At this year’s TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards Jacqueline Tibbotts, marketing director of Amplifon-Bay Audiology stepped up to collect metal not once, but twice, winning in the Beauty and Health Care category as well as the Transformation category. In this latter category, judges are looking for the best example of where marketing identified and led to the transformation of a market category, brand or entire business. In this case, you could argue that Bay Audiology was successful on all counts.
TRA sponsored this award and I talked to Tibbotts about what transformation meant for Bay Audiology. She told me that when she joined the company in early 2016 she was joining what, by most measures, would be described as a successful company. It was the brand leader and she describes it as “a company that truly lived and breathed its mission: to help people enjoy the experience of better hearing, every day at an operational and philosophical level.”
So far so good, why the need to transform? The short answer is growth.
The business was not achieving the growth that reflected the business ambition and, as brand leader, that would require category growth.
“I joined the business at a point in time where it was looking for a step up in growth to put it on a new trajectory,” Tibbotts says.
As her role as marketing director was going to be instrumental in achieving this growth I wondered what Jacqueline’s point of view was in regard to marketing and what if any models and beliefs she held dear. At a time when many beliefs around marketing are being re-evaluated, she acknowledged that some traditional models had not served marketing well.
She talked about traditional models focusing on differentiation, bearing in mind they are brand leaders in the category, being less compelling to her than using the brand’s set of distinctive assets. Bay Audiology’s brand assets were already memorable brand cues, so what was needed was not a differentiated positioning but instead a way of making strong emotional connections with these brand cues. In this, they partnered with Saatchi and Saatchi to develop creative that would communicate the brand vision and make that emotional connection.
Strategy, strategy, strategy
One powerful model did emerge, however, and that is Tibbotts’ strong belief in strategy. Taking the time to thoroughly work through the strategy, sense testing and making sure that the strategy stood up to interrogation was a stage in the process worth devoting time and energy to.
“You have to go through a process which starts with where you are at, your starting point. Then you have to be objective, with no pre-defined outcomes and be very clear on strategy and the rationale for it. It’s very important to know where you are going.”
The process she employed is an exact exposition of JWT London's Stephen King’s planning model: 'Where are we now? – Where do we want to get to? – How are we going to get there?' Though developed in the 60s, King’s strategy development model has survived many philosophical and operational changes across five decades in marketing and is a testament to the power of keeping it simple, focused and directional.
Tibbotts believes that it was getting the strategy right, truly believing in the strategy, and getting buy-in from people in the business that was the cornerstone of their success. Thereafter, she says they used established marketing frameworks judiciously.
“We used a few marketing models to work through the strategy but we were careful not to fall into the trap of 'just filling out templates'. Instead we adapted frameworks to suit our needs."
Despite Jacqueline’s confidence in the strategy, she still felt that she had to take risks in how this was executed. She had to trust her gut and her agency. Believing in the strategy made it a calculated risk and one that paid off.
“Having unscripted responses was a big risk. We were watching the filming in secret… they couldn’t see us… we had to trust the agency. And it didn’t feel like we were making TV ads, it felt like we were watching human stories and listening to the messages of the families. I had tears down my face.”
King’s model is correctly described as a brand planning cycle because transformation is not a one-off. Everyone I have spoken to about their transformation programme has talked about the momentum that is created, resulting in a continuous drive to evolve and build on early success.
I asked Jacqueline where next, having successfully delivered the 'Emotional Hearing' test campaign, putting the company on its desired growth trajectory.
“It’s not easy. But having a strong strategy makes it easier to build on and we have four beautiful stories that make a human connection. I can’t say much more yet.”
So we’ll have to wait and see.
- Colleen Ryan is head of strategy at TRA.