Samantha Dolan – Aunt Bessie’s

Samantha Dolan – Aunt Bessie’s

Samantha Dolan is Head of Marketing at Aunt Bessie’s, a UK producer of frozen food products. The company was previously family owned, and is now part of Birds Eye. Sam’s role within Aunt Bessie’s overarches across communication, marketing, promotions, pricing, and packaging.

Main ingredients for growth

According to Sam, the most important KPI to grow your brand is penetration. “Particularly 12-week penetration – it’s a single-minded brand health measure. Back in the day we used to talk about penetration a lot but that can be translated as just promote more and that’s not a good long-term behaviour. However, corona has definitely thrown the dynamics out with consumers willing to buy on base and less insistent on promotions to make their purchasing decisions. We shouldn’t be fooled by this though and the right thing is to carry on advertising to ensure loyalty when we get out of all this! You need brand love, and you won’t necessarily get that loyalty unless you are building the brand. I’m in favour of a traditional media model based on reach BUT creativity has to be king, and the cut through of the campaign has to be there. People are exposed to so much advertising at so many touchpoints these days, just ticking them all is not enough and can become disjointed and confusing. On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than a consumer remembering your creative but not that it’s for your brand – the balance is really important.”

In terms of KPIs, I think every brand’s needs are different, and the winning formula is unique to them. Relevance is key to the long-term brand growth and that can change for lots of reasons, such as product maturity and consumers themselves.” An example that comes to mind is her time working at Cravendale. Sam: “The brand got to a maturity point, where people’s kids who had grown up using the brand started buying it too, which can change the whole dynamic of the brand depending on its age. It’s also very important to show some depth and breadth at the same time. Brands that are now trying to use the corona angle, and trying to create sympathy within their advertising, are at risk of consumers getting corona blind.”

Success of creatives

“Some brands spend tens of millions a year pumping out safe and passive creative on TV”, Sam continues. “In my eyes, great creative needs to tell a story to create an emotional attachment and really cut through and that could lead to less ratings to achieve great results.”

“Rather than just focusing on advertising to consumers, a brand story will better resonate with them, and that’s what drives consumer behaviour change. So, it’s not just about having a big budget. It can be a short cut to short term gain. After all, TV is still the biggest short-term driver of penetration, and relevance and chatter are still key. Mass personalisation is something we used to talk about a lot but today it’s imperative. Consumers have to feel as though we’re solving a problem for them, even if we are also solving it for 1 billion other folks.

“Also, a huge consideration has to be given to memory structures and building on them. It is extremely important to be thinking of creatives which will be used in the next 5-6 years, so each creative idea builds on those memory structures. Compare the Meerkat (an advertising campaign for the price comparison website is a good example of a brand that has kept the idea relevant and developed the idea teasing it out using all different categories like travel and car insurance. They live and breathe the meercat idea. Creative is layers of different factors – the story has to be right, distinctive brand assets have to be consistently present, memory structures have to be built, and at the end of the day, it’s got to be campaignable.”

Understanding the consumer

When it comes to research, Sam explains that they use neuro testing at the animatic stage for TV,  “It’s a tough one, as I believe each campaign is different with different objectives. So, the research methodology could be flexed and adapted. A marketer who knows the brand, should use what they know about the brand. Whilst research is very important, own experience should be put into the mix. A check-in is important, but it should not take over the whole process”

Creative challenges

The biggest challenge when it comes to creative, lies in bravery. Sam: “Bravery without a shadow of a doubt. Talkability is key to great creatives and this kind of work does not come without some stress. Trust your agency as well – they know what they are doing and are experts in their field. As brand marketers we are the jack of all trades – we engage in commercial discussions, pricing, promotions, packaging etc. So, we must employ some experts and trust them. In the past, I have seen the creative agency not getting the creative right and sometimes it’s because the brief itself was not put right, it’s really important to brainstorm the brief with the agency before writing it, and do the due diligence beforehand. It should be a team effort.”

Impact of corona on advertising

Continuing the conversation around corona, Sam tells us it has no impact on their advertising. “We believe brand loyalty is not benefitted by going dark at this time. Sure, consumers might pick up Aunt Bessie’s chips once because McCain were out of stock that day, but unless you keep the conversation going, your brand will be dust before you know it.”

“Bird’s eye used the situation in a clever way.” Sam continues. “We saw consumers looking to crowd pleasers like chicken dippers and fish fingers, and switched the advertising focus on ‘useful hints, tips and recipes’. Due to Corona, the perception of frozen foods will change to a large extent and people who didn’t think frozen was their first choice, have realised the quality and convenience are there and it’s better for the environment with less waste. So, the situation does have an impact on some fronts. But I don’t think brands should change their advertising due to corona, as it will not be beneficial to their long-term brand growth. When things start running normally again, they can’t just stop their corona related advertising. They will need a step in between, making the transition feel more natural. At the end of the day, you have got to keep building on those memory structures in order to realise growth.”

Interview by Sim Dehra – Senior Client Consultant