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Covid: One year on 30 Mar 2021 - 6 min read

We increased media spend 65% but creative still differentiates in a sea of tech sameness

By Brent Smart - CMO, IAG
Brent Smart

IAG chief marketer Brent Smart says companies which invested in brand building through Covid will soon reap their rewards. For IAG it was a no brainer – no demand for insurance to convert in performance channels meant Smart doubled-down on brand investment. He's also perplexed by the favourable contracts and terms marketers accept from the likes of Google and Salesforce while agencies get screwed. 

In uncertain times, brands that are certain win

We’ve seen the research from every recession, the brands that keep investing come out the other side stronger and growing faster. It was the same during Covid. A lot of brands chose to wait and see, many had to pull ad spending because their category was decimated. But the brands that were decisive and kept spending, will be the big winners.

Not only was there a share of voice opportunity, with people stuck at home there was a captive audience opportunity. We made the decision to up our April quarter media spend by 65%, which increased our digital impressions by 75% and overall reach by 10%. We moved out of media that we loved for brand building before Covid – outdoor and cinema – and we maximised reach on screens, especially digital video.

We went 100% brand messaging, as there was no demand to convert in performance channels – people were more focused on buying masks and toilet paper than switching their insurance. It paid off, with branding scores of 91% for the April quarter, the highest we’ve ever seen in our tracking and nearly double the insurance industry norm of 51%.

 

I feel like everyone in marketing is too focused on what’s changed, instead of respecting what hasn’t

Brent Smart, CMO, IAG

Distinctiveness is the most important job for brand builders

We saw a bunch of formulaic Covid ads. Empty streets and lonely places. Thanking first responders. Stock footage because no one could shoot anything. Sad piano soundtracks. They all looked the same and felt the same. And they simply held up a mirror to remind us exactly what we were all going through. We chose to stay true to our brand and stick to our distinctive assets of HELP and the koala. See above, best branding scores ever. The learning is that anyone can be timely and of the moment; the great marketers build brands that are timeless, over the long term.

Everything changes, nothing has changed

A lot changed very quickly. But I feel like everyone in marketing is too focused on what’s changed, instead of respecting what hasn’t. Great marketing still needs to start with an insight. You need to create something distinctive that your brand can own. And you need to move people emotionally. Was true before Covid, still true after Covid.

 

Google and Salesforce…I don’t understand why us marketers give such favourable contracts and terms to these huge global businesses.

Brent Smart, CMO, IAG

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

So many leaders realised that with their people disconnected and exhausted, they needed to focus on culture. Only problem, it was too late. If you were building a strong culture before Covid, you stood a chance that your team would feel connected and bonded and get through it together. It was critical to maintain any cultural rituals, so people felt some normality. Our monthly marketing meeting, First Wednesday, happens the first Wednesday of every month, rain, hail or pandemic. It became an important touch stone for our team during Covid, and we put a lot of effort into making it something to look forward to each month, from how to make madelienes with famous chef Guillame Brahimi to a group meditation session. We also added new rituals, like a Walking Club that connected team members living in the same area and got them out for some fresh air. I learnt that culture is the most important thing we do as leaders and it can make teams indestructible.

Creativity is a much bigger competitive advantage than technology, most of which is all the same from the same companies.

Brent Smart, CMO, IAG

I hate presenting without an audience

I’m one of those weird people who loves public speaking. Or more to the point, loves an audience. I’m always doing talks and panels and conferences. During Covid was no exception, doing it all via a screen. And it’s just not the same. Not even close. No energy. No cues from the audience. And worst of all, self-consciously watching yourself present in that little square at the bottom of your screen. Long live the live audience. I think we will crave it even more for every conference and event moving forward, they’re not going virtual, at least not the ones I’ll be speaking at.

We made the decision to up our April quarter media spend by 65%; digital impressions increased 75% and our overall reach up by 10%. We went 100% brand messaging, as there was no demand to convert in performance channels.

Brent Smart, CMO, IAG

Support your agencies

Covid has seen an outcry of support for small businesses and the local economy. And while most agencies aren’t exactly small businesses, they are compared to Google and Salesforce. Yet I don’t understand why us marketers give such favourable contracts and terms to these huge global businesses, then send procurement in to screw the local agency that cares much more about your business than a global tech company ever will. During Covid, I made a real point to not reduce fees to my agencies. Agencies need to be paid for the value they provide, which in the case of creativity, is a much bigger competitive advantage than technology, most of which is all the same from the same companies. We needed to support our agencies during Covid and we need to support them into the future.

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