Mark Hadfield
Sep 2, 2019

Be direct with consumers

Adopting insurgent behaviour is a brand's path to success in economically challenging times.

Be direct with consumers

With Singapore’s economic growth hitting a mere 0.1% in Q2 2019, the city-state took another slow step toward recession. And whilst some commentators disagree a recession is on the way, they all agree that the slowdown is gathering pace and that it’s likely to get worse before it gets better—the most recent figures being the worst annually for 10 years.

If Singapore is used as the global barometer for economic shifts, it spells a more conservative immediate future for many businesses, with marketing budgets sure to be affected.

So how will brands—and agencies—prepare for this?

Sacrificing brand isn’t all bad. As we know from messers Field & Binet, the magic equation of 60% brand building and 40% direct activity is what leads the best brands to success. But with short-term pressure likely to increase on clients from their boards and shareholders, it’s likely they will divert budgets to more direct and measurable tactics.

This could very well spell the end of the ‘era of brand purpose’ for many brands, and see increased investment in direct marketing that has a more immediate impact on their bottom line.

Agencies shouldn’t be worried, however, gone are the days when ‘direct’ was a dirty word. Direct marketing can be as innovative and creative as brand advertising—and when activated correctly it can also be used to continue building the brand. As the phenomenally successful ‘Whopper Detour’ proves: a direct sales driver also cemented brand philosophy.

So what are the ways brands can build more direct strategies to aid disproportionate growth, whilst continuing to build their brands?

Introducing the 'insurgent behaviours'

We’ve identified some key behaviours that can be applied to any brand in any category that will help them stand apart from their more conservative competitors, and use this more cost-conservative time as an opportunity for growth.

These behaviours go against the norms of the big-spending, established category leaders and are designed to help brands embrace a start-up mindset to achieve growth.

Behaviour: Win in the niches

Whilst it delivers reassurance to clients that their spend is targeting a wide-ranging audience, agencies should be advising clients to aim for a specific and tightly designed target audience and eschew the thinking that aiming for everyone is the way forward.

Example: For St. Patrick’s Day 2019, Guinness Singapore needed to drive more Singaporeans to attend the brand's annual event. By taking the conversation away from a meaningless mythical Saint, Guinness targeted the 7,000 people named Pat in Singapore and drove huge local reach, relevance and resonance, which led to more sales than ever before.

Behaviour: Activate people power

For many years now, participation has sat at the heart of the best growth strategies. Its huge benefit is that it can come in many shapes and sizes—from Nike using Colin Kaepernick to galvanise the under-represented of the USA, to Snickers changing the price of its product based on how angry Aussies were (Hungerithm).

Example: We’re seeing more financial industries starting to buy into the benefits of participation, and thus spreading personal word of mouth and recommendation from friends and family—the biggest convincer in the category. See Revolut’s queue-jumping system (below), where you get your hands on their app quicker if you share the love with your network. A simple tactic, yes, but it has the perfect value exchange for someone newly signing up to a brand.

Behaviour: Start a fight

Every brand should have a clear enemy and be confident enough to call that enemy out in relation to themselves. But let’s be clear, it is not about picking sides during political unrest or labour disputes. Whilst not everyone can be a Brewdog, pointing fingers (and creating demand for lawyers…) and generating disproportionate PR, all brands can be more confident with their offering by picking an enemy, pointing it out, and highlighting its own benefit to the end consumer.

Example: While only some brands—and some cultures—respond well to provocatively pointing fingers, there are other, softer ways that brands can claim a competitive advantage. Abbott Freestyle Libre, an innovative diabetes care solution, talks about its benefits at the detriment of more traditional methods. "You can do it. Without lancets."

Be bold in direct activity to overtake others

Over the coming months and years, every brand will be walking a tightrope of building and destroying brand equity as they try to balance brand with direct activity. Yet if they embody insurgent behaviours consistently and with confidence, they’ll find it’s possible to achieve both.


Mark Hadfield is regional head of planning at Iris.

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