Helloworld CMO: Creating a brand from scratch is like an iceberg

Kim PortrateEarlier this year a group of well-known high street travel agents rebranded under the Helloworld banner. Steve Jones sat down with marketing boss Kim Portrate to discuss the challenges of rebranding a legacy business, why creating a brand from scratch is like an iceberg, and how the job is never done.

It’s no secret that high street travel agents are under pressure from their low-cost online counterparts. Add that to the fact the sector has been dominated  by retail giant Flight Centre and you start to get the scale of the challenge facing the new Helloworld brand.

Marketing has been underway for several months in a bid to force Helloworld into the public conscience, with CMO Kim Portrate insisting she was “comfortable” with its progress.

The launch of Helloworld just over 12 months ago followed a protracted internal review at what was then called Jetset Travelworld, a troubled ASX-listed company which consisted of four retail travel brands; Jetset, Travelworld, Travelscene American Express and Harvey World Travel.

All four were controversially ditched in favour of a fresh start – Helloworld – as the company looked to streamline its operations and create a unified network which required one, rather than four marketing budgets.

The rollout of the brand was dogged with problems, most notably the unrest of agents, in particular Harvey World Travel members who remained steadfastly loyal to the brand, while chief executive Rob Gurney departed prematurely earlier this year amid a review into “management style”.

So far 300 shops have taken the full Helloworld identity, 400 have become dual branded while 300 have become affiliate members of the network. One hundred remain with their previous networks.

Portrate declined to reveal awareness data for Helloworld, claiming it was “not appropriate” to share such information.

“Put it this way, I don’t lie awake at night feeling uncomfortable. Is the job done? No, but it’s never done,” the former Tourism Australia marketer, who joined Helloworld in October last year to spearhead the launch, said.

“This is not the first time I have launched a brand, but it’s complicated and anyone who tells you it’s a walk in the park must have superior skills to me.

“It’s detailed. It’s a bit like an iceberg. There’s stuff above the water which is easy and people can comment on, but you have to internalise the brand and the culture. What do you stand for? Why are you important? What do you mean to people? What are they going to say to their friends about their interaction they have with you? All of that work is almost more important than a 30-second TV spot or the rich media you place.”

helloworldHelloworld appointed Droga5 to handle its creative work last year and in May shifted its $14m media account from Initiative to OMD.

Portrate said it has built on the “passion” of its independently-owned agencies, some with 40 years of experience, to position the brand as “experts of everywhere”, a tagline which emerged following consumer research.

“We started with the consumer. That was the focus. What does our audience look like, what did they want?” Portrate told Mumbrella. “We found they wanted contemporary, they wanted modern. They had moved forward. The advent of more accessible information that is available 24/7 meant they were a better informed consumer than a decade ago.

“It’s not exclusive to travel but consumers want a unique experience so the idea of marketing to one is super important. You want to be the person at the dinner party who has been to Peru, or done that special something that no one else has done.

“But you need experts in travel who can facilitate that. And as much as people are researching across a number of channels, a recommendation from a person who has physically been there and done it carries a lot of weight.

“The Helloworld brand is about delivering consumers a superior travel experience and our view is that we can build a better holiday than the consumer can build on their own. And the proof points are the 40 years of passion and expertise and knowledge in travel.

“My view of brand positioning is that the less complicated you make it the more compelling it will be, as long as it’s true.

“I also believe that if a consumer has a great experience in a Helloworld store then the consumer will like Helloworld. I know that sounds simple but it’s almost as uncomplicated as that.”

Portrate, who held senior roles at BBDO Worldwide and Carat before joining Tourism Australia as consumer marketing director in August 2008, acknowledged that creating brand awareness was paramount, but argued that building a proposition was equally as vital.

“A name only has meaning after you have put a value proposition around it, but it’s difficult to engage with a brand if people don’t understand who you are, that’s fair comment,” she said. “That is why you are seeing fairly substantive national marketing programs. We have been in market consistently since March and that is required to establish the brand, not just its meaning but the physical awareness.

“We have the benefit of high street branding. We are physically present in the customer’s mind which is a huge advantage.”

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner said at the launch of Helloworld that it takes a decade of solid marketing to truly establish a recognisable brand. Some in the industry took that with a pinch of salt, designed to undermine its new rival, while others backed the estimate.

Portrate refused to be drawn on the time frame needed to establish a brand, suggesting it depended on the sector and market dynamics.

There are brands which have risen rapidly while others who have been around for many years “maybe don’t have the level of awareness they require”, she said.

“I certainly wouldn’t contradict Mr Turner. The best observation I can make is that the comment was based on his experience, so based on that, his comment is true,” Portrate said. “We are comfortable with our level of awareness.”

She declined to reveal the marketing spend, although it’s media account is thought to be worth $14m. “That is commercially sensitive but we are spending enough to make sure people understand who we are.”

Portrate said Helloworld will continue with a mix of marketing, including TV, digital and press, saying the customer “lives in an omni-channel world” which marketers must adapt to.

She described working with a variety of channels as a positive for the modern marketer as it “enables you to do lots of things at the same time”, but added: “My head sort of explodes when I think about the list of paid and unpaid channels, there are so many.”

“It’s lovely when you see these slides where it’s all linear, but we know the customer journey is more like a Gordian Knot,” Portrate explained. “The customer lives in an omni channel world and in all of our advertising we offer an omni channel solution rather than making a decision for the customer about where they can and can’t reach us.

“Customers will choose the channel. Our job as a brand is to make it open and engaging and as useful an experience however they engage.”

Turning to social channels, Portrate said it was challenge for any marketer to find a balance between “advocacy and commerce” with Helloworld committed to finding a blend between the two.

“I don’t like the blanket term social media because Twitter behaves quite differently to Facebook which behaves differently to LinkedIn. They have different jobs to do and they can be powerful tools,” she said.

“There are some who see social as a commerce channel, but I see it as a blend. I think consumers live in an environment that if they are getting value from a content provider, almost irrespective of channel they will continue to see value and build a relationship.

“At this stage Twitter is to keep people up to speed with things we are doing. Will our social media strategy evolve over time? Yes, but I don’t think we’ll ever lose that blend of advocacy and commerce.”

Portrate added she was exploring new marketing avenues, including Instagram and content marketing.

“All things are possible. That’s my job. That is what a marketer is supposed to do,” she said.

“It would be great to be everywhere all of the time but that would be impractical. But that doesn’t mean you stop looking, everywhere. You have to make determinations about the right kind of place for your brand that is relevant for your customer. That’s your starting position.”

Portrate concluded: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a new soda, travel agent or car, the number one job is making sure you are well known and understood to drive advocacy. I am methodical and focused on that number one job.”

Steve Jones


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