Rob Langtry Interview Wool Academy Podcast

#009: Rob Langtry on strategic communications

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In this episode Marketing and Communications strategist, Rob Langtry, explains how today’s communication environment has changed dramatically and how wool industry businesses along the whole supply chain can successfully communicate the story of wool. Rob explains why it is important to no longer view wool as a commodity but a value adding component in order for wool to achieve higher price premiums. Rob also shares his 7 step process on how to develop a marketing and communications strategy. This episode is part 1 of a 2 part series. Listen to the second part of the interview in episode 10.

About Rob Langtry

Rob Langtry is the Chairman and CEO of Consultus Counsel. To quote one of Australia’s leading, globally-awarded Executive Creative Directors: ”Australia has produced many great marketers and many great creative strategists. Rob Langtry is one of a small number who have climbed to the top of both trees and few, if any, have applied their skills and experience with greater success on more foreign shores.” Of the many senior roles Rob has held in any hemisphere and on either side of the client/agency divide, the one which required him to draw most heavily on this wealth of experience was his role Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer with Australian Wool Innovation Limited/Woolmark International for the last 7 years.

Connect with Rob Langtry here

LinkedIn profile

The 7 step process to develop a communications strategy

  1. Define business, brand marketing and communications goals
  2. Define target group – stakeholders – include  supply chain and staff
  3. Prepare a marketing communications strategy for a 3 year period and include metrics
  4. Define key messages
  5. Identify the communication tools that will achieve the goals, reach the target group and get across the key messages in a compelling way
  6. Execute the plan and monitor metrics – real time where possible
  7. Adjust step and repeat



Elisabeth: Today on the show we have Rob Langtry and since my background is in communications, Rob has always been one of my personal super heroes of the wool industry. I had the pleasure of meeting Rob during my time at IWTO when he worked for 7 years as the Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at the Australian Wool Innovation and Woolmark Company. What always amazed me is how much value Rob contributed to the wool industry through his strategic marketing campaigns. There are a few of his campaigns that I want to mention in particular, where Rob showed great leadership in making these campaigns a success. These include the Woolmark Prize, the Campaign for Wool, which we talked about many times already on the show, and he and his team also launched wool week in 10 major retail markets successfully. Today Rob has his own brand and communications consulting business under the name Consultus Counsel.  And that is as much as I am going to say about Rob because the problem is when you are as experienced and  successful as Rob then your biography just becomes way too long. Well Rob what more can I say besides welcoming you to the Wool Academy Podcast and it is a great honour to have you on the show. How are you today?

Rob: Very well, thank you Elisabeth, and it is really great to talk to you. It’s a bit of a glowing introduction, but it’s a bit of fun and I really enjoyed working on many industries but most of all the wool industry. That has kept me very busy for the last seven years with AWI and the Australian Wool Industry and even prior to that working for a number of years as a consultant to the wool industry board here. So my background is as you say Business Planning, Strategic Marketing, Management Consulting and I am advising a number of clients.

Elisabeth: I am especially excited because we will talk about my favorite topic, which besides wool is communications. I think you will give our listeners a lot of value today. Should we dive right into it?

Rob: Yes, let’s dive into it.

Elisabeth: How would you describe in your own words how communications for businesses has changed over the recent years.

Rob: I think over the last two decades in particular, the business of communications has basically reinvented itself totally. What we have seen is that it has been a very traditional set of media that has been in consideration probably for 30 or 40 years, and by traditional I mean TV, radio, print, outdoor. All of that has now been put into a different context with the emergence of digital media, online and most recently social media. That in itself has led to a really dramatic fragmentation of how to reach your audience. If we are talking about a global product like wool, it is a really difficult challenge to identify what are the most cost efficient ways of reaching the right audience. And for that reason we really had to redefine how the consumer now purchases. If you look at the use of media by the consumers in the luxury and high end of the fashion market for example it is quite common now that they are online, offline and in store as different ways of looking at a product prior, during and after the purchase. So if you are looking at a whole cycle of consumer awareness, understanding, through desire, through purchase and then post product satisfaction you really have to look at a very different and much more complex way of reaching the consumer. The positive part of that is with the advent of far greater computing power, we often hear about big data, the big data implies that it is massive and in fact, the data basis of that is massive, but the insights that we can get are much more precise and in that complex environment you need to have precision to try to target cost effectively.

Elisabeth: How well do you think has the wool industry embraced the possibilities that we have now with communications?

Rob: It is interesting, when I started with wool one of the things that I used to do quite a lot is go out to growers and the first question we would open a seminar or discussion with would be ‘tell me what business you are in’. And 99% of the answers would be ‘I am in the business of growing wool’. And my answer to that would be ‘No, you are in the business of fashion apparel. And that caused a little bit of consternation. But in reality the wool industry was very slow to embrace the need to tell its story, typically it saw itself as a commodity producer without seeing the downside of it. The downside was that if you are a commodity producer you tend to be a price-taker. Over the last, I suppose 10 – 15 years in particular, we have seen that slowly change in some areas. The high fashion brands and the brands that sell in their own branded boutiques and department stores have really rapidly accelerated the use of more digital media and todays communications opportunities more recently. There are some brilliant examples of how the consumer or retail end of the wool industry is using mass communications now very well. What I would say, if you look down the supply chain backwards towards the grower, the way that the whole industry has embraced communications is quite fragmented. The closer you get to the origin of the fibre and its processing, the less likely you are to see proactive marketing going on in support of the fibre. As an example AWI and the Woolmark business was fairly passive for about a decade before 2010. I still see a degree of passivity in marketing with the early stage processors, spinners and weavers, even though they are talking to a business to business market. There has not been rapid embrace if you like of digital media and of creating stories that can relate how each of these companies adds either to the end product that it is produced into or promoting their businesses. So, I guess the short answer is, it has been fairly fragmented, it is different to the rate of adoption in different levels of the supply chain. But if you look at the consumer end of it, at the brands, some of those brands are leading edge in terms of embracing social media.

Elisabeth: What always amazed me during my time when I worked at IWTO is when we asked members what they thought needed improvement in the wool industry to be more successful one of the topics that always came up was that the wool industry thought that there was a need for more promotion and communications and I always wondered because we do have these wonderful campaigns that Woolmark does or which the Campaign for Wool does and many other industry members but still it was perceived as not being enough. Why do you think does the wool industry feel that it is not enough and how could more promotion be done for wool and the wool industry?

Rob: I think they feel that it is not enough, because what they really see is promotion at the very front end or the grower end of the business which is AWI and Woolmark and at the very sharp end of the business which is retail. You don’t see a lot of participation in the business of marketing through the other elements of the supply chain, there is not a lot of collaboration. If you look at other industries, for example the cotton industry, you find that there is probably deeper engagement in the various steps along the supply chain with the end result of marketing cotton apparel. There has been a good solid and consistent track record of people who are advertising for example Supima cotton. Supima being on the label, being in communications and the various producers being involved in the story. Wool is probably coming to that quite late and it is really been left to either end of the supply chain, rather than a more collaborative effort across the supply chain. I have often heard exactly what you have heard which is why isn’t there more promotion being done. And I suspect the other component to that is that the industry saw itself as being a commodity of price-taker and as such they really understand the need to communicate in order to differentiate the fibre in order for wool to be seen as a value adding component to fashion apparel and footwear. That lack of the value of differentiation, the value of the story of wool is probably what held that sense of are we promoting enough. Once AWI started we have seen a number of the supply chain brands start to move in that area. One example is Scabal. We worked closely with Scabal and they took a line of saying, ok we can identify the source of our wool fibre, we are going to celebrate the fact that it is spun, woven and produced into clothing and then tell that story to our consumer. The result of that is that it allows Scabal to really substantiate a higher than average market price for the product, because the products ingredients is seen to be of value. I think there are still people in the industry who see wool as a commodity and don’t see it as being value adding in the whole business of creating an apparel. The other part I would say as we reposition wool as a luxury ingredient, the luxury business really requires a heavy reliance on communications and highly targeted and quite often people in the supply chain don’t tap in to what is happening. I will give you an example by introducing the International Woolmark Prize. What we were doing is leading a series of events to market wool. Where I think most of the supply chain would say that advertisement is the way to go. The problem is that marketing has really moved on to the point where if you don’t have live interaction, where you don’t have events and social media then you really don’t get the visibility in a very competitive environment of where do I buy my next piece of clothing. Greater engagement with designers and retailers helps them becoming more active and I think that response you have heard of there is not enough promotion for wool is starting to change as we see retailers more deeply involved. In know in the recent conference that was held in Scotland with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales the principal supporter of that event was Marks & Spencer. 10 years ago or even 7 years ago Marks & Spencer wouldn’t necessarily focus on the wool ingredient product story and here they are now basically actively engaged in the campaign for wool as an public advocate for wool using it as an ingredient product. I think you will see that has changed, but the bottom line is without collaboration across the supply chain and greater engagement by all the parties involved it is likely that wool is not as visible and it is seen not as sufficient in the face of other products out there as for example cotton.


Elisabeth: What you said, that there is a need for stronger engagement within the industry to collaborate, that was also one of the key topics that always came up that there was a need for more collaboration. And the other thing you said was that it has become more complex, that is what you referred to at the beginning of our conversation. As you know many of the companies might recognize that they need to do more communications however they then often struggle with time or their resources and what recommendations do you have for these companies, what steps can they take to improve their communications and where would be the right place to start?

Rob: That is a broad and pretty compelling question. I would start by saying that marketing used to be seen by the wool industry as a whole as a fluffy part of the business they know. That is not the case any more in the 21st century. Marketing is a core all engaging discipline, that needs a whole company approach. In saying that, yes there are companies with limited resources and I worked with quite a number of those, even with some of the more sophisticated spinners of the market, that haven’t really had a Marketing capability. For me there are about 7 steps that I think any business should take.

Step 1: The first is what probably comes natural. Just to clearly define the business that the company is in. Unless that definition of the business includes where the consumer market is, where the product ends up in consumer terms, it is likely that communications will take less of a focus. Define the business. Do it in terms of not only the process, the industrial market but the end product it contributes to. The other thing is to recognize that any business in the supply chain is in fact a brand. And what I mean by that is: a brand is where all that value occurs of the investment you are making in marketing your product. Whether you are an industrial supplier, or B2B market or B2C, having a clear understanding of what your business is or what its public face is to produce wool. Those things of defining the business well and brand marketing should enable you to define some pretty clear communication goals. So that is step 1.

Step 2: Once you know those goals, it is really clearly defining who your target audiences, target markets are. Who are your key stakeholders that will impact your ability of meeting those business and communication goals. One of the things I find that people forget is that one of the most powerful marketing assets you have is actually the staff of the company. And I don’t just mean the management staff. As consumers want more and  more information around where the product comes from, staff become very solid assets in terms of helping tell that story. So defining all the stakeholders and making sure that the definition of a target audience is very clear and very compassing, it’s a very critical 2nd step.

Step 3:  Is make sure that you prepare a marketing communication strategy that isn’t just tactics. It is not just about the next six months, the next season show, the next edition of Premiere Vision. It really needs to encompass a three year business cycle. When you do that marketing and communication strategy every component of it should include the metrics by which you are going to measure its success. One of the things that can come unstuck in marketing is if you don’t have clear metrics you really become very subjective whether or not things have been a success or failure. So making sure that you do a proper three year strategy, include the metrics before you then dive into the tactical elements that you might execute in one season is pretty important.

Step 4: What are the key messages that you want to communicate to those core target groups that you have defined in the strategy. And here it is important not to be all things to all people. But be very focused on your key benefit and your key differentiation between yourself and your competitors and the key benefit ultimately to your consumer.

Step 5: Identify those tools that will help you achieve those goals. By tools I mean not just the channels that we were talking about before. Not just traditional, digital and social media but also the content that is going to carry the messages. Increasingly what you see with the fragmentation of media is the need to have really significant compelling well produced content and increasingly that content is video content. Telling a story in a statics medium is well and good. But the most highly engaging media tend to rely on good quality video, very focused on what it is that you want to get across to the consumer.

Step 6: Make sure that you execute the plan. It is very east to be distracted by shiny new things and many number of companies even in the very sophisticated consumer goods areas get distracted by the fact that there is yet another social media. The point of writing a strategy and a plan is that it is thought through well and is executed. Some of the tactics may be adjusted time after time, but the bottom line is you need to execute the plan that you have written.

Step 7: You are not really finished until you have assessed, reviewed, monitored, adjusted and then repeat the process. These are the 7 steps to make this a success.

To your question initially do you need to identify an internal resource to do that, I think you can start by actually getting the plan clearly laid out. Making sure it clearly articulates what your business is, what the priorities are, who you are talking to, what you want to say to them, how you want them to respond and measuring that level of response.

Elisabeth: I would like to go deeper into point 5. When you talked about the channels. I was talking to a client the other day who was investing a lot of money into advertisement in magazines. And he was realizing that many of his target audience wasn’t reading those magazines any more so that was a learning for him. But then that leaves you with the question into which communication tools do I need to invest in. What would you say to a client like that?

Rob: You need to have clarity about what it is that you want to say. But the other component to that is to understand how each of the media options that you have work and who listens. There is a lot of research around about which audiences it delivers to and to what form of engagement different channels deliver. Social media has been an obsession of a lot advertisers for the last few years. But common sense is that it is only one medium that impacts the consumer. At the same time that we have seen the explosion of social media we have seen reality TV come up. Reality TV tends to work in a slightly different way and you can present a slightly more crafted and directed message to a broader audience. While Social media is a peer to peer media where people talk about your product and it is more about the experiences. Outdoor media, instore media, all of these things work quite differently. So it is just a matter, if you don’t have the research to apply some common sense and thinking through if I want to reach a particular target audience member, a guy who is planning to buy a new suit for example. Typically what sort of lifestyle would they have, what media would they be exposed to in what context. One of the things that I find very useful with a 14 year old daughter, thinking about the fashion industry, is simply watching how she consumes media. And many of our colleagues of the wool industry will have sons or daughters who of target audience age group and have a media consumption profile. And just having a look at how they use different media and when they use it is important. One of the key dynamics that is happening right now is the absolute explosion of mobile and high end telephone technology in terms of its role of informing consumers as they go through that path to purchase. Smart phones because they have access to the internet as well as to social media is really driving a lot of consumer behavior changes in terms of media consumptions. So when you do actually look at channels you are going to use, assume that whatever you create for those channels needs to be viable for mobile media, either it is television consumption or social media or whether it is webpages, they absolutely need to be mobile phone friendly.  But from my point of view it all goes back to strategy. If you are really clear on what it is that you want to do. There is enough information around to identify how the different media options work. And it is matching those options to how you want to engage, weather you want to build brand awareness, in a particular target audience, weather you actually want to convert awareness to desire and transact with you on a mobile or website for example. It is just really being clear on the strategy. The other thing I would say, and I made this point earlier,  when you are developing content that you want to push out in the media, it is important to be focused, you cannot be all things to all people. If you have a particular brand and you have a particular set of attributes that you want to communicate then don’t be distracted by telling different stories in  different media. Tell the same story in the relevant format in to each of the media. I’ll give you an example, we started a program, started by a very very bright video producer, Ari at AWI, called The Source. And The source was about telling the story of wool growers from different areas in Australia and how they produce their merino wool. When we produced that content we made it available in what we call spamable links, so a length of less than 2 minutes, we made sure it worked on YouTube, Vimeo, on our websites and we tried to use that content in as many different ways as we could by planning up front how flexible the formats needed to be. And I think that is the case for any of the people thinking about marketing their products and advertising and communicating its benefits is to make sure that whatever you produce gives you that flexible use for different media you are applying it to. [/spp-transcript]

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