Smooth, speedy digital experiences are now expected by Australian consumers, meaning that brands must find ways to be truly memorable in order to stand out, Gabey Goh, WARC’s Asia Editor, argues in this introduction to a new, expanded APAC Spotlight series.

As Australian marketers seek to maximise digital growth, the challenge is less about enabling seamless purchases and achieving a meaningful degree of personalisation – both of which are now table stakes – and more about standing out at a time when most companies are deploying similar tools and tactics.

How brands can succeed in this endeavour is the focus of this first instalment in a new, extended APAC Spotlight series that offers advice from client-side marketers and best practices from researchers and agency leaders who are at the cutting edge of the latest digital trends.

Consumers want to be heard and valued

Data from research firm GWI, covering Australian consumers, provided some invaluable initial suggestions for building strategies:

  • 51% want companies to listen to customer feedback;
  • 44% would like to see brands simplify their lives;
  • 42% want to feel valued.

More broadly, almost three-quarters of respondents want brands to be reliable above all else, showing that any attempts to make the brand experience more memorable must not take away from delivering on the fundamentals, like getting orders correct and making sure products are received on time.

COVID-19 pandemic encourages greater customer-centricity

For all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, one silver lining is that many brands have learned how to respond to evolving consumer needs at higher speed. One proof point regarding that success: a Salesforce report noted that 52% of consumers in Australia and New Zealand said their experience with a brand had improved during the pandemic.

The four brand marketers interviewed for this Spotlight all had a very clear view on where digital fits in the larger marketing mission – and offered valuable guidance regarding how the digitally-led responses to coronavirus can become sustainable forms of business advantage:

  • Data is the foundational layer: Brand must first expose all the data points available to them to capture and report on in a legal, ethical and secure way.

    “The one thing we got right was making sure that the focus was on the data model … Doing in-depth audience work, understanding your audience, and catering to that is important,” Fabian Marrone, CMO of Monash University, the higher-education institution, shared.

  • Embedding digital throughout the customer journey: Lisa Ronson, CMO of supermarket brand Coles, noted it is now a “minimum expectation” that digital is integrated into the entire customer journey, and must offer the same high-quality experience that a customer can expect in-store.

    “The most exciting opportunity, and a personal ambition of mine, comes from the integration of different initiatives. How can they support each other? How can combining the functions of two channels create a unique and high value offering that neither could do alone?” she said. “Unique innovation like that is what builds customer loyalty and trust, and where the Coles team is looking to for the future.”

  • Developing new business models: For Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), the beer giant, digital is central to the entire brand experience. In addition to doubling down on best-in-class digital programmes and products, however, it is setting its sights further afield.

    “We also want to leverage digital to create and sustain new business models, such as evolving our merch stores to be interactive and multifaceted experiences, [which is] an entirely new way of connecting with consumers outside of the liquid, outside of the product,” said Jemma Downey, CUB’s head of integrated marketing.

  • Remember the core: While digital innovation presents nearly endless opportunities, the core of brand-building must not change.

    “I would really urge all marketers to be extremely sharp about brand strategy before they get excited about all things digital, as this will help ensure that they are always customer-centric and always rooted in [the] core of the brand,” said Sweta Mehra, CMO of financial-services provider ANZ Australia.

How to stand out from the crowd

For brands that are still coming to terms with elevating the design and delivery of their digital brand experiences, contributors to the Australia Spotlight had some invaluable tips to share:

  • Be memorable: Alison Tiling, chief strategy officer at VMLY&R, argued that as speed and convenience are now taken for granted, it is important to be memorable – a goal that may only require small, but smart, changes in approach. “Maybe it’s building in a moment that is unexpected; a pause where speed usually rules; a silence in the noise; [a] checkout that is different from all the others out there… something that sets the brand apart, but that will be linked back to it,” she asserted.
  • Don’t be scared of strategic friction: The team from TBWA\Melbourne similarly took the view that the intelligent use of “friction” could actually be beneficial. “Digital experiences are often executed from a rational standpoint to reduce friction. These experiences have become fast and straightforward. They’ve become so slick they often aren't worth remembering. So, there is an upside to friction when used for the right reasons,” they proposed.
  • Learn to listen: Mette Breith, director of marketing Intelligence at OMD, outlined how brands should leverage social listening alongside other consumer signals as the first step in delivering meaningful brand experiences. “Understanding the conversation and sentiment of consumers when they search for a brand is a vital tool to gain insights,” she stated. “Most important is that all sources provide some part of the truth, and it is more crucial than ever to prioritise speed and gaining a holistic overview when making decisions based on consumer signals.”
  • Think like the upstarts: Looking at the financial services sector specifically, Tanvi Singh, Mindshare’s strategy director, encouraged legacy brands to look at the innovations taking place in the fintech space for inspiration. “It’s time we think of the endless possibilities of mingling tech and creativity, and further explore the creative tension between the two,” she wrote. “Marketers in financial services have a beautiful opportunity to learn, unlearn and reimage possibilities for their brand’s digital experience.”

This first APAC Spotlight of 2021 marks the debut of an expanded format for the series, with homegrown brand perspectives and consumer sentiment data courtesy of our partner GWI lending additional layers to the core collection of thinking and insights from in-market strategists.

WARC subscribers can now explore the Australia Spotlight in full. We look forward to publishing more Spotlights over the course of this the year as the series ramps up, and we continue our mission to tackle timely marketing issues in key markets such as India, Southeast Asia, China and, of course, Australia.