Lessons in Brand Marketing for 2021

Brand Marketing

With the world much changed in the past 12 months, brands have had to reevaluate their offerings and strategies as to the best approach for engaging customers. From media plans and e-commerce integration to creative brand building and agency relationships, Bruce Gourley shares his insights into the future of brand marketing in New Zealand.


What are some of the brand lessons marketers have learnt in 2020?

I think one of the most important lessons has been how a robust brand strategy can help marketers (and the company) make better decisions in times of disruption. There was a lot during 2020 that marketers could have done, but it seems there was little to help them make decisions around what they should have done. I’m a massive believer in building deeply articulated brand strategies (and equity systems), that help brand curators make decisions quicker about what they should do and how they can do it (see below image Gartner’s The Annual CMO Spend Survey Research).

The second major lesson would be better articulating ‘opportunity costs’ when proposing systemic innovation. We all saw how those who had invested in future-proofing their tech infrastructure and their digital savviness absolutely outshone those who were waiting for some tipping point to occur before making that investment. We need to not only be doing our day-to-day work, but prepping our departments, our business models, our systems, and our clients for how we prepare ourselves and our clients for the future, by articulating what it means to not be ready.

How will the effects of 2020 (Covid-19) inform brand strategy in the near future?

I think brands need to clarify their role in their audience’s life. We saw some brands shine. We saw others go quiet. We saw a lot of people questioning the role of the brand in society, their actions, and how they work for a better future. I think this all means brands really must double down on elevating their purpose into how they show up. Having said that, it had better be a genuine purpose, as people nowadays (especially after Covid-19) will quickly call bullshit on the brand.

Those brands with less than robust brand strategies ought to invest in developing a really clear platform that outlines positioning (what makes them different), vision (what they’re fighting for), and experiential metrics (what they leave their audience feeling).

One of the obvious effects will be a greater focus on digital, e-commerce and the various forms of web traffic. Comms/media plans will need to engage the debate more fully around how we marry the desire to be digitally led, with the pervasive reliance on mass media channels for penetration. We are going to have to be smarter about digital plays in order to maintain reach, share, and penetration, while retaining the flexibility and targeting benefits of digital.

I also think there will be a push for maximising existing customers before we attempt to acquire new ones. Retention may be cheaper than acquisition, but it’s also easier to grow an existing customer’s spend with the brand, than pull a customer from another brand. I think there has been a long tradition of growth from customer acquisition, and that won’t be a viable route out of recession. This then leads to greater focus on CX (or perhaps ‘Brand Experience’) and how we introduce value beyond Price and Promotion.

There is a ton of other effects, but I would call out brands paying greater attention to audience monitoring, and brand health measurement, as being critical aspects of the future.

Bruce Gourley, Head of Brand Experience at Stanley St

How is this going to impact on spending when it comes to brand marketing?

To be brutally honest, a simple answer to this question eludes me. My opinion remains the same as before Covid-19, in that the brand curators out there are still looking to get a more optimised end-to-end approach of how their investment is spent. We, as an industry, remain trapped in siloed media recommendations, siloed creative specialisations, siloed budgetary responsibilities. Like some ‘grand unification theory’ ideal, we need to get to better unified solutions for ongoing always-on marketing, campaign work (that covers surf, search, and sale), and brand experiences that apply to touchpoints across the customer journey. I don’t have an easy answer for this question, and all this marketing theory may be skewered on the reality of a business directive forced upon Marketing.

What new strategies, linked to technologies do you think will inform better brand marketing in 2021?

I think we’re going to get better at organic, social and referral digital marketing. These feel like natural strategies that rely on relevance, which I think is always a holy grail for marketers.

My other digital/techy related callout would be how brands and marketers are looking at how we can scale our outputs more effectively and efficiently. In such a small market we need to be sure we maximising our return on everything we do, and technology can radically help us. I see some big evolutions in ‘how we work’ – automation, AI, integrated business intelligence, data capturing and analysis.   

What of the place of content creation?

To me this goes back somewhat to the idea of relevance mentioned in my previous answer. I think when we engage our audiences with content that is genuinely interesting and relevant, we will receive higher conversion. I think it’s also worth pointing out that content marketing to me is a lot more than making story-based adverts. It’s about starting with our user, our target audience, and telling their stories. Our job is to connect their world back to ours as opposed to simply telling them about ourselves.

How can marketers look to get the most out of media placement/ strategy in 2021?

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that not all media placements are covered by the media strategy. When you look across the whole business and see where media (in all its forms) are used, you can see that there remains a job of unifying media strategy and spend. I think it’s also only fair to say that media strategists will have a more interesting answer to this than myself.

What more will marketers want get out of their relationships with creative agencies in the future?

Creative agencies here in New Zealand are, I believe, locked in a position of communication suppliers. I think the forward-facing brands out there are leaning more and more on their agencies as curators, and custodians of the brand’s equity in the market, and as such, are well placed to have more involvement in how the brand experience is brought to market. From store design to delivery, from call-centres to packaging, from tv to apps – these need a centralised approach to the ‘brand experience’, and creative agencies should be the entity that helps inform and develop those experiences.

How are you (on the agency side) looking to better work with marketers in the future?

Personally, I’m looking to ‘working from within’, meaning we don’t receive briefs but rather help generate opportunities for our client brands. This means we look to the objective first, rather than the idea, or the medium, and that may then lead us into any of the above-mentioned spaces where a brand experience may serve to achieve that objective. I think we’re evolving well when ‘communication’ (or even ‘marketing’) is just one amongst many arrows in our arsenal. As such, I think more and more brand strategists are becoming well-versed in CX, Journey Mapping, Experiential Design and other skills that can help their clients create more relevant, engaging, and effective brands.


For more insight from advertising, media and marketing experts, click here.

About David Nothling-Demmer

David Nothling-Demmer is Editor of NZ Marketing magazine.

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