The strategic brand agency, Boomtown, is making waves in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Cape Town. They stand out above others for their unique creativity and highly successful integrated approach to branding. We chatted to Managing Director, Neil Hart, and discovered the best ways to embrace rebranding, how to incorporate education, and the importance of trends.
Can you explain the three fundamentals that Boomtown focuses on?
Boomtown has for years been looking critically at the advertising agency model, which was largely created in the eighties. Most companies still operate on these outdated principles and we believed that there had to be a better way of working with clients and their brands. We spent many years creating a strategic process that enabled us to position brands, but even this lacked some of what we understood the market needed. Often clients simply want to drive sales, and most creative people hate selling work. We also noticed that very few clients knew how to connect with customers and maintain lasting relationships. This all led us to developing our new methodology which, simply stated, is as follows: There are only three things we do at Boomtown. We grow your brand, we grow your sales, and we strengthen customer relationships.
Growing brand is a carefully developed strategic process that drives a brand to be established in the marketplace and hedges the brand against market fluctuations and competitors. Growing sales is both strategic and tactical, and focuses us on delivering campaigns that change customer behaviour and leads to actions. The third aspect, that of customer relationships, recognizes that unless a brand connects with a customer and makes them feel rewarded and valued, they will leave. We create communications to work towards long term customer loyalty.
Long term sustainability is key when considering strategic branding. How do you monitor current trends in order to guarantee sustainability for brands?
Trends are both dangerous and big opportunities at the same time. Brand strength can be increased if backed by a trend. Likewise opportunistic brands can ‘jump onto’ trends to swing themselves up the ladder of differentiation or esteem. However, a brand that is ignorant to macro trends can lose out if it does not adapt. Boomtown regularly buys trend information from Netherlands that monitors the worlds most powerful as well as subtle trends from Tokyo, Sao Paulo, New York and London. We use this information to enhance brand strength on the the brands we are working on.
What is the difference between positioning strategy and branding strategy?
Not sure. There is however a difference between brand positioning and marketing communications strategy. The first is getting the strategic positioning of the brand correctly defined and understandable. This is based on a consumer insight or human truth. The second is the ability to get this positioning rolled out into the market place through the myriad of channels that are available to communicate through. Each channel and piece of communication should be assessed based on how it brings the brand to life.
Using brand strategy to encourage education is a unique concept. Tell us about the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University flash mob, and what the results were.
The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) is a brand created from an amalgamation of 3 higher education institutions. As a result it is a new brand and needs traction in the marketplace. We had run campaigns over a few years to encourage scholars to apply. These had been successful but often lacked the brand punch that we needed for a newish brand. So we created a real world experiential campaign using the world class NMMU choir to bring to life our campaign message of ‘A better you’ – the result of a good education.
The idea was for them to surprise shoppers at a busy shopping centre with songs that had the word ‘you’ in it. But the secret was to film and record this flashmob so that we could take it into the virtual space with the possibility of it going viral. Viral is when people start spreading the message of their own accord like one spreads a cold. We hid 8 cameras and had 25 miked singers. The campaign was a great success, it was the fastest growing SA Youtube video of the year. At least until that guy on the bike got hit by that buck! And was viewed on every continent. The NMMU brand value increased and ’sales’ went up tremendously, yielding a huge return on investment.
When businesses go through a rebranding process, what are the core principles to bear in mind that will allow customers to embrace the change?
Four things are key to this process. The first is that a brand process has to be based on truth, it cannot be fabricated, it must have its foundation in the core of who the business is. The second is that it must have stretch for the next 10 years. There is no point in doing a rebrand unless it will take you forward into the next decade. This should always result in some brand and organisational stretch, some sort of upskilling, innovation or learning. This will result in a more focused and competitive company. The third element I would mention is that a positioning must always be based around a deep consumer insight. Research is necessary to understand if the business offering is connecting, and indeed how it is connecting, with a specific target market. The brand should be developed around this aspect. Lastly a brand should be built from the inside out. We need to sustain our internal brand with the same level of passion and commitment that we do to external customers.
Which campaign or strategy have you worked on that has stood out for you, and what did you learn from it?
We have been busy working on the rebranding and rollout of SAB’s Castle Milk Stout for the last two and a half years. This has been a delicate process of reinventing CMS so that it both retains existing, traditional customers and connects with younger, more aspiring consumers. FMCG brands can crash and burn easily, we saw this with Coke’s new formula and again when Lion Lager tried to reinvent itself. CMS on the other hand has found traction and has grown from strength to strength over this time. I have learned how important constant research is to test assumptions and perceptions. I have learned how important building a brand is while simultaneously driving sales campaigns on the ground. And lastly I have learned that connecting with customers who recommend other customers is critical to building strong, enduring brands.
Thank you so much for your time and valuable insight, Neil. We look forward to seeing more great things coming from Boomtown. Visit the Boomtown website here to see more or their great work.