In this episode Marketing and Communications strategist, Rob Langtry, gives recommendations on how to approach social media as a business within the wool supply chain. Rob also gives advice on how to find the resources to do marketing and communications for one’s business and products. This episode is part 2 of a 2 part series. Listen to the first part of the interview in episode 09.
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
Elisabeth: We established the different steps that people can take to tackle communications. But there is another issues, that wool industry members face that is that they are often small to medium size companies and often they don’t have a dedicated person responsible for communications, it is then just part of someone’s job role who is typically not skilled to do communications. What do you think is the danger of such a set up and how would you recommend that people do have people really responsible for that or get help from outside?
Rob: I think it is different things for different sized companies. What I would say is that the responsibility for marketing and product, and by marketing I use that in its broader sense which is basically sales and business development, that responsibility rests with the Chief Executive Officer. And doing it effectively rests at the top of the company. In saying that many Executives don’t have the time necessarily to look after advertising copy. There are two sources I would suggest. If you don’t have the financial resources to employ someone who is a dedicated marketer, then I think using your staff and using the broadest range of your staff to contribute to the communications process is a very good way to short hand that and to get engagement. Again, thinking through the plan may or may not be something you can do internally but then executing it, don’t overlook the fact that many of your staff are active communicators across all range of people. Of course you can use external resources and marketing agencies and promotional agencies exist in anyone of the key markets where growers, processors and retailers work. And there are different types of agencies that you can engage. The simplest approach is to employ a graphic design company to do the basic design and develop your key brand asset, but then use those internally through your management team or through your staff as a way of getting those out into the market. For a scale up in terms of the resources that you want then, promotional agencies, advertising and marketing services agencies are all there. You don’t necessarily need to go to the best in the business or biggest in the business. Many of those companies that used to be very expensive on a retainer basis, now will look at projects if your brand is something that they see as something particular relevant or interesting, too. So you can use an internal resource or model or an external resource or model, be it a marketing services or communications agency or a combination of those. What I think is really important is to understand that the brand that you own, that brand identity and resource that you own is a very powerful thing and it is also where a lot of the investment you make, be it internal, external, large or small that value accrues to a brand and you need to manage that brand as it is one of the assets of the business. It is not the case of looking at a business and its only assets are physical machinery that produce a product. The intellectual property that attaches to a brand is equally as valuable on the books, if you like, as is the physical capital equipment. So don’t underrate the resource that is relevant to apply to building and maintaining that key intellectual asset if you like.
Elisabeth: Just to continue with that thought. If companies decide to invest into communications. What would be the benefits that they could expect from this kind of investment?
Rob: What I said before that in the past the industry saw itself primarily as a commodity producer, I think the first benefit is that, and we have proven this with the AWI campaigns, is that investing in marketing and building communications connections with consumers B2B or B2C, stronger pricing and better margins tend to be the most measurable result. It will depend on how much intensity there is on how quickly you will get price return or a stronger margin out of that, but bottom line is that you cannot expect higher prices and margins if you don’t increase demand. And weather that is demand from the supply chain or demand from the end consumer. Demand is the key to building price and to build margin. The other thing I would say, is that greater engagement with the company and its brand usually, what is means is that you get stronger levels of loyalty. If you open your wool spinning business to an audience that is increasingly looking to know where the end product comes from and you have an active dialog with that audience, when they next go to buy a suit in Saville Row or in downtown Milan or Frankfurt, they may well think about the fibre, the yarn or the fabric as much as they think of the brand. That means that they are increasingly loyal to your brand and every repeat purchase is a lower cost per sale so in effect what you are doing by creating a relationship through communication you are ultimately lowering the cost of sales, because you are going to get better repeat purchase from an engaged consumer who knows and has a preference for your brand. Ultimately if we go back to where we started and we talked about defining an audience how you define a target market. If you believe that your employees are a key asset, and if you believe and I am sure you would, shareholders and all of those stakeholders, in part they are very rational towards your business, but in part it is an emotional decision that they trust and invest in your brand. I think having a cohesive communication strategy and executing that well leads to stronger shareholder value and stronger stakeholder equity in your company. Because their emotional trust that you can continue to build business and do it profitably will be a positive outcome of seeing your company communicating very consistently with its audiences and indeed with them.
Elisabeth: One of the things that I learned in university, you know sometimes you have these sentences that stick with you somehow and it was: you cannot not communicate, which means that even if you don’t put any form of communications out there you are still delivering a message but that message is probably something you don’t want people to hear about you. So the other day I was going to a website of a weaver and it was very very basic, and it didn’t give me any information so the impression that I had of this weaver is that they were maybe not trustworthy or not professional although their products are probably of very high quality but what they were communicating didn’t come across like that at all. That is something I remind myself of, you want to make sure you deliver the key messages that you want people to hear and not what they might then start to assume if you don’t communicate with your stakeholders.
Rob: That is absolutely true, if you can’t be a part of the communication or the conversation then you really can’t control exceptions, exactly as you say, you need to be an active participant in the conversation weather the person you are talking to is further up the supply chain or down, or it is an end consumer.
Elisabeth: Earlier we briefly touched on social media and in an manufacturing industry such as the wool industry companies do struggle a little bit asking themselves what is my role in social media? Because you have a lot of experience with social media for the wool industry what would be your recommendation? How should companies address social media?
Rob: Someone once said to me. Whether you are an CEO or a taxi driver we all consume media as a consumer. Everyone consumes media in a professional but also in a personal case. And I think you have to think of social media as being very pervasive these days. Whether you are 60 or 16 usually people are engaging with a very broad media like Facebook, like Twitter, in a professional sense like linked in. Even in China looking at WeChat and looking at a number of those social media, they have massive levels of engagement. And while people might engage with them initially on a very personal or private basis, that means that your audience, which is a professional audience is engaging in social media. So you have to think of social media as being pretty pervasive across all of those key communication targets that you have identified. How do you start? Well the first thing I think is you start with stating very clearly who your stakeholders are and where they live and what they do on a day to day basis. It might be if you have limited resources you focus on those that are more commercially available for example LinkedIn. But in most cases, if you understand who the stakeholders are you can get to understand what social media are more likely to be used by them. In terms of explaining what you make in the content and how you do that. I think, IWTO in particular has done a good job in explaining the role and the growing interest in Corporate Social Responsibility and I think all of the suppliers, all of the components of the supply chain and all of the participants of the supply chain now understand fairly clearly that wool has a story to tell in that area. It well may be that talking about your part of that within the area that you manufacture for example as a spinner and talking about that with LinkedIn and with the social media context of your employees and your key accounts and your staff that might be the right way to start. What I would say is that social media is not a solution for a total communications program. The more we learn about the interaction with social media, the more we understand that it is primarily a peer to peer medium. So it is me talking to you and not necessarily talking to people that I don’t know or I don’t trust. And in that sense, referrals from your own staff, from for example a supplier that uses your product , from a designer that has connections with other designers in fashion those sorts of areas are the place to start. Once you get to a level of presence in a social medium that is probably the first stage. If you are looking at a broader communications strategy which requires building a brand with end consumers then you do need to look at things like cost effectiveness at measuring the conversion of understanding the purchase and a lot of that data is available and it is actually available on very simple searches on the internet. Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn all have publicly available data on who looks at what content, where and how. And I think simply being sensitive on how different people use social media can help you define how to do it. But going back to that core though. I think your staff, your management, even those people who you sell to and sell through those are people who are primarily your targets and they are all not only commercial people but they are social people as well. And if you see them as that then that is perhaps the first thing of thinking through how you use social media.
Elisabeth: There are huge opportunities that companies should not miss out on. I am just thinking of LinkedIn. Sometimes if you search certain wool companies on LinkedIn they didn’t yet take the time to fill in the basics of their company which is just a loss of opportunity that is so easy to take. And especially young people who might be looking for a job they might look on LinkedIn to find out more about your company. I think that would be an area where companies can quite easily make use of social media platforms that are out there.
Rob: I could not agree more, I think that is a great idea and I think LinkedIn is a very good medium to do that. There are also probably regional media depending on where you sit. I know that there are similar opportunities within the Chinese market and the Japanese market. So, yes I agree LinkedIn is a low cost, relatively straight forward process to build that as an asset and why wouldn’t you do it.
Elisabeth: And again it comes down to ‘you cannot not communicate’, because if nothing can be found about your company, what does that say about your company? Going back to social media in general. And I think you mentioned that earlier, that social media is very content hungry and you have lots of experience in creating social media content. What kind of secrets do you have to share with us if we want to create our own social media content.
Rob: I don’t think there are secrets. But firstly you need to remember that social media has not been around that long, I cannot remember the actual date but it is less than a decade. So most other media, people understand through continuous research how it works and what engages what consumer audience most clearly. Social media is still a little bit of a learning process. Things that I think we learned at AWI was that the first thing is relevance. You need to be relevant to the audience. So when you think through creating a piece of social media content, for example a video, then make sure you understand who you expect to look at that. And what they want to get out of it. It is very easy to say I work in the fashion business, but if you are not a part of fashion design then the people who should be talking about fashion are those that are being recognized as experts in their field. If you are an expert in wool growing then that is obviously something you can talk about. And that leads to the second thing. Authenticity is key. What the consumers of social media have learned or who have grown up with them. It is very easy to know who is genuine, who is authentic and who is simply pushing a sales message. And because it is a peer to peer medium you have to be very careful that what you say and how you say it is authentic, it is the truth of you as opposed to just a sales message that is being overly crafted. The difference between social media and traditional media is that when people discover that you are perhaps just trying to sell them something that maybe doesn’t have the level of integrity they expect they will verfiy you in that medium and they will do it in real time. So relevance and authenticity. We talked about engaging content and I think increasingly consumer expectations grow over time. That content should probably focus on video content. the other reason why video is preferred is because it is emotionally more engaging, it is a three dimensional story telling medium as opposed to flat. And the final thing I would say is think carefully about the specific social media that you are using. Some allow slightly longer video content and some are very short. If you use vine, vine has a very high penetration in younger generations but in very short length of video. Where in YouTube, you can run 5, 7 or even 9 or 12 minutes videos. So with the same shoot that you do initially, with the same investment in production, make sure that it is able to be customized so that the link and the follow lead can be the most relevant to the particular social medium that you jump into.
Elisabeth: And as you said earlier that the wool industry has so many wonderful stories to tell. I think compared to other fibres we are so lucky that we have so many parts of our industry that lend themselves so well to tell stories. So we have these beautiful sheep and such a large variety of sheep around the world, we have farmers who do so many great things for the environment and for the sheep and then the supply chain, the processing is very unique and lots of attention to detail and then we have these beautiful products that are made out of wool, so there are so many opportunities to tell these beautiful stories. I hope we inspire the wool industry some more to start telling these stories.
Rob: I think what you hear nowadays more is the concept of an artisan. Someone who draws on heritage and history, learns a craft or trade or an ability to do something and then continues to do that. Even if they have to do that in a more modern context. For me why I became so deeply involved in the wool industry. To be honest I was used to on Monday it is Coca Cola and Thursday it is soft drink and on Friday it is L’Oréal. One of the reasons why I got very involved in the wool industry was understanding just how artisanal the skills and the investment is in producing goods out of wool. It is such an incredibly rich source of stories. Right away through the supply chain. I mean I worry that spinners think they don’t have anything to say and then I walk through some of the factories in Biella and I look at how they blend product dyes, and how they make sure they that the dyes don’t run in final production, or they do a short run of a particular customized colour. These are things that consumers today want to know. These are artisanal skills that make a differentiated end product. I think that is a really valuable thing that sometimes people through the supply chain don’t recognize that as an asset. So for me I would be encouraging at every step along that supply chain people to look at what they do and look at it form a point of view as what do I do differently than putting a very crude oil chip back into a refinery and pumping out plastic fibre at the other end. That is not a great story to be able to tell. That is not of the depth of running form Tasmania and growing merino sheep to blending a specified dye in Biella to weaving it in the north of England and producing a Saville Row suit.
Elisabeth: Often when we are an expert in something, we don’t realise or appreciate that we have such a specific knowledge that people are interested in.
Thank you for the interesting discussion we had today. I learned a lot. That is all for today. But before we close, how can people get in touch with you.
Rob: Either through you or by email at email@example.com. I am based in Sydney. I am travelling a bit, but I am always accessible on email. Get in touch any time. One of the things that I really think is of interest, and for me it is a personal thing rather than a commercial thing. If I can be of any help to anyone in the supply chain that can help guarantee a growth or a continuation of the demand for Australia’s merino wool that is a very valuable thing for me as an Australian. And if anyone wants to tab into my knowledge, I am more than happy to share it.