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All the best bits from the Secret Brand Sauce with Mark Ritson

September 19th, 2023

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Elly Strang
All the best bits from the Secret Brand Sauce with Mark Ritson

Couldn’t be there in person for our spicy brunch with Mark Ritson? 🌶️🔥  We’ve got you! Here are some of the key takeaways he shared in his talk. 

Recently, we gathered Australia’s best brand builders in a room to hang out with one of the biggest firecrackers in marketing: Mark Ritson.

Guests were tasked with asking him their most saucy questions related to brand strategy and marketing during his AMA, and he delivered on his promise with his practical yet semi-rogue advice. 

The questions pitched to him ranged from how to use emerging technology like AI, the truths of branding that have stood the test of time, the amount of time it takes for brand awareness to lead to sales, and what sets the best marketing leadership apart. 

Here’s a summary of some of his greatest hits from the day (f bombs and all). These answers have been edited for clarity (and bleeped in certain areas). 

On how long it takes for brand awareness to lead to sales: 

The million-dollar-question of the day. Mark says this is the equivalent of asking, how long is a piece of string? 

"There is no guidance on how long it will take for your brand metrics to move. Even Tracksuit can't tell you what's a reasonable expectation,” Mark said. 

“They can't tell you how long it will take to get from A to B because it depends on too many variables, but that's the value of brand tracking. If you don't know how long it's going to take to get from A to B, it's imperative that you're measuring your progress along the way. 

“That's one of the reasons why brand tracking is so important: you've got proof that it's working before it works, and proof that you're going in the right direction before you get there.”

As for how much media spend is required to move the needle on brand health metrics, Mark had this to say:

“How much media spend is required to move the needle? I don't f***ing know. It depends on a lot of f***ing things. Go back to the concept of excess share of voice (ESOV) to get some idea of your competitive category dynamics. Ask a decent agency for analysis of your category’s expected media spend.”

On the three truths of branding that have held true over time: 

Mark provided a realistic assessment of some of the hotly debated concepts in marketing: market orientation, ESOV and strategy and tactics. 

“One of the three things that have never changed for me is market orientation,” he said. 

“It's the most important concept in marketing and it's been largely forgotten for a long time. Market orientation just means you're not the customer. You work in your brand for eight hours a day, five days a week, and completely lose all relative perspective about two days into your job.

“When you look at an ad, your ad, the eyes that look at it see things that no consumer will ever see when you look at it for nine weeks. That's right, no consumer does that. Rather than you looking at customers, it’s about swinging all the way around and allowing your perspective to be that of the customer through research. 

“Research starts by realizing, ‘I don't know what the f*** is going on’ and if that price is right and if the distribution’s right. You're the last qualified person on earth and therefore, the challenge of market orientation is humility and realizing that you're not the customer. There may be multiple segments with multiple perspectives on this.” 

As for Excess Share of Voice (ESOV), Mark says: “Is it hard to measure? Yes. Is it perfect? No. Is it true? It's true. I see it as gravity. If you don't have excess share of voice, based on the parameters of size, you are not going to grow, no matter what your marketing plan says. 

“Yes, Les Binet and Peter Fields have these esoteric laws, but they also have lots of hard data coming out of their analysis of data sets. Yes, it only comes from big brands and award winners. 

“And we go, is it really true? Yes, it's f***ing true. And so I would use the actual data from your industry that is available free from Les Binet and Peter Fields’ case studies when talking with your board. 

“There are lots of CMOs who were trying to bend the rules of ESOV with attention data, citing creative awards, multimedia interaction effects, and all that good stuff. But it isn’t that powerful against the blunt force of ESOV and brand size effects.”

Mark says the third most important truth of branding is to work out your strategy before you dive into your tactics. 

“If I see one thing in all the clients I've worked with that has let them down, it's the jump to tactical answers before they developed their strategy. The strategy doesn't have to be a 28 page report, the strategy has to be clarity on targeting, positioning and objectives, and then we can move into tactical execution,” Mark said. 

“Everyone's got an idea for a campaign and everyone wants a new product and they think about distribution before they've done their strategy. Never put tactics in front of strategy.”

On investment into brand marketing versus performance marketing: 

When it came to dividing up the spend between brand and performance marketing and ensuring there’s enough investment in the long-term, Mark had this to say. 

“The argument is always about money, but building brands is the surest way of making the most money,” he said. 

“It’s not spending all the money there, but getting the balance right. Again, in one year, if this company invests in performance marketing, it will make money from them. But over five years, they'll lose a shit ton of money versus having the right amount of demand generation by investing in brand. 

“Be realistic. Tracksuit can actually give you good data to show you what to invest. What you see in brand plans, particularly with people who are new to a brand or new to brand management, is they often have these ridiculous stretch goals of a 20% increase in awareness – it doesn’t happen. Remember as you come down the funnel, an annual stretch of 10% of awareness is good, it’s real, it’s possible, 5 to 6 points across consideration is great, So as you come down, it becomes harder to get that growth.” 

“Remember, the biggest objective of all you've got is to maintain sales that you’ve already got, so most marketing and advertising spend is defensive. It's just stopping awareness from going backwards,” Mark said. 

For more guidance on setting realistic growth benchmarks for your business, we’d recommend checking out our Brand Benchmarks Tool

On what sets the best marketing leadership apart: 

Mark referred people to his Marketing Week article, The seven things marketers need to know in order to answer The Question, which was based on conversations he’d been having with the top CMOs in Australia. 

“You want market leaders that aren’t focused on communications – it's 8% of marketing. It's important, but it's not that important. The good CMOS aren’t obsessed with advertising, because there's much bigger fish to fry – they are obsessed with consumer expertise,” Mark said. 

“The superpower you have in a large company as a marketer is that you have access to the customers. If you're able to report into the board, ‘This is what the consumer thinks right now. This is how they're seeing the world. This is their perception,’ and you've got that data ready, you're a great marketing leader,” Mark says. 

“It’s not, ‘I’ve got a vision for AI and advertising.’ It's, ‘Let me tell you what they’re thinking right now.’ That's the superpower of marketing.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves 🙌

The finishing line 🏁

We’re pretty chuffed to count marketing legends like Mark Ritson as friends of Tracksuit, and grateful to him for sharing his smarts with us.

We hope you enjoyed this download from Mark’s brain. If you prefer an in-person experience, keep an eye out on our channels for future announcements about where we’ll take Mark next. 

To our brand champions in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, we see you, we hear you and you’re next in line! 

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