[WATCH] Branding: A must have for growth and exits – AGS Europe
In an AGS Europe 2021 panel which was held in Malta, the moderator Özge Öz, Partner at QNBEYOND Ventures, and the panellists Alemsah Ozturk, CEO at Ogilvy, Miriam Plon Sauer, Executive Strategy Director of EMEA AKQA, and Gabi Gauci Borda, Lead Brand Strategist at Blonde and Giant discuss “Branding: A must have for growth and exits”.
Öz starts the panel by asking Plon Sauer whether she agrees “that growth and branding activities are often considered to be opposite” and if she agrees, why. Plon Sauer says that there are two different stages for both businesses and marketing. The first stage for a start-up is when they come into the market with a new product targeting the existing target group, the existing demand. This is called “growth hacking” where start-ups steal customers from their competitors. When the price to get existing customers becomes too high, the start-up needs to move to something else, having to work with the top funnel. She adds that these two mindsets “are rarely present in the same person”. This, she adds, makes it difficult for companies to balance them out. However, it is important to employ both low funnel activation strategies and top ones.
Ozturk adds that branding is a very simple concept where we need to “make invisible things visible”. He says that companies in the growth stage tend to focus more on the internal stuff rather than on the brand and how it is visible to the world, and this is the moment where the company starts losing. He says that “the moment you become visible to the world, […], your reach grows exponentially”. He gives as an example a company that produces soft drinks which, thanks to its branding, has been convincing people to drink its soft drinks for the past 50 years even though everyone knows that they are unhealthy. He adds that a brand with “a good route, good culture, a purpose, a vision, using the right tools, strategy, communication, storytelling”, can become visible to the world and this is also very important for start-ups. He mentions another company, a financial one, about which he says that “they have a very distinctive voice, the use of colour, the use of celebrity, the use of language; it’s all very fresh”. He adds that one “can see that they are having fun with their brand, and that’s what makes people love the brand, because it feels like it is close to you”. He says that a brand like this feels “like a person that you can hang out with”.
Öz now asks Gauci Borda “what advice would [she] give to brands that want to change their image or redefine their story in order to drive growth””. She says that business owners need to understand that their “story really needs to be authentic”. The story being told needs to be true and needs to run through with what the company does as a business: “it’s your activities, the experience that you give to your customers, the products that you’re selling; these all need to align with the story you’re saying”. She adds that nowadays we are in an era of media savvy generations who are immune to marketing and who are not easily fooled. As a brand, you need to make sure that they believe the story and buy into it, and if they notice that you are trying to fool them they will look somewhere else. She adds that “if you can’t find a good story for your brand, then it’s more of a question that you need to work on your business, then you need to work on your brand itself”. Öz adds that he too gives a lot of importance to storytelling and that it is really critical in early-stage investment and throughout the whole journey.
Plon Sauer now speaks about the difference between low funnel and the top funnel. She says that low funnel is related to growth hacking, to tactics related to already existing target groups. Top funnel is when you start creating a future demand, a future target group. She says that even though some companies consider them as two different disciplines, in reality, it is one funnel where both ends need to work. She also adds that nowadays, “if the companies are not willing to spend money on investing in the brand, they’re not getting funding”.
Ozturk mentions the importance of storytelling since this is the way our minds remember things; minds remember narratives and not facts. This has also been the case in culture and civilization. He adds that nowadays, with metaverse, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, etc., we are not only watching the narrative but we are part of it: “you can be part of a game, you can be part of an NFT collection, you can hang out with Snoop Dog in the virtual world”. Nowadays, you can create the story and be part of it. He adds that brands should now make people part of the story, make people live it. He says that “the paradigm shift is happening and we are just in the middle of it”.
Follow the whole panel discussion here:
Öz now asks Gauci Borda how brand storytelling can be used to win over investors. She says that her company has worked with start-ups in multiple fields, “ranging from telemedicine to fashion, to FinTech and e-commerce”. These are all very different but they have one common ground, i.e., to tell a story. She says that “the better you are at telling that story, the more likely you are to grab the attention of your customers, but also your investors”. She agrees with Ozturk that this happens because as humans we tend to remember narratives, stories, and not rows of information. She gives an example of a tech start-up that developed an AI technology for the fashion industry. This company struggled to find what differentiated their technology to other technologies in the field. For this reason, they were struggling to get investments. She says that what they did was changing “the narrative from talking about the technology itself to focusing more on the future of fashion, and how this technology was going to open up the doors into digital fashion”. She adds that “essentially this company went on to not only getting investment, but also partnering up with brands like Gucci”. She says that this is “really the power of storytelling”.
Plon Sauer gives an example of a company that provided a communications platform mainly used by gamers and this company wanted to move beyond gaming and keep growing. The strategy that was offered to them led to a new rebranding, and, soon after, Microsoft offered them more than $10 billion which they rejected because they had the confidence that they were on a new journey that was taking them somewhere completely different. She agrees with Gauci Borda that investors and VCs also like storytelling and they remember stories.
Ozturk mentions a cleaning detergent brand who set up the project “Dirt Is Good” which directly spoke to mothers who wanted their kids to go out and play but at the same time these mothers were tired of the dirty clothes. This brand managed to convince these mothers that this detergent will help them. Ozturk adds that with the launch of this project, instantly, globally, everyone switched to this brand and after 20 years they are still the market leaders. He concludes that if things are done right, it can be a game changer for any company, no matter the size.
Öz asks Plon Sauer “what are the usual pitfalls for start-ups and scale-ups when it comes to deciding how to spend their marketing costs”. Plon Sauer says that there are two different pitfalls that can make companies fall fast. The first is relying too heavily on a product because at some point the product won’t be enough. The second is believing that the CPA won’t change. She adds that unless companies work with both the top funnel tactics, as well as with the low ones, they will hit the growth ceiling a lot faster.
Ozturk adds that nowadays we have a lot of alternatives, a lot of brands, a lot of content, but there is no loyalty. He adds that for most of the brands, “definition of brand loyalty is buying their product 1.5 time a year”. He goes on saying that if in one year you buy 2 bottles of the mentioned soft drink, you are a loyal customer to that brand. He says that in the midst of all of the chaos, for a start-up brand to emerge it needs story-telling, it needs a creative idea. He says that most of the successful branding campaigns have brand truth, brand roots, and human truth. “If you combine these three in the right way, then it’s an amazing brand”, he says.
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