David Saraga: When it comes to Black Swans don’t be the Turkey

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David Saraga: When it comes to Black Swans don’t be the Turkey

David Saraga, Managing & Creative Director at Gettin Hectic (pictured below) discusses the importance of being robust and having the courage to consistently connect with your customers.


Recently, we ran a small Gettin Hectic “Client Experience” where we sat down with some of our most knowledgeable and experienced clients and shared stories from the last eighteen months or so.

It was an opportunity to take a step back, to take stock and share what we’ve been through. Spin back a year and half ago and the scenario seemed unthinkable. COVID has felt like our Black Swan moment (to use a relevant WA analogy) but alas, this is where we are.

I’m sure many of you have read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s masterpiece Black Swan. To paraphrase it poorly… the unexpected will happen and the winners are those who are robust enough to get back up, dust themselves down and keep on keeping on.

Businesses need models that help them avoid the impact of nasty surprises that make them vulnerable. Christmas will be a Black Swan surprise for a turkey but not for its butcher. So don’t be the turkey.

As a company dedicated to creating powerful interactions between people and brands, often face to face, naturally our business has been amongst those that have been significantly impacted by this Black Swan.

Which of course made us wonder how it had impacted our clients, their marketing strategy, tactics and other business decisions.

Amidst the rapid changes, we felt we learned much about ourselves, our role in the marketing industry and the value we create. We were confident our clients had equal learning and reflection which we wanted to understand. How were they avoiding being turkeys?

We started by having simple conversations over coffee with our clients: “How are you?”, “How’s the business?”, “What are you learning from this?” This revealed a whole raft of powerful stories explaining how individual clients and businesses responded and adapted in ways we simply couldn’t have foreseen.

Flying the Flag for WA

The stories were not only impressive in the individual responses to the challenges faced, but also in the nature of the rational, business actions and behaviours undertaken at-pace. In fact, there was a good mix of both actions that were common between the clients and those that were unique. There was a fascinating mix of familiar responses, peppered with nuances and adaptations to the exceptional circumstances clients faced. All of which demonstrated their robustness.

Towards the end of the conversations, we realised the stories and experiences were inspiring individually, but there was a chorus of emotion and action that warranted sharing.

At the time there was plenty being written about our pandemic experiences in the marketing press, but despite Perth’s lack of restrictions this year, there was little opportunity to talk about it in-person. With our clients’ blessing, we joined these dots together and organised an evening to share our stories, our learnings and have an experience of our own.

Aside from the genuinely inspiring and fascinating professional insights, the evening rekindled the simple pleasure of talking and reconnecting and sharing experiences of what was, and remains, an anxious and challenging time for many.

What we heard

The stories combined to present a picture of Marketing truly back in its stride. There was a sense of collective relief and release in sharing our experiences and talking about how we felt, coped and are coping today.

It was a time when the puffery, egos and bombast that too often create a rod for Marketing’s back were put on ice. Marketing made clear customer-led decisions, informed by the market’s new needs and wants.

For example, we heard how:
• WA brands increased their team resources (when many did quite the opposite) to service changing customer needs
• Supply chain partners were supported in more heavily impacted sectors
• In-person brand experiences were repurposed to thrive in digital environments
• Brands were successfully launched or reinvigorated both locally and interstate
• New means of distribution were invented to maintain customer supply

A handful of stories touched on how brands made decisions that weren’t destined to drive clicks, calls or footfall; but to help, support and at times reassure their customers or the broader public. This made a refreshing change, with consumer-led activities in action, rather than “purpose-washing” with easily said statements and straplines that could have come from any corporate mouthpiece. More of this, please.

What we learned: The 3Cs

Overall, three important themes emerged through this experience. Connection, Consistency and Courage.

Connection relates to us taking the opportunity to get our brands back out to our customers and communities. As we move into summer, after a lengthy hiatus for many brands, the power of in-person brand experiences remains there to be tapped, whether it’s driving a sale or making a memory of the brand for a future sale. Even simple brand exposure and in-person connection can raise marketing performance (Source: WARC, “Winning in the era of brand experience”, 2019; Commbank Covid Insights, 2021.)

Consistency refers to the presence and expression of brand throughout the customer journey. Whilst it has been heartening to see “experience” more broadly explored by brands (the growth of customer experience and user experience disciplines, for example), it is vital that brand experience is not left behind. Creating powerful brand experiences throughout the customer journey helps brands to be more memorable as people shop their categories of choice (Source: WARC, How to develop an effective customer experience strategy, 2018). Otherwise, we risk creating strong category solutions, that have little linkage to brand.

Courage is the most important of the themes. As the library of marketing science papers and books grows by the year, the case for brand marketing as a profit-generating activity gets stronger (for example, here is one of the most recent Australian reports). Combined with the two themes above, there has never been a better time to invest in supporting your brand. Let’s use the evidence and our recent experiences to continue to strengthen the contribution of marketing to our organisations.

Our evening finished with a chance to toast a selection of wines from one of WA’s most progressive wine producers, Garth Cliff from Vino Volta. The importance of a brand experience which has the courage to deliver connection and consistency within the wine category is clear and it was inspiring to hear how Garth’s global nous has informed the creation of memorable wine in the Swan Valley.

On reflection, despite the challenges we’ve been through, the simple act of talking and sharing stories provided a reassuring boost personally and professionally. As we look forward, there is a case for optimism and much confidence if we harness the responsiveness, customer-mindedness and fresh-thinking that has been delivered during the last couple of, memorable, years.

We’re proud to be the home of the Black Swan. Cheers to that!

We’re extremely grateful to those who contributed their valuable opinions including representatives from:
• Brownes Dairy
• Craig Mostyn Group
• DiDi
• Goodman Fielder
• Kleenheat
• Lendlease
• Longreach Media
• Murdoch University
• South32
• Water Corporation

Swan picture credit: Angry Black Swan Auckland Photo News

David Saraga: When it comes to Black Swans don’t be the Turkey