In a career full of successes, leading the transformation project that brought together the National Bank and ANZ was one of the sweetest for Mike Cunnington.
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They say the customer is always right. And, as Griff in’s discovered with the relaunch of Choco-ade biscuits, it pays to listen to them.
It started as a Facebook page with a simple request: bring back Choco-ade biscuits, which were famous in the ‘80s and deleted in the ‘90s. Griffin’s listened and it created a monster.
The relaunch of Choco-ade was the physical manifestation of a big shift in Griffin’s marketing strategy from “set and forget” to “always on”. And this strategy came about because in 2010, the proudly Kiwi company was under siege. A move to new production facilities had resulted in inconsistent biscuit quality, and the media were having a field day with stories of burnt Gingernuts and broken Girl Guide biscuits, New Zealand consumers were starting to lose faith in the brand and sales were declining.
Added to that, its Australian competitor Arnott’s, which was launching more new products at sharper prices and had a media budget five times that of Griffin’s, was playing hardball. In contrast, Griffin’s media investment and innovation had been constrained over the prior three years due to supply and quality issues during the commissioning of the new production facility.
The biscuit market in New Zealand is a mature one, with 98 percent household penetration and the second highest per capita biscuit consumption in the
world. But consumption was declining, consumers had been trained to buy on price and there was greater choice available. As such, Griffin’s strategy is to drive value, rather than volume, so it was time for a different approach that leveraged its New Zealand brands, fostered innovation and relied on best practice marketing.
Amongst all the pressure from consumers and the media, Griffin’s monitoring of social media via the Radian6 tool showed two key themes: 1) New Zealanders had an incredibly strong attachment to Griffin’s biscuits and they cared enough about the brand to speak up about the issues. And 2) consumers were looking, asking, and begging for the return of old favourites.
It also discovered that social discovery had become a key influencer among its primary market of female household shoppers. They were telling friends about what products to try, buy, stay away from and where to get them. And there were over 660,000 females aged 25-54 active on Facebook each week, meaning the platform was able to offer scale to achieve its business results.
Instead of using traditional market research methods to garner insights, Griffin’s instead used its own social media channels, an approach it believes is emerging best practice and much more effective. These insights then drove the creation of the core brand idea: to recognise the power and influence of consumers.
Rather than simply telling stories through traditional media as it had in the past, it engaged, listened and collaborated with its customers and tried to give them a sense of ownership. Creatively, this idea was expressed by its agency Assignment Group as ‘Dear Griffin’s’—and it was inspired by the letters, phone calls and emails it regularly received from New Zealand biscuit lovers.
In 2011 ( with the quality issues resolved), it launched a TV campaign featuring New Zealanders posing questions to Griffin’s. For example, “Dear Griffin’s — how many Chocolate Chips do you use in your Chocolate Chippies each year?” The query was always responded to either in the form of a new biscuit or a particular fact that Griffin’s wanted to communicate. Television also played a vital role in kick starting the conversation between biscuit lovers and Griffin’s on Facebook. And in year two of the campaign
Choco-ade was so popular it achieved $1 million retail sales faster than any other product in New Zealand grocery history, knocking the Avatar DVD off its perch.
it knew it needed to be more than a marketing construct. It needed to deliver on what New Zealanders were asking for.
Through the Griffin’s Facebook page New Zealanders revealed hundreds of suggestions for new products, gave tributes to their most- loved biscuits and asked for the return of older favourites. When Griffin’s discovered a Facebook page set up by Upper Hutt woman Amber Johnson entitled ‘ Get Griffin’s to Bring Back Choco- ade’ it saw some potential. So it watched from afar to see what sort of interest it generated. At the same time it commenced a feasibility project to see if it could bake the biscuit again to the same taste, texture and design standards, which wasn’t an easy task given it had to be done in a new facility, with new technology, at higher speeds, and with minimal capital.
The page grew steadily, the biscuits passed the test and, knowing it was crucial to have Johnson’s support, Griffin’s contacted her to see if she would help with the ‘Great Kiwi Comeback’.
To confirm there was demand for the biscuit, it ran a poll on its Facebook page asking fans to vote on bringing back Choco-ade. Within seven days, 15,000 votes were clocked up, enough to give it confidence that the idea was worth pursuing. And, as it was imperative that Johnson’s supporters and Griffin’s fans knew it was their actions that inspired the return of Choco- ade, it gave them ownership.
Griffin’s also recruited a group it called VIBs, or Very Important Biscuit eaters, who were selected not only for their love for Griffin’s brands and the ‘ 80s classic, but also for their social media influence. The VIBs were on hand to try samples, comment on packaging and became a part of the team. They then posted updates, letting the wider community know what was going on, so they became social advocates for Choco-ade and helped build anticipation.
The Facebook post announcing the return reached 80,000 people in the first three hours and one million people within four days. It set a New Zealand Facebook record for engagement with over 23,700 likes (the campaign’s success has prompted Facebook to use it as a global best practice case study). And the media went mad for it. The Dominion Post had Johnson and her husband on the front page, Campbell Live ran a couple of long stories on the return of the biscuit and it was a topic of conversation on several radio shows and the comedy panel show 7 Days.
Through the power of nostalgia—and community engagement—the relaunch turned Choco-ade into the nation’s most talked about biscuit and, all up, the PR earned more than $1 million worth of media coverage on launch day alone. As part of the PR strategy, the first official packets were auctioned on TradeMe, with all proceeds going to Plunket, Johnson’s chosen charity. Free packs were then sent to celebrities, again chosen for their social media influence, and a programme called the ‘Great Griffin’s Morning Tea workplace shout’ was launched where Griffin’s Facebook fans could nominate their workplace to win Choco-ades for morning tea.
All this primed the pumps for massive sales, all before any of the traditional media had aired. In its first week on shelves Choco-ade became the country’s number one selling biscuit, with over 300,000 packets sold, almost twice that of the number two. Griffin’s retail customers said they had never seen demand like it and it was so popular it achieved $1 million of retail sales faster than any other product in New Zealand grocery history, knocking the Avatar DVD off its perch. Not surprisingly, volume and profit targets were well and truly smashed.
Three weeks after the launch, a ‘Dear Griffin’s’ TVC featuring Johnson was launched to tell the story of her personal mission to bring back the biscuit. After three months, Choco-ade was still the number one selling biscuit ($2.7m RSV), exceeding ToffeePops at $1.4m, and it had gained 11 percent value share of chocolate biscuits (vs. a target of 2.1 percent).
After ten months it was still ranked in the top
five selling biscuits. But in a world where promotions rule, it was a tribute to the power of the campaign that the biscuits were selling at full price, resulting in 140 percent price premium to the total sweet biscuits category. And, added to that, 24 percent of total sales were incremental to the category.
By engaging with consumers directly, Griffin’s gained richer insights and developed a new product that Kiwis not only wanted, but were prepared to pay a premium for. Social media allowed it to have more conversations, about more of its products, with more of its consumers, every single day, and at scale.
But Griffin’s showed it’s not just about listening, it’s about doing. And given the success of the Choco-ade relaunch, you can bet your biscuits it will continue this very fruitful dialogue with the country.
Mike Cunnington’s career in marketing spans over 20 years, two continents and both sides of the client agency divide. But despite plenty of success in his previous roles, 2012 still ranks as one of his better years.
He was head of marketing in the UK Labour Party for nine years, and his tenure culminated in the election of Tony Blair in 1997, the party’s first win in 23 years. Following this he moved agency side, helping Proximity London grow into one of the UK’s leading multi-disciplinary agencies and, after emigrating to New Zealand around ten years ago, he continued this role in the Auckland office, before joining ANZ as head of marketing in 2007.
An understanding of data and what drives people has been at the heart of all his biggest successes. And this was clearly evident in what was arguably his biggest and most complex challenge: the merger of the well-loved National Bank brand with the less well-loved ANZ brand.
He says the process began around two years before the merger. The discussions evolved, a date was set and a four- pronged strategy— prepare, announce, reassure, excite— was devised by the marketing team and eventually taken up by the rest of the business.
Banks are good at analysing risk. It’s their bread and butter. And a central component of Cunnington’s approach was to establish a team dedicated to helping him manage the merger project and see what the response was likely to be—from customers and competitors—so it could plan accordingly. This required a meticulous programme of research, drafting advertising concepts, more research, advanced media planning and yet more research.
It was clear that National Bank customers particularly would not like the merger and the perception was that this decision would lead to job losses,
You’ll get sick of what you’re saying before the customers even notice you’re saying anything.
branch closures and an eventual decrease in service. And to make things even more difficult, legislation restricted ANZ from letting its two million customers and 9,000 staff know about the impending change before it went public. This meant the first 72 hours were critical and a lot of time and effort went into getting the right messages out across as many touchpoints as possible.
“The first thing we needed to do was tell customers why it wasn’t going to be worse before we could tell them it was going to be better.”
The marketing strategy was set up in a way that allayed the functional concerns of customers but also addressed the emotional side of things with messages that showed how the new and improved ANZ would bring together the ‘Power of Two’.
Cunnington also had to lead one of the largest below- the- line communications programmes ever undertaken in New Zealand. One million ANZ customers had to be migrated onto a new system and new products. And one million National Bank customers had to be told their bank would be turning blue. While he admits successfully dispatching 1.2 million emails and 500,000 eDMs within two hours post announcement was a massive challenge, he kept telling his team that it was the kind of work they did all the time. Unlike the technology team, which migrated ANZ customers to the National Bank system, it didn’t have to learn new ways of working. It just had to work at scale and pace.
As the quote goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Cunnington knew it was ANZ’s game to lose, rather than the competitors’ game to win, and a big part of winning was to get staff to believe in the change.
“If they were convinced, they would convince the customers. The planning was more for our own people so we could say ‘you should expect this’, rather than leaving our frontline exposed.”
He says culture also benefits from a challenge. Having a “binary event like this that could either go well or go badly” galvanised the business and gave all the various departments motivation to embrace the idea of a successful transformation, stick to the strategy and execute their roles brilliantly.
“The bigger an organisation gets the more it is focused internally and on managing those conflicts between departments. Having something external like this gets you focused on the right things: outcomes for the customers. It’s an easy thing to say, but it’s hard to do. And for ANZ, it’s about keeping that mindset going.”
Those who are attracted to this industry are often attracted to change. Cunnington is no different. He thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the transformation project (he has recently taken up a role as deputy commissioner at the Inland Revenue Department in the Information, Intelligence and Communications department and, with a huge IT project in the wings, he says this role will be similarly transformative). But he is also a believer in consistency. Much of the creative work for the campaign was fairly simple and kept drumming home key messages. He admits it’s tempting to change those messages, or the style of them. But he thinks overinflating a brand’s importance in customers’ lives and constantly looking for “the new and exciting is where [the industry] often falls down”. As he says: “You’ll get sick of what you’re saying before the customers even notice you’re saying anything. They’ve got plenty of other things to worry about. So you have to say it often.”
In his view, marketers and their agencies are not sufficiently focused on the commercial realities of business, because if it isn’t going to be good for the business, it’s not a good idea for a promotion or an ad campaign. And this is why he believes marketing sometimes struggles to get a place at the boardroom table.
“As marketers we need to be harder in our thinking, and have more commercial acumen. The great thing about New Zealand is that you can get stuff done. There’s not as much of a food chain. But because of this, I’m not sure whether we’ve got the discipline to do the right thing, and to put more rigour around it.”
There was certainly no shortage of rigour for this project. And the results have vindicated that effort, with brand awareness up significantly, a small number of customer defections, and brand image measures strengthened across the board (read more about the campaign on page 28).
“I can genuinely say I wouldn’t have had the balls to stand up in front of the board, remind them of what we were planning to do with the two brands and tell them that it would look like this in 12 months. It worked better than anyone dared to predict. These things play out over four or five years, not just one. But for most people it’s just something that’s happened and they’ve moved on.”
Cunnington’s excellent leadership and his faith in the strategy enabled his team to execute the project brilliantly. And as a result, ANZ confounded the sceptics, impressed its customers and gave its business a fantastic long- term foundation for growth.
As his ex- colleague and head of retail marketing Matt Pickering sums up: “Colin Powell defines good leaders as great simplifiers. That defines Mike’s leadership style. Last year he took a complex situation, simplified it into something achievable and empowered his team to deliver.”