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Hipages CCO Stuart Tucker flips from brand to performance marketing; Ex-Diageo innovation head Adam Ballesty eyes end to COVID booze boom

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

15 April 2020 4min read

Stuart Tucker & Adam Ballesty

Stuart Tucker: "In Sydney, most marketers live in the Eastern suburbs or North Shore and think everyone is like them. Hopefully we become a little more attuned to the real world...and maybe a little more humble."

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

15 April 2020 4min read

Two former blue chip corporate marketers tell a very different story now they're at smaller, scrappier start-up ventures. Former Commbank marketer Stuart Tucker says many marketers in large organisations are "out of touch" with mainstream Australia and need a dose of humility. Adam Ballesty gets it. He's buying toilet paper for the APAC HQ of Diageo-backed global non-alcoholic, distilled spirits firm, Seedlip.


You need to know this:
  • After diverting most of tradie marketplace Hipages marketing into brand building in the December half, Chief Customer Officer Stuart Tucker says his investment ratios have flipped during COVID to 80-90% performance and demand generation 
  • Tucker says Hipages is "benefiting now from the brand investments we made in the first half of the financial year".
  • He says the focus on brand building through 2019, led by a platinum sponsorship and integration into Nine's The Block series was "transformative"
  • After hitting a low-point around March 23, the public's appetite to spend with tradies on home improvements has bounced back. It's mostly smaller "handyman" jobs as people are restricted to homes and see work that needs done  
  • Tucker says although Bunnings has seen strong DIY sales during COVID, households are now calling in "proper tradies to fix their handywork" 
  • Organic search queries last weekend was the highest in three years for Hipages
  • Although Hipages is focused more on performance marketing and media at present, Tucker says "we're not retreating, if anything we're going on the front foot". 
  • Beyond a "bit of trimming" in paid search budgets, it's business as usual for marketing activity and budgets, he says
  • More broadly, Tucker says he's still seeing too many brands with "tone deaf" and "vanilla" messaging through COVID. 
  • Tucker expects a longer-term contraction in marketing teams among larger organisations from COVID - "hopefully we become a little more attuned to the real world...and maybe a little more humble. In Sydney, most marketers live in the Eastern suburbs or North Shore and think everyone is like them"
  • Meanwhile, former Diageo head of marketing and innovation, Adam Ballesty, says the biggest adjustment moving from blue chip marketing to general management in a start-up has been the "humbleness" that comes from understanding a business, end-to-end - from logistics, operations to forecastng, rather than just the marketing-only remit
  • "The biggest transition in a small company is ordering the toilet paper," he says
  • Seedlip is a UK-based start-up using botanicals to distil non-alcoholic spirits. Diageo has acquired a minority stake in the Seedlip brand
  • Zero-alcohol beer is the fast-growing segment in the global category. Until COVID, Seedlip's APAC business was growing rapidly
  • The inability to sample in bars and restaurants and liquor stores because of COVID shutdowns has forced the company to explore "digital" alternatives
  • "Volumes are definitely down - we're a bit stunted," Ballesty says
  • "Dan Murphy's has had its third biggest day in the financial year after Christmas and New Year's eve," Ballesty says. "No-one at this stage is really going for the non-booze booze. They're trying to make double negronis
  • But Ballesty is banking on that changing the further we head into into lockdowns as people drink plenty, gain weight and feel tired. "I reckon we have to - we're seeing it a little bit already. At some point soon, people will start putting down the wine and beer. There are a few people going to walk out of their homes in 3-6 months and they're going to look and feel like squares and circles."
  • Ballesty says he's the classic Australian consumer right now - "At 7am the other morning I had running shoes delivered from Rebel Sport and 10 minutes later I got a negroni kit from Cocktail Porter. That's the Australian market right now."      


A more detailed, abridged version of Mi3's podcast with Stuart Tucker and Adam Ballesty will be out in next Tuesday's edition, covering how the two former blue chip marketers see the industry, now they're in smaller start-ups. There's too much "incrementality" among Australian marketers who are just working around the edges, say the duo, and not enough "big plays".  It's a must read. Until then, listen to the podcast here.


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