Where’s Your Brand Strategy at? Consumer Hub Talk to Branding Expert – Helen Slack

1.   My Story

I got into Marketing straight from school and loved it from the off because it combined business, creativity and people. When I got to University the thing that fascinated me the most was consumer behaviour and that quickly became linked to brands and how through image, reputation and creativity, you make a product unique, different and infinitely more desirable!  For me, it taps into all that interesting stuff about understanding, connecting and inspiring so people want what you’re selling. I’ve always thought fantastic brand marketing could make sales superfluous, because the brand draws people in.

In early years, I quickly got into marketing communications, then advertising and did all that traditional pre-digital ATL stuff  for some of the leading banks and energy companies. I was always fascinated by the B2B side of things as there was a question (belief?) about it being a totally different art. To start with, I thought, I’m not a B2B specialist so I don’t get it. But, as I’ve focused on B2B in the last 10 years, I think in our digital, ‘everybody in’ world, the lines are getting blurry. Have you seen how many business brands are taking to TV? – ‘Slack’ were advertising in the GBBO break the other day.

Business brands have cottoned on that emotional connection is everything for stand out and differentiation. Did you know a business customer is much more likely to choose a business supplier based on emotional connection than a consumer? It makes sense really. I feel a lot more emotionally invested in my decisions at work than I do, say, about buying soup!

2.   Where Have I Added Value?

I have learnt so much as my knowledge of channels, media, customer engagement, results and business drivers has grown over the years. I think one of the things I’m most proud of is taking an energy brand back onto the high street. I launched a pop up energy shop with an objective of shifting perception about our brand and being a tangible showcase for what is quite an invisible, low interest category. The shop stayed open for a year and we saw some of our highest ever NPS scores and liking towards the brand shifted significantly. Sadly, the shop wasn’t commercially viable so it didn’t become a long-term prospect – that was a key learning for me, combining brand ambition with hard financials.

My other most enjoyable career moments have been launching a first truly digital campaign for a large corporate on its journey to digital transformation, shifting a travel brand’s results up 40% year on year through a repositioning from cheap to family value and a recent brand defining program for the world’s original big data company.


3.   What Are The Key Trends In Brand Strategy At The Moment?

Such an interesting question – I’ll pick out a couple. The one that feels most prominent to me is the desire for authenticity. There is nowhere to hide in today’s world. Brands are exposed 24/7 and everyone is in the conversation, whether brands like it or not. Brands have always been at their most powerful when images, messages or partnerships link to their true values and core. This is never more true than for today. We are all crying out for it. As the world gets faster, busier, more automated, more always on, more fake, we are crying out for authentic, real messages and interactions. Brands with clear purpose are doing well. Brands with good intention are doing even better. Being there for the greater good is becoming an ever-growing theme.

And then technology. It’s so important that we in marketing, at all levels, are up to date with how customers are interacting with each other and communicating with brands – automation, chatbots, machine learning, voice devices – it’s tricky to stay ahead (keep up?!) but so important.

For business brands, specifically, I think there is a trend for less formality & acting more like a consumer brand – be more human, be more engaging. Just because we’re talking to professionals, doesn’t mean we’ve got to talk about ‘enablement, landscapes and optimization’.  We’re all humans and it feels more of our time to talk about ‘help, situations and making things better!’

4.   Omni-Channel Activation – Fragmented Frustration or Opportunity?

The fact that your customer can now hop all over the place and connect with you in so many ways from your app to your website to a chatbot to checking in on social is a definite headache for businesses. Knitting all of that together means your data organization & technology needs to be aligned and set for success. The real threat is that us customers just expect this stuff to work and be in place. Our expectation is high for a seamless customer experience thanks to the likes of Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Mailchimp. We don’t want to move between screens and repeat putting in information, nor do we want to sign into things every time we go online. We want things easy!

So, all in all, there is a massive opportunity here for businesses that get it right. Make your experiences work effortlessly on all the channels your customer is using and you’ll win the day. It’s no surprise that it’s tech and digital brands leading the way. Data, technology, analytics and the expertise to put them together are everything here.

5.   What Actions Can Marketing Leaders Take to Drive Value?

This one is straight forward for me – stay current and stay commercially aligned with an eye on winning hearts and minds. Aim to delight, engage and spark interest. And then – have a relentless focus on showing the worth and impact of marketing. There’s a reason the world’s largest brands throw millions at it, right?

Finally, in that quest for authenticity, consider your brand more as a supporting act rather than the main event. Make it all about you and people may distrust it or question that you’re just all about sell sell sell! There’s a real space and opportunity for brands that are there to help, inspire and facilitate some magic.  Think more Mark Owen, than Gary Barlow. Or maybe think more Robbie Williams. Sometimes, it’s the supporting acts that steal the show!

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