who expect above all else, transparency. For investors, their natural anxiety throughout volatile markets will require brands to respond with more positive client experience, a more humanistic approach that favours consultation and active involvement.

Demonstrating assurance and capacity to handle turbulence, especially in periods of increased redemption activity will be critical for brands. There is a clear opportunity for brands to refresh their overarching positioning and the most cost-effective way to shift their narrative is to reflect these changing conditions. A strategically re-positioned brand can present a refreshed intent and purpose, and for asset managers, it enables more contemporary thinking and a diversity of attitudes to reverberate positively throughout the business.

2. Changing value propositions and the importance of technology

This shift to a more consultative selling mindset has implications for brands who persist with a ‘product flog’ strategy. These days are well and truly over. Forward-thinking brands will take a much stronger needs-based, consultative approach. These same managers will need to operate to maximise transparency around fees and charges, whilst also navigating older, legacy processes and technologies that they still have in place. These technical and tactical deficiencies are further impacting the overall client experience, whilst simultaneously making the case for more self-directed investing tools for end investors more compelling: ‘If I can manage my investments through an intuitive online platform solution, do I really need to pay the fees associated with an adviser?’.

Beyond investment technology platforms, clients are also seeking great investment insights in a way that is clear, meaningful and contemporary. That is again a challenge for many asset management brands who are using old and outdated technology. It turns up not just in insights but in the way you deliver and explain your performance in your reporting to clients. Are you still emailing flat charts in a PDF or is it served within an interactive and dynamic app? It is critical that every interaction with your client is helping demonstrate that your brand is contemporary in not just thinking, but also in reporting.

3. Sustained momentum to environmental, social governance and impact investing

Across the sector, asset management brands are now increasingly expected to demonstrate some tangible capacity to deliver returns in a positive and impactful way, through an understanding of ESG. Impact investing is no longer a niche or ‘nice to have’ within a well-structured portfolio. Whilst there will always be some investors with a single priority around financial returns, a growing number of investors expect asset management brands to make ESG issues integral to their investment strategies. A recent Morgan Stanley survey showed that at the end of 2019, almost 80% of institutional investors view sustainable investing as a risk mitigation strategy. Not only are these strategies increasingly popular, but they are also increasingly competitive, where brands are expected to demonstrate authenticity and tangible evidence that they align with the philosophy behind each strategy. The reality is that at this stage, these ESG capabilities will be new territory for a great many financial services brands, and many asset management brands will have much work to do.

With this sustained interest and momentum, now is the time to rethink your organisation’s purpose and look to make social and financial returns symbiotic. Rethink your brand’s approach to ESG, and then ensure that it is communicated throughout your brand narrative. Keep in mind, you need to demonstrate with proof points on this commitment or risk being called out for ‘greenwashing’. The most focused investors will expect your brand to have a clear criterion for investments, to exert your influence as a shareholder and report the results you’ve achieved.

4. Ongoing aftereffects of the deconstruction of vertical alignment

Perhaps the most significant pressure impacting brands in the asset management landscape is the breakdown of vertically aligned channels (manufacturers who own distribution) and the subsequent seismic departure of the Big 4 from the sector. The background of this has been reported on previously by BrandMatters, but relates to two main areas: the inwardly focused remuneration schemes that prioritised sales and profit over client benefit, and a ‘win at all costs’ culture that existed in many parts of the industry prior to the Royal Commission. In response to this, major banks have looked to exit from different components of their offer and these implications are being extensively felt across the asset management landscape. This has instigated in a re-ordering at the top of the industry, along with a rapid rise of newer, unaligned brands popping up that are still catching up with this new world order and their place in it. Many we have spoken to are unsure how to maximise their newfound presence in a vastly different market and competitive environment.

For these newer asset management brands with more clouded propositions, there is an opportunity to better calibrate yourself and align with the expectations of your clients. Ask the questions, through well-defined and well-articulated brand research, what do clients expect and value? Then you can better understand how you can move quickly to deliver on this. Research provides a blueprint for both brand and business strategy moving forward as insights and implications can be tailored to report on both current and future conditions. It also provides guidance for what you can realistically stand for, as well as what you should be known for within the cluttered marketplace. In this increasingly complex environment, it is crucial to future proof the overarching strategy with well-defined insights.

Turbulent times present opportunities for asset management brands

The asset and wealth management industry excel in problem-solving and pivoting across different operating environments and market conditions. So, despite this ongoing turbulence and uncertainty, the outlook for brands across the asset management sector is not all doom and gloom.

While there are many challenges to be confronted as we enter 2021, the bottom line is that the industry, its workforce and clients will continue onwards. In fact, the industry will continue to learn from the experience and become stronger for it, even increasing its importance in the financial markets through its role in rebuilding the Australian economy.

Realistic and powerful opportunities, such as those we have identified, will continue to present themselves across the asset management industry. These will benefit brands who can positively and proactively seek to understand and adapt to the new environment. 

 

Thursday, 21 January 2021 16:19

It would be an understatement to say that a lot changed for brands in 2020. Rapid change and pivots have been a central theme of survival for brands during 2020 and now, with the commencement of 2021, successful brands will need to decide on whether these changes will need to stay as the new normal, or whether they need to consider a completely new path for the future.

One thing is certain, many of the dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour are here to stay and brands need to be more in tune with their customers than ever before. As we discussed in our Guide to Brand Research, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a major fast forward on some of the consumer behaviour trends that were slowly bubbling away. This includes the major shift to predominantly online shopping, learning and meeting and remote working.

The impact on behaviour has demonstrated the criticality of agility within organisations. Some brands were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and were able to capitalise on these changes; others tried to pivot and failed to meet these new consumer needs. Some brands sought to weather the storm and carry on with business as usual.

Adapting your business and brand to the ever-changing needs of consumers is not an easy task even in the most favourable of circumstances. Brand research can help determine the right path, and also ascertain how your brand is being perceived. Understanding customers’ needs and emotional drivers better will help brands to find the right positioning that connects on a deeper level. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, the behaviours, emotions and needs of your customers or clients have changed and now is the time to ensure you (re)connect with them on a deeper level.

At BrandMatters, we believe there are three guiding principles to finding a deeper connection with your clients/customers:

  1. Trust
  2. Purpose
  3. Delivery

The importance of transparency and trust

Whether you are dealing with new clients or existing clients, earning and keeping their trust is vital. There was a remarkable change in the trust landscape since the Edelman Trust Barometer launched in January of last year, trust in government had surged, making government the most trusted institution for the first time in its 20 years of study.

The Spring Update of the Edelman Trust Barometer report conducted to dip into the consumer trust sentiments during the pandemic, shows that 67 percent of respondents believe that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice as a result of the pandemic, and more than half are very worried about long-term, COVID-related job loss.

With the release of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, it appears that consumers do not know who to trust. Edelman believes this is a moment of reckoning for organisations. Transparency and trust come to the fore. Investors and consumers have indicated that environmental and social responsibility factors must play an important role. Businesses must work with the government to ensure they put people before profits as more people struggle with the uncertainty of their financial futures and employment opportunities. 

Articulate your purpose and brand positioning

Earning trust comes down to transparency, a responsibility for brands to act ethically and with a purpose greater than profit. Having a strong brand positioning that is communicated and understood throughout the organisation will mean that the whole team can effectively deliver on this with each and every customer interaction.

Your brand positioning is what will set you apart from your competitors and guide decisions on how best to connect with your ideal customers/clients. A strong brand positioning is a key deliverable of brand strategy and will be the most important tool brands will have in guiding them through these turbulent times when financial pressures can tempt brands to swiftly change course.

We’ve worked with many brands to define their brand positioning. To understand the importance of a well-defined brand positioning, you can read some of our latest articles on the subject or view our case studies.

Exceeding expectations on delivering value

The customer experience will differentiate your brand from competitors. Delivering over and above the threshold of expectations will drive loyalty, repeat business and referrals. Brands need to understand what it will take to deliver on and exceed their customers’ expectations. It is not just at the time of purchase, but the entire customer journey that needs to be considered.

A brand is a promise kept, so ensuring your brand delivers on the promises you make is critical. Developing and implementing proof points that resonate with your customers is vital. Consistently demonstrating these proof points to your customers is an important part of your marketing strategy.

Delivery of your brand doesn’t end at the sale of your product or service. It is essential to continually measure and monitor your brand performance. At BrandMatters, we believe a customer-centric approach will help propel a brand forward and drive growth. Through our proven methodology, we gather customer, market and competitor insights, and then use this insight to develop winning brand strategies.


Get in touch to discuss how you can truly understand and connect with your customers in 2021 and beyond.

As a brand agency, we are always on the lookout for brands to advocate for. We love to see brands do great things, inspire people and in return gain the brand loyalty they deserve.

Each year, we sing the praises of the brands we’ve been impressed by during the year. When COVID-19 hit, we saw many brands pivot or create unique offers to suit the volatile and changing demands of business.

Here is a list compiled by our team, of 10 brands that have impressed us in 2020.

StageKings

StageKings switched from making giant pop-up stages for large scale concerts and events to designing, manufacturing and selling stand-up desks and other 'isolation' office furniture. In recognition of the struggles that the music industry has faced during COVID-19, StageKings continues to donate a portion from every desk sale to Support Act, a not-for-profit which is providing emergency support, including a wellbeing hotline, to people in the entertainment industry.

RESMED

ResMed produces innovative medical solutions to help keep people out of hospital. In response to the global pandemic, the organisation swiftly pivoted to ramp up the manufacturing of ventilators by more than 3.5 times during the first six months of the COVID-19 crisis. ResMed also accelerated the launch of new digital health solutions to help clinicians remotely diagnose, treat, and manage sleep apnea and asthma patients during the pandemic and beyond. Mid this year they also launched a new campaign with Brad Fittler on the importance of a good nights sleep. As part of this ‘Awaken your Best’ campaign you can take a free online sleep assessment.

ING

The banking industry has been under intense scrutiny post the royal commission and ING have continued to hold a strong position in terms of being a trusted brand within the industry. During COVID-19, ING’s advertising featured their team doing their job from home, in an effort to showcase their commitment to their team as well as their customers. They also launched Real Talk, which is a series of films and articles that have been created to cut through the financial jargon, delivered by people who would resonate with their customers, and further support their brand positioning.

AfterPay

It’s hard to go past AfterPay, who have complete category dominance within the buy now pay later market. They have done an amazing job building distribution with retailers and have tightly targeted millennials very effectively as well as worked hard to put in place product features that encourage responsible spending and support for those in financial distress or for those who get their spending a little out of control. AfterPay’s shareholders have certainly been reaping the rewards in the brand’s success. The jury is out as to whether the current share price is sustainable, but in the meantime, it can’t be denied they thrived through COVID-19 via a targeted and potent focus on millennials.

NRL

Despite the naysayers, the NRL successfully navigated the pandemic and delivered an extraordinary 180 game season amid a shutdown of sport globally. The grand final crowd of 40,000 marked the biggest public gathering in Australia since mid-March when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. In terms of sports viewing and participation, it definitely had a positive impact on a sport that has faced a number of internal and external behavioural challenges.

Business Australia

Business Australia, the rebranded NSW Business Chamber was just days away from launching their new website when the pandemic hit. As a result, they quickly pivoted and turned their website into a COVID-19 news hub offering support and vital information to businesses facing the rolling crisis. With small businesses facing an economic nightmare like nothing they have ever faced, Business Australia knew they needed to ramp up their efforts in supporting businesses through the crisis. The dedicated coronavirus news hub has proven a lifeline to many businesses as has the freemium membership model. Read more about Business Australia COVID-19 pivot here.

Cheese Therapy

The bushfires and COVID-19 restrictions have put pressure on regional cheese businesses who traditionally rely on tourism. Cheese Therapy, an online specialty-cheese retailer, came to the rescue. One small town of Milawa in regional Victoria was facing the heartbreaking decision to discard their glut of cheese which was ready for consumption. Cheese Therapy came to the rescue putting an SOS on social media asking its cheese-loving followers to buy a ‘Rescue box’ to help Milawa. They expected to sell 50 and ended up selling 2000 packs of cheese. They continued this approach throughout COVID-19 lockdowns, introducing a monthly ‘Therapy box’ which included regional artisan cheesemakers unable to sell their cheese in their normal channels. Cheeses that were meant to be consumed on Qantas First and Business Class flights were now being shared and enjoyed by consumers in lockdown.

Buy from the Bush

Another regional superhero brand is 'Buy from the Bush'. A movement that started during the droughts and bushfires has continued to grow and evolve throughout the COVID-19 lockdown giving regional towns a way to sell their wares to city folk via an easy online process. The BFTB team has recently launched a sister site Stay in the Bush and both have become beacons for what buying Australian means to fellow citizens, and what can be achieved by consciously choosing Australian goods, services and experiences.

Spotify

Despite initial concerns of how COVID-19 would affect listening habits and subscription products, Spotify has managed to grow their subscriber base significantly. The brand has continued to be very active in the market during the year in terms of advertising and promotions. We enjoyed seeing them release their own version of market research – subscribers could view their own personal ‘Wrapped list’ which gives Spotify users a look back at their listening habits during the year, as well as providing an insight into its users' listening trends as a whole.

Airbnb

Airbnb wasn’t unscathed by Covid-19’s brutal decimation of the travel industry, but the short-term holiday accommodation rental company bounced back quicker than its competitors in the hospitality industry. They introduced a much more localised focus, with their ‘go near’ initiative as well as introducing safety protocols and measures to adhere to COVID restrictions. In the height of lockdowns and zero travel, they introduced a new Online Experience feature, where their customers could enjoy a wide array of activities from the comfort of their home.

This list is of course in addition to the list of our clients, who we’ve worked with this year and over past years, read more in our previous blog about our exciting client brand work.

In what can only be described as an unprecedented year, it has been heartening to see so many brands pivot and persevere through such tough times. We look forward to 2021 and continuing to see brands evolve and grow.

 

It has certainly been an eventful year. Like many organisations, our business has adapted through the COVID-19 pandemic, firstly working from home, facilitating virtual workshops via zoom and collaborating with a variety of clients who have been facing their own unique set of challenges.

In a year filled with uncertainty, we’ve remained focused on our belief that organisations who invest in their brand through research and strategy will survive and thrive.

Brands that take the time to understand their customers, the market and their competitors and subsequently articulated a clear positioning will find a way to cut through the clutter, stand out and resonate with clients.

We wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the clients we have worked with during the past 12 months, who are looking forward to a successful 2021. Our team have identified some of the most memorable projects of the year (in alphabetical order as we don’t play favourites):

 

BOULEVARD 

Introducing the new digital destination for private companies and their investors. We really enjoyed working with a passionate client devoted to producing a sophisticated brand expression that spoke to aspiration and transformation within the category. We look forward to seeing this exciting new brand proposition grow and prosper in 2021 and beyond. Here is a sneak peek at the work.

Burrana

We worked with the team to launch the new Burrana brand in 2018. The brand was well-received in the market with much positive feedback. This year, with new products set to launch, Burrana needed to develop a clear, evidence-based product portfolio strategy to launch their latest products to market. Despite the challenging and unparalleled year of disruption in the aviation industry, Burrana launched the latest iteration of its integrated in-flight entertainment platform, RISE. A complex and detail orientated platform that required a robust and well-articulated product portfolio architecture to define the value it brought to both existing and future airline clients. We worked intensively with the Burrana team in Australia and in the US to build the strategy in late 2019 before its launch in June 2020. RISE is a more nimble and efficient solution than the more expensive providers and is now set to take off as the industry commences the journey to recovery. For more details about the development of the Burrana brand and its journey with BrandMatters, view our case study.

Caruso’s Natural Health

Another brand we have had a long association with, Caruso’s Natural Health offers a comprehensive selection of holistic, natural health products. We worked with Caruso’s on the rebrand back in 2012, and consumer engagement and advocacy has gone from strength to strength. This year, we’ve worked on a research project to uncover consumer attitudes and behaviours for taking vitamins and supplements. It was great to get right into the consumer’s living room and for this project we also ran an online community where we covered many topics including shop visits, video diaries, customer journey mapping and an evaluation of all the touchpoints along the way.

Cuscal

As Australia’s leading payments provider, Cuscal sits at the edge of our payment revolution. In March this year, the Cuscal rebrand launched to the market with a refreshed positioning and look and feel, signalling to the market the contemporaneity of the organisation and its forward-looking view. We were thrilled to be engaged across this entire journey, view our case study here.

Interpod

Modular bathroom manufacturer - Interpod, engaged BrandMatters back in 2016 and 2017 to develop their brand positioning, brand story and key messages. Now we are delighted to be once again working with the team conducting some brand research which will determine their future strategy and visual identity.

Vero

We proudly worked with Vero to produce the 9th annual SME Insurance Index. Since 2012, the SME Insurance Index has provided brokers with invaluable insights into the insurance environment along with tools designed to help grow their businesses. The annual index launches each year in March; in the same week that the global pandemic would change business and the world as we know it. As the pandemic took effect, Vero realised that brokers would need additional insights into the impacts and to deliver actionable insights for the current environment. We worked with them to produce an additional SME Insurance Index COVID-19 Pulse Check.

These are just a few of the clients we have worked on this year.

We take pride in the work we do, and at the end of each project, we always feel very invested in the success of the brand. We believe that the strong relationships we’ve built over the years with clients speak volumes about our work. (In saying that, a google review would also be much appreciated)

Given the challenges this year has presented, we know and understand that organisations who have invested in their brand can confidently move into 2021 with optimism. We head into 2021 more determined than ever before to build brands that are informed by research and destined to differentiate.


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Brand architecture remains one of the most complex components of brand strategy.

Throughout traditional B2B business, organic additions to both the product and service portfolio can occur, and these additions can simultaneously (and unwittingly) strengthen and weaken an organisation’s alignment towards its key audiences. They can help customers and clients navigate the scope of a company’s offer, but also undermine their confidence and confuse them, meaning they often then seek out alternatives.

Brand Architecture is the way you organise, manage and present the portfolio of brands that sit within an organisation; much like a family tree. Sounds easy, yet this external summation and presentation of the organisations business strategy is frequently fraught and highly complex. This means it often becomes a challenging and sometimes daunting task for even senior marketers and those in the C suite. As organisations evolve and grow, there are often products and services that are built or acquired that can compete and cannibalise each other, just as there can be products and services that have very little alignment to the overall brand strategy.

As is often the case, specialist advice is required to cohesively, comprehensively, yet succinctly develop a sustainable brand architecture strategy. Especially considering the entire brand portfolio may require realignment, restructuring, reorganising or reinventing. Therefore, the process of developing a concise external-facing brand strategy and understandable navigation for your audiences is a key strategic task and not something that can be half done.

In such a complex and crucial task, without properly understanding the current composition of each brand within a portfolio, the level of risk is significantly heightened. So, what is the most effective tool that can mitigate this risk for B2B organisations?

Deploying well-defined brand research to uncover insights to optimise brand architecture strategy

Brand research is an effective and often underutilised asset that can significantly appease this risk. Powerful and well-articulated brand research will uncover and deliver insights that will help an organisation optimise their brand architecture portfolio.

When considering the most appropriate architecture of the brands, products and services in your organisation, there are several considerations that must be taken into account. These considerations are likely to be intrinsically linked to the brand strategy of your organisation and need to consider not just your current portfolio, but acquisitions or divestments you may make in the future.

By considering the wider brand implications through the brand architecture process, you will be able to build a robust and evidenced approach that has considered the pros and cons of each separate architecture option. These options are detailed below and more regarding these options can be found in our ebooks The Introductory Guide to Brand Research and The Guide to Brand Research for B2B organisations

How many brands are appropriate for your organisation and how strong are they?

What internally may be perceived as strong brands with clear differentiation from each other in the marketplace, may not be equally perceived by target audiences. Brand research is essential to understand the market perceptions and attitudes towards an organisation’s portfolio. Brand research will uncover the role and relevance of each brand within the portfolio from a customer or consumer perspective.

Avoiding market confusion, and blurred lines between each brand within the portfolio from a positioning and value perspective will help organisations avoid cannibalisation within an organisation’s own portfolio. Making a well-informed decision on the most appropriate brand architecture model is critical to successfully drive the business forward.

Types of brand architecture considerations answered through brand research

There are several considerations when determining the appropriate architecture for your organisation. Below are some of the typical questions a well-articulated brand architecture research program will address:

  • How are your brands currently being perceived in the market?
  • Is the market clear or confused by your organisation’s offer?
  • Where does brand equity reside, in the parent or at the product/service level?
  • Is there an opportunity for sunset or divestment of specific brands within the portfolio?
  • Are there any gaps in your portfolio that may satisfy the audience’s needs and wants?

More specifically, when considering longer-term strategic mergers and acquisitions to the product portfolio, brand research can help answer:

  • What is the long-term cost/benefit of the organisation’s current assets, including brand reputation and value?
  • What is the current position, strength and value of each brand in the newly formed organisation’s brand portfolio?
  • Considering what the newly formed organisation looks like, what is the new strategic direction? What are its long-term goals?
  • What are the customer expectations and how will the M&A impact the loyalty of existing customers?
  • How does/do the newly acquired brands fit within the existing architecture?

If your organisation requires answers to the questions such as the ones above, or if the conditions for a brand architecture review are relevant to your business, then that is a decisive indicator that it is time for your organisation to research your portfolio and rethink the brand architecture strategy of the business.

Please feel free to reach out to the Insights and Strategy team at BrandMatters if you have any other questions about brand research and brand portfolio strategy. We have a wealth of experience and case studies and can prescribe a bespoke approach that is suitable and aligned to your organisation’s unique situation.

BrandMatters Managing Director, Paul Nelson, discusses the need for businesses to refine or redefine their brand narrative in COVID-19 times.

In the past few months, the world has seen a massive shift in the way consumers live, consume, shop, interact and go about their daily lives.

There are very few brands who have not been affected in some way, shape or form by this crisis. Businesses have needed to be agile, change direction, evolve strategy and rethink their futures. A lot of this change needed to take immediate effect. As a result, your brand narrative may need refining, or perhaps a complete overhaul.

Once your organisation has dealt with the actions, responses and communications both internally and externally in relation to COVID-19, it is a perfect time to reflect on your brand and refine the brand narrative for what will be the new normal. It is time for brands to really put themselves in their client’s shoes. You can focus on what your core target audience needs and wants from you at this point and beyond.

It is important to prepare your brand for a pivot, have contingencies in place and make sure your brand positioning is in line with your next moves. If your response to this crisis is not aligned with your brand, it will appear unauthentic and will not resonate (at worst it may result in customer backlash).

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

A recent article categorised brand narrative into three distinct phases during the COVID-19 crisis as outlined below:

Redefining your brand narrative blog insert2

Many agile brands have been able to easily adapt their messaging through these phases, but the third phase is of particular importance. Restating brand purpose needs to lead the way into the new future. Some brands may find obvious synergies in their past values and what they can do to respond to the crisis, but others may need to dig a little deeper to find the right approach.

Refining or redefining your brand narrative may be an essential next step.

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 to ensure your marketing and messaging is aligned with your targets’ 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. The CMO’s role is vital in steadying the ship, navigating the changes and communicating the brand message.

See Paul Nelson discuss how CMO's can deliver value in tough times, or you can get in contact with us to discuss your brand positioning 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.

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