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Mi3 – Where is the sweet spot between big-brand moments and slow-forming relationships with consumers?

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In the fourth of Mi3’s Fourcast 2021 series in partnership with Nine, Koala Global Chief Marketing & Technology Officer, Peter Sloterdyk, DDB Managing Director, Strategy & Innovation, Leif Stromnes, and Nine Director of Powered, Liana Dubois, talk brand versus performance and finding the right balance for short-term stabilisation and growth.

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“Every single day we see proof that brand and performance are intertwined. It's not black and white.

There are shades of grey in everything. And in fact, brand actually fuels performance and propels performance in lots of ways.”

- Liana Dubois, Director of Powered

Rather read than watch?

A full transcript of the interview can be viewed below.

Paul McIntyre:
Welcome to Mi3’s marketing series, Future Fourcast. I’m Paul McIntyre, executive editor of Mi3, and this is the fourth and final episode in our series, which dives into some of the key themes marketers and the broader industry will need to keep a watch on for 2021. Thanks to Nine for partnering on the series. Today we’re talking about what everyone’s been talking about for the last 18 months: long-term brand building versus customer acquisition and short-term sales driving strategies. This conversation will give us a sense of what brands are  planning to do for 2021. So with us today is the global CMO of Australian furniture and lifestyle upstart, Peter Sloterdyk. Peter has the massive task of building the Koala brand in Australia and taking it global at the same time. We also have Leif Stromnes, managing director of strategy and innovation at DDB, who’s like a first cousin to Les Binet at Adam and Eve at DDB London.

Les of course, along with Peter Field, are the duo who reignited this whole brand and performance debate globally. Also with us is Liana Dubois, director of Powered at Nine, who has some really interesting results from effectiveness studies and a possible shift in brand behavior heading into 2021. We’ll try and get a sense of all that. So welcome to you all. To Peter first. Business has been booming for Koala in the past six months as part of a broader E-commerce surge. We’ve seen it right across a whole bunch of different categories. But you have some new challenges, right? There’s a bunch of shoppers who are not digital natives buying online for the first time. What has that meant for your brand strategy in finding a new type of customer? Have you had to end up completely panning your earlier strategies?

Peter Sloterdyk:
Thank you for having me. You know, it’s not that we’ve had to pan our previous strategies, but instead that we are adding to the pot. There’s a whole new group of consumers that weren’t comfortable with E-commerce previous prior to COVID and are now open and willing to try something like an E-commerce purchase for furniture, for clothing, for a lot of other things that they wouldn’t have in the past. So for us, it’s really influenced a lot of our channel strategies, a number of our messaging strategies in terms of how we reach them with what messages and when and where. But it certainly has been about building on top of our existing strategy as opposed to getting rid of what we’ve been doing thus far.

Paul McIntyre:
What has changed in your channel mix, Peter? Because before you joined Koala, I think pretty much it was 100 per cent digital. You’ve broadened that a bit. And you’ve really taken on this whole brand task of building Koala and raising awareness for these new customers trying to find something online, which may not have been there before.

Peter Sloterdyk:

Absolutely. So from a channel perspective, we’re just reaching more widely.  One of my intentions from the beginning of joining Koala had been to broaden our channel strategy. You’re right that we had been almost 100 per cent digital, kind of opportunistic when it came to TV and out of home. But instead of being opportunistic, now we’re being a bit more planned about our channel mix and making sure that we’re reaching customers wherever they are, not just on digital but throughout the entire spectrum, whether that’s out of home, television, radio, and even more on top of that, like experiential.

Paul McIntyre:
So you have had a big task ahead of you to build brand and awareness. How’s it tracking?

Peter Sloterdyk:
It has been a hectic six months. It’s given us a chance to really focus on the things that matter from a brand perspective, double down on our values, what we believe in, really uplifting our message, which is around supporting local, supporting our communities, making sure that we’re doing what’s right by our Australian roots. And so from that perspective, from a brand awareness point of view, we’ve had a chance to lean into those messages, which has helped from an awareness point of view. What’s upcoming in the next couple of months is a lot of brand work in addition to our tactical marketing to make sure that we’re driving the awareness message. But it isn’t just Koala the brand, it’s what we believe in, who we are, what we stand for, and how we intend to connect with the community on the long term as opposed to a short-term experience.

Paul McIntyre:
Well, I want to get back to that tactical stuff and how you’re balancing that. But Leif, we’ll get to a new brand campaign that DDB has just launched for Coles.

Leif Stromnes:
It sounds like Peter is advertising Coles there, which I’m pleased about.

Paul McIntyre:
Yes. Well, you’ve launched it. Speaking of Coles, you’ve launched a new campaign. Interestingly, it’s around value the Australian way. But I think you think there’s been an overcorrection this year to value and even brands racing to empathy. What do you mean by that, Leif?

Leif Stromnes:
We did some research during COVID on what was resonating. And brands wanted to do the right thing by participating with consumers around this COVID messaging. But just offering empathy was not enough. The brands that did something helpful like Coles community hour and then advertised that were the ones that were really rewarded.

So our clients were really smart. McDonald’s offered free McCafé for frontline workers and advertised that as an idea. Coles had the community hour for the vulnerable and the elderly, advertised that. And those brands have been really rewarded during COVID. So I think there was an over-correction to “we’re with you” type messages. Those were blunt and not well received. I think, ironically, that brands that kept their same, normal advertising beat , if it was tone-appropriate, did fine. And brands that did something genuinely helpful and spoke about that were rewarded.

Paul McIntyre:
So empathy was say and do, just don’t say.

Leif Stromnes:
Absolutely. I think genuine helpfulness through actions that hopefully cost you something as a company –  you know Coles community hour cost them money – was the right thing to do. They became an essential service and are still being held to that higher standard by customers in Australia as a result. And that’s a good thing for them.

Paul McIntyre:
We should say that McDonald’s and Coles are part of the DDB Group’s client base. But the broader conversation we alluded to earlier about long term and short term – you still argue, as many do, that investing in brand through downturns and crises like the one we’re still in pays off. It’s pretty short at the moment. But do you have any proof that this is working for brands and COVID if they keep investing in that long-term play? Case studies?

Leif Stromnes:
I do. And I have some very big case studies. I have lots of case studies. I think there’s no doubt we are heading into tough financial times. Value for money is really important. There’s no doubt of that. And we are heading into a depression, not just a recession. Of that we are 100 per cent sure. However, I go back to my point around brands. We tend to work with the number ones in their categories. We work with some of the biggest brands in Australia, the Westpacs of the world, the Coles, the McDonald’s, et cetera. These brands have a responsibility. That is as bluntly as I can put it. And people are holding them to a higher standard. So Coles has a responsibility to help rebuild Australia. If they just pivot to value for money they are not fulfilling their responsibility.

They have got to offer value for money, as has McDonald’s, but they have got to help rebuild this country. And I think what people want to hear, why I’m so pleased by what Mr Koala was saying,  it that it’s about themes that Australians want. You know, positivity, getting back to basics. Our recently launched work for Coles is all about the little things like camping and just getting back to the things you want to do. That is super-important. So I think brands like Coles and McDonald’s have a responsibility beyond value for money, which is absolutely important. But we have a responsibility to help people feel like there is something positive to look forward to. And let me tell you, brands don’t play a big role in people’s lives, but they are a marker for normality. So if brands stop doing the things they are good at, like delivering burgers or  food, and stop talking positively, people feel depressed. Brands have a big role to play there. Value for money is very important, but the brands that I work with have got to play a bigger role. That’s about the values of Australia coming to the fore, and we have to advertise that.

Paul McIntyre:
Well, some great points there, Leif. Liana, you have a premise too that the market generally has convinced itself that tactical-style communication is the only thing that can deliver customer acquisition and immediate sales. But it’s wrong. Please explain.

Liana Dubois:
It’s a great question. We see it on every street corner and I know Peter experiences it day in and day out, and Leif has already talked about a few examples. But every single day we see proof that brand and performance are intertwined. It’s not black and white. There are shades of grey in everything. In fact, brand actually fuels performance and propels performance in lots of ways. I think there’s this really interesting human characteristic. Human beings tend to binarise things. If something is not black, it’s white. If something’s wet, it’s not dry. If something drives brand, it can’t drive performance. And that just fundamentally is not true.

If you look at it from a channel perspective, television, for example, is always held up as the poster child, as it should be, for driving brand and awareness. But we work with advertisers every day, every hour, that use television for direct response and driving performance-based metrics. Or to flip that on its head, think about digital media. Digital media is often held up as the poster child for performance. And yet you can build brand with some digital media depending on the way you use it and the message that you put in it. Like broadcast video on demand, for example. Really effective at building brand.

Paul McIntyre:
Liana, give us some examples of where it’s worked and even where it hasn’t. I’d love you to name names.

Liana Dubois:
I’m happy to share both the good and the not so good. It’s important on the not so good that we do openly talk about it. I think there’s a narrative around the idea of test and learn and yet failure isn’t often publicly spoken about. It’s important that we do, and I will get to that in a minute. But in terms of what works, a well-known case study for Nine for one of our huge partners is Hipages and The Block. Now Hipages, much like Koala, was a business that was built using solely and exclusively search and social, and built to be a very successful business in its own right. But their ambitions were capped. Their chief customer officer, Stu Tucker, formerly of the Commonwealth Bank, is obviously a huge believer in brand and the power of brand, not just in terms of its long-term saliency, but what it can do in the immediate term and in real time.

Stu knew that he needed to do some work on Hipages’ brand to bring it into household name status and make it known to the wider population. He had a hypothesis that if he did that brand work, it would propel his performance metrics even further. Cue The Block. So last year was their first outing on The Block. I think that across the market, and certainly Mi3 listeners, people are very aware of the headline results that partnership delivered. App downloads grew 23 per cent against target, jobs posted were up 30 per cent against target, and the dark horse and surprising thing that nobody saw coming was that tradies applying to be part of the platform grew by 144 per cent. What’s not so well known is the data that sits beneath those and why those results were achieved. That is simply because of all of the different levers that were pulled in their omni-channel amplification of that partnership.

So we ran a research study with Agile. Again, well known in terms of proving in particular television’s impact on real-time results. But in partnership with Hipages and Agile, we set about trying to prove what all of the different assets actually delivered in terms of their impact. So from the television commercial to the brand mentions in show, somebody just saying “Hipages”, to billboards.  “This program is proudly brought to you by.” To things like breaking gauges and the famous Hipages lever. We unpacked the real-time results that were driven by each of those individual assets in isolation. Unsurprisingly, or maybe surprisingly, the television commercial drives the greatest result. It made the most people in real time download the app or post a job. Perhaps surprisingly the Hipages lever, the famous bit that happens in the television show, actually in isolation drove the least results in the immediate term.

But when you put those two things together, and the lever happens, then the ad follows in the break prior, that ad is two point three times more powerful at driving a performance-based metric. So Hipages in some ways is very much the poster child for brand and performance in unison. And look, there are some benefits that a business like Hipages has because they have real-time data at their fingerprints, much like Mr Koala does. But to your earlier comment, there are some examples of it not going according to plan either.

Paul McIntyre:
And I want to get to that.  But Leif, we were talking about this earlier and you were saying you  still see the big narrative that comes out of television commercials and what you’re doing for Coles. You like to hear that stuff.

Leif Stromnes:
I love that, Liana. I’ve got some data from McDonald’s through our analytic partners. We do return-on-marketing investment modelling, a very similar experience. Can you believe it, the sixty-second brand ad that doesn’t talk about value for money or about a singular product, but just talks to the McDonald’s brand, is more effective at driving a short-term sales result than the value for money rational ad that talks to the cheeseburger for $1.99. An incredible result. But I’m not surprised because it’s a memory structure we’ve created over a long period of time. The brand pays back in the short term for McDonald’s and it certainly pays back on the long term as well. We have the data to prove that.

Paul McIntyre:
I’d love to follow that up, Leif. They’re calling you Mr Koala but I’ll call you Peter. Peter, what do you make of what we’ve just heard, particularly around some of the Hipages stuff and what Leif’s talking about, even with McDonald’s, the brand actually driving short term? Does that fit within how you’re approaching things or see things?

Peter Sloterdyk:

I definitely agree with both of them in terms of what you guys have shared and certainly the data behind it. We have similar stories internally at Koala that every time we have a brand moment, whether it’s through multi-channel or a single channel, it drives additional brand awareness. But it also drives additional short-term sales, like Leif’s example around McDonald’s. I think that really is true regardless of industry, regardless of what you're selling or what you’re  going after. The point is that consumers need to find something to connect with. And value for money or a great deal isn’t really tangible in the way that we expect a brand to be in terms of something you can connect with. So I get excited about the impact that brands can have on both short-term and long-term metrics, whether that's awareness or sales, no matter what your objective is. Almost any objective can be achieved through brand work when done well.

Paul McIntyre:
Are we going to see something from you, Mr Koala, on this, similar to what we may have seen from Hipages and some other projects? What have you got cooking?

Peter Sloterdyk:
Yes. You can expect that you will see a fair few brand assets from Koala coming in the next few months. We’ve got some really exciting work cooking inside Koala right now that we’re about two or three weeks away from sharing. Liana has been a great partner in a lot of the things we’ve been working on and I’m  excited to see it come to fruition. It's about reintroducing the Koala brand outside of exactly what we’re known for, which is a lot of fun, interesting kind of quick catchy ideas that have been great in the moment. But now we’re really focused on building that longer-term relationship with the brands, communicating our values, what we believe in. I’m excited to see the brand campaign come to life in the next couple of weeks.

Paul McIntyre:
Well, clearly you’re not going to tell us what it is yet, Peter. So Liana, very quickly, some of the work that hasn’t worked. One or two cases?

Liana Dubois:
I’ve removed the names of brands and platforms if you don’t mind. I’m pleading the fifth on that one. But I will share an FMCG partner of Nine’s, a partnership where the hero asset was one of our large-scale television formats. They amplified their idea across paid, owned and earned assets and across television, digital, in-store, on pack, out of home, all the places you would expect any successful campaign to be amplified. As part of their partnership with this particular television format, they took the intellectual property rights, which meant they could brand-up their FMCG packaging, so that in-store, that connection to the last three feet, you know, and the ownership of that big sponsorship property was alive and well at that moment of truth or that moment of purchase. We ran sort of simultaneously with this partner, as we do with a lot of partners, a brand health study. All of the metrics of a brand health study lifted. The brand awareness grew from 75 to 82 per cent, consideration lifted from 22  to 27 per cent. And that kind of core campaign messaging, the real point that they wanted to land, grew by 17 per cent.

But there was something amiss, so after the end of the sponsorship we did an econometric modelling study in partnership with the client, run by  John Fox, our director of effectiveness who is an econometrician by trade. John worked with our client to unpack sales data and understand what really happened on the ground and in-store. And what we found was that sales grew significantly, but not for the sponsoring client, for their competitor. And the hypothesis that we had given, all of the media metrics delivered, the ad delivered, all the brand health study metrics delivered, everything lifted. Everything should have pointed to an increase in sales for our sponsoring client.

The hypothesis we had was that the pack changes to that particular product, which operates in a very low-interest, almost like robotic-like purchase cycle for a consumer. The pack change was just too great to support consumer behaviour at shelf. And so at the moment of truth, the pack didn’t look like what Sally shopper normally would go for. So she went for the competitor’s instead. That is really unfortunate . . . misattribution is an unfortunate side effect sometimes of these things. I think what’s important to learn from that example is that every little detail counts, every little detail to that last moment of truth. The brand and performance  worked, it got shoppers there, and it just was misattributed right at that last moment.

Paul McIntyre:
Leif, have you had that?

Leif Stromnes:

One of the major problems in marketing is when you change a pack, you lose consumers. My instinct is don’t fiddle with the pack unless you really have to. I always think it should be called brand maintenance, not brand management. Maintain the brand and make it instantly recognisable, because that is a story I hear all the time when people change the packaging too much.

Paul McIntyre:
Now I want to quickly get to you and Peter, and then we’re going to wrap up. So this whole brand performance thing, long term, short term investing in brand, that whole scenario we know about, you’re talking to CEOs and clients about this. And I think you’re starting to get the sense that the CEOs of your client organisations are attempting to pull the levers on short term for the sake of it. Is that what’s going on? And what are you saying to them in response?

Leif Stromnes:
Well, they are and they are right. We have to pull value-for-money levers. As I said, we’re in a depression. We’re going into very straitened financial times. However, I go back with insights around what consumers are looking for. And they want brands that are going to help rebuild this country. Mr Koala is in a sweet spot because they want brands that are increasingly available in the digital channels. So I think Mr Koala has a wonderful business model. But brand values, sustainability and health, these are mega themes that have become macro themes that are not going away. And I’m sceptical. Not everything has changed because of COVID. We will shake hands again. We will kiss each other again, Paul, in time.

Paul McIntyre:
Can't wait.

Liana Dubois:
We can only hope.

Leif Stromnes:

Not everything has changed and the world is not forever changed, but some things have changed. I think the clever CEOs are that understanding rebuilding and values is very important for Australians right now. Brand has never been more important or more valuable for them. And the smart CEOs are going to lean into that, in addition to value for money. It’s not either or. It’s both.

Paul McIntyre:
Peter, to finish with you then. Clearly, you’ve got some clever co-founders who are getting that,  because they’re prepared to back some of the strategy you’re doing. But brand and 2021, the big focus. What’s the surprise or the delight or the big priority for you going into next year?

Peter Sloterdyk:
I think Leif is right in terms of when it comes to brand messaging, it has to be about how we are all investing in Australia. What does that look like? How are we doing it? Being really transparent and open about that. For Koala, we’re on this really fantastic growth trajectory, which we’re so grateful for. And we get to hire 120 new people just in Australia in FY 21. That’s a huge privilege, but it’s also a part of how we are giving back, right? There’s this beautiful cycle of being  uncomfortably benefited from COVID because there’s been an increase in E-commerce behaviour. Well, we’re paying that back by growing our Australian business, figuring out exactly how to lift up the Australian economy however we can.

And I think from that perspective, that’s stuff that has to come through the brand messaging in addition to what I call the transactional marketing. So what Leif is referring to as value for money from our perspective is, “Hey, here’s this product that we think is great for you.” And that transactional messaging is still relevant. It just needs to be complemented by the brand marketing. So as we get into 2021 and see through the rest of this year, I think the opportunity for us is to continue to figure out what that perfect mix is between transactional and brand messaging and ensuring that there’s always a perfect complement as much as we can do so.

Paul McIntyre:
Final question. What is your mix at the moment? I know I keep asking you that and you keep laughing at me, but I’ll ask again. So the performance brand mix for you at present.

Peter Sloterdyk:

The performance brand mix for us is about 50-50 at the moment. As we start to invest in the brand campaign, again, to what we were talking about before, we believe that there is a magical halo effect of brand marketing that is really driven home by performance marketing. So at the moment, because we are investing in the brand, we're seeing about a 50-50 split. The channel mix is a bit different. But between performance and brand, that is where we’re standing.

Paul McIntyre:
Thank you, Peter. That’s it for our final edition in the Fourcast 2021 series. We’ll circle around next year and see how it all pans out. Thank you to Peter, Leif and Liana for joining. And stay safe. Thank you all.

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The Power Of Sports Marketing

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Sport at Nine in 2021

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Recap on Nine’s sport strategy for 2021

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At Nine, our investment into effectiveness is indicative of our commitment to delivering you results that truly matter.

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Mi3 – Why content should be your biggest investment in 2021

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In the third of Mi3’s Fourcast 2021 series in partnership with Nine, Tourism Australia General Manager – PR, Social and Content Anita Godbeer, IAG Director of Content and Customer Engagement Zara Curtis and Nine Head of Content Production and Development Adrian Swift discuss how brands can deliver high-quality content that connects with audiences and produces provable results.  

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“Television is about creating a mood, a feeling and telling a story.

We are a long form story telling environment…[sic] we are at the brand building end of all this and that’s what we do really well.”

- Adrian Swift, Head of Content Production and Development.

Rather read than watch?

A full transcript of the interview can be viewed below.

Paul McIntyre:

Welcome to Mi3’s marketing series, Future Forecast I'm Paul McIntyre, executive editor of Mi3, and this is the third episode in our four-part series which dives into some of the key themes marketers and the broader industry will need to keep a watch on for 2021. Thanks to Nine for partnering on the series.

Today we're talking content. What the hell are brands to do next year with content marketing across their owned media assets, social platforms, and what lies ahead integrating into big broadcast TV shows? It’s clearly very messy out there for any sort of planning. So with us today, to get a sense of what some marketers are doing, we have Tourism Australia's general manager of PR, social and content, Anita Godbeer; Zara Curtis, director of content and customer engagement at IAG; and Adrian Swift, head of content, production and development at Nine.

Anita, I think 80 per cent of your audience into aus.com and some of your social platforms was international audiences, international people. What's happened this year, and has it collapsed? What are the numbers doing? Is anybody interested in coming to Australia?

Anita Godbeer:

Thankfully, yes, they're still interested. You would have thought that it’s all collapsed, but it hasn’t, surprisingly I guess. Aus.com has only fallen by about 20 per cent and a lot of that  had to do with the restructure we did to the site late last year, before all this happened, where we reduced it by half. So it reduced our SEO, I guess. But obviously with COVID and bushfires, it’s reduced dramatically as well, and we haven’t put a lot of paid into that platform internationally, so that’s reduced the overall visitation as well. Social has boomed, and we know that’s across the board in terms of social time and then time spent on social. But our global platforms across the board have gone from a base of 14 million in January of this year, a fan base, to 16.2 million now. So it’s grown quite a lot. The engagement rate on Instagram, for instance, is about 10 per cent, which is a significant increase on last year as well. So we’re doing quite well.

Paul McIntyre:

So people can’t travel, but they’re still interested in, fantasising or dreaming of what might be in a day that might be a decade away, or hopefully, three months away. But what’s going on there, at least in international markets?

Anita Godbeer:

I think everyone still loves to travel. Everyone’s still dreaming of travel and while you’re in lockdown, you’re still dreaming of what you can do next. Aus.com really sits firmly in the mid-funnel planning. It’s a planning site really, with a goal to be an inspirational planning site. We’ve changed our social approach a lot and we’re driving a lot more traffic to aus.com through our social, which is also doing well.  So I guess we’ve changed our content strategy as a whole.

Paul McIntyre:

What has changed in your content this year? You had to can Matesong, which was the Christmas UK launch, right?

Anita Godbeer:

I know. It’s painful.

Paul McIntyre:

A great campaign with Kylie and so forth.

Anita Godbeer:

We only got our week out of that, but we got phenomenal results in that week,  so we were really lucky. We were talking to our UK team last night and lamenting the fact that we had to stop it and trying to think about how it can maybe have a comeback.

Paul McIntyre:

Can you get it back?

Anita Godbeer:

I’d love to. I’m trying to save that, but we’ll see.

Zara Curtis:

Why not?

Anita Godbeer:

What we’re doing is for social, we’ve reduced the quantity and gone for quality. We’ve leaned into being empathetic and making sure we’re relevant for the time. For  instance on Instagram, last year we did 880 posts. This year so far we’ve only done about 300. We’ve changed the sentiment and also looked at new content formats. We've done Listicles and Instastories and destination guides featuring obviously beautiful imagery, but it has seen a lot more driving traffic to aus.com, which is great. So it’s helped support us there as well as  driving to our industry, which is really hurting. For aus.com, we’ve done a whole new restructure of the site, a lot more immersive content. We’ve leaned into domestic, which has helped keep the numbers high as well. We’ve got a new road trips hub with great mapping functionality. We've got a COVID safety hub, looking at what you can do to keep safe, and also what borders are doing in terms of open or closing.

Paul McIntyre:

Domestic has not been your go-to, really. It’s been international.

Anita Godbeer:

We haven’t been there for eight years.

Paul McIntyre:

You have to learn something. Well, rejig everything.

Anita Godbeer:

Yeah. It’s been intense. We’ve had to find our place within the domestic sphere as well. Hence we’re focusing on what we do well, which is, I guess, the planning and core content. We've relaunched YouTube, which, to be honest, was a bit of a dumping ground for us, for campaign assets. So we're looking at that. There’s a lot of time being spent on YouTube. We've done some “how to” type of content, and just launched a series of 8D immersive videos for a global audience, also here domestically, which has done phenomenally well with a really high retention rate of about 85 per cent across all the videos, higher on some, and a million-plus views with very light paid, I have to say, on that as well. 

Paul McIntyre:

Explain YouTube is a dumping ground. Why didn’t YouTube get as much attention from you guys prior to now?

Anita Godbeer:

To us, the focus was on our other social channels and aus.com. We were focusing more of our video assets on our own channels and on social and  doing phenomenally well, but there’s such a huge opportunity there, given the increased media consumption across those kinds of channels.

Paul McIntyre:

I’m sure Adrian is going to like to hear this because I think you've also talked about commissioning some shows as well for local and international distribution. Can you talk about that?

Anita Godbeer:

We’ve been pitched a lot on broadcast concepts and we’re trying  to break out of the mould. The environment, domestically and internationally when we go back out, is going to be fiercely competitive. PR pitching is really challenging because the world is distracted by COVID, or if in the U.S. it’s the election, or second waves in Europe. So we have to think of a new way to get our message out there because PR pitching is doing well, but it’s slowing down. So we want some really new creative concepts to break out of the travel category and peak people’s interest in Australia in a new way. We we do have a couple of concepts that we’re mulling over at the moment, and I can’t really talk about them.  But Adrian and I maybe will talk about that a little bit later.

Paul McIntyre:

So Adrian, you’ve no doubt had lots of pitches in the last four to five months. Part of your gig is to try and find shows that brands can integrate into your content. So give us a  sense of what’s being pitched at you through COVID. I’m sure that’s going to be very entertaining.

Adrian Swift:

Lots of shows where people Zoom into other people’s lounge rooms, which just, frankly, I’d rather kill myself than commission or watch, and then lots of other shows where people Zoom into other people’s lounge rooms. Sometimes people Zoom back from where they’re travelling, which involves a shot which is a little bit wobbly and a little bit washed out and a little bit out of focus. So we said no to all of that. Look, I think the reality is simply this: as you were saying, Anita, people are still watching travel shows. Getaway’s ratings are their best in several years. We’re still making Travel Guides, admittedly with difficulty, stopping every two weeks every time we cross a border. But it’s interesting. People are still watching travel, so they’re still planning and dreaming. I still think there’s a big market for that sort of stuff. I mean, we’ve spoken to you about Travel Guides.

Anita Godbeer:

Yeah, we’ve worked with you guys on that and Getaway.

Adrian Swift:

I think travel is the big category that will grow both at the tail end, hopefully this is the tail end, of this pandemic, and in future. I think a lot of our focus is there. But  we’re in the middle now of filming Celebrity Apprentice. I think one of the reasons we commissioned that show, apart from the fact that it’s a really good format, particularly in the celebrity version which is about raising money for charity, is that it’s really good at  telling brand stories. We’ve got a number of big brands integrated into that, and it’s a completely logical integration. So what you’re doing is creating a product or an ad or a service for a company, and in the course of doing that you’re telling that brand’s story in the show and for the viewers. It just makes sense. For the brand,  you’re telling a story that no amount of PR or 30-second spots will ever be able to tell. And for us, it makes brilliant content. So if I could find more of those, I’ll be very happy.

 

Paul McIntyre:

There’s still plenty of interest from brands in wanting to get inside these shows.

Adrian Swift:

Yes. As you and I have discussed, Paul, I think television is about creating a mood and a feeling and telling a story. We are a long-form storytelling environment. Despite the fact that I’m often asked by people to hold up the product and point at it in various shows, we don’t do a price message or a discount message. We are at the brand-building end of this, and I think that’s what we do well. If we stick to our knitting there, and  offer that clearly and unequivocally, then that’s our little space in the world and we can still do it to a mass audience.

Paul McIntyre:

Zara Curtis, you’re in a super-sexy category called insurance, lucky you. You have said that less is more for what you’ve been doing in your content, both your strategy and development and execution. What have you been doing? What sort of content do you think is landing and what’s that volume thing that you talk about?

Zara Curtis:

I call myself a content killer, which is probably not a great name. It doesnt’ make me popular, let me tell you that. So look, thinking like a marketer but acting like a publisher, working with trusted brands like Nine. When you talk about show integrations we’re always looking for the essence of the show, and does that align with our brand essence? I think we’re all bored of this logo slapping. I mean, if you’re wanting that from a brand, from a TV network, I think you're dreaming. But less is more. Knowing what to do. Right context, right platform, right time, right alignment is really important. I’ve had some journalists and ex-TV producers to really help us with that. We’ve got to define that audience. When I say kill, I mean kill don’t fill. On our own channels, especially in social, I think the temptation is to just pump it out there and keep it at average. Make it great. Why? Less is more. You really have to be a content curator these days and know what not to do, because not everything’s a good idea.

Paul McIntyre:

So what type of content? What's changed for the type of content you’re getting out there now? We’ll get to what's happening for next year shortly, but this year, what do you kill, Zara?

Zara Curtis:

Oh, COVID was just a write-off. We looked at everything and went, “Oh dear. We’ve got nothing.” So in about a week we turned around an ad. We recut and repurposed from our koala ad, which was Sammy and his mum at home, working from home, to say, “We’re still here. Our call centres are open.” And then we got back slowly into what messages are right and what was helpful to an audience in a time that none of us had been through. Just looking at what people were talking about in society and movements, we realised the saddest thing was that kids couldn’t go on school excursions.

So we created the first ever virtual school excursion with Dr Chris Brown to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which we sponsored. It was looking at our narratives and our emotional storytelling, what’s worked, and building those partnerships out. I think we had over two million views. The long form of it is really amazing. To your point on our own channels, we’ve seen our engagement from a company like insurance, but being true to help our main brand, go up by 60 per cent as well. It’s quite fascinating.

Paul McIntyre:

Anita talks about using YouTube as a dumping ground. Are you the same?

Zara Curtis:

I’m on a learning curve and a journey as well. We tend to do big emotional storytelling and partner with trusted networks. I don’t have a YouTube strategy. I don’t do it because I can’t fill everything. I think it comes back to the curation and the why. When I have the right content for YouTube, I’ll use it, but launching channels and trying to fill them, it’s just not our strategy. Also, it’s expensive. I’d rather do one or two beautiful, big emotional things, and then you’re always on content in the right channels.

Paul McIntyre:

Great point.

Zara Curtis:

It's not a populate process for me.

Paul McIntyre:

Yeah. That’s probably the antithesis to what many companies are doing now because they feel like they’ve got to fill, so it’s an interesting contrast, Zara, when you talk about it.

Zara Curtis:

Our audience isn’t on TikTok.

Paul McIntyre:

That’s right.

Zara Curtis:

So  I don’t need to be there.

Paul McIntyre:

Adrian, we’ve talked a little bit about content and mood. What’s your hunch for next year in the sort of content that’s going to land and the visuals? The whole sentiment, the public sentiment, is changing so quickly. Who knows how to plan for next year? I’ll get to you, Anita, on this one as well. But your finger in the air sense now, Adrian, on what’s going to land, what’s going to be different, or what you’re not going to do.

Adrian Swift:

It’s a good question. Everything that follows is a hunch because it’s such a febrile environment that is very difficult to know. But one of the things I often say is we get the ratings every morning at 8:59, and it's a bit like having to do an exam every morning at 8:59, sometimes passing and sometimes failing. But every morning at 8:59 your view of your content shifts ever so slightly because you’re watching what other people are doing. You’re watching what people are doing online. You’re watching what people are doing with the streamers, and you’re moving your content parameters ever so slightly every morning. Over the space of a month, you might’ve moved from there to there. We talked about it earlier, travel. I think travel is one of those things, both vicarious and planning. The reality for free-to-air, and then how that free-to-air content then plays out on our BVOD platform 9Now is, it's got to be noisy.

We still hold onto this idea that we’ve got to get a million people in one place at one time. Now that million might accrue over a little bit of time, but let’s call it 800,000 are watching it overnight, and the rest of getting it within 24 hours of that initial broadcast. You’re still having to create content that talks to a big, broad range of people. So from our standpoint, female, 25 to 54, and big and noisy. I guess the best example of that is Married at First Sight, which is a phenomenon because it works on so many platforms. For someone like us, it’s difficult to integrate into, but the people who do, your iteration is on broadcast television. It’s the biggest show in catch-up in Australia. It’s on the front cover of every magazine in every carousel in every supermarket. It absolutely dominates social when it goes out. That’s the holy grail for us, where you can completely dominate the conversation for a period of time. They’re the sort of shows we like.

Paul McIntyre:

Sentiment. Is it more happy? I think you’re talking about happy, happy, clappy, clappy, kumbaya?

Adrian Swift:

Yeah, I think it is more happy, happy. I wish it was more sophisticated than this, but yes, I think you’re right, Paul. I think we are moving, at least for a little while. The reality is, you’ve still got to have drama.

Paul McIntyre:

And a bit of tension.

Adrian Swift:

When we cast a show, when we pull the people together, you still have to have people who drive drama. The Block this year is a good example of it. Five couples who not only genuinely are lovely people, but genuinely like each other and are involved in a cooperative world. Whereas typically on The Block, it’s not that at all.

Paul McIntyre:

Divisive.

Zara Curtis:

That’s a big change. People do want positivity, community. Anything that's too uncomfortable, I think. You got to make drama.

Adrian Swift:

I think that’s right. You’ve still got to have those moments.  Our big strip shows, and this is common to Seven and Ten, I describe them a little bit like a telenovela or a soap. They’re a little bit like those fabulous Mexican and Spanish soaps. It’s got to have relationships. It’s got to have drama, and it’s got to have characters that you love.

Paul McIntyre:

I think you also talk, Adrian, about having more beach themes and coastal stuff as well.

Adrian Swift:

Yes

Paul McIntyre:

Is that deliberate or just accidental because you’re an accidental genius?

Adrian Swift:

No, no, it’s completely deliberate.

Zara Curtis:

Because people can’t go outside, you’re going to tease them.

Adrian Swift:

Mostly. No, no, no, we're going to let them—

Paul McIntyre:

Inspire.

Zara Curtis:

Inspire.

Adrian Swift:

We’re going to let them do it all vicariously. Look at it here because you can’t have it there.  I think we’re looking at things like limited travel experience. So for the beach houses, that sort of thing – let’s face it, not many of us can afford to have a beach house, but we can put ourselves in someone else’s position. We can live that vicariously. I think we’re spending a lot more time in that sort of coastal, relaxed ... it’s almost a version of working from home, if you like, but it’s a home slightly removed from where we normally come from.

Paul McIntyre:

Any tips for brands in terms of integrating into this content? You’ve told a couple of funny stories, but what should they be thinking about as they try to get in-show, as opposed to around it?

Adrian Swift:

How do we align? What story are you trying to tell, and what story are we trying to tell? So we create a mood and we create an environment, and does your story align with ours? We can shift our story, but we’re telling a story and if we can make those two stories align, then we’ve reached that happy place that A, is really logical for the people who watch, for the audience, but B, it just makes your life and our lives so much easier.

Paul McIntyre:

Next year, okay. Next year for Anita and Zara. Anita, you’ve got the potential of a travel bubble, at least with New Zealand, maybe coming. They talk about Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, I think. So what does that mean for you? Planning must be a nightmare because it’s moving all the time. How many plans have  you got and which one’s the best one at the moment for next year?

Anita Godbeer:

Planning has been a nightmare. It’s been a really interesting year, not just for us, for everyone really. A lot of pivots, and I know we all hate that word. Now that the domestic launch is out – we did that with Holiday Here This Year, this week – we can now switch our focus. We’ll continue in domestic, but we need to really switch to international as well. We’ve got a strategy in place, to be honest, there’s pivots within that, but it’s pretty clear what we need to do. We’re defending our brand at the moment. Brand Australia is really strong, but we’re going out with content marketing and making sure that desire is continued. Bubble markets, I guess it’s our first attack phase. New Zealand opened today. First flights are arriving at the moment, a little earlier than what we predicted. We had quite an interesting PR moment that we all had been working towards for the past couple of months, and we’ve just thrown that out the window. Anyway, we’re re-pivoting to see, once reciprocal borders are open, what we’re going to do.

 

We have a brand campaign ready to go in New Zealand, specifically for New Zealand, when that sentiment is right. For the other markets, we’ve got a brand campaign ready for those as well, so we’re a bit ahead of the curve. We wanted to be ready for when things happen. I’m talking to our markets in Asia, for instance, about what that moment that’s going to be nuanced for their market is going to be from an earned perspective, to cut through the clutter. Because we’ve never been in this position before where all borders are closed. In a way it presents a huge opportunity for us to re-enter the market, and the market’s going to be cluttered. Most other markets are going to be open before us. So we need to go large and we need to do some really interesting things to reignite that consideration and the actual booking to Australia.

Paul McIntyre:

Well, I don’t envy your tasks. Zara, 2021 for you. You touched a little bit on the mood. What are your priorities, and what do you think that mood and sentiment will be? How’s that going to work for a sexy insurance company?

Zara Curtis:

We feel very clear. I have absolute clarity on where we’re going and what we’re doing. We’ve got a beautiful brand position. We’ve worked hard at that. I think as a whole marketing team, we used COVID to get our proverbial shit together. So we have a plan for 12 months. Having said that, I think it’s creating content at the speed of culture. While we have a plan, we’re not going to put it in the can and wait for a year and release it. That just won’t work. So really being intuitive to what’s going on in the world. Partnering with credible partners has never been more important. Our brands are the most five trusted. I think we’re all very careful to respect that and make sure we do what’s right and what’s great. Big emotional storytelling.

We're working on some really exciting things. Long-form content, I think, is going to have a really big place with us and how we integrate or create in that space will be really good. I think, Paul, the biggest thing for me, too, is nurturing creativity and our people right now, making sure we’re supporting the industry and that we keep creating and using new directors and young people. I think in our own teams, we have a responsibility to do that as a brand that can spend in the industry. I feel very passionate about that, and we do as a marketing team. So really making sure we keep creating the right thing.

Paul McIntyre:

Yeah, good on you. You said none of your team have been in the office since March.

Zara Curtis:

March 5.

Paul McIntyre:

Interesting trying to do that when you’re all remote. Crazy stuff.

Zara Curtis:

Absolutely. But I might pitch these to a show soon because we’ve seen caravan sales go up by 15 per cent. So we’ve just launched a highly targeted niche, little caravan campaign. So if you’re interested getting Australians on the road.

Paul McIntyre:

There’s a large pitch. Well, that’s it for our third edition in the Forecast to 2021 series. We’ll have our final episode in two weeks on what some brands are actually doing next year in this grand debate on longer-term brand building versus the need to drive short-term results. Thanks to Anita, Zara and Adrian for their conversation. Get back to making some cracking content and stay safe. Thank you all.

Well, that's it for our third edition in the Forecast to 2021 series, we'll have our final episode in two weeks on what some brands are actually doing next year in this grand debate on longer-term brand building versus the need to drive short-term results. Thanks to Anita, Zara and Adrian for their super conversation. Get back to making some cracking content and stay safe. Thank you all.

For further information, contact your Nine representative, or complete the form below. A member of the team will be in touch.

As Origin returns, fans’ hunger for live sport shows no sign of backing down

This year, the NRL beat all the odds by being the first professional sport to return to the field since the pandemic hit and, as of the weekend, united close to 3m Australians, along with year on year growth, with the NRL Grand Final. Now, with Origin fast approaching, fans and brands alike are fully realising the true power of live sport on Nine.

Off the back of the year’s biggest weekend in sport, the AFL and NRL Grand Finals have proven fans’ interest in live sport is unrelenting. With nearly 3m viewers turning to Nine for Sunday’s NRL blockbuster, clocking up +60% commercial share across all key demographics and double- digit audience growth year on year, the best of NRL is still to come.

During the early months of the pandemic, the sudden temporary disappearance of live sport left fans and brands alike with a gaping hole in their lives. For fans, the lack of live sport – in particular, the postponed NRL season – took away the solid, reliable structure of the sporting calendar.

Fans’ connection to friends, community and family is inexorably linked to sport, and for those uncertain few months, the loss was all too real. Brands and marketers were similarly at a loss, suddenly facing months without the incredible brand-building connection that only comes from live sport.

But despite all the odds, NRL, NRLW, and the State of Origin series have come back fighting. Rugby League was the first professional sport on the field to return since the pandemic first hit, and the State of Origin is back stronger than ever with critical new COVID-safe rules in place, exclusively on Nine.

The Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues have already been in lockdown camp for weeks, all to prepare for these three games in the most COVID-safe way possible. Fans are gearing up with a renewed appreciation for how it makes them feel to watch their home team, out there, live on the field.

Brands are now realising the true power of live sport, and how it’s entirely different from other content. Many other forms of content encourage viewers to lean back, but with live sport, it’s about leaning in, truly engaging in every second of the match, and being utterly unable to look away.

After the events of this year, fans are keenly aware of how much watching live sport means to them. With 10 million eyeballs across three consecutive weeks, marketers should not sleep on Origin’s incredible opportunity for their brand to be viewed with fresh eyes. Many brands, sponsors and partners have already committed to the series with a heightened awareness of what live sport can do.

Christmas is coming

The consumer consideration period has been pushed back much further this year, as customers continue to face uncertainty from all angles. Thankfully, signs are beginning to point in the right direction, and the focus now is on getting the retail sector back up and running in time for the busiest period of the year.

With the State of Origin pushed back to this critical time period, marketers are facing a unique opportunity to catch consumers in the right place at the right time. The game is suddenly a real option for those brands who may not have considered it in its typical winter time period.

Nothing but three State of Origins can deliver such a mass reach and impact at a single point in time. This year, the game stands on its own with no other footy to compete against it. It’s also being run back to back for the first time, further increasing attention.

With the retail sector opening back up again, the new timing of State of Origin is a huge opportunity for brands in a year where chances like this have been few and far between. If you want to talk to an audience in a family-friendly, brand-safe environment, this is the place to be.

Broadcast and beyond

Broadcast and live sport go hand in hand, but in 2020, Nine’s offering goes far beyond broadcast alone. One of Nine’s big focusses for 2020 was how to bring its Wide World of Sports expertise and coverage to life across all of its assets in a way that provides brands with more opportunities to be seen by fans.

From The Sydney Morning Herald to Nine’s Wide World of Sports, Nine plays where marketers’ customers are. Television, print, radio and digital all work in tandem to provide a cross-platform experience that leaves no stone unturned.

For clients who have a strategic audience objective to put forward, they can now map that to the audience and to the platform to extend their reach, frequency and cut through.

Looking towards 2021

For the 2021 season, the time to start planning is now. The State of Origin has long been Australia’s Superbowl in terms of the audience it attracts, but for 2021, Nine is encouraging Australian marketers to create world-beating ads to match.

Announced in its 2021 Upfront presentation, Nine has revealed a prize of $1m advertising inventory to the brand who can come up with the best commercial booked within the three-game period of State of Origin 2021. A panel will judge the best commercial from advertising booked within the three-game period of State of Origin 2021. The State of Originality will act as a call to arms for marketers and their creative teams to elevate the importance of creativity in delivering results.

After a year filled with unrelenting uncertainty, fans and brands alike are now sure of one thing: live sport matters. For fans, it’s a part of their DNA and an unmissable part of their yearly calendar. For brands, it’s the definitive way to achieve true cut through when they need it the most. As Australia’s home of sport, Nine and Wide World of Sports will be there every step of the way.

Scale, influence, buying power: We need to talk about talk radio audiences

Our industry has a very clear stereotype about the both the type of person and the mindset they bring when listening to talk radio.  But new research from The Lab suggests that perception is far from reality. Nine’s Richard Hunwick invites media buyers to turn down the music and start a smarter conversation.

Clearing the airwaves

It’s fair to say that in the 12 months since Nine took over what was Macquarie Media (now Nine Radio) we’ve certainly done more than replace the curtains or given the place – which includes iconic talk radio brands such as 2GB, 3AW, 4BC and 6PR – a new lick of paint.

We’ve moved quickly and deliberately to bring these stations’ brands into a new decade and set them up for growth. The changes have seen us refresh the on-air lineups in Sydney and Melbourne while bringing local content to Brisbane, but they have also been much broader than that.

From the outset we knew there is real value in the talk radio audience that the market wasn’t fully seeing, and that marketers and their agencies weren’t realising in their campaigns.

To resolve that, we’ve tackled the basics first: for instance, from November, making it possible for marketers and agencies to buy radio on 9Galaxy and ensure the millions of Australians who listen online are included in Nine’s extensive data lake (enabling targeting across the radio sites in addition to our other properties).

“2GB pulls a weekly cumulative audience of 696,000 and 3AW has a weekly cumulative audience of 840,000, based on latest survey results. So it’s about a lot more than just an older audience tuning in. These talk stations live at the beating heart of their respective cities.”

– Richard Hunwick, Nine

Mass reach, deep engagement

What still surprises me in my conversations with agencies is how one-dimensional the view of the talk radio listener can be. It’s easy to take an outdated AM versus FM view, but in an era of digital radio, where every smartphone is a radio, is that an approach which serves the interests of your brand?

Some might want to claim it’s just the “oldies” who listen to talk radio, but this quite simply ignores the fact that 2GB and 3AW are both the number one-rated stations in their respective cities (based on reach and time spent listening).  It is also important to point out that 2GB pulls a weekly cumulative audience of 696,000 and 3AW has a weekly cumulative audience of 840,000, based on latest survey results.

So it’s about a lot more than just an older audience tuning in. These talk stations live at the beating heart of their respective cities. 

We’ve seen this clearly in the midst of the Covid situation this year. In each city, listeners have turned to their talk stations – 2GB, 3AW, 4BC and 6PR – as the places where the conversation happens and they know they can get trusted information and discussion.

“Don’t get me wrong – as Russel Howcroft and Tom Malone noted in a recent Mi3 podcast, it’s true talk radio audiences skew over 40. But we don’t see that as a negative, nor do we shy away from it. We deliver more 35-64s than any other network. But to define these listeners purely by their age misses the real point.”

– Richard Hunwick, Nine

Real influencers

This also isn’t all that surprising when you look at new research from The Lab which examines the profile and attributes of the average talk listener. The research highlights that nearly one-third of new listeners to the talk radio platform attributed it to increasing their sense of happiness. Twice as many talk listeners than music radio listeners say talk provides a sense of feeling connected to others; and 68 per cent of talk radio listeners used it to seek out more knowledge and a better understanding of complex issues.

The research also highlights that talk listeners are more open-minded and digitally savvy than many might presume or expect. It’s worth noting as well that talk listeners are extremely connected to their communities and powerful evangelists for businesses and brands they like, and feel that they contribute to the community. They are true influencers when it comes to brand advocacy.

“In an era when people are living longer, working longer and retiring later, the 40-plus age audience is a new ‘super consumer’. They are often at the top of their earning capacity, they have disposable income that the under 40s often don’t have.”

Real buying power

Now don’t get me wrong – as Russel Howcroft and Tom Malone both noted in a recent Mi3 podcast, it is true that the talk radio audience skews over 40.  But it’s important to note that we don’t see that as a negative, nor do we shy away from it.

We deliver more 35-64s than any other network. But to define these listeners purely by their age misses the real point – based on the most recent survey, our talk radio stations have the biggest audience of online shoppers, car buyers, pet owners, grocery shoppers, interstate holiday intenders, online punters and gym members. They are consumers, they are customers, and they have wealth, income and the propensity to spend.

In an era when people are living longer, working longer and retiring later, the 40-plus age audience is a new “super consumer”. They are often at the top of their earning capacity, they have disposable income that the under 40s often don’t have, and as they move into later life they lack the family commitments those of us who are under 50 often have (to those who know me well, don’t laugh, I’m still there just).

Start a conversation

To my mind it’s time for marketers and agencies to look at the talk radio audience again. Not through a one-dimensional prism but rather as a highly engaged, community-connected and open-minded audience that they need to be speaking to within their marketing campaigns.

Richard Hunwick is Nine’s Director of Sales – Television and Radio. 

On Wednesday 28 October, 11:00-11:45 Nine and The Lab hosted a web session called “It’s Time We Talked” detailing new research into the characteristics of the talk audience. Speakers included Ben Fordham, Brooke Corte, Russel Howcroft and many more.

Watch Now

Let’s go. What do you think?