Smarten­ing up A CARDIGAN and SLIP­PERS

Tak­ing the reins of a brand that’s been trusted by New Zealan­ders for over 100 years is no easy feat, but AA’S Dou­gal Swift has been tak­ing it in his stride for 13 years to main­tain that sen­ti­ment and grow its value.

New Zealand Marketing - - Insight Creative -

[It is] the value that is cre­ated for ev­ery­day New Zealan­ders through great part­ner­ship mar­ket­ing that is out­stand­ing.

Ask a mar­keter what they’re most proud of in their ca­reers and you’ll likely hear a tale about num­bers and gains. For the AA’S gen­eral man­ager of mem­ber­ship and brand, Dou­gal Swift, that num­ber is two and it de­scribes the num­ber of lives his ini­tia­tives have saved.

It’s the re­sult of the AA’S part­ner­ship with Spec­savers to de­liver a free eye exam to AA mem­bers. Had the part­ner­ship not ex­isted, those two peo­ple wouldn’t have been tested and their life threat­en­ing con­di­tions wouldn’t have been picked up.

“If you think a mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tive you’ve done has re­sulted in some­one’s life be­ing saved, it’s a nice thing,” Swift says.

The Spec­savers part­ner­ship is one of many that have come into play since Swift joined the team in 2004. He sees part­ner­ships as a way to en­hance the value of an AA Mem­ber­ship—which is one of his prime fo­cuses along­side grow­ing mem­ber­ship and main­tain­ing and de­vel­op­ing the AA’S brand via vis­ual iden­tity and ser­vice rep­u­ta­tion.

And con­sid­er­ing that fo­cus, Swift sees lever­ag­ing part­ner­ships as one of the most im­por­tant skills he’s brought to the or­gan­i­sa­tion and those who nom­i­nated him for the Mar­keter of the Year Award agree.

“[ It is] the value cre­ated for ev­ery­day New Zealan­ders through great part­ner­ship mar­ket­ing that is out­stand­ing, and we be­lieve, wor­thy of ac­knowl­edge­ment,” reads the entry, be­fore adding Swift’s vi­sion as a key at­tribute to his suc­cess.

At the time of Swift’s join­ing, the AA was seen as a ‘cardigan and slip­pers’ brand that had grown tired since its launch in 1903. Its core road­side of­fer­ing was los­ing rel­e­vance in the face of com­pe­ti­tion and while it re­mained in­cred­i­bly trusted, Swift iden­ti­fied the need to bring it up to date and im­prove the ex­ist­ing of­fer­ing.

Now, 13 years later, the AA is per­ceived by the pub­lic as a dy­namic and pro­gres­sive brand, with a 60 per­cent in­crease in mem­ber­ship to match.

“See­ing it grow from one mil­lion to over 1.6 mil­lion is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing,” says Swift.

But those aren’t the only num­bers demon­strat­ing Swift’s im­pact on the brand as the last five years have seen the AA brand strength grow from 55 per­cent to 75 per­cent and its mo­men­tum rise from 21 per­cent to 82 per­cent.

Be­ing able to mea­sure suc­cess by a clear busi­ness re­sult is one of the ap­peals Swift sees in mar­ket­ing and it’s a pas­sion that started at Air New Zealand in 1996.

Dur­ing his eight years with the air­line, he worked across var­i­ous roles in sales and mar­ket­ing, with his last giv­ing him re­spon­si­bil­ity for man­ag­ing loy­alty, in­clud­ing Air­points and Koru Club. His nom­i­na­tion de­scribes him as “The God­fa­ther” of the Air­points pro­gramme and cred­its that ex­pe­ri­ence as one that’s helped him trans­form the AA.

“Dou­gal is an ex­em­plar of mar­ket­ing. An ex­cep­tional leader who has taken mar­ket­ing to the high ta­ble by re­defin­ing part­ner­ship mar­ket­ing.”

Com­ment­ing on his lead­er­ship, Swift says his open door pol­icy al­lows him to work closely with his team while also giv­ing them per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity to do work they are proud of.

“If you can show some­one a re­ally clear de­vel­op­ment plan and give them con­fi­dence you have their ca­reer at heart, they will be very loyal to both me as their man­ager and the or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

But it’s not just his t eam that is de­vel­op­ing, as he too is ad­vanc­ing his prac­tice in re­sponse to in­dus­try shifts. Over the years, the depth of cus­tomer data com­pa­nies can lever­age has in­creased while new me­dia has changed the way brands in­ter­act with cus­tomers.

“When I started in the 90s it was about big brand ads on the TV and tra­di­tional di­rect mail was the big thing,” he says.

“I’ve wit­nessed that mi­grate quickly to email and more re­cently, we’ve seen dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing chan­nels re­place TV. We’ve also seen re­liance on agen­cies re­duce sig­nif­i­cantly be­cause a lot of the tech­nol­ogy we used to have to go to agen­cies for, we can now do in- house.”

Swift says that in- house ca­pa­bil­ity al­lows ev­ery­thing to move faster, how­ever, he still takes a very con­sid­ered approach to ev­ery­thing it takes to mar­ket. He says the team is con­tin­u­ously test­ing dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of mar­ket­ing pieces and from that, it re­fines its un­der­stand­ing of what works so it can iron out any­thing the mem­bers don’t like.

“It’s very easy to be re­ac­tive in an en­vi­ron­ment that you can mar­ket to peo­ple quickly, but we try to take a more strate­gic long- term view as to what we’re go­ing to send.”

While the AA is re­spond­ing to the shift­ing me­dia cli­mate, at the same time, the re­la­tion­ships con­sumers have with brands are also chang­ing. The rise of so­cial me­dia means peo­ple now place a great faith in what their friends or ac­quain­tances say, which in turn has seen the rise of in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing.

How­ever, Swift be­lieves con­sumers are be­com­ing aware of it and they’re much more cyn­i­cal than they were two years ago. With this in mind, he hopes the AA’S au­then­tic­ity will prove to be its strong suit.

“It’s some­thing AA prides it­self on,” he says. “We are a mo­tor­ing club owned by mem­bers where all the value we make is ul­ti­mately de­liv­ered back to our mem­bers, not share­hold­ers.”

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