Jamming brand and energy
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:03.480 Gidday. I'm Scott Oxford. Welcome to BrandJam, the podcast where we jam about brand because brand is our jam. [music]
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:13.759 I'm just your regular, everyday garden variety brand evangelist and my day job is Head of Strategy and Creative for an Australian brand and creative agency called New Word Order. So I live and breathe brand every day. And talking to people who own, manage or empower brands is my happy place. We're talking service brands today, specifically the ones that power our homes and keep the lights on, literally. I'm jamming today with Yasmina Pinto, Head of Brand at AGL, Australia's largest energy retailer and energy generator.
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:51.884 She's also a leading brand expert and educator. She was born in the former Yugoslavia. Raised in Melbourne, influenced by Sydney and is inspired in Noosa. Now, based in Melbourne, she's established and implemented AGL's Enterprise Wide Purpose, launched an extension of the brand to sell telco products, developed AGL Next, AGL's home of innovation and rolled out a sponsored content TV series called Advancing Australia which is hosted by Guy Pierce. Prior to AGL, Yasmina was Head of Brand at HCF, Australia's third largest private health insurer and the largest not for profit in the sector. At HCF, she led an Enterprise Brand Transformation and her team won numerous awards, including ad news Brand of the Year, 2017.
SCOTT OXFORD: 01:35.877 Afflicted with an addiction to trying new things, and much to her husband's dismay, she decided she needed a new challenge, and whilst continuing to hold down the full time HCF role, took on a teaching gig at UNSW, which lead to a two year stint as a sessional academic culminating in lecturing post-graduate brand management. So she knows this stuff.
SCOTT OXFORD: 01:57.204 This followed an early career in marketing roles in the health and education sectors and her first rebrand at the Australian Physiotherapy Association, after which Yasmina joined global brand consultancy, Future Brand.
SCOTT OXFORD: 02:08.953 Yasmina has almost 20 years experience across brand marketing and services industries. She didn't choose services, consciously, she fell into it. Although, perhaps it's not surprising considering that services makes up 70% of Australia's economy, or GDP to be specific for the fact lovers.
SCOTT OXFORD: 02:42.667 As they say, if you want something done, ask a busy person. And I'm glad the busiest person I've talked to this week said yes to today. Yasmina, welcome to BrandJam. I'm looking forward to, and here's the dad joke, I'm looking forward to a high energy chat [laughter].
YASMINA PINTO: 02:57.877 Love it. Thank you for having me, Scott. It's always very awkward getting introduced. You've been looking back on your life and thinking, "Hmm", you know? How do I sound?
SCOTT OXFORD: 03:08.861 You sound busy which is amazing because most of the guests which I'm lucky enough to interview just have an awful lot in their remit and they're leaders in the game. That's why you're on here. But every factor there just shows in it a career full of brands. So let's dive into it. I wanted to start of by talking about sort of energy. Energy is a term that's used for a lot of different things. You know? Calories in food, that kind of thing. But we're talking electricity predominantly. How did you get up in energy?
YASMINA PINTO: 03:45.482 Yeah. Good question. I mean it's one of these like forgotten services that you kind of take for granted in the western world and did I one day wake up after working on all these fabulous sort of quite altruistic, almost, brands like education and health care and not for profit. Did I wake up going, "I want to go into energy?" No, I didn't. But when the recruiter started chatting to me about it, I started getting really curious because if you think about energy-- and whether that's electricity or gas for that matter of other sources of energy-- it makes the world go around. And you literally can't do anything-- we wouldn't be able to do this podcast. We wouldn't be able to run a business. We wouldn't have projects. We wouldn't have telecommunications. We wouldn't have anything without it. So could you think of a more important service in today's day and age, other than perhaps - I don't know - health care? I don't think so. So I kind of started thinking about where we're at as a society, the energy transition, and it felt like the right time to take on the ultimate challenge because-- and this was three years ago. But it's a commodity. And if you can brand a commodity - it's like selling ice to Eskimos - you can brand anything. So it does kind of feel like if you can brand a commodity and it's something that's actually really important and you can get people to be more grateful for it, which remains a challenge, it's quite an exciting opportunity.
SCOTT OXFORD: 05:21.947 Yeah. Yeah, I love a good challenge. I remember one of the defining projects of my career was working on the Quit campaign for about eight years. And we did a couple of major campaigns to 18-to-24-year-olds. And if you can convince someone that young to quit when they're not even in the realm of experiencing some of the darker, more dangerous aspects of smoking many years down the track, then you feel like you can take on anything. So I love a challenge myself, and it makes total sense to me why you picked energy.
YASMINA PINTO: 06:00.017 Yeah. It's been a crazy ride. I'm sure it will continue to be a crazy ride.
SCOTT OXFORD: 06:05.114 Yeah. What would you say the challenges are that you sort of face in managing an energy brand? You've mentioned being a commodity, getting people to appreciate it, but what else?
YASMINA PINTO: 06:19.087 Oh, look, I think it's the product and the timing. I mean the energy sector, for anyone that takes an interest in it, is in a huge state of turmoil and transition. And as a result, the stakeholders are so wide and far. And you've got not just your customers to think about; you've got your government relationship. You've got all the media marrying around there. You've got your investors to think about. You've got communities that are actually within the areas where we're generating this energy or potentially mining for coal; it's really quite a challenging conversation in those spaces. Yet it's something we can't do without, and we can't just transition overnight. So there's quite a bit of sensitivity in terms of how we communicate, how we balance and consider all of the arguments. And for the brand, it's the same because you've got people who are looking for low-cost energy, and then you've got customers who are looking for very green, clean energy. So how you sort of manage that brand through that transition is interesting and challenging.
YASMINA PINTO: 07:29.924 I think the other thing is it's not only a commodity; it's invisible. It's literally an invisible product. You can't see your electricity. You can't touch your electricity-- well, you shouldn't. You can't touch your electricity [laughter]. And it becomes very different to differentiate. It's very different to build in that emotive connection with customers, which is what, I guess, branding is all about. And there's also this sort of sentiment that because it's a commodity it should be take where it should be, or I should just get it. I have a right to it in Western countries such as Australia. And the reality is, it has to get produced. So you're managing it just like any other business, I suppose. I think the other thing that's happened is with a lot of this transition, I guess narrative in media, customers have had to hear all sorts of perspectives, and there's been a lot of climate action and so on. So there's general cynicism when it comes to dealing with energy companies. There's price sensitivity, and then COVID has pushed people to be even more price sensitive than before. And fortunately energy prices have come down, but the price sensitivity makes it challenging. Regulation makes it challenging. Price competition further perpetuates price competition. So it is really difficult to stand out, I think, as a brand.
SCOTT OXFORD: 08:58.729 Yeah. And to my mind, too, we don't have blackouts much anymore. I grew up in regular--
YASMINA PINTO: 09:03.706 Thank goodness.
SCOTT OXFORD: 09:04.162 Yes. But when you do have a blackout, you suddenly realise how much you value electricity. So when it's constantly there, always on, literally, you're not given cause for that. And the other one, I think, too, is that it's not like you can pick higher quality electricity.
YASMINA PINTO: 09:25.527 That's right. Well, unless you get into the real detail of where your electricity's generated from, and you buy purely grain power. And that is what a lot of our commercial customers are doing at the moment. They're installing solar panels and batteries and power factor correction systems, and all sorts of fantastic technical equipment to become more self-sufficient and more sustainable. So you can you do it that way, but we're sort of still on the beginning of that journey, I think.
SCOTT OXFORD: 09:53.651 Yeah. And like so many of the brands I talk to, it's not like you control the energy sector. This is not your sector. You are part of the change happening. But it is an analogy I use a lot. It's like turning a cruise ship. It takes some time, and there is a journey. And we all know that brand is in all of those conversations that everyone's having, and you have a lot of convolution and a lot of-- it's kind of really hard for people to really settle on having clarity of their own opinion, let alone anything else. And it is those things, as you say, that they hook into. The quality of electricity is the alignment of its generation to your personal values and to the things that matter to you. But we do forget that it's not just generation, it's actually got to be transported as well.
YASMINA PINTO: 10:43.704 Yes.
SCOTT OXFORD: 10:43.964 So there's all of these factors that-- it's almost, to me, as someone who works in brand, if I picked up your account or the account of an energy company, I'd love to try and find a way to imaginatively tell that story where everybody goes, "Yeah, I really value this and I appreciate where it comes from." And so that's got to be your challenging, I guess, in terms of building that connection.
YASMINA PINTO: 11:15.358 Yeah. It's true. And, I mean, the system is further complex in that you're not literally buying the energy that-- if you're an AGL customer, you may not be literally buying the energy that AGL produces, because AGL feeds into a grid, and the grid is basically all the shared energy sources that all the retailers purchase from. So it's very difficult with the model that we have in Australia, unless we decentralise energy, to actually buy direct in a sense. And that adds complexity to the relationship as well, because if your power's out, it may well not be your energy company. It might be the company that runs the poles and lines that actually delivers and distributes the energy to your home, and that's not widely understood either.
SCOTT OXFORD: 12:04.801 Yeah. Oh, look. Absolutely. I mean, in this tiny, short space of time, we've already identified a whole bunch of challenges, which is the things in your control, the things outside of your control. And I'm keen to know how you-- clearly it's about what the customer conversations are happening. How do you guys connect with customers in terms of hearing from them? Because I know we have tools like social listening. We can hear what's being said about us, and we can go direct. How do you stay connected?
YASMINA PINTO: 12:35.583 Yeah. I think one of the things AGL does really well is research customer opinion and inputs, and then there's a whole range of sources where we sort of check in with customers. But I think, at the end of the day, a lot of customer needs are quite rational. It's basically, "I want a great price. I want things to be easy. I want things to work. I want you to be doing the right thing as a business. I want you to be sustainable." They're all the normal things that you would expect. I don't think that's necessarily what gets people to connect with us, though. I think there's an element of showing the people behind the brand, and showing the human aspects of the brand. It's kind of like that emotional marketing, because I think corporate can be very faceless, cold, clinical, and they kind of lack this humanity. And I think if you can bring the human aspect to the service, that emotion is how you can become either more meaningful or more distinctive. And if you're not going to be meaningful or distinctive or differentiating, you should a least be salient and stand for something. And I think a brand that does this well, a commodity product-- we've talked about the fact that our service is invisible. So's insurance in a sense, and a lot of services are. And the RACs, in particular-- I'm in Noosa at the moment, and RACQ does a really good job of this. I'm sure NRMA and RACV and all the equivalents are quite comparable. But they really have learned to humanize their brand. The sort of roadside assistance and home help and all of these things are that human help that helps you trust the brand. I think that's the bit that is the glue.
SCOTT OXFORD: 14:31.666 Yeah. That's a great insight, because it's one thing to identify yourself as a customer in a brand visuals and TVC or the like. It's another thing to see the service literally modelled for you. And that's that opportunity where these are the-- we meet the people that make this, and they're people like us, and they're people who go home at night to their families or to their cat and they're just real people like us, and we realize that when we're--
YASMINA PINTO: 15:05.436 100%.
SCOTT OXFORD: 15:05.424 --when we're supporting that brand, it is supporting people like ourselves, and I think it's-- yeah, I think that's really, really powerful.
YASMINA PINTO: 15:13.017 And there's some amazing human stories in there. I remember we had a really hot summer. I think it was bush fires were happening. We had a really hot summer once. And the people that are working at the power plants are working-- it's 40-degree heat, everyone's at home with their air conditioning on. They're having to work in that heat where it's even hotter because they're actually in an environment where there's heat generated. They have to work through that so that the rest of us can be comfortable at home in our air conditioning. So they have to wear vests that we put ice packs into to keep their body temperature down so that it's actually safe for them to actually go into that environment. You think about that being your job. It's pretty intense. So I'm pretty grateful to them.
SCOTT OXFORD: 15:59.510 Yeah, I think I it's a powerful story. It just shows that there are people out there doing jobs to make our lives better, and they're putting their money where their mouth is. They're putting their bodies on the line. They're making it so that-- I mean they're not in danger, but they're putting in hard yards--
YASMINA PINTO: 16:20.236 No, safety first. Yeah, hard yards is good.
SCOTT OXFORD: 16:23.235 Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. No, I mean we all know, just how it's said, that industries like yours are first-class when it comes to protective equipment and safety.
YASMINA PINTO: 16:34.335 Yeah, we have to be.
SCOTT OXFORD: 16:34.417 And you're on the game earlier than most others. So no suggestion of a lack of safety, but there is someone doing a tough job there, and that's a tough job. And them doing a tough job makes my life better. And I don't want-- I kind of like that. And I want to pick up on what you said earlier, too, about just knowing that you, as an organization, are doing things that are making the world a better place. And certainly providing electricity is certainly making my individual world a better place, too. But, yeah, it's great when an organization, in that rounded brand story, involves such things. And I've had a really good handful of guests on the podcasts, some of whom are in completely-for-purpose businesses, so total not-for-profit, and others have been businesses that have a good sort of chunk of their purpose to that. And finding young people, sort of the emerging market, I guess, for services, who are rising up, moving out of home and starting taking on their own insurances, their own electricity, their own water, all of these things-- they are caring more and more about the world and the differences made.
YASMINA PINTO: 17:47.974 Absolutely. Yeah, and corporates can make a difference, and corporates can be part of that sustainability move. And I think it can be hard to tell the story of all the things going on in a business. There are often a lot of things that don't get seen, but I think the transition is well and truly underway. And when you bring your own-- a set of critical mass where I think the sector is going to really make some change.
SCOTT OXFORD: 18:15.583 Yeah. Absolutely. So I did a bit of digging on AGL because I'm always fascinated by naming. Matt from Four Pillars Gin the other day-- "Tell us about the Four Pillars. How did the name happen?" My research tells me that AGL has been around since 1837, the Australian Gas Light Company.
SCOTT OXFORD: 18:36.287 An Australian gas-and-electricity retailer formed in Sydney in 1837. Supplied town gas for the first public lighting of a streetlamp in Sydney in 1841--
SCOTT OXFORD: 18:45.485 --and was the second company to list on the Sydney Stock Exchange. That's some serious history there, isn't it?
YASMINA PINTO: 18:51.557 Absolutely. Lit the first gas streetlamp on George Street in Sydney. And Westpac, I think, is the only listed company that is older than us. So, yeah, it is serious history. And I think the thing that we're most proud of that perhaps is not well known is it's still Australian. Obviously, we're a listed business, so overseas investors can buy shares, but we're dominantly owned by Australian shareholders and institutions, so we're still Australian. And we haven't sold out and we're really proud of that.
SCOTT OXFORD: 19:22.432
SCOTT OXFORD: 19:22.615 Yeah. And I think that's an immense part of the brand story as well, in terms of, for Australians, we're fiercely patriotic and loyal in various different ways. And we love an Aussie company. And, yeah, the nice thing, even just from a phonetic perspective, AGL has a nice sort of ring to it. It has that nice feel. So there's a whole lot of synergies that have come in, but, yeah, it's always interesting to sort of look back on that history. And I wonder how many of the average customers today would have that-- maybe there's an anniversary. It's a while before we're going to get to that anniversary.
YASMINA PINTO: 20:01.914 Yeah, the 200 year one. [laughter].
SCOTT OXFORD: 20:03.791 The 200. [laughter] Maybe. Yeah, it's a great story, and part of your story. So I kind of love-- I love that, so. Yeah, I thought it was good because bound to be someone's going to be wondering, "What on earth does that mean?", so.
YASMINA PINTO: 20:20.065 Yeah, so many acronym names in the industry, aren't there? Just thinking of what the acronym stands for.
SCOTT OXFORD: 20:26.212 Yeah. Well. The most famous one probably being KFC. And there's a reason that we shorten these things, and it makes good sense, so. Yeah. I want to pick up on what you were saying before. We talked a bit about services and selling something that's often quite intangible versus a product. And so clearly service have been a big sort of partner for you. But what would you see are the differences between, say, services and products when it comes to brand but also marketing as well?
YASMINA PINTO: 21:00.582 Yeah, I think if you're working for a company as a brand manager for a product brand versus as a brand manager for a services brand, your roles are going to be quite different. And this is something I used to talk to my students a lot about at UNSW, because a lot of the textbook and the theories have a product focus, but the reality is, a lot of Australia are brand jobs because 70% of our economy services are actually in the services sector as well. So if you're in a product branding role, you're probably going to have at least close to if not full profit and loss accountability. If you're, for example, selling toothpaste, you might have a-- your brand agreement might actually include sales cycle accountability for that product. You own the traditional four Ps: product, price, place and promotion. And so you'll actually do a lot of the product development, innovation, design, and the actual advertising and marketing. You might even negotiate with channels and distributors on placement on a shelf. And you'll effectively be accountable for how profitable the sales of those products are, often. But that's sort of the fast moving consumer goods model of the past.
YASMINA PINTO: 22:20.028 In the services sector, you're really doing most of that. You're actually probably working with a product team and pricing team. You're possibly working with a marketing team as well. You might be working with a corporate affairs or communications team. And so ultimately one of the things you're doing is you're effectively storytelling. And you're bringing the DNA of the business, the DNA of your service, its history, which we've just touched on, and its promise and its future sort of-- what would be the best word? Its future aspirations to the customer as a proposition that forms their idea of the service in their mind. It's not a tangible distinction. It is a positioning distinction, I suppose. So I would say the skillsets of a services brand marketer would be heavily focused on stakeholder engagement, communications, strategy, and design, whereas you've got probably more of that traditional marketing-- a commercial marketing type of role if you're in product branding.
SCOTT OXFORD: 23:42.382 Yeah. And it's interesting. There's almost another category again, which is something that I in my agency have done a lot of work in, where you're delivering a behaviour change, which is an even more intangible outcome in some ways. Certainly the hardest of three to measure in terms of-- it's expensive, I guess, to measure it with products. You measure how many units sell. With services, you measure subscriptions or sign-ups or sort of customers and that base. When you're measuring how many people quit smoking or how many people-- we do suicide prevention. Do you know how many people made a decision to--?
YASMINA PINTO: 24:27.423 That's a good example. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 24:28.219 Positive path, it's very, very hard to measure. And so, yeah, it is interesting in those sort of three ways. But like I said, I think behaviour change in services are very much in that one corner because it's a reason to believe. You're basically tapping into how people think. You still do that with products. You want to sell more cans of soft drink. You've got to understand what people care about and what's going to push their buttons and the like. But yeah, sometimes, I think, as you say, services are-- we're not answering a thirst. We're just fulfilling something that people take for granted. And in behaviour change, you're basically wanting to empower someone to make a really positive decision and, so.
YASMINA PINTO: 25:12.385 And it's really hard to measure the contribution of brands to a decision. And it could be a decision to purchase product or actually just stay with the business as well because-- have you ever been in a situation - I have; I do this all the time - where-- let's say you're renovating. I'm talking about my property passion. You're renovating, or you've got to repair something in your home. And you get two quotes from two tradespeople. One is cheaper than the other, yet we've probably all been in a position where we've been like, "Oh yeah, I know they're cheaper, but I'm still going to go with this guy because they gave me more of a feeling that they're going to do a good job," or, "They're more experienced," or, "I just really liked them." And look. I appreciate not everyone's in a position to pay the higher quote, but often we don't choose the cheaper alternative. And that's a contribution of brand. That's how that person branded themselves to you. And you can't put a value to that. And it's the reason someone's going to pay a premium price or kind of go, "Look. I don't know if this is the best-- am I really using my Netflix? Is this the best subscription for me?" But you're like, "I just like having it there. And I love Netflix when I need it." And so you continue to pay for it. I mean, that's the power of brand at the end of the day.
SCOTT OXFORD: 26:32.118 Yeah. It's that sense that my head tells me one thing, but my heart is telling me another.
YASMINA PINTO: 26:38.827 Exactly.
SCOTT OXFORD: 26:38.872 And I've got to kind of follow my heart and go this way. And that for me as a-- I mean, I'm a marketer as well, but certainly as brands are my first love, I love that power of story, particularly when it's about really being able to communicate true story as well, when it's really--
YASMINA PINTO: 26:58.754 Me too.
SCOTT OXFORD: 26:59.129 --pulling out the truth and helping people connect with it and making that available and even democratically available so everyone has an opportunity. That's that space. And I've been involved in a fairly chunky discussion on LinkedIn lately around brand versus marketing, and there are lots of sort of different definitions and different ways people are looking at that, but ultimately, we're seeing a real move in the industry now to putting a greater emphasis on brand than marketing. That's not to say that that doesn't include marketing because they are very, very closely aligned and almost crossing over, but in terms of a brand campaign versus an activation campaign, say, where you're wanting to-- there's just that growing, increasing awareness that - maybe it's a COVID thing; maybe it's not - but that we are making buying decisions based on that. We're not wealthier. There's a lot of Australians who are out of work and are struggling, but there are also plenty who are not travelling, who have the funds to be able to pay that little bit more for something that they just feel is right rather than being constantly price driven. And I know you and I would both love a world where price wasn't ever the decision-maker because it's such a--
YASMINA PINTO: 28:25.452 Well, and look. Sometimes it can be. Brands can be built on that foundation - Bunnings is a brand that's built on sort of a price promise, in a sense - but it's the clarity on that. And I think this whole marketing-versus-brand debate, they go hand in hand. And I think of them brother and sister. They way that we talk about it in my team is branding is the art and marketing is the science. Branding is the heart. Marketing is the head. And so when we're plan our creative, we don't plan them separately. We plan them together, but they serve different functions. One is an influencing role. The other is a driving action role. And you can't drive action well if you haven't influenced well, and there's no point influencing if you don't then also ask for action. So I think of them as brother and sister, in a sense. You don't want to split the family apart.
SCOTT OXFORD: 29:24.653 That's a brilliant definition. And I know for me as someone who has taught brand for a long time, I find that people understand marketing a lot more. The average person understands marketing a lot more. And so it's a shame we have to do this brand versus marketing in the elevation of it, but-- in the elevation of brand and the understanding of it, but one of the reasons I began this podcast was that I just have a real passion for seeing leaders in organisations, whoever they are key decision-makers recognising that the brand is just as important and needs that love and care.
YASMINA PINTO: 30:02.012 Absolutely. And I think the best senior marketers, the best CMOs, they have their finger on the pulse as both, because the other thing is brand is long-term. Marketing, and performance marketing in particular, which has become a very heavy trend in the last decade with digital marketing and everything is very short-term focused. Now, if you just focus on the short-term, we all know what happens in the long run. If you just focus on the long run, we know you're probably not going to keep your job because you haven't managed short-term targets. You've got to do a bit of both and the best in those do both really well, I think.
SCOTT OXFORD: 30:38.474 Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. So that was a, yeah, great definition there. So talking brand and the brand space, over the last probably 10 or 20 years, what would you say has changed most?
YASMINA PINTO: 30:55.798 I think we've kind of touched on it in the sense that there's been a real emphasis on performance marketing digital analytics, which has its place, but I do think at times, some marketers have taken it too far down a path where it feels sort of at the cost of that human element, that human engagement. At the heart of engaging humans is creativity and storytelling and there's a relationship with art, and I think if you don't get your creative and your messaging right, your performance marketing will never be what it could be. So you can't automate everything. You can't automate these decisions. You can't A/B test a creative idea. You've got to have the creative idea in the first place. You've got to know what your story is in the first place. So I think there has been a huge shift in that direction but there is an element of needing to keep a finger on the pulse of old-school marketing. And the other thing is the theory, and I had a real refresher of the theory a couple of years ago, but the theory is not always what happens in practice. The theory is great but it's quite different to try and work in a typical corporate environment. The four Ps and seven Ps and whichever brand onions and whichever sort of methodology you want to use, they're really dukes. They're actually bespoke to the organisation. It can vary depending on your stakeholders. So I think there's an element of needing to be very adaptive as a brand or marketing person these days, and make it work for your product, your business, your stakeholders, and be able to have that conversation about how the two, brand and marketing, work together, which is challenging. I acknowledge it's really, really challenging, but I think it's important to educate as well.
SCOTT OXFORD: 32:58.976 Yeah. Those sort of quick wins that we've seen emerge where you sort of need to get sales, need to get sales, there's almost a features benefit to focus on that and I find at times that kind of approaches the enemy of creativity and the enemy of story as well, because it's really reducing something down to the research tells us that the customer wants this, this, this and this, and so we're going to do it. And what's lost is connection. What's lost is that, yeah, sure it might work now but do we just want a once-off sale or do we actually want to build rapport and build an ongoing connection with a consumer? And potentially the value of that consumer over a long-term relationship is worth the investment, and it's brand that's going to do that.
YASMINA PINTO: 33:47.954 Absolutely. Because I guess for me, brand is understanding by behaviour and working to adapt to that. And buyer behaviour stems in psychology, and that fundamentally means understanding humans and understanding what makes humans tick. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 34:05.357 Yeah. Yeah, totally. I'm interested, too-- I always love to talk about internal brand, being that your own people are some of the biggest exponents of the brand and the story, and they live it every day, and they have various different touchpoints with the customer. As head of brand, how do you manage the internal brand story, and helping, basically, everybody take ownership and be a part of the AGL story?
YASMINA PINTO: 34:37.955 Yeah, that's a good question because I remember a few years ago I got asked to speak at a conference about what kind of serves brand or culture, and I think my answer was either or both. So I probably just was a bit of Switzerland there and didn't really answer the question. But I think they go hand in hand. I really think you can't separate it. One of the things we did on AGL, because we were quite cognisant of that, was we made sure that our organisational purpose and brand story also aligned with our values and behaviours that we wanted from our people. But in both cases we actually had input from our people, because I think you can't tell someone, including your employees, "This is our brand." It's the lived experience of the brand that is actually the DNA of it. So you start with your past and your present, and then you sort of think about your future, and you make those gradual shifts. And we talked about, before, change management, and that is a large part of that brand alignment. So I think depending on your organisational structure-- certainly our team and in every business I've worked in works really closely with the people teams. The human resources team, the communications teams. And some of those, I guess, transformation journeys are managed together. Others might be just tapping into a bit of employee pride. I've worked at a previous employee workplace where they had fantastic referral programs. Ultimately you want that weekend barbecue where people are talking about where they work to be a brand opportunity and a brand conversation. So my philosophy is you start internally, and if you look after your people, your people will look after your customers, and that will look after your investors is kind of the-- it's an old theory that I got taught but I actually quite like it because I think it makes a lot of sense.
SCOTT OXFORD: 36:38.609 Oh, absolutely. And I agree with you. I think brand and culture are intrinsically linked. Culture is not something to just hand over to HR with no brand input at all. It's the story. It's the lived experience, as you said, every day. And I love that you guys include the people to that sort of level. In my much smaller team-- I have a lot less staff than you do, but, yeah, our agency purpose came from team workshop and was agreed on as a team. Not just the principles, not just those who run it--
YASMINA PINTO: 37:09.991 As it should be. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 37:10.936 Yeah. But it's incredible how many organisations today, even still-- and I guess you could almost call it old school, which is where the say comes from above. It's sort of CEO-led. And, as they say, the fish rots from the head, and so if you have that kind of-- if a whole organisation is taking its culture from what the CEO sort of sets, you either want your CEO to be very brand-aware and culture-aware, or get out of the way.
YASMINA PINTO: 37:42.619 Yeah. I will say at times when the organisation's changing, the CEO does need to sort of set that direction or that shift really clearly. But then, I would say my job is to tell that story and to connect it with who we are and where we come from. So it has a role but it just can't be disconnected, right? Like it can't be we're doing this but the lived experience is something completely different. I'm waving my arms around like you can see them [laughter], describing things.
SCOTT OXFORD: 38:11.578 But that's exactly it. And that's what indicates, I think to me, you know? I'll be bold enough to say, I think a healthy company is a company that puts somebody in the position to head brand, as you are, and that they take it that seriously that it needs to be managed. Because, yeah, so CEO. What I'm referring to, mainly, was the organisations where there is no real value and appreciation placed on brand and it's left to the CEO and whether they are good or bad at that. Some CEOs are very talented and naturally gifted at leading the story. But yeah, your job is to make sure everyone in the organisation is connected and has ownership and a CEO is way too busy to manage that, they trust you to do that. So--
YASMINA PINTO: 38:57.039 Ownership is a really good term, actually, Scott. Because when you think about brand teams, they're tiny and they don't manage all the touch points across business or the experiences of the customer, or the product decisions necessarily. So actually, every employee is the brand. What we're doing is sort of creating the glue and empowering those people to tell the same story. We're not actually the people story telling it, a lot of the time the employees are in their every day.
SCOTT OXFORD: 39:29.811 Yeah. Absolutely. Beautifully put. I want to ask you a few questions now about-- not about energy and services, but I want to ask you to delve back to your childhood and tell me when did brand first meaning something to you and what was the brand that connected with you in your earlier life?
YASMINA PINTO: 39:51.666 I've really had to think about this because I think-- you know I grew up in the former Yugoslavia which no longer exists as a country, so for any former Yugoslavs listening, you'll understand the challenge of describing where you're from. But also, I think about-- from my childhood, I have some really strong memories by smell which is really interesting. And I think that's actually been quite well documented in research and a lot of the best brands in the world ironically do smell for association. If you think about walk into a hotel, these scent marketing. You think about a lot of fast food, they actually, some of them intentionally, pipe out their food smells through venting and so on to attract people. So smell is a very powerful and very poorly utilised, I would say, in the brand community.
SCOTT OXFORD: 40:44.245 Yeah. I agree. I think there are so many opportunities.
SCOTT OXFORD: 40:48.469 It just doesn't quite make it on to the priority list but when it's used it's powerful.
YASMINA PINTO: 40:53.361 Very powerful. So for me, I think it's smells that take me back to my childhood, like the smell of walls in my grandma's childhood home. Or I had a lot of food brands, they do get imported still into Australia and occasionally, when I buy them, I've transported back to my childhood. There was a chocolate covered banana called Banana Co or Chocolino which is like a chocolatey cereal or the Nutella of the Yugaslavs Eurocrem which has half white, half brown Nutella.
SCOTT OXFORD: 41:26.596 Oh, ah.
YASMINA PINTO: 41:26.569 They are such fond memories for me those brands. They make me happy. Because it's nostalgic and nostalgia is powerful.
SCOTT OXFORD: 41:36.323 Oh yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 41:37.587 Yeah. Absolutely. The stuff that takes you back to a simpler, happier time is you want to bottle that and you want to take it home. And if someone can do that, you know? And look, there's taste as well. Obviously products that you eat and consume are big in that. But your smell transcends that. It transcends food. And it goes into-- for me - I've mentioned it before - the smell of cut grass takes me back to the late '70s, in the western suburbs of Brisbane, lying in the back yard with my face against the freshly cut grass, watching my dad, perpendicular, mowing near me. And it's just a simple, beautiful, lovely time. I must have been five or seven years old or something. And if you can do that for me, I'm going to connect to you. You know what I mean?
YASMINA PINTO: 42:24.326 Absolutely. And there are some brands that have used nostalgia as quite a good strategy. Like Volkswagen, when they go back to the Beetle references of yesteryear, for a lot of people, I'm sure, it triggers their youth or their 20s or whatever it be. So I think you can do it; you just have to do it authentically.
SCOTT OXFORD: 42:42.933 Yeah. True. And, yeah, make sure that it's a shared experience. It's something that--
YASMINA PINTO: 42:48.627 Yes. Good point.
SCOTT OXFORD: 42:49.178 --people universally remember. And, of course, the '80s was full of campaigns that were going back. Aeroplane Jelly that re-ran and touched up and added colour.
YASMINA PINTO: 43:02.319 I forgot about that one.
SCOTT OXFORD: 43:03.233 Yeah. Aeroplane Jelly. Vegemite did it a lot, too, using old footage. And there are a number of brands that did that. It was a very big thing in the '80s to really tap into the nostalgia amongst the babyboomers, I think, in particular. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 43:14.970 But it also resonates with someone like me who was at the right age to kind of recognize that this was my parents' past. So, yeah, it's a fascinating area to delve into. I want to leap you forward to now. And we talk about probably a brand that you trust. What's a brand that you say you trust today?
YASMINA PINTO: 43:41.466 Look, I referenced them earlier, but I'll go back to RACQ and I think a couple of things. I think their narrative around being member-focused and not for profit is really well managed. Now, it's interesting because I used to work for a not-for-profit, and I had a CO who had a really great statement that they used, which was, "We're also not for loss." No company can be for loss or it won't exist.
SCOTT OXFORD: 44:08.656 Yeah. Good point.
YASMINA PINTO: 44:09.398 But I love the member-focused mantra that they really sort of bring to life through very human communications, human products and services. They do a really good job of their comms and product expansions. And I'll give you an example. I've received emails from them as a customer where, if there has been a weather crisis of some sort, like floods or whatever it be, before you're in trouble, they'll actually email you and prompt you and say, "Hey, we're here if anything happens." And the thing that really probably made me really trust them was I had to make an insurance claim at one point. I'd had some damage in my home that I short-term rent, and I've lost rent. And the rent isn't covered by the insurance policy. The repairs are covered, but they not only-- it was Christmas. I was overseas. It was just a terrible scenario. I had one property manager managing it.
YASMINA PINTO: 45:10.863 Not only did I get it sorted, which did take a bit longer because it was Christmas, but - it was reasonably quick given a lot of tradies are not there - they gave us $1,000, which they didn't have to do, as some compensation for loss of rent. It wasn't in my policy. They didn't have to do that. And what I love about it is doing the right thing by your customer, even when no one's watching. Now, until I've told you this, no one knows that. They don't get that benefit of it, but what they did was they bought my loyalty and they bought my trust. And I think that's really impressive.
SCOTT OXFORD: 45:46.221 Yeah. I have a mate who has a favourite quote which is the right thing isn't always easy to do, but it's always the right thing. And I think that's--
YASMINA PINTO: 45:55.301 Good quote.
SCOTT OXFORD: 45:55.511 --not something we expect from an insurance company, is it?
YASMINA PINTO: 45:59.998 No, it's certainly not. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD: 46:01.311 Yeah. I can see why you trust them and they done right by you. What about a brand that you actually would say you love. Is it possible to love a brand and do you love a brand?
YASMINA PINTO: 46:17.280 Oh, that's such a hard question. Absolutely I think there are brands that people love. You think about people who absolutely love Nike. They collect Air Jordans. That's a love, I would say. They identify with it. They identify with the culture that the brand associates itself with. It actually becomes a part of their life. There's a, "Look at me. I've got all these Air Jordans," or whatever it be. So I certainly think people can love brands. For me, maybe it's because I'm in branding, but I'm actually not a brand loyalist. And maybe because I'm in branding, I love to switch brands and try things out. I also have a novelty complex, as my husband will tell me.
SCOTT OXFORD: 47:03.372 Love that.
YASMINA PINTO: 47:03.698 Because I love trying new things. So I think, for me, it's almost like I've got a habit of actually going against the grain and not buying things repetitively. Even a toothpaste, I don't buy the same one every time. There's this novelty in trying everything that's on the shelf.
SCOTT OXFORD: 47:23.219 You are the worst enemy of brand marketers, aren't you? They win you over, they think they've got you, and then you're off. Mind you, RAC.
YASMINA PINTO: 47:34.361 True. No. It can be done. It can be done. But yeah, look, I don't know that I've had any brands I hugely love. There used to be this brand-- a lot of Australians may not have seen it, but if you've travelled to Europe, or they used to have a store in Sydney, called Ladurée. It's a macaroon, or macaron. I'm not even sure how to pronounce the shop, from France.
SCOTT OXFORD: 47:56.956 Me either. Me either.
YASMINA PINTO: 47:58.285 Yeah. And they did a brilliant job of consistency. And here's the thing about consistently in branding. If everything's consistent, you don't even notice it. Everything just fits. Like the experience. You walk into the store, it feels very French. The people are dressed very French. The teacups are very French. They wear little white gloves to serve you the macarons. They might even pack them in a beautiful box with a little ribbon around a beautiful little French gift bag, and whatever it be. The entire experience, from start to end, is consistent. And it's delightful. If you're someone who's very sensory, who likes the smells, the sights, the taste, all of it, it's delightful. And the funny thing about consistency is no exec I've ever worked with has appreciated it because you don't see it until it's not there. You notice it when things are inconsistent. When brand is all over the shop and inconsistent, you'll notice it. But if you're not noticing it, that means your brand person is doing a great job of keeping things consistent.
SCOTT OXFORD: 49:06.384 Yeah. We use a phrase, avoiding distractions. When you're investing in this space, the last thing you want is something that's going to distract someone by-- and production values. You're talking there is production values, where they've invested in order to make every aspect. They haven't cut corners on staff. Every little piece feels right. There's not a seam or a gap where you suddenly go, "Oh, that's right. I'm just in a fitout with a bunch of products in the back of Australia." You're transported because it is so consistent. And that's why you keep going back there, because you keep having that beautiful transported experience, which, right now, I think everybody could do with, where we can can't travel.
YASMINA PINTO: 49:52.667 Agreed. Yeah, agreed. It makes you feel something.
SCOTT OXFORD: 49:55.866 Yeah. Absolutely. We're at the flip-side. It's a tough question sometimes because people don't always want to name them. But is there a brand that you'd say broke trust with you? And even if don't name them, just tell us how they broke trust, and what they did.
YASMINA PINTO: 50:11.620 I think when you have a really terrible service experience with a brand, it can be hard to-- how they recover from that terrible service experience, can make you loyal or go the other way. I think, with my telco provider, I've had a few-- not great service experiences. But I have another pet peeve. I have a pet peeve with these brands that are-- not luxury brands, not mainstream brands, but what I would describe as in-between premium-position brands. Now a lot of premium-position brands describe themselves as luxury. They're not. They're premium-position brands. There's a big difference between luxury goods branding and premium branding. But when you've got a premium-position brand, that's particularly crappy quality that doesn't actually deliver on its premium price-- because a brand sets an expectation. And with a premium positioning, you set an expectation of quality, durability. When the reality doesn't match up, I am really disappointed. And there are some brands that do that really badly. There's particularly, in the fashion space, there's a lot of premium brands, but you're not actually getting premium quality. I think that's a real incongruence with the promise, and then the service delivery and expectation. And if I was their brand person, I'd be concerned.
SCOTT OXFORD: 51:31.313 Yeah. it's particularly hard in fashion, too, because aesthetically, they suit. I have a particular set of shirts and chinos that I bought. They fit me just right. They have the look. But three washes and they're falling apart, and they're losing shape. And it's a big betrayal. And if you go back to what you were saying about, sort of telcos, and being kind of let down, I think service is absolutely intrinsic to brand because it is one of the biggest touchpoints with the customer, is the way things are delivered. It's not just the conversations on the phone, it's that whole experience that says, "We've got our act together," or, "We've got problems. And you're the beneficiary of those problems because we can't even answer a phone call well. And solve a simple problem." So what are the bigger things going on behind? And this is the subliminals of brand. Like subliminal thinking. Where does that lead in the mind of the consumer, from one thing to the next? And all of a sudden, you've reached this point where they've got an imagined reality that's probably far worse than the reality. And that, again, brings us back to why brand is so important because you need people to be able to connect in with the truth and not fill in the gaps with their own imagining. Pick up on something in that and carve out a story that's entirely untrue, because that's dangerous. And that's the stuff people talk about at barbecues and the stuff that spreads.
YASMINA PINTO: 53:04.998 It's the experience gap, and I mean that's the biggest thing that's so tempting for brand people to create. This desirable brand and story. But if it's not, they want to be delivered by the business. It's not a good strategy. So, yeah, you've got to start with where you're really at.
SCOTT OXFORD: 53:20.291 Absolutely. As usual, Yasmina, we could talk all day, but we probably need to wrap up so that the average commuter has finished listening to this podcast by the time they get to the second half. I want to ask you the question I ask everybody around. A dream brand that you've never worked on. You've worked on quite a few amazing brands, but is there a dream brand you've never worked on, but you'd like to?
YASMINA PINTO: 53:47.090 I've thought about this, and I'm not going to say a specific brand, but I will say a category-- having built my career in services and services branding, I would maybe one day, if I was being reborn or starting my career again, really love to entertain luxury branding. And the reason I'm so drawn to it-- I mean, luxury branding is where, I think, branding is born. It's ultimately the epitome of good branding, where you command such a price premium and you've got such a scarcity of product. But what I'm particularly intrigued about is probably less so that. I'm most intrigued by the art of it. There is a beauty and an art and a creativity, and it's like old school branding but isn't. Sometimes you can do creative things with a luxury brand that aren't just about sales. It's creativity for creativity's sake, and there's something so sexy about that. Creativity for creativity's sake. So I think it's an area that's really interesting to me, and it's obviously an area where branding is very important. But I haven't dabbled in it, and if I was starting again I probably would have a dabble in it, and just learn the ropes.
SCOTT OXFORD: 55:08.579 Well I think it takes us back to sort of where we began, which is talking about the role of brand in terms of being able to build connection by helping capture the story and the provenance and the history and all of that. And a lot of great luxury brands are really-- the value is in the IP and in the history and in the--
YASMINA PINTO: 55:31.236 Sometimes the creator, right? Sometimes in the actual creator themselves.
SCOTT OXFORD: 55:36.085 Absolutely. And so in being able to capture that, that's where that art of it is. And I love it when you get to create a piece that contributes significantly to capturing the brand that is capturing that creativity itself within the product or service, where you're embodying it. And look, you do see that with the Nikes of the world, and with Apple and the like. There is work that they have the luxury to do, which is purely about a creative epitomisation, if that's even a word, of the brand. And so you walk away not wanting to go buy a particular product, but with this deeper sense of connection.
YASMINA PINTO: 56:20.819 Yeah. But just the beauty of it. I mean, humans are attracted to beauty, and whether that beauty is some longform video that really engages you, or an experiential thing in a retail store, or a beautiful item that's crafted to such quality and mastery, it's the beauty that I love about design.
SCOTT OXFORD: 56:40.701 Yeah. And what I love about that is that life can be so serious and practical and sensible. And what we remember is that beauty comes in things that are free, and it comes in things that can be bought, but you should never be ashamed of loving beauty and of connecting with it and having it in your life. And what I really love about Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life-- I think that's the name of it. His second book. One of the chapters is devoted to making one room in your house beautiful, and that idea of the immense value that is. And he's a philosopher. He's quite highfalutin in many ways, but what a lovely idea, and what a testament to the value of beauty in making our lives better, so.
YASMINA PINTO: 57:28.040 I agree. And Japanese culture has something similar where, I think-- I've forgotten the name of it, but you-- instead of having like in the Western culture where you've got lots of works of art around a space, like you might have multiple paintings or a beautiful vase or whatever, they have one little nook in a wall where they rotate their artworks. But the focus is always on that one thing, because if there's one beautiful thing in there, then you're actually noticing it and you're rotating it, whereas we take for granted all the beauty that we've placed around our homes as well.
SCOTT OXFORD: 57:57.536 I used to think that the definition of being wealthy, when I was young, was that you could have fresh flowers. A massive vase of fresh flowers in your house every week, so.
YASMINA PINTO: 58:07.946 Aspirations.
SCOTT OXFORD: 58:09.146 Aspirations. I haven't quite got there yet. Oh, Yasmina, I've loved chatting with you today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on services and on brand marketing. It's a great contribution to the discussion on brand and the elevation of brand and its importance and value to us. So thanks so much for joining me.
YASMINA PINTO: 58:28.715 Oh, pleasure to chat. Thanks for having me. You forced me to think back on a few things and really reflect, which has been lovely. I love a bit of reflection, so thank you so much.
SCOTT OXFORD: 58:41.061 [music] To finish off, two quotes that Yasmina loves on the same topic, and you'll recognize this content from our discussion. The first one, she says-- she quotes, "Marketing is asking someone out on a date. Branding is the reason they say yes." And that's gorgeous. The other one that goes hand in hand with it: "In modern day marketing, branding is the emotive art. Marketing is the rational science." And they absolutely go hand in hand. My studio producer and editor is Zane C Weber. Music is by Phil Slade, and brand and art direction by Andrew McGuckin and my team at New Word Order. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. I'm Scott Oxford. Thanks for joining Yasmina and I today on BrandJam. [music]