For Lukas Hengl, taking SBE’s Brand Management course and competing in the Brand Fair rekindled his interest in Marketing. ”Now I am entirely convinced that this is exactly what I want to do,” he said in a recent interview with Talkin’Business.
A mind changing experience
When we were introduced to the topic of the Brand Magagement course assignment, which was pensions, my first thought was: ‘Couldn’t they have come up with anything more boring?’ We were hoping for maybe something cool, a car or a new line of clothes. But we realised through this course that it’s not the easy things that need marketing, it’s exactly the opposite.
The real challenge in marketing lies in working with the difficult things to communicate, the boring things, the ones that have a negative image.
We came up with something that in the end was quite engaging, quite creative and changed the image of pensions. I personally have a completely view on the topic now!
Complete creative freedom, really?
The assignment was completely unlike anything we had done before. It was the first time we were asked to do something really, really practical and to work in an entirely different context, a creative context.
Usually, Marketing courses are very businessy, theoretical, research-oriented, heavy on questionnaires, numbers, statistics. With the Brand Fair assignment, for the first time we had to come up with designed material, a website, and to actually be creative in the design of our material.
There were very few rules. We were basically told: ‘Here is the problem: women in the Netherlands don’t know enough about pensions, come up with a communication plan to improve this situation, you can do anything you want.’
But how to promote pensions?
Our campaign revolved around three steps: Raise awareness, educate and incite to take action.
To raise women’s awareness about pensions, we used a theme in our designed material which consisted in comparing the life of a woman who had a fully planned pension and the life of a woman who didn’t. The images we thought up played on the stark contrast between the two lives, shown right next to each other, with a split down the middle. The viewer saw one half of a woman walking on the beach and the other half walking in the rain. That was rather dramatic.
Then the viewers were directed to our website and the next step for us was to educate them. The website had a FAQ section, a section where women could contact professionals, and forums where they could learn from each other and talk to other women who were or had been in the same situation. The website was purely a design mock-up, a prototype, created on Photoshop with buttons that weren’t clickable.
The third and last step was the most important one. Raising awareness and educating is great and it is something that a lot of campaigns do but the most important and hardest step is to get the customer to take action.
So we decided to make it extremely easy for the women to access the channels through which they could take action about their pension plans right away. For example, by inserting their postal code, they could find the nearest pension office or a local pension provider and see which phone numbers they could call. We made it possible for them to get in touch with experts right then and there. It all had to be extremely easy so that they didn’t put this step off.
The importance of having a clear plan
First we thought that our concept was a little bit boring. Having flyers, posters and a website is not extremely creative in itself. It was the approach we took in using those materials that made the difference.
What made our plan attractive is that we were very clear on our goals: we had a very clear definition of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. For example, we felt and also learned during the course that a community focus has certain benefits and we thought this was particularly applicable to our assignment. So we put a lot of emphasis on the community aspect of things and I think that was one of the major marking criteria.
Working on the presentation
We had brainstorm sessions and everybody’s ideas were discussed, criticised or approved. In the end our result was a bit of a mix of the best of everybody. I was the only one in the team who had Photoshop and InDesign skills, so I became in charge of actually producing the material, which is what I did.
We got into this mindset of being very creative but a couple of days before the Brand Fair we looked at our material again and thought that we perhaps needed to take a step back and think a bit more about the financial aspect of our concept, about the practicality of it.
Nowadays, particularly with the state of the economy in most countries, the most important thing for companies is the bottom line. If the bottom line results aren’t immediately quantifiable, they don’t care about your plan. So that was an aspect we also needed to incorporate.
Our campaign had an initial relatively large injection of funds but it was relatively self-running afterwards. The budget would come from both public and private pension providers because both obviously have incentives to educate the population, since the more people know about pensions the more people will seek pensions plans. In the raising awareness phase, we said that putting up the flyers, posters and billboards was scalable depending on the budget. The website itself would be kept going in a perpetual continuity through the community aspect. We had social network buttons at the bottom of the website so that women could share the website with their friends. And running a website is extremely cheap.
Some teams didn’t make their plan as financially feasible. They had fantastic ideas, very flowery, but not feasible financially speaking. Others were perhaps too creative and out of the box. Ours was relatively straightforward.
Preparing for the Brand Fair
For the Brand Fair, we had originally planned that two of us would present our campaign to the judges but we changed half-way through, because of the noise and the time limit. We had to present the entire concept in five minutes, which was really nerve wracking, and we had to do this about six times with very little pause in between. It was like speed dating. We saw judge after judge after judge. It was more efficient and coherent to have one person present the idea and that ended up being me.
What are the judges looking for?
Some judges were very interested in the campaign itself, in the creativity, the design, but most were really strict and asked hard core questions, such as: “Who is going to finance this?”, “How is this going to work?”, “How do you guarantee that it is going to work?”
When you get a question like that, it’s really tough! But we managed to come up with some good answers, on the spot, surprisingly enough. We said for example that that our rather dramatic raising awareness campaign relied on the fact that women are more susceptible to emotional marketing. One of the judges, a woman, shook us a bit when she said: “Oh, are they?”
Later she came by to congratulate us and said: “I’m sorry I was a bit harsh on you earlier but these are the types of questions our clients ask us. They want facts, they want details and they want proof that it’s going to work.” So the Brand Fair was a very realistic experience in that sense.
The jury liked the fact that we didn’t just present an idea but also considered the financial feasibility of it.
That helped tremendously. It made our campaign tangible for the judges, who weren’t only academics but professionals from the field. It was not all hot air. They could grasp it better.
[Laughing] Actually, if I see a poster handing somewhere in the Netherlands in a few months, I think I’m going to take legal action!
Tips for future students
My advice to future teams would definitely be to try to get their plan early on: you don’t want to be rushing towards the end!
Having a visual presentation also helps a lot, with all the bells and whistles.
It is extremely important to make sure that whoever is presenting at the fair is somebody who is confident and feels comfortable in speaking in front of others, and to practise the presentation. We stood outside for a couple of hours presenting it to each other, over and over and over again, because it is incredibly difficult to squeeze in as much information as possible into five minutes and also leave a little bit of time for questions. This really has to be rehearsed. People wouldn’t guess how important that aspect is.
To be honest, what I think tremendously helped is purely how we presented our plan. Our idea may not have been all that different from somebody else’s but it was we communicated it to the judges themselves, standing there and explaining it to them, very clearly and concisely and we were able to answer all of their questions.
A career in Marketing consultancy
I’ve always been interested in Marketing but I have to admit that the first couple of Marketing courses were very statistics heavy and made me lose a bit of my faith in whether or not I really wanted to pursue this field.
The Brand Management course completely rekindled that flame and now I am entirely convinced that this is exactly what I want to do.
What I liked particularly about the Brand Fair assignment is that we worked for a third party. We weren’t trying to improve our brand but we were acting as marketing consultants and responding to the needs of a third party.
Marketing consultancy is something I really am interested in now.
Interview by Sueli Brodin, Talkin’Business editor