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Growing a brand in a recession

06 July 2020

With a global recession predicted and many of Australia’s largest red meat export markets feeling the pain, what are the challenges and opportunities for growing a brand through a recession? 

MLA recently spoke to Adam Ferrier on the issue. Adam is the founder of advertising and marketing agency, Thinkerbell, and is one of the leading consumer psychologists in Australia, a brand strategist, author, and an authority on behavioural economics. Here are some of his insights.  

Get the brand strategy right 

A brand strategy is basically a business strategy. The most important thing on any business balance sheet is the brand – it’s the reputation, it’s what people are willing to pay for, it’s where the value is, it’s where the margin is.  

And the entire business, I believe, needs to be orientated around delivering on that.  

It’s not just something you deliver through an advertising and promotions budget and it’s not just something the marketing people look after.  

It’s something the entire business needs to look after and it’s what creates value for your customer at the end of the day, and that’s at a B2B (business-to-business) level or a B2C (business-to-consumer) level. 

Tell an amazing story 

I think there’s a lot of businesses hell-bent on focusing on the product and product innovation and looking at how they can make their product better and still believe that if they make a really good product, that people will work it out for themselves. 

Any product needs storytelling around it and we need to understand what is the primary story or primary organising thought that exists around that product. 

Forgive me for saying this, but something like Kobe beef* has got an amazing story. The margin that exists around the storytelling around the beef, like that in this world is phenomenal.  

In any industry, you find people who become masters of storytelling and they can command so much more margin.  

Provenance and traceability key 

If I were a meat and livestock producer or brand owner in Australia right now, I’d be thinking to myself ‘what stories can I say about my particular product?’, and place and provenance is a given. 

Australia has wide open spaces and unadulterated imagery and so forth, but I think what is missing from the stories of Australian produce is the ingenuity and things around the process and our food safety standards, which are more than just the provenance.  

It’s about how we create our products and I don’t hear about those stories as much as a consumer, as I hear about where the meat is from. So I reckon there’s a massive opportunity to start talking a little bit more about the process of these things.  

People are going to get sucked into branding more and more, wherever they are in the supply chain, and I think they’re going to have to be consistent with that story when the consumer is buying something off the shelf.  

The consumer has got to be able to trace it right back to wherever it was made or grown or planted.   

Overcome brand homogenisation 

Over time, brands in mature categories begin to get more and more the same. So if you take our ‘big four’ banks and ask what their brand stands for, there is going to be very little that meaningfully tells those big four banks apart.  

When they all become the same, the only way to differentiate the brands is by distinctive assets – so one of them is red, one is yellow, one is blue and so on and they’ve got different logos. You can only pull them apart at a very thin level in the consumer’s mind. 

But when brands start they have to compete for their own place in the consumer’s mind or create a new category to start off with or bust an existing category wide open with something completely new to get market share, to get noticed, to get talked about. 

The challenge for those brands is to stay true to the brand vision and there are lots of market forces that say you should be acting more and more like everybody else in the category.  

It’s hard for marketers to steer the course. Brands are often created by a visionary CEO or chief brand officer who gets what the brand is and then it’s their job to make sure everybody who works within that business knows what that brand stands for and steers that same course and keeps telling that story consistently over time.  

It’s a hard job but we see that over time, there’s a migration towards the main. 

Any advice for MLA? 

I reckon you’re doing things pretty well, I don’t think you need advice from me. I think things are going very well for you. 

In my industry, the advertising and marketing industry, MLA is winning all the effectiveness awards and creative awards - keep doing what you’re doing.   


* Kobe beef is produced from the highly-prized Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, raised in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture.