Skin changes everything: CommBank brand strategist on learning to take risks in marketing and why everyone should start a business
Go forth and do, says Anna Bay. The CommBank Executive Manager, Brand Strategy, has this year also launched her own business, The Dinner App. Having skin in the game is an eye opener – and has led her to literally re-learn marketing. Take more risks, Bay would tell her past self, and sweat the practice of craft, not just the theory. Because sooner or later, you have to step out of the simulator and into the cockpit.
There’s nothing quite like spending your own money on ads to sharpen your focus on marketing performance. Next time you’re signing off on that media brief, ask yourself, am I willing to put my house on it? I’ll bet you find something you want to improve.
This is the lens through which I’ve been viewing my own marketing efforts as I launched my business, The Dinner App, at the beginning of the year. Fortunately the house is not yet on the table, but it is entirely self-funded, so everything I spend is something to lose – no, flip that, everything I invest is something to gain. It’s a constant battle of perspective, belief and a scarily steep learning curve.
Putting food on the table
Firstly, how did I get here? I’m lucky to have a great job at CommBank, from which I’m currently on extended leave. 2020 saw the confluence of parental leave for me, and a once-in-a-career opportunity for my partner to work for a year in Melbourne followed by a year in the UK. Covid turned two years into three, and I’ve been off for over two years now. As the dust settled on the first year of total life change that is having a baby, I saw a problem I wanted to solve.
Answering the question of “what’s for dinner” is one of those tasks that I always struggled with after a long day at work. I’d try to figure out what to make as I was walking out of the office, which invariably involved a peak hour trip to the supermarket to buy ingredients I wasn’t sure if I already had at home, or I’d make eggs, or we’d get takeaway.
Either way it was constantly in the back of my mind, along with the many other little domestic tasks that all too often fall to women. Side note – if you’re a woman in a hetero, equal-earning relationship with kids, on average you’re doing seven hours more housework and seven hours more childcare than your male partner. These domestic tasks hamper our achievement of gender equality and pay equity, and I wanted to take one of those tasks away. The Dinner App gives you a weekly menu of 4 x 30 minute recipes which any adult in the family can prepare, and a shopping list so you can do your dinner shop in one go, saving you time, money and headspace.
Skin, risk, reward… and pain
When I started I had a clear vision for what I wanted to create and solid experience in app development, marketing and photography. I thought, I can do this. But I’ve learnt more in the last 12 months of trying and failing, and getting a win then failing again, than in the last 12 years. Why? Because I’ve truly got skin in the game, the type of skin that’s hard to replicate in a responsible job with a comfortable salary (for which I am eternally grateful).
A wonderful past leader tried to encourage a risk-taking approach by introducing “Have a go”, a weekly time to share experiments and failures with the team. Despite her best efforts it never took off. We found it hard to admit failure in an environment where high performance is rewarded and product stakeholders want consistent results. “Failures” were watered down, and limited to tinkering around the edges of campaigns, like trying different media channels that maybe didn’t quite hit the same metrics. It wasn’t clear that embracing failure was a path to future success.
Paying for something out of your own pocket brings “personal buy-in” to another level. You just know Glenn Wheatley worked bloody hard on Whispering Jack. Even more than financial investment, putting your face on a brand makes you accountable for its success in an uncomfortably intimate way. Call it ego or pride, but the sting when a video that you shot, edited, produced and featuring you as “talent” tanks, it hurts, much more than when you’re cushioned by a brand and a team.
The lessons are painful, but crystal clear. You know exactly which setting you need to change when a poorly set up FB campaign eats up your cash but does nothing for your uptake. You see why your content didn’t work almost as soon as you post it. You vow off all social platforms, then you change your mind and write down what you need to fix in your next campaign. You want to avoid that pain occurring again at any cost, so you learn and adapt. You get a worried feeling every time you see an email pop into your “Support” inbox - has something broken on the app? Is there an issue with the website? But you get up and fix it, and then you try and try and try again.
Relearning marketing as things got real
Through trying to grow my own business I have to somewhat abashedly admit that I feel like I’ve re-learnt marketing, from funnels, copywriting, content marketing, to the incredible power of influencer marketing and video content. It’s a little like before I was in the simulator, and now I’m flying the plane. Luckily, there are innumerable examples of smart, motivated people like Jasmine Star and Sara Crawford, or Natalie Ellis and Danielle Canty, who have built business empires from nothing and share their experiences on social media. They are CEOs, but at the heart of it, they are marketers, finding their audience and serving their customers.
If I was to give past me some advice, it would be this. Take greater risks but hold yourself accountable to the consequences of those decisions. Take more time to learn your craft, not just the theory but in practice. Seek information from everywhere, ask your agency partners, ask business owners and follow those internet rabbit holes. Treat the business you work for like your own. And above all, start your own. Because that’s when things get real.
Why Dentsu Creative’s new structure, strategy and processes will work where other consolidation plays failed
A lot of agencies have tried to put media and creative back together – with some success, especially at scale. As Dentsu Creative’s ANZ CEO Kirsty Muddle writes, that’s why Dentsu’s Cannes 2022 announcement is so significant. It is taking many brands in the creative pillar and forming one – Dentsu Creative.