Why aren’t brands evolving?

Audience-first marketing is about knowing who you’re talking with better than they know themselves. Dr James Piecowye and Paul Kelly take you on a bite-sized (each episode is about ten minutes) journey through what it takes to harness the power of the audience in marketing – in this case asking ‘why aren’t brands evolving?’

Social creators are constantly adapting to the needs of their audiences. In doing so, they are successfully amassing large and loyal followings, of which they can capitalise on with willing brands. In this episode, Dr. James Piecowye and Paul Kelly discuss the reluctance of brands to follow suit.



Dr. James Piecowye: Welcome to know your audience, a marketing minicast that explores how knowing an audience can unlock greater insight. In this episode, we’re exploring how brands that understand their audience are better positioned for growth and why some brands are more reluctant to embrace a change in audience thinking. Paul shares some great examples of how creators have brought audiences to brands with little risk to the brand itself, a win-win.

The big question that I want you to try and help me understand is why aren’t brands evolving with the changes that are taking place with audience research?

Paul Kelly: Look, it’s not necessarily evolution, that they’re not evolving. I think if you kind of look at the landscape now compared to even like, you know, 10 years ago, or something like that, it has evolved substantially, I just think that when you’re able to take a step back and look at the helicopter view of how particularly people who are mass audiences online, and particularly, these are people who create content. I’m not here talking about influencers, perhaps in the sort of immediate negative connotation, but like, even thinking about large entertainers, how they amass and keep audiences is something that you know, needs to be studied, because that’s how people innately understand what their audience wants, how they can get to that audience, and how that audience can respond.

Brands or commercial entities and brand building has always come back to really, first of all developing a product because you see a market need, or is it research or there’s 10 competitors in the space, we should be in that space, too. Then you build a brand around that product, so it could be, you know, a new washing powder. And then it’s like, oh, let’s call it ‘wash clean’ because tested well, and then you buy an audience, you simply promote the hell out of your product. So you know, half price, you put ads everywhere and you build an audience, you buy that audience. And it’s chalk and cheese, you know yourself from, I know you podcast everywhere, and you’ve been a content creator for a long time, if not how content creators think about the audience, right? You don’t necessarily try and tailor something to buy that audience.This is not an option.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id=optin_5]

James: So we’ve just gotten too comfortable. Is that part of the challenge?

Paul: Yeah, comfortable and this is how it’s always been, so why change it? So why sort of go in there? And I think what has happened is that you’ve seen large multinationals, what comes to mind is a great example with Unilever purchasing Dollar Shave Club, you might be aware of Dollar Shave Club?

James: Remind us of what Dollar Shave Club is.

Paul: It’s a subscription

James: Shaving club, basically. (laughs) Yeah, get your shave  (laughs) grooming, male group for male grooming.

Paul: It’s what I was looking for. So subscription male grooming, because the founder had seen that there was no it was effectively innovation for price point happening in that market. So brands, other big brands like the Gillette’s and that of this world, we’re coming up with sort of 15 blade razors, and things like that, which don’t actually, you know, perform any differently to cheaper lower-end models. And what this was, was a countenance two, that they came up with great marketing understood their audience and really went with a line that don’t buy the stuff you don’t need subscribe to us get it in the mail and the frequency that you need, because obviously, this stuff, you know, it’s typically a forgotten item going by something quick, you know, it’s one of those kind of personal care items. And they had amassed a very large audience, subscriber base and Unilever purchased them.

And that’s a direct-to-consumer model, they sell directly as you can buy their products through stores or anything like that. What Unilever saw was that direct-to-consumer model because that’s what’s really coming forward now.

James: So they saw the disruption working against their other products.

Paul: Yeah, and not even, it’s just something that I think they want to get into is understanding a lot better direct to consumer, because what that does is take away a century of how products get into our hands, which is through a manufacturer selling it on either on selling it or owning a distribution channel, that distribution channel, delivering it to the retail outlets from huge hypermarkets down to the tiny, you know, grocery stores, I mean, we’re here in Dubai, you know, those tiny grocery stores that are attached to mosques and things like that. That distribution model is disrupted with direct to consumer, because I can just go onto a website and buy directly from the manufacturer and get it delivered to my house. And that’s it. That’s obviously a massive convenience play. So when you begin to understand how, you know, when you’re directly dealing with an audience, you really need to understand them a lot better.

And that’s what a number of these direct-to-consumer brands are really good at, to do it from a startup. Older, more traditional companies are not great at executing the direct-to-consumer thing because they’re just not built for it. So they’re looking at those as acquisition models. And that’s simply because they understand their audience a lot better and their target audience and are able to move more nimbly, and then once somebody converts to a customer, then you’re able to sort of get the data and better understand and better tailor product just create such a strong connection for any kind of brand.

James: So what I hear from you is the big challenge becomes the old school model of how we do things and in a sense, this new school that’s evolving so quickly, forcing us to rethink things. But we’re still very much accustomed to the way we’ve done things for 100 years.

Paul: And I think there’s great baseline theory about all this stuff, you know, like it works, you know, the four P’s, I keep coming back to that they work in marketing. But what’s happening is this disruption is happening at a speed and scale, which is unprecedented, certainly, I mean, you can say that every year of the past year, right. But once that scale comes out of your control, then it becomes very difficult to; A) get it back, or B) you’re letting a lot of other people through the gate.

That’s the biggest challenge, I think, for marketers right now is understanding, okay, right now we’re okay, but in the next 4 to 5 years, all of these events that have happened over the last 2 to 3 years; what’s going to be the cumulative impact of that, and that really is people who control audiences through (that sounds quite evil isn’t it,  ‘control’), like (laughs) you have a much better connection to audiences are going to hold the true power of distribution. And that’s where you got to come back to. If I can connect to a lot more people directly and in a way that they feel connected to me or my brand, or my product or my whatever, {“insert whatever here”}, then you’re going to be more efficient at what you do, because you connect with a larger amount of people. And you only need to look at some of the most popular YouTube creators, for example, and some of the more popular up-and-coming brands that are in the world today to understand that this is something that’s real.

James: Can you give us an example of what you just alluded to?

Paul: I mean, there’s so many, but I think one of the best examples of somebody who’s converted a scalable audience in the US, particularly, this is that this does happen in the Middle East as well, but is a creator by the name of Mr. Beast, YouTube has a significant following online has built many channels and huge audience, you know, in the many, many millions who are all sort of in a younger age bracket, I’d suggest so the Gen Y, particularly. And he was able to almost what happened overnight, but obviously, there was a lot of planning, he was able to open a 300 outlet restaurant through a partnership with Doordash in the US with ghost kitchens, developed a simple menu, release that menu to his audience and was selling out burgers in 300 different locations Something that was kind of you couldn’t even imagine that I think you could probably say as a futurist five years ago that this would be the type of thing happening, but it happened till the restaurant is still open. It’s Mr. Beast burger, there’s loads of examples online, if you want to Google that, and you’ll be able to see how much power somebody who creates for an audience can then bring that audience and turn that into, you know, monetary transaction.

James: And that becomes that perfect example of the old school techniques.

Paul: Yeah

James: And the new school techniques playing out together. And groups like the McDonald’s, the Burger King. the Wendy’s.

Paul: And McDonald’s has famously done that recently with Travis Scott in the US who’s a very famous musician, but has probably a pretty niche audience in the sense it’s big. He’s not nice at all, but, you know, in the traditional scale things, they did a partnership where they released a special meal, the Travis Scott meal, which was a slight change to a quarter pounder, and it came with nuggets and whatever it came with, it doesn’t matter. Because what happened was it sold out, it created an ingredient shortage, and the smartest thing about it all was that typically specials in quick-service restaurants require new ingredients and new methods. So they’re costly, they’re usually promotion driven so that they bring people to re-engage with the store again and try these new products.

The smart thing with these collaborations that McDonald’s has particularly done, it’s all existing menu items, but just with a hack, something that was I think, made famous by In and Out Burger in the U.S. about the secret menu and all that sort of thing. But McDonald’s took it to a much larger scale. What he did was bring the audience to McDonald’s to re-engage with that, and they’ve successfully then started to collaborate with many others, BTS, that Korean pop band is another great example. And all this stuff doesn’t require any form of innovation by the brands, their existing products, just done in a slightly different way without sort of adding time to preparation, any new ingredients, no new training. It’s just a menu hack. And what that does is bring in a new audience back to that brand. And so the equity of McDonald’s from a brand perspective not share price, but I haven’t looked at that, but I’m sure it’s gone up as well becomes so much higher because that audience has been;  A) it’s been given relevance by that creator by saying, ‘Hey, come here and enjoy my menu hack’. But it’s also meant that the brand itself has very little risk associated with that, they don’t need to, there’s no new ingredients that take years of development to come in and have trouble with global distribution. These partnerships can just happen. They can just roll them out in the blink of an eye, which is like a really exciting way of thinking about how knowing an audience and how that audience can react can really come together in a really exciting and fresh way.

James:  There we go. So what is this series all about? Taking the four P’s price, product placement, and promotion, and creating a better understanding of what has changed inside them. When we talk about consumers today. Our goal is simple. To give you the tools to better respond to the changes happening around us.

You can get in touch with me across the socials: @thejamescast or [email protected]

Paul:  And get in touch with me both through d-a.co or otherwise email me at [email protected]

Thanks for listening.