Jamming brand, consumers and customers
SCOTT OXFORD Hey, I'm Scott Oxford, and welcome to Brand Jam, the podcast where we jam about brand because brand is our jam. And one day I'll actually make that sound cool. Today I'm jamming with Ashley Smith. I know him wearing his market research hat, but he's much more than just a market researcher. He's all about helping companies of all sizes to be more consumer and customer-centric in their marketing, product innovations, their brand story, or in their experiences that they provide, which for me, is one of the things least attributed to brand. But actually, the experience your customers have is actually completely a key part of brand. But that means he's got a unique perspective on brand, which we'll delve into today. Ash spent the first half of his life in Australia then went to Europe for 20 years, lucky bugger, and fairly recently returned to Oz and probably good timing I'd say, Ash. He worked as an insights leader for global businesses such as Philips, and for the last 10 years, on the agency side of the fence, being lucky enough to support big, beautiful brands such as Heineken, Pernod Ricard, Ferrero, Danone, and L'Oréal. What's that? Booze, confectionary, and a bit of hair dye thrown in. What could go wrong, Ash?
SCOTT OXFORD 01:12.926 I want to start today-- welcome, Ash, and let's start today with customer insights because that's how we met over formative research for a campaign that my agency's currently developing for a new FMCG product. Yeah. Ash, what's the big misconceptions that brand owners have about their customers?
ASHLEY SMITH 01:32.363 Well, thanks, Scotty, first, just to be here. I think it's to do with some misconceptions about their relationship and what relationship the customers have with brands. And a couple of them would be about how strong that relationship is, how enduring that relationship is. I've seen data that shows that customers or consumers wouldn't care if 70% or more of brands just disappeared, just went. And we often think that there's this gigantic amount of brands that are in everybody's hearts and stay there. But actually, right now, there's a plethora of brands out there. And we've seen, even in the last five years, the amount of substitutability that can be done on many product categories. So the idea that brands-- misconception that you're kind of the centre of that person's life would be one thing. Brands think they're going to be here forever. Some have in terms of a modern marketing world have been here a very long time. But actually, the average lifespan of a brand is declining in the last 50 years. So this idea that we're here forever. Maybe in Australia we've had a few examples if we look at, I guess, at Holden and so forth that we think we're here forever. We think we don't necessarily need to worry about our value going forward, but it's kind of not true anymore, so.
SCOTT OXFORD 02:54.123 Yeah, Holden's a great example. I was talking to a client about that. It's like, "How does that happen?" And we were just talking about the fact that, well, one of the reasons that happened is because Holden actually kind of betrayed its customers. They started putting their badge on products that weren't true to what Holdens had always been known for. They sort of became careless. And they kept plugging cars that-- they believed the commodore badge had a place in people's hearts, but in fact, that size car with that size engine just wasn't relevant anymore.
ASHLEY SMITH 03:25.615 Yeah. You've actually hit on the most magical word we could today, and that's relevance. And if you cannot maintain relevance over time, your brand will struggle. And that's I think-- we could give other examples today, but losing that relevance, especially with newer, younger consumers or customers, that's so important to pay attention to. And if you can't remain relevant over the longer term, cases like that will happen and such. So relevancy is just the most paramount thing. And these days, being relevant is about having meaning in their lives. It's about helping them do stuff. It's about a great experience, but I think brands take there off that ball a little bit. We're a solid brand, we've been here a long time, but we have to think how to be constantly relevant.
SCOTT OXFORD 04:11.413 It's interesting if you look at the Holden example because I know a brand like Apple, which for someone like me has many many touchpoints in my life, I see that the media and all of that conversation around Apple kind of keeps it honest and on track. There's constantly talk about how Apple might be losing its way or how its sort of losing and they find their way back. It's almost like they've got this built-in ecosystem that keeps reminding them because arguably, they're not losing relevance. The products are changing, certain products are losing relevance, but somehow Holden didn't see that coming. And why do you think that happened to a Holden whereas certainly arguably isn't happening to Apple?
ASHLEY SMITH 04:59.014 Well, it's good you mentioned that because I literally, in a bit of research we've done recently, I actually came across, I think it's called creativity goes on, and it's been, probably you've seen it as part of their kind of COVID response, and it's fabulous because it taps into what people's motivational needs are right now. The need to achieve and be empowered and belong, so even in their latest creative they found a way to, let's say, reinforce that bond with their customers as a brand level. And I don't know all of the details about the Holden case, I can only speculate that my belief would be that they simply have failed to understand their customers and their potential customers deeply enough, and maybe they didn't invest enough in foundational customer research, consumer research. Maybe they just haven't put enough effort in there and tastes have changed as you pointed out, and yeah, that could be an explanation. I don't have all of the specifics but I would speculate that that's part of the problem.
SCOTT OXFORD 05:58.988 Yeah. Look, all of our conversations on this podcast are coming back to the importance of leadership in this space. The leaders in organizations' C-suite or similar, who getting brand and also getting the importance of it. And if you get brand, you kind of get customers and their place in all of that. And yeah, perhaps there's some unintentional arrogance around big brand, as you say, a brand that never thought it would ever go anywhere suddenly finding itself gone. And predecessors to that, of course, with the famous example, is Kodak who still seem to exist as a brand but struggling to find their way back compared to what they used to be.
ASHLEY SMITH 06:43.289 And I guess many people know this, but Kodak apparently actually invented digital photography but didn't want to cannibalise their own market. So one of the areas I think is important here is this desire to continue to innovate as well as a brand. That's also a way to keep that relevance there, and Kodak had the magic ingredient in their kitchen but they didn't want to-- it's that idea about not evolving and changing, so it's ironic that if they did indeed invent digital photography and then was sort of half killed by it, yeah, it's a lesson there I think for brands as well.
SCOTT OXFORD 07:21.982 And look, we see that time and time again. Australia had some great inventions which we lost to overseas. Things like we invented refrigeration and the patent--
ASHLEY SMITH 07:32.458 I did not know that.
SCOTT OXFORD 07:33.544 We did, and the patent is owned in America because we just didn't have that bigger vision I think to help it be what it can be. And yeah, that is fantastic, yeah. The Holden one continues to make us sort of shake our heads, but it's been coming for a while.
ASHLEY SMITH 07:53.842 But, I mean, these are all very well known case studies. But even a kind of a behemoth like Lego, they really lost their way towards the start of the 21st century, apparently their financial stability was even in question. And when they kind of did a bit of soul searching there on a brand level is they realised that they took their eye off what made them them, about the core need to play and the play and build and create. There were too many shows, and there were too many sort of adjacent products that took-- the brand essence had disappeared. So they kind of refocused, took it back to play and everything, and rejuvenated the company. And now we see it as strong as ever, but even they kind of-- brands like that flirted with--
SCOTT OXFORD 08:37.708 Oblivion.
ASHLEY SMITH 08:38.345 --oblivion, and yet it's hard to think of and such.
SCOTT OXFORD 08:42.399 So these are some big mistakes that are made. Mistakes often come from challenges, and what would you say some of the biggest challenges that brands face from this consumer perspective.
ASHLEY SMITH 08:54.513 Well, I've kind of touched on a couple of them already, and I think it's more difficult than ever to stand out right now, to differentiate yourself. I know there are scholars out that will say you don't really have to differentiate, you just have to be everywhere, but I believe more that, yeah, you've got to be relevant, you've got to differentiate. And that's becoming harder and harder to do that. It's also become harder and harder to cut through from a media perspective to get that kind of mass audience up around your product. And for a brand, it's also we're very fussy and we demand a lot, especially the younger generation of consumers, we want great products and services. We want them fast. We want no mistakes. We want our brands these days to actually keep coming up with new products. Boredom with not having new stuff. So it's a tough time to-- as a brand manager, it's exciting because you get all of these things you need to take care of, but it's tough because expectations are high. We demand great experiences or you know what? We just change if things don't work. If things aren't what we expect, we can jump ship. Look at all the digital apps. Look at all the e-commerce, all the things that even now these days with home entertainment if you don't like your Amazon Prime, you just click the--
SCOTT OXFORD 10:11.924 It's gone.
ASHLEY SMITH 10:12.260 --gone. Next month, stop paying. I go to the next one. Substitutability. All these things. So if you're not on top of your game with your experiences, your content, and that point I made before about innovating and coming up with fresh, new product, this is the new rules, and it makes it very, very challenging for brands. So yeah [crosstalk].
SCOTT OXFORD 10:31.675 So what have we got to do? How do we stay connected to the consumer? And because I've always-- every market researcher I've ever worked with has said, "Look, general public are not creative. Don't try and get them creative in a research scenario," so how do we find out, how do we get inside their heads and find out what new products to create that are going to meet the need?
ASHLEY SMITH 10:53.188 It's a very good question, and I do believe a little bit in that, let's say that rhetoric, that there are groups of us out there that are just more creative than others and people that are more-- and that's absolutely true. I think what we have to separate is discovering the need versus designing product solutions. And where I think the market-research industry plays a critical role is that getting to that need. And that is best done by this kind of deep understanding of customers and consumers. And what typically goes wrong is that we just kind of very superficially scratch that. We do a little bit of a survey, or we kind of ask a few superficial questions. But you got to really observe and immerse yourself totally in the lives of customers to come up with these potent unmet needs. You can literally see them, the ways in which their life could be improved or made better, and then as you say, the creative people come along and they can really help fill that, but--
SCOTT OXFORD 11:55.548 Fill in the gaps.
ASHLEY SMITH 11:56.333 Exactly. And I'm sure you're aware of things like design thinking and every kind of modern process to do with ideation and creation and even on a campaign level, it's all saying we need to start with that kind of deep empathy. We need to. And so I think that's the role that the consumer [and?] the insight industry plays. It's critical to helping brands is to get to that powerful human insight, and that's not easy. There's a lot of things that can go wrong there. Often, even if asked questions, we don't give the truth. People ask about you, "But why do you do that?" You can't actually explain it. If you even try to remember, okay, what did you drink last week? To be very accurate about what you do, it's challenging. So I'm talking a lot about this but it's really about how you get to that human insight is really important because it's not easy to do that, and to get to a true, powerful understanding of human motivations and what you can actually do, and then that creative process piggybacks and springboards on that. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 13:02.264 You've got to have the data right first. You've got to actually have an accurate picture, and as you say, what people say is usually either-- I mean, my experience, what they think you want them to say or they don't actually have an opinion but they feel like they need to have one so they're kind of finding an opinion or they're thinking, what would be the popular answer here? But they're not even very well-equipped and it really takes an amazing moderator, amazing guide to help them get inside of that and understand what's really going on. Do I really care about this or not?
ASHLEY SMITH 13:37.758 Yeah. Yeah, we use an expression, post-rationalisation, and it's trying to explain behaviour that you've engaged in the past, and you rationalise things and we are emotional creatures. There's research that shows how much of our decision-making comes just from pure emotions and there's a whole discussion about the implicit stuff, the stuff that happens. So asking why we did things and why we did things two weeks ago, it's hard to get to an inner truth there and so yeah, it's about techniques, it's about the methods you use, and one of my beliefs is to get to a great, powerful-- I call them insights. You could call them product insights, strategic insights, but it's about triangulation of different things. So there may be some basic data which is interesting that you kind of triangulate that with your observation of what people are doing, and you may even have to kind of measure these sort of subconscious emotional reactions as well. I know in your industry, you probably use this a lot in ad testing and things like that but you got to kind of join those dots together to come up with this kind of powerful sort of insight but when you get it it's like, "Wow." I mean, some companies have made billions, millions, over years by just developing one key powerful insight. Think about Dirt is Good. Think about Nivea Real Beauty. They've done their homework on a deep human ethnographic level to understand that and then they've built years and years of products and messaging around that. So they can be hard to get to but gee, they're worth it if you can.
SCOTT OXFORD 15:09.366 Yeah. That really big idea. Amazing, too, about the big idea is sometimes it takes on a life of its own. It seems like a big idea but then it was a campaign and it rises up to become your brand. And I was talking with guests the other day about Compare the Market and it all came from-- the meerkats came from someone saying, "Compare the Market. Compare the Meerkat," and that's their whole brand is built around a campaign that is now many years in to these little characters that literally came from play on words. And I doubt they knew at the time it was going to be quite so big as that. It was just a bit of a slip of the tongue that was a bit of fun but someone embraced it.
ASHLEY SMITH 15:53.814 Yeah, and it's funny because we talk also marketing now about distinctive assets and it's funny, in a few years' time, those meerkats will be distinctive assets whenever we see them, we'll think that brand.
SCOTT OXFORD 16:03.236 Absolutely.
ASHLEY SMITH 16:03.720 So, yeah, good example.
SCOTT OXFORD 16:06.443 So what can traditional brands, like your Holdens, what can they do right now to stay relevant, particularly in this time at the moment, but just generations are changing? TikTok is huge and massive and everyone is grappling with how to use it to-- there's no really clear picture yet on how to use that. I don't want to get stuck on TikTok or on that, but from your perspective, how can traditional brands remain relevant? What can they do?
ASHLEY SMITH 16:34.526 Yeah. It's not easy. And again, I don't want to give the message that all traditional brands are in trouble because that's absolutely not true. And one of the things we've learned about-- we've done some work into motivational needs now in the COVID times, is that in times of crisis, we often revert to very nostalgic-- we want to feel nurtured and we look back at nostalgia. And often those brands that played such an important role in our lives become very important again because they bring back memories of the past--
SCOTT OXFORD 17:06.166 Of a better time, a secure time.
ASHLEY SMITH 17:07.103 Yeah. And that's kind of ideal. I mean, I saw that pop-up drive-in cinemas all around the world, airport hangars, industrial sites, but people look at that and there's that, "Oh, gee. I remember that." So it's not that the traditional brands need to completely reinvent themselves and, as you well know, any sort of kind of re-branding, it comes with a lot of risks as well, so I think it would be them choosing their battles and where they need to play with but what I've seen is that-- I'm going to go back to my similar points again. They just need to up their game in understanding customers, deep insights into needs, and work on those. Innovation will be really important. As I say, one of the problems or issues with big organisations is that they-- because of their size, their ability to quickly innovate has been-- yeah, it's been--
SCOTT OXFORD 18:02.745 Steering a cruise ship or something. It's very slow.
ASHLEY SMITH 18:03.395 Yeah, it is. And I think you see a lot of-- that's why things like design thinking and all that came along because there was a recognition that we need to be more agile. So those big companies have traditionally come up with-- and I worked for Phillips for seven or eight years and some absolutely brilliant, brilliant ideas are out there. But sometimes the processes have interfered in the ability to quickly come to market with these great ideas because they have wonderful ideas, the P&Gs, the big companies, the Heinekens, fantastic ideas. And the ones that have got it have worked out that we need to speed up a little bit. We need to have the right approach to that and I've also seen that quite a few of them have sort of created their little hubs now. They've sort of said, "Well, we'll get into that kind of innovative spirit or that entrepreneurial spirit and we'll even create little technology hubs, innovation hubs, within our bigger business." They're often given kind of a licence to go and do crazy stuff and explore and yeah. So that would another way and I guess the most obvious way is many of them have just acquired-- you see it in the-- I'm a big fan of the-- well, I've worked, as you know, a lot in the alcohol industry. Everything in craft beer and so forth, they also just acquire companies. I think P&G acquired Dollar Shave Club as well. Is it P&G that took-- so it's a combination of that improving their processes-- well, first of all, even greater focus on getting those kind of golden insights, as such. Improving their processes, streamlining their processes to be more agile and faster with stuff and the little hubs that I talked about as such and finally, yeah, they will still cherry-pick. They will go out and acquire and bring those into the business, so yeah, that would be the kind of the different plays they could do as such.
SCOTT OXFORD 19:51.701 That's an interesting question, talking alcohol and acquisitions because I've always had a real bug there of big beer buying small breweries, and which I think's great. I think buying a small brewery, little guys, like it's just happened with 'Bolter?] down the Gold Coast. Mick Fanning's company. And he defended that sale by saying, "All of my mates, all of these people, these mums and dads put a bit of money in here, and they deserve a return."
ASHLEY SMITH 20:18.923 Yeah, of course.
SCOTT OXFORD 20:19.412 And awesome to do that. My favourite beer for a long time was Little Creatures Pale Ale and once it sold to Big Beer, it's not what it was. That for me was a brand betrayal. That was about somebody buying it and then basically gutting it of what it really was and leaving it as this brand that everybody knows, but dishonouring those of us who loved it. I mean, you used to pour it into a glass because it was one of the few beers in the market that was better in a glass. That little icon doesn't even appear on the bottle anymore, because it's not the same beer. Why does Beer do that to us? Why do they do that?
ASHLEY SMITH 20:57.470 I don't know, and I see both sides of that argument. I have my little treasured brands that I wish and I hope would remain independent. But having worked for a big company like Heineken, I also see that, if done correctly, it can really be a win-win. Because bringing those marketing dollars to some struggling brands that have wonderful products, to be able to get them in the spotlight and give them the support they deserve can also be very advantageous for everybody. I'm also a whisky guy and I went on a tour of Scotland for my 45th birthday and visited a couple of distilleries, and I was semi-dismayed to find that all of these little, what I thought were sort of very artisinal brands, they're all owned by Diageo or they're owned by-- and again, this is not for me to say anything negative about those companies, but to your point, I kind of felt I was on the back beaten roads looking for these Scottish distilleries and then I found out-- you see all the corporate, glossy brochures and you realise they're all part of a huge, huge conglomerate. So that can affect your relationship with a brand. Perception is a lot to do with it, so, yeah, I see your point on that one.
SCOTT OXFORD 22:10.252 Yeah, and look, one of the key things they don't seem to do is tamper with the product when it comes to distilleries. The product seems to remain fairly consistent, fairly traditional, but I don't know that for sure.
ASHLEY SMITH 22:22.514 That's, I think you're right, because the fact that I hadn't even detected this for a couple of the brands that I visited means that I didn't have a clue. So the quality of the product had remained, yeah, nothing had changed on that front.
SCOTT OXFORD 22:34.192 Yeah, and it just seems to be beer, and again, the Big Beer thing, long before these happened, it was international European beers being sold at an international European price, but made down the Gold Coast, and not the same water, not the same hops, not the same flavour, and not the same beer. The one that held out for ages was Peroni and all of a sudden one day, I bought some and tasted it and I knew it was different and I looked at the bottle and it was made in Australia.
ASHLEY SMITH 23:00.927 Yeah, well you've touched on something important here in brand world which is the modern consumer is certainly no dummy, and they will see straight through-- the age of transparency and of course the ability to communicate on social media and so forth. So it's getting harder to hide your secrets and so forth, and so that's why I think these brands have to keep their quality up because the minute someone discovers that things have changed, that sort of stuff just becomes out in the open. And that will affect what we call the brand equity, the brand relationship--
SCOTT OXFORD 23:33.921 Well, the story has changed.
ASHLEY SMITH 23:35.155 Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 23:35.936 The story has changed. I feel like I can no longer trust you. You've lied to me. I mean, you haven't lied to me, but you've let me think this for all of this time or something's changed and I had to work out for myself what had changed. And, yeah, you can take that rather personally.
ASHLEY SMITH 23:53.714 Yeah, and if this authenticity is super important to-- yeah I'm using terms here, but Gen Z and Gen Y millennials and even younger Gen Zs, authenticity is so important. So yeah, you don't get too many chances to muck that up. Yeah. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 24:06.855 Yeah. Yeah. True. And look, there are more and more ways that we as a consumer can find this out. Apple can't release a new phone anymore. It was only a few years ago that it was all a surprise until the day it was released. Now, we've had more leaks happening. The final product may not go out, but they can't keep this secret anymore. It's a whole industry around uncovering them, isn't it? So--
ASHLEY SMITH 24:27.602 Yeah. Indeed.
SCOTT OXFORD 24:28.535 --yeah. So you said before, nostalgia. And so then one of my favourite questions I get to ask in this podcast is looking back to your personal nostalgia and a brand that somehow found its place in your heart as a kid in your earlier life. I asked you to think of one. Have you worked out--
ASHLEY SMITH 24:47.362 I did. I did. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 24:48.211 Have you worked one out?
ASHLEY SMITH 24:48.831 Yeah, I did. I actually thought about this in the car on the way down. And look, I'm a child of the '70s, so in a way, our life was quite a lot more simpler than now. So I'm going to mention two, if that's okay.
SCOTT OXFORD 25:01.250 Yeah, please.
ASHLEY SMITH 25:01.580 So look, these may not sound like popular choices, but I'm actually going to use McDonald's as an example because growing up as a kid in the '70s, it was an era where, I guess, they were building distribution and so forth, but it was just something that lived in my memory as-- it was a treat. It was something that you looked forward to. And a lot of their brands is about scarcity too because back then, there wasn't a McDonald's-- or there wasn't a fast-food shop on every corner. You really only saw them every 20 or 30 minutes, so when you'd see one, you'd be like, "Oh, yeah, there's one." So the kind of value that you attach as a kid to going to McDonald's, that was special because of the scarcity then of it. And yeah, I mean, you always look back in the past with sort of these kind of blinkered eyes, but the quality perception back then-- nowadays, you think, "Well, all that meat doesn't feel grilled anymore. It doesn't feel--" but you kind of remember that the quality and the consistent quality was there. And as a kid, they also tied in really well with sports. I remember their tie-ins with cricket. So I remember them very fondly, as such, as a part of my life. And I play cricket, and I played a lot as a kid, and apologies to people who don't know cricket bats very well, but the old Gray-Nicolls cricket bat. So when I was a kid, that was the bat to have. And when I first got my first Gray-Nicolls, it was great because it's a part of that-- a lot of brands succeed because of [the odd?] desire to join the club, to be part of that club. And as a maturing boy and you get your first Gray-Nicolls bat, you think, "I've joined that club." I feel part of that now, and that's the kind of-- it's almost like a sense of achievement as a child. So those are two brands I kind of had-- I know they still make-- and again, to my point, there's so many more competing brands in cricket bat world now. But back then, more or less, Gray-Nicolls was the big daddy of them, and so [the?]--
SCOTT OXFORD 27:04.618 And the reality is that today if you're going to go buy a bat for any reason, that's probably the one you're going to look for, isn't it?
ASHLEY SMITH 27:11.373 Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. So--
SCOTT OXFORD 27:12.759 I like the fact that they both joined together too, McDonald's supported cricket--
ASHLEY SMITH 27:16.378 Yeah, no. It wasn't intentional. It was just--
SCOTT OXFORD 27:18.500 But it makes sense, doesn't it?
ASHLEY SMITH 27:19.002 Yeah. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 27:19.495 Because these two brands have tapped into some common ground with you, so yeah. So I think I went to my first-- I'm a child of ['72?] as well. And I think I went to my first birthday party at Macca's probably when I was 11. It was my first experience there. And it was like a holy ground, and there was the whole story around the characters, and there was a sense of magic about it. And the food was unlike-- it was crafted in a way-- no, yeah, it was crafted in a way back then that was unlike what you'd get at your local burger joint, and it definitely had that specialness. But yeah, as a child, it was like going to a theme park, or it was one of those special sometimes treats.
ASHLEY SMITH 28:07.980 And that's the point I'm trying to make, is that these days, I think there's so much more available, more choices, but back then, that was a treat. There was a scarcity to it, and as a consequence to that, attached a greater value to it. And I still think that's a kind of important lesson in the brand world [today too?] is about that [big?] different feeling. Maybe it's not about being more of something; it's about being something that you only have every now and then, and that's why you value it. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 28:34.265 Yeah. Yes, the treat, the treats that the current generation of kids-- they just can't really relate to that, can they, because life is so full of treats. But maybe I'm sounding like an old guy there.
ASHLEY SMITH 28:47.275 Yeah. I promised I wouldn't do that today either [laughter].
SCOTT OXFORD 28:49.410 Oh no! Damn. I mean, you've worked for some pretty amazing big brands there. Is there a brand in the world where you go, "At my age, if there was a dream job, dream brand to work for," is there a brand out there that you'd choose?
ASHLEY SMITH 29:08.990 Look, I'm going to choose a brand I haven't worked for. I'll give, again, two. Sorry. I'd love to work in whisky world. I'd love to be able to really use the marketing knowledge to really bring a really top, top sort of artisanal whisky or something in that whole area of spirits innovation. And I'd love to be able to just bring them to life. I guess the premise would be, you know it's a wonderful product, and you want to give it the attention it deserves. You want it to come into the spotlight. So that would be one of them. But I'm going to, yeah I'm going to choose another very cliche brand right now. But I'm a huge fan of Netflix. And I think that I often-- in some of the courses that I've been doing, I've been talking about I think Netflix addressed a really powerful human need that we had. People probably think that Netflix just-- okay, it's the tech. That was the tech. That was the way we were going. But I would argue that there was a lot of us out there that didn't really want to delve too much into Pirate World. We didn't want to download. We didn't want to go looking for download here and there. We just needed a place where for a reasonable amount of money each month, we get a whole bunch of great content and we can watch movies and we can watch series, and it's all done well. And so I think they answered that human insight that that's what we're looking for. We had it a bit with music and started up, but we didn't really have it with entertainment. And what I love about Netflix - I'm a big consumer of storytelling and so forth - is that it's just a well-designed proposition. And it also surprises you. The sound quality is amazing. I don't know if you ever have noticed, but compared to some of the incumbent Pay-TV providers, when you put on your Netflix, the sound is amazing. It's really well done, and the picture quality's great. And you see what they've done in terms of - again to my point on innovation - the amount of content that they're doing. And it's good stuff too.
SCOTT OXFORD 31:04.692 Original content too, yeah.
ASHLEY SMITH 31:05.782 Original. And there were a lot of sceptics who said, "Oh, yeah." But to their credit, they've obviously started off with a lot of retro programming and so forth, but some of their in-house content is absolutely first-class. And if you think of shows like Stranger Things and some of the others that-- it started with House of Cards. I was never a huge fan of that. I think they got better and better at making series as they go. But some of their content is just-- it's just fantastic. And people talk now about, "I don't go to the movies anymore because TV series have almost become better in quality. It has some of the best writers, it has some of the best actors, and so forth." And I think we can credit Netflix in that. So I just feel as a brand, as a proposition, it just delivers to me. It delivers on experience, it delivers on content, and I get everything I want for a reasonable price. So yeah, I would love to be roaming the halls of Netflix and helping them grow even further, yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 32:02.168 Yeah. And you look at the other players in the field and they've literally followed Netflix. So Amazon's commissioning great material. Stan as well, there's been some brilliant-- and now Apple.
ASHLEY SMITH 32:11.608 Disney. Disney as well, yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 32:12.541 Disney and Apple. But they're all following Netflix. They're not innovating, they're basically doing what Netflix set out to do and did really, really well. Yeah, and it comes back to what we're talking about, about the way a brand somehow just meets a need in a time. And it's the right time, the right place for this. And there are other players around, but there are those. And it's funny, I'm the same. We might come and go with some of those other providers. Netflix is the one that stays. And certainly set Foxtel running, which has now done a Netflix copy of their own. But yeah, it's about honouring. Not just putting a whole lot of old junk on there, but new, current stuff. And I've found for years now, Apple will make you pay a fortune and then give you a terrible catalogue to work with. New releases that are all the things you want to watch are missing from there. And it's like, "Come on guys, you can do better than that. You're losing me, you're losing me." And that's what we were talking about before, a brand that all of a sudden wakes up one day and suddenly, nobody's going there anymore.
ASHLEY SMITH 33:18.102 So in my opinion, they're ticking a couple of important boxes there. They've done their homework. They're come up with a consumer insight which has underpinned their whole model. But they're continuing to innovate. They're working on their experience. They're remaining relevant. And so that would be my example.
SCOTT OXFORD 33:36.628 Yeah. So one of the things that seems to draw people to brands these days is purpose. It's a big buzz word. It's one of those buzz those words that's got to much heart and soul to it that I think it stands out above a lot of the others, even though it gets used as much as solutions and pivot and all of those other words. Purpose is huge. We love a brand with purpose. Do we expect all brands to have a purpose?
ASHLEY SMITH 34:04.832 Oh, this is such a-- yeah, it's a tricky question. And there's so much divided opinion on this. If you look at-- we've kind of gone overboard a bit with it and I think it comes back to the essential question, is it a force-fit? Can you be a company that has-- its core was to provide pleasure in peoples' lives, social interaction, and so forth. Is that beer suddenly going to solve the world's problems and is it appropriate for that beer company to try and do that? They do something really, really well. They bring joy into peoples' lives. Should they now be cause-driven in other areas? And I would say that some brands it's just a nice, natural fit and others it seems like kind of a stretch and I know you work in ad world very strongly and you've seen all these cases where people have said, "That was a hit," and, "That was a miss." You've got columnist writing about saying that brand purpose is nonsense and, yeah, it's a very divisive area. But I think my answer would be not everybody needs to go down this path. Stick with what you-- if you're still delivering honest value to customers, that's probably good enough for a lot of people and so I think it's a case by case basis. You'd need to say, "Look, do we have the right to play in this field? Are we close, are we not?" And there's just some brands out there that just provide us with great comfort and pleasure and that's enough. Going forward--
SCOTT OXFORD 35:33.567 I'd argue that that actually is purpose. It's just not one of those big grandiose purposes.
ASHLEY SMITH 35:37.183 Yeah, it's not the headlining purposes that we talk about but you're right, that's a purpose. One of the challenges I remember back in the days working with Phillips was that the whole idea about well being and health came into our kind of conversations and there's this whole idea about, well, indulgence-- do we want to be healthy or do we want to have indulgence and so forth and what we learnt was that people don't want their indulgences watered down. There's moments in our life when we just want to have a pure indulgence. It's not every day. It's not 9 to 5. It's not continuously happening but if you try to transform that indulgence and make it more healthy and make it-- I think you know where I'm going with this, it dilutes that moment. In that moment, you want that pure pleasure, so if some brands just deliver that hit or that moment, great. That is still a purpose and that has meaning in that consumer or customer's life. So they don't really need to go down another direction as such.
SCOTT OXFORD 36:41.615 Yeah. I certainly see it in terms of campaigning where even building websites where some organisations feel vision, mission, and purpose. "We need to put it up on the front. It needs to be front and centre." Sometimes purpose is an internal thing and it's something that guides us internally, That's the internal employer brand which is what is our purpose? What are we dealing here? What are we sort of delivering here? It's not necessarily a public-facing message. There are different ways of communicating publicly but we're not necessarily having to kind of [bleet?] that out. And I guess that's finding where your purpose fits and, as you say, not trying to retrofit some purpose because it's topical or it's cool at the moment but lucky brands find themselves suddenly in a place where what's happening right now is a perfect fit and a perfect mesh and I think that's the moment where a really clever brand just goes, "All right. It makes sense for us here to rise up into this space and to work in that space."
ASHLEY SMITH 37:43.509 Yeah, and I think there's other brands that from birth it's been part of their core identity and their brand values. I think Patagonia's probably an example. They were born that way, and people know that way. But to have an existing brand that suddenly changes, it is a tricky a thing and it may not resonate with those. And just to conclude on this, I think sometimes we mix up the idea of purpose and sustainability. We often think that being sustainable, that equals purpose. So there's a lot of evidence out there that we don't always just buy things because they're sustainable. We have other reasons to buy, but. There are big companies, like Unilever-- I think I saw that Unilever, the sustainable brands they have are actually generating a huge amount of their business incremental revenue right now. But I would argue that's because we buy into the idea, "Ah, that's a sustainable product." That's not the same in my mind as purpose. I think sometimes people put them all into one bucket. Purpose means you're doing something sustainable, and that's not correct.
SCOTT OXFORD 38:52.140 Yeah. And sustainability is reaching that point of price of entry, really.
ASHLEY SMITH 38:57.217 It's a hygiene thing. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 38:58.603 And that's coming back to what we were saying before about what makes a brand distinctive. A lot of clients see that their best qualities are-- "What makes you distinctive?" "It's these things." But in fact, in your industry, you're required to be that. All of your competitors are too. "What's unique about you?" "Ah," scratches head and goes, "Ah, I don't know."
ASHLEY SMITH 39:19.054 And talking about hygiene factors, this whole idea about a seamless customer experience. I mean, it used to be, okay, you'd tolerate certain things, but we don't do that anymore. And if a certain site is too complicated, if a registration process is too difficult, what do we do? We ditch it. We go to the next one or we give up.
SCOTT OXFORD 39:38.183 I'm guilty of that.
ASHLEY SMITH 39:39.273 And so these things that used to be delighters, "Oh, I can actually subscribe online," they're just hygiene factors now. If your experience is not spot on, they will just substitute you. And that's to my point before, you asked, "What's hard about brands?" There's so many things that used to deliver value and they are just hygiene factors. And you've got to be hunting for that next thing that differentiates you, and that's why you've got to continuously be understanding your consumer, in order to do that. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 40:11.061 Yeah. I love the idea of those little hubs within an organisation who's job is purely about coming up with those maybe 99 crazy ideas but 1 of them is going to be magic and going to be the thing that propels you kind of forward. Brands and sort of tracking brand reputation and story and the conversations that are happening out there in the market place, market research seems to be the best tool to do that. Is that the best tool or are there better ways?
ASHLEY SMITH 40:42.988 Yes and no. Market research, if done correctly, is a great way to support brand understanding and development. But, look, we've seen that some of the old methods of doing this may be not so appropriate any more to do it. And just to be kind of more concrete about that, one of the things we also learned is that brand perceptions don't necessarily change super fast. The old way of tracking-- and a lot of times trackers are there because people need to see their numbers and their numbers even go into their performance and so forth. But we used to track every six months and every year, and we'd sort of be puzzled why things aren't really moving very much and so forth, and it does take time for people's perceptions of brands to actually change. So some of these old classic trackers, they've probably had their time. And what we're sort of missing and what people are doing now - so, first of all, brand tracking is still very valuable, still useful - is that we've forgot about the emotional kind of things. So we kind of need to find ways-- because a brand relationship is a lot about emotions too, about how you connect with that brand or not. We talked about it in the last 30 minutes, about what brands mean to us. So you need to be able to assess that somehow, and just straight questions may not necessarily do that. So modern tracking needs to find a way to capture the emotional reactions to a brand and how that's evolving or changing over time. It also needs to think about-- it's not just stuff about awareness and consideration. I mean they're important, but so much of brand's growth comes from conversations and advocacy and things like this, so understanding the conversations you might have about a brand. So if you're a lover of a brand, but you don't tell anybody ever, you don't ever share your love of that brand, you can imagine that that's going to have a big impact on growth. Whereas if you're someone who's every day preaching about-- if I were to go on about my Netflix love every day and that gets passed on to more people, that's important for brand equity growth and brand growth. So your tracking needs to think about these things too. So I think we're seeing now that a lot of the old trackers have been repurposed, and so, yeah. I believe that we need to think about the right approach to track brands. And it would be a bit of the old, but also things like measuring conversations, measuring the emotion connection, bringing in social media data too because there's a lot of chat about brands on social media. And what's good about that is you're not asking them questions, they're just talking. They're talking about brand. And there's a lot of great tools now which can - I'm sure you're familiar with - that can just, they can attach sentiments to this, they can calculate negative, positive conversations, key themes. So a good brand tracking initiative should really triangulate these things and make sure that you're getting a holistic picture of your brand. And not just an old-school all out consideration might have gone up two points and maybe NPS is there. So, yeah. Is that making sense? [crosstalk]--
SCOTT OXFORD 43:46.365 Yeah, yeah. It is. Well, you're talking a lot about capturing the subliminal responses to brands, and in terms of being someone who works with brands in terms of creating them and telling their stories, we're always very, very-- there's the obvious and out-there things, but then there are the things that people have a subliminal response to which you pick up in their conversations because it captures their imagination, not because they've consciously gone, "What do you think about this brand?" So I can sit you down and ask you a question about a brand, or I can just listen in to the conversations that you have or observe them in the public domain, and I'm going to get two very different stories there. So do we have the tools that enable us to skim off the top of social media and get a sense of what's happening around our brand?
ASHLEY SMITH 44:31.859 Yeah, sure. And I don't want to get too technical today, but it' to get this idea about the unconscious or the subliminal or the implicit. You can test kind of emotional reactions to brands by reactions to stimuli, speed reactions about-- I mean there's things out there like - I'm not sure you work with EEG types measuring, brain reactions.
SCOTT OXFORD 44:54.695 The neuromarketing approach.
ASHLEY SMITH 44:55.480 Yeah. All that stuff. I mean it all sounds very complicated, but eye scanning, all these kind of things is the idea about the stuff you say and the stuff you feel and subconsciously do. And we're doing a lot of-- I'm doing a lot of work now on the agency side with motivational needs and about understanding what you're looking for from a brand to give you in your life. Coming back to sort of core human motivational needs and how a brand is either delivering on those or not delivering on those. And that's an important part of how you form or continue to form a relationship or even choose brands as such. So yeah. But look, all the tools are there. I think it's a case of when these big brand tracking projects to holistically look at and design for success. Yeah?
SCOTT OXFORD 45:40.242 Yeah, yeah. And it's interesting, back to Apple again, the most probably innovative product I've had from them in years is my AirPods. And there's like just a couple of things that they do that have been bugbears for me for years and because they've met my need so very well which is in terms of how they connect. They simply connect, I put them in, they connect, I take them out, they pause for me. They do a bunch of basic menial things that just make my life better because I now use them all day every day. They're always in my pocket because they've become such a valuable tool because they just tapped into what motivated and what my needs are. And if I find myself without them it's a bit like leaving my glasses at home. Like I just haven't got my kit and so that is a brand that somehow tapped into the inside and somehow kind of got it right but tapped into some motivational needs that I have and it is something that I talk about. And I know there's probably been at least 10 or 15 pairs that were sold partly or wholly because I just wouldn't shut up about them. So that's that conversation.
ASHLEY SMITH 46:46.753 But tracking needs to measure that. If you're a very conversational brand, that's great because that brings in new customers. If you're a brand where you have sort of silent fans, that's less ideal because the love is not being shared.
SCOTT OXFORD 47:00.947 Yeah. Yeah. Or we have all those conversations offline. But it's funny, I was chatting the other night at poker night with a mate of mine, we were sort of talking about a particular beer and a very obscure beer, and the next day he sent me a message saying, "This popped up in my feed that we're listening." I'm like, "Dude, I work in this space, I really don't think that would be very legal for them to listen. I recon some algorithms happen." And he's like, "Yeah, maybe they just happen to be advertising at the moment and I pulled up some picks or something on my Facebook of a different beer." It's like, "It feels very coincidental." But the reality is, is somebody was listening somewhere and responded to that and tapped into that need. Beer is one of those things where if you get the taste in your mouth and you kind of can't stop until you have one, so.
SCOTT OXFORD 47:57.769 But beer, let's talk beer for a minute because beer is such a big part--
ASHLEY SMITH 48:00.187 I can talk beer.
SCOTT OXFORD 48:00.920 Yeah, you can. But you can talk beer and whiskey. But let's talk beer specifically, Heineken 0%, to me as a beer drinker I'm like, "What's the point?" But clearly there's a point because I see people drinking it and its obviously had some insights. And I dare say that we were thinking about it when you were working there.
ASHLEY SMITH 48:22.419 Yeah, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time on their whole-- supporting their whole low and no alcohol division as such, and yeah, it's all insight-led. I mean, the idea-- I mean, there's various different insights, but, I mean, the idea that people are drinking less alcohol, there is a moderation trend out there. I know in Australia we've had mid-strength for quite some time, but actually, not in Europe. It's a new concept to have mid-strength, so. But there was this kind of trend towards moderation to drinking less, drinking quality and lower, so that was there. But yeah, indeed, really when you go to zero, that was a tricky proposition because of people's perceptions about what beer is and what beer is not.
ASHLEY SMITH 49:10.662 But yeah, again, about understanding about why it was a difficult-- let's say a difficult category or sub-category, was to do a lot with perceptions from the past. A beer like this could never be good enough. It could never taste like the real thing. So obviously, a lot of work was done to address that from a product perspective. And I can say objectively that it is a fantastic non-alcoholic beer. So that's obviously working. But in terms of the marketing and so forth, was to recognize that, "Why are we always competing with a beer moment?" I mean, a big they're about developing a brand is about understanding the occasions in which that brand can play a role in your life. You talked about air pods being everpresent. But good branding is about understanding how it can be part of people's lives. And so one of the smart things to do is to, instead of kind of comparing yourself against a pure beer moment, is to think about non-beer moments. So 0% beer. Well, what do drink at lunch a lot of the times? A sugary coke? A boring water? Why would you not, with your gourmet burger, what to have-- you don't need to get-- you don't want alcohol in that occasion anyway.
SCOTT OXFORD 50:22.732 Yeah, you don't want to get sleepy, you don't want anything.
ASHLEY SMITH 50:23.643 But how about a delicious craft 0.0% beer instead of a sugary coke or whatever? So choosing occasions like business lunches and the lunch. And so smart things were done there about-- and it's again, about insight. It's about looking for unmet needs and thinking about occasions and stuff like that. So yeah, that's kind of how that-- so yeah, obviously a quality product and tapping into a kind of a macro trend of moderation and so forth. And that's about that idea about understanding. And I know I'm talking a lot about this, but understanding consumers' lives in its entirety. And not just zooming in on your absolute category, your brand, your moment, because then when you do that, you see opportunities for your brain to be used and play a part in other moments in people's lives. And thinking about the lunchtime drink, there you go.
SCOTT OXFORD 51:19.159 It's brilliant because yeah, like I said before, when I've got that taste for beer, it's almost like nothing else is going to do it. It makes me sound like an alcoholic. But it 's not about having alcohol, it's actually just that nothing's like beer. Nothing is quite like that. And yeah, there's that whole, "Oh, have a drink. No, pass." 0% alcohol beer can be sold in unlicensed premises, I presume? So--
ASHLEY SMITH 51:45.062 Yeah, it'd depend on the country, I guess. But yeah, yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 51:46.748 Yeah, yeah. But the secret, to me, comes back to where we started earlier around beer, which is quality. Is it right? Because low-carb beers have really struggled. Gluten-free beers, don't even go there. Basically, it's like instant coffee versus espresso. You've got to think of it as an entirely different drink. Whereas what you're saying is this tastes like a Heineken and it has zero alcohol in it. And that's the secret.
ASHLEY SMITH 52:11.472 I think it's a non-alcoholic beer that doesn't disappoint, So it delivers on expectations. And then you find the right-- you link it to the right occasions and so forth and give it meaning from a branding communications perspective. But yeah, it's a solid proposition.
SCOTT OXFORD 52:28.130 Which fascinatingly takes me back to my childhood to the fact that in Coles, in certainly the '80s, probably the '70s, there were two products you could buy. Claytons, basically a fake whiskey, the drink you have when you're not having a drink, and alcohol-free beer which is not new which was sold in Coles. I can't imagine what it tasted like, whether it was good or bad. One would probably suggest--
ASHLEY SMITH 52:53.016 Probably pretty rubbish, actually. Yeah.
SCOTT OXFORD 52:54.532 Probably rubbish. And I could imagine Claytons was much the same. I had nothing to compare to. But interestingly, it's all about getting it right, isn't it? And finally, they're able to sort of deliver. And I am seeing alcohol-free spirits being marketed to me all over Facebook at the moment. And maybe they've tapped into the fact that I'm recognized that I love spirits, but I've chosen to restrict my intake of those things. And this is the way to get the best of both. But they've got a job ahead because in my mind it's like, "Well, it's not going to taste the same."
ASHLEY SMITH 53:31.005 Yeah, yeah. No, no, it's true. But the quality of the product is ever-improving as we go. The technology is there as such. But it's a fascinating category to work in.
SCOTT OXFORD 53:42.008 So from beer to technology, let's let's finish with another example of something that maybe came out of Philips. You worked across various portfolios in Philips, but what's probably an innovative brand moment that you had from your time there? Because that's a company with, I'm sure, many.
ASHLEY SMITH 54:03.095 Yeah. I think I had a wonderful time at Philips. And I think working on the inside, you get to see how many just truly wonderful ideas they have in the kitchen. They wouldn't have survived so long without that spirit of innovation. But I joined at a time where we were looking to find a way to up the marketing competencies to be able to actually put tech and customer insight together, and kind of that would be the magic that would keep them powerful for longer periods of time. And yeah, one of my-- part of my early work was with the TV business. And I don't think people know this, but Philips was one of the pioneers. I think they were even the first to come with flatscreen TVs. Early plasma screens and so forth.
SCOTT OXFORD 54:46.809 I think I remember they invented it, didn't they?
ASHLEY SMITH 54:47.826 Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And so I was lucky enough to actually work for a couple of years in their high-end TV business where they were pumping out all of these great new flatscreen televisions. But even back then, the [thread?] of competition was fierce. We soon had Korean, let's say, challengers, come onto the market. These days, you have a Samsung or an LG TV. We don't even blink twice about it. But back then, they were up-and-comers and so forth in that space. So what I worked on was, again, about understanding, let's say, the customer better, and in a way to differentiate because we could already see I was going to be very commoditised very quickly. And we came up with the idea about viewing experience, and about-- TV for many people was becoming-- people were starting to stay at home more. People were kind of cocooning a bit more, cooking at home more. And so we saw, well, look, probably they want a better entertainment experience at home. They don't want to go to the movies all the time.
ASHLEY SMITH 55:49.861 And so we started thinking about, well, what is it about an entertainment experience? And we came up with the insight that a lot of people wanted to have a greater level of escapism at home, and they wanted to get a better viewing experience [that?] wanted them to feel part of the movie or connected to the movie. And we started [playing?]-- and Philips has light, so we started to play with light. And we found that-- it's no longer here in Australia, but we invented something called Ambilight. And basically, it was projected light that would come around the television, which was matching the content on the screen. So you actually, in your home, would have a experience where the content of the film would morph.
ASHLEY SMITH 56:31.340 And we proved it. We even did scientific research to show that the viewer was further drawn into the story. So this idea about using ambient light to combine with the TV was a differentiator for us in the market. And to be frank, if we hadn't done that, we may well have found ourselves in a very, very bad position quickly with the commoditisation that happened in that sector. So that would be my great brand moment, was about, [yeah?], bringing that to life. And that led to generations of product, but it was about understanding and thinking-- zooming out. Thinking beyond pure TV watching and thinking, well-- and now we see it's everywhere. People got projectors at home and all kinds of fancy stuff. But back then, we were just thinking about TV watching. But now, we kind of had this idea about a better experience and something which connected with us on a more emotional level. So that would be Ambilight, and that was something that, yeah, was really great to work on and be part of.
SCOTT OXFORD 57:23.844 [And at?] a critical moment it's--
ASHLEY SMITH 57:25.229 That's the point. That's the point. Because if that wasn't done then, it would've been a really-- I mean, TV became a rocky road for everybody, a bit of a bloodbath or red ocean as such. But at that moment, if that hadn't been done, it could've got worse very quickly. So yeah, no.
SCOTT OXFORD 57:42.339 Some real vision that kept it alive at the moment that Kodak or Holden needed to have their magic moments that would've actually kept them alive. I mean Kodak's still here, but not in any shape or form, and Holden's gone, so. Ash, it's been awesome to hear your insights, particularly around that customer space which I know is your focus, but also just that space of working in the innovative edge of helping organisations. And I just love that idea that a business would find it's way in some way, shape, or form, either setting up a hub or bringing in some outside expertise - people like us, maybe - to actually really just dream some big, crazy kind of dreams that are true to a brand, that are true to the story, and true to what the customer needs, and might be those magic things. So may this podcast give us those opportunities to do that. So--
ASHLEY SMITH 58:41.112 Yeah. Thanks, Scotty. And you've told me today I can call you Scotty, so thanks for that. But no, no. I've really enjoyed chatting with you today.
SCOTT OXFORD 58:51.296 So if you are enjoying [Brand Jam?], please subscribe. And if you have a guest that you believe would make nearly as interesting a guest as Ash has, then please connect me up. And if you've got a brand question that we can answer, either in my solo jams or in future interviews, then we'd love to hear them. Jump on the website and do that. And just signing off, as I always do, with the words of my famous mentor, fictional friend, Don Draper from Mad Men, who says, "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation." Talk to you next time.