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Managing Marketing: Revolutionising Brand Strategy With Brandvas

Jodie_Catalfamo_Brandvas

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Jodie Catalfamo and Dave Ansett are two of the four founders of Brandvas, a technology platform that places brand strategy and all of the elements that come from this process in the hands of agencies and their clients. Brandvas is an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that provides agencies with the ability to collaboratively develop a brand strategy with their clients and others, informed with the consumer data of Roy Morgan and Australia Post. Launched this year, it gives agencies a way to put the brand strategy process back in the heart of the marketing communications process.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Jodie Catalfamo, founder of Brandvas. Welcome, Jodie.

Jodie:

Thank you very much for having me.

Darren:

And also, your co-founder, Dave Ansett. Welcome, Dave.

Dave:

Thanks, Darren. Good to be here.

Darren:

Well, look, I just have to say because Dave and I go back a long way and in fact, I have to acknowledge Dave was the designer or his company at the time, designed the TrinityP3 logo. So, it’s still alive, Dave, and still going strong.

But we’re not here to talk about me, we’re here to talk about Brandvas. This is a new platform that you’ve both been involved in creating. What is Brandvas, Dave?

Dave:

Brandvas is a kit of tools that’s been designed for the creative agency and marketing industry. And we were struck by the fact that 30 years ago, Apple came along with a Mac and revolutionised the way the industry worked. But really, there hadn’t been a lot of significant change or disruption since, and yet, at the same time, agencies — both of us run agencies ourselves and for the last decade, especially, it’s just going harder and harder to make a profit.

And so, we sat down and thought, with what tech now enables us to do, surely there’s a way to create a platform with tools for agencies to make life easier and find a way to regain some of that lost profit.

Darren:

Yeah, well, it’s true that traditionally, agencies have often virtually given away strategy to get the production and the ideation and that part of it. How would this actually help with that, Jodie?

Jodie:

So, what we’ve been able to do is put together a full module of the process of brand strategy. So, this is not a teaching module at all, it is for sophisticated marketers and agencies that understand the process.

We’ve put it all together into a module that you can follow either our direction of all the steps, or you can completely customise it into your own questions, change the order, and put that process in place that’s specific for your agency and your clients.

And what that does is it helps agencies not only input everything into one platform, but it also saves time because generally, in the brand strategy process, you’ve got post-it notes and Butchers papers all over the walls. Whereas with Brandvas, you’ve got your whole team on the platform at the same time, you can have the facilitator facilitating in an agency view mode, and then your team also in the platform, writing notes and looking at tips to help the process along the way.

Darren:

It sounds great.

Jodie:

Yeah, so the idea is to help agencies find an easier way to build a brand. All brands need strategy upfront before you can go into your creative process or into your marketing process, so that you have a full understanding of what your brand is, what the value proposition is, the essence, the personality.

Darren:

So, Dave, you’ve been heavily involved through your career with developing strategy, design, marketing advertising; is a lot of this driven by the sort of practices and insights that you experienced, or have you had to go beyond the way of doing it in the past.

Dave:

Yeah. It certainly starts with our experiences and processes. What tech and specifically AI allows for these days, is something called an ‘expert system’, it’s a branch of artificial intelligence, which collects combined expertise and turns it into a simplified process.

We came across it with a client about four or five years ago, who was developing an expert system-based platform for medical practitioners. They were working with a handful of the top people in each field of medicine, and providing these expert systems so that GPs and other medical professionals could essentially, go from having a small amount of experience and knowledge to having a deep expertise in an area when it was required.

And we took that same approach and used that same form of AI tech to create Brandvas. Between the founders, we’ve got about a hundred years of branding experience. And so, we drew that out and created our own expert system-based process.

The AI doesn’t give you the answers, but it allows someone who’s confident in marketing, but not super experienced in branding to run a really solid workshop and get a good, strong, brand strategy out of the end of it.

Then for an agency like Truly Deeply, which have years of brand strategy expertise, it really frees us up. It does two things; it allows us to be far more focused and present in the workshop because a lot of the processing is done by the platform, and it also cuts down our time. So, for us, we’re able to complete a brand strategy project from start to finish in around 12 hours, rather than 20 – 30 hours.

That’s a double benefit. For less experienced agencies, it allows them to do really solid brand strategy that they couldn’t do without Brandvas. For experienced agencies, it allows them to streamline the process and get a much better outcome than the other agencies might, but do it in a way that really supercharges productivity.

brandvas

Darren:

Sounds fantastic. And as you’ve mentioned earlier, Jodie, it is in some ways template-driven, but there’s a huge amount of flexibility built into those templates, isn’t there?

Jodie:

Yeah, that’s right. So, that was something that was really important to us, both coming from the industry and understanding how every agency wants to differentiate themselves to have that competitive edge.

We needed to make sure that agencies could have that full customisation in the platform. Currently, for the brand strategy tool, the process, order and the exercises can be fully customised.  And that customisation is only going to continue to grow and allow agencies to do more and more things their own way.

Darren:

It’s interesting from my perspective as a pitch consultant, because one of the things every agency says is that they have their own proprietary strategy model that only they have. But when you actually see them rolled out, they’re all largely the same. Did you find the same thing, Dave, as you were developing this?

Dave:

Absolutely. I did some study at MIT a few years ago, it was a Master’s of entrepreneurship. And there was a marketing component to that course, that had some really interesting bridges between traditional brand strategy and business strategy.

At, Truly Deeply, we implemented some of those more business-oriented processes into our brand strategy. They were probably the only thing we did that was materially different to what everyone else does.

And so, we’ve adopted some of those into the Brandvas process, but essentially, it was Jodie’s process and our process, and another founder, Chris’s process. We put them together, combining the best of each, and adding some of those business processes. For instance, there’s a really interesting competitor analysis component in the Brandvas process which is more out of business strategy approach, but is a really valuable input into the brand strategy process.

Darren:

Well, I could imagine that even for someone that’s quite skilled and sophisticated in strategy, it acts almost like a check line or check post to make sure that you’re covering everything and considering all aspects in developing strategy. Would that be right?

Dave:

Yeah, having used it myself several times with several clients now, I find it really liberating because I don’t need to always keep half of my mind on what’s the next step of the process, which doesn’t really allow for you to go off track exploring too much.

Because the process is there and stepping you through, it really frees up the facilitator and the creative team to explore threads of ideas and go off-road and find some really interesting areas that you may not have otherwise discovered because the process is there and keeping the steps in the process aligned.

Darren:

Look, that’s a really good point, Dave, because a lot of people say that they don’t like templates because they think it inhibits creativity and innovation and free-thinking. But in some ways, what you guys have developed here is a roadmap that then allows the users to actually spend more time focusing on analysing and creating, and coming up with strategy than thinking about the process.

Jodie, one of the big things today is data, of course, and you would often see strategy developed pretty much based on the opinions of the people in the room. But you guys have even thought about that as well, haven’t you?

Jodie:

Yeah. That was really important to us. When I was working at large agencies — we were blessed to have whatever data we wanted. From any source. We would regularly run consumer workshops with qualitative and quantitative.

Then when I started working in smaller agencies, I noticed that that whole data aspect was completely missing. And sometimes, the strategy was built on assumptions. Sometimes, it was built on trying to do Google searches and getting free access to reports and things like that. Then trying to compile that into creating some insights. That whole data aspect was really important to me specifically to get that directly into the platform.

So, with Brandvas we’ve partnered with Roy Morgan and Australia Post. We have really strong B2C data through Roy Morgan. And that’s also linked to Roy Morgan’s Helix Personas where the data outputs through the filtering to consumer profiling.

You can do that as an exercise as part of your brand strategy to define who your core target audience is.

And in addition, we’ve got Australia Post’s eCommerce data. So, if an agency has a client that has online stores whether it’s fashion, footwear, pets, you name it, we can tell them how many households of data we have that’s getting positive delivery through those different online stores.

And even that data can be filtered right down into the local LGA areas. So, we can be really specific with that. And each data level of Australia Post, we show you exactly how large the segment is.

The Australia Post data is also linked to the Roy Morgan Helix Personas. So you really are getting some great insights into who your consumer is, how they’re purchasing, devices, time, where – all of that information.

Darren:

Does that mean that the platform has a DMP in it? Like could you import customer data or segment data and things like that, that the client you’re working with has, or is it a closed system at the moment?

Jodie:

Not at this stage, but you can upload your own. So, if you want to purchase some of our Roy Morgan or Australia Post data, you can. And you can also add in your own slides. So, if we don’t have data that is right for your specific project and you have other data from clients or anywhere else, such as industry reports, you can upload your own slides that go directly into the workshop.

Darren:

Okay. So, there’s some built-in flexibility in there in the sources of data, but they’re two relatively robust customer data sources that you’ve got there (Roy Morgan and Australia Post). And Australia Post just seems to go from strength to strength, especially with the pandemic and working from home.

Jodie:

Yeah. There’s been a lot of insights through Australia Post over the pandemic into how people are shopping online. Australia Post also publishes quarterly reports on shopping behaviours and data, so you can easily access those reports as well.

Dave:

Darren, one of the biggest challenges we’ve seen is — 20 years ago, we had a full-time researcher on staff and our clients were regularly spending $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a project on insights. And that’s just slowly dropped-away to the point where we rarely work with a client anymore who can afford the depth of data and insights that we’re talking about.

So, one of the great changes the tech provides, is it dips into the APIs of this data. So, rather than having to pay a consultant to do the research, the cost base for that execution comes right down.

It means that someone like Roy Morgan or Australia Post are able to commercialise their data in a new way that means our Brandvas agencies can access it for a fraction of the cost that they would have historically spent.

For a lot of small agencies, it’ll be the first time they’ve actually been able to access this kind of data. And so, part of the expert system we’ve created is the filter so that agencies who aren’t used to working with data and don’t have research as a background, can access data that would otherwise be pretty confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

Darren:

Look, I think it’s really exciting because we’ve seen a real shift over the last 10 to 20 years where the media agencies have become data-rich, and the creative and design companies, even digital agencies can find themselves struggling to even have access to it.

As you say, the cost is one of them, but the other thing is just having the access and the people in that connection analyse it and pull the insights out. So, this is a phenomenal opportunity for agencies and companies to claw that back, I imagine.

Dave:

Yeah. I mean, that underpins really the philosophy of what we’re doing at Brandvas, which is all agencies – but especially the 30,000 small agencies and freelancers and consultants in Australia in the creative and marketing fields – have never found it tougher to make a crust.

And what’s really underpinning our whole philosophy is how do we even up that playing field? How do we give them the tools so that they can be offering the sort of value that clients want at the sort of cost that their clients can afford and still make a good margin. And for the first time, this tech is enabling that to happen.

brand strategyDarren:

Yeah, it’s really interesting as well, because the industry talks a lot about strategy and yet  … we analyze a lot of marketing processes, especially around advertising — that strategy’s a very small part of the actual investment. More money is going into production than even ideation, and more money goes into ideation than goes into strategy. It just seems counterintuitive.

Dave:

It’s crazy. And I think it’s because as you said at the start, agencies have got used to giving away the strategy. And so, what we don’t get paid for, we don’t value, and what the client doesn’t pay for, they don’t value. So, the sense of value is flipped on its head.

We believe the brand strategy and getting it right with strong insights at the start, is a critical platform for everything, whether you’re developing a marketing plan, an ad campaign, brand identity, packaging, or website.

Brand strategy is definitely the cornerstone tool. What we’re wanting Brandvas to do is to increase the competency and capability of agencies everywhere to start with a really strong brand strategy, and then a whole kit of other valuable tools flow from that.

So, once you’ve developed those key components of the strategy and you go into writing a brief, then that information flows straight into the brief. And then when you’re writing a media brief, that information flows straight in. When you’re doing a competitor analysis, the information flows straight in.

We’re not only creating that key strategy foundation but then also building in the discipline so that it flows through the project without the agency having to necessarily create that brand strategy mindset overnight.

Darren:

I remember last millennium working at J. Walter Thompson, they had the J. Walter Thompson X Plan. And the idea was it was a strategy process that cast the net wide at the top of the X, consolidated that down to what is the strategic thought, and then amplified it out at the bottom. And I thought it was great.

Except it was driven in those days. This is in the nineties, was driven by pieces of paper and Word templates and things like that, where everything had to be re-typed. So, even the time you’re saving on having to re-type all those bits, because every part of the strategy, as you say, informs every part through that process, doesn’t it?

Jodie:

Yeah. A hundred per cent, a hundred per cent.

Darren:

Does the Brandvas platform work remotely because we do live in a time of everyone working on Zoom, Teams, Google Meets, and the rest. And I’ve noticed that agencies really struggle when they’re having meetings online. And then they suddenly put up their PowerPoint presentation or keynote.

And that seems to be the end of the conversation because it dominates everything. Does Brandvas allow you to share templates and multiple people putting in, or is it pretty much for whoever’s driving the strategy to be doing all the entry? Is it collaborative, I guess?

Jodie:

Absolutely, Brandvas was built as a cloud platform so that it works remotely. We could be running a strategy process now, you could be the client, Darren, and I can be facilitating and Dave’s in there at the same time writing all the notes into the agency interface.

It’s designed with two interfaces; one for the client presentation and one for the agency so that Dave can be writing all the notes and everything as I’m facilitating the workshop. And you’re seeing the really clean, large view at that time.

Then at the end of the strategy session, you simply have to download the reports. So, you can just download it in word or PDF and download all the notes in Word, and then just make the adjustments and changes throughout as needed.

Darren:

Oh, that sounds amazing because everyone’s talking about getting vaccination rates and we’ll be out of working from home, but I actually think this way of working is going to be around for quite a long time. Do you agree, Dave? Do you think we’re going to continue to work remotely or at least not necessarily rushing back to face-to-face meetings?

Dave:

Yeah, I think so. For most agencies and clients, the traditional brand strategy process has always been face-to-face. We designed Brandvas to be cloud-based specifically for the tools to work remotely.

I can remember not even thinking twice about insisting clients fly their key team from all over the country, sometimes all over the region to Melbourne to come to our office for a day to do a brand strategy workshop. It seems crazy now, but at the time, it was what we insisted.

So, we absolutely have created something that is native to this new way of working. And once you open your mind to that, then there are all sorts of improvements to the process.

For instance; it’s a small function, but I think it’s a really strong one, which is when the facilitator is using the client presentation view, and the agency people are working in agency view at certain points, the agency participants get a thesaurus on screen. So, the client could be there saying, “What’s another word for a hypochondriac.” And then the creative director comes up with four different words within a couple of seconds and looks very clever.

So, that’s part of this expert system is you can include these kinds of tools to make the process smarter and easier for the agency. Likewise, the people in the agency can be adding to the workshop notes, “Did you get that? The CEO said red, everyone else said black. Let’s make sure we use red.” Those sorts of processes that this tech can facilitate simply don’t work when you’re working with huge sheets of Butchers paper.

Darren:

Yeah. You’ve done a great job at looking for what are the enhancements that technology can bring rather than just replicating the process, which is fantastic.

Jodie, I’m just wondering from your perspective, what’s the sweet spot here? Is this something that every agency can use or do you think it’s going to be something that smaller agencies or smaller teams will really benefit from?

Jodie:

Every single agency; large or small, can be using this platform. And they would just use it in the way that suits their specific agency.

So, smaller agencies might use the total platform in the way that we’ve designed it for running the strategy, going to then do the creative brief, the media briefs, using the creative competitive review tools, the research and things like that.

The larger agencies might find that they simply just use it internally when working on different brands and clients for the larger clients to then start another conversation through a process. We’ve had amazing feedback on different ways that agencies are using it and also the way that they’re customising it.

That’s been great feedback for us considering we only just launched it two weeks ago. So yeah, the platform’s being developed to be used anyway for any agency; large, small.

But it has been interesting to hear that some of the larger agencies are looking at it because some of the other tools that they’re using, they’re not finding that flexibility that they need, whereas, Brandvas’ customisation is providing that flexibility they’ve been looking for, and then some of the smaller agencies are like; “Wow, I can change the order, I can add some more questions.”

But inherently, brand strategy is a process and Brandvas has given agencies that whole process with the data that can be implemented directly into it. And especially when you start talking about using the names of Roy Morgan and Australian Post, clients can see the value of that.

Darren:

It gives it credibility as well. I mean, not just the robustness of that, but the fact that Roy Morgan feels like it’s been around for years and they’ve built up huge databases and methodology, and Australia Post really have come into their own, especially in the last two years with the just the sheer volume of ways that … I don’t think people go to shops anymore. They just wait for the parcel delivery person to turn up and drop it.

Jodie:

The postie to arrive.

Darren:

Exactly. Dave, from your perspective of having a lifetime of design, were there any challenges or any considerations because user experience is so important with platforms like this; what do you think were the sort of driving principles from your perspective?

Dave:

That’s a great point! Because I thought that we’d nailed it the first iteration, I thought it was perfect…

Darren:

Of course, you did.

Jodie:

Little did we know.

Dave:

And then we took some client workshops. Fortunately, we had some good guidance from peers with strong SaaS backgrounds. We did a workshop with one of their businesses very early on, Jodie and I with pieces of paper, and we thought it was our process.

The learning was that we had to go through three or four iterations before we even built the first version, our alpha version — which we tested with some friendly agencies and we found out that we got it entirely wrong. And we had to really — it’s a great software term — we had to pivot.

And so, we now have a kit of tools rather than a strategy product. We are far more flexible in terms of how agencies can customise Brandvas than we first anticipated. I still wouldn’t say we’ve got the best UX in the world, but we’re pretty happy with it and we’re constantly getting good feedback on how to improve it. The bigger learning has been on the functionality and what we thought was a logical way an agency would want to access and use these tools to actually how it turns out they do want to use them.

Darren:

It’s amazing, isn’t it? That we think we understand how the human being exists and works, but when you actually see something being used by someone, you’re almost going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe someone would do it that way.” But that’s part of the challenge, isn’t it? The best platforms are the ones that feel intuitive for everyone that uses it. And yet, it’s one of the hardest things to achieve.

Jodie:

Yeah. And I think also the best platforms are the ones that listen to their users and take onboard the feedback, which we’re very open to doing. Even just initial feedback we’ve had on just saving of some of the projects we’re like, “Oh, okay, we’ll change it for you. Do you need it changed? Okay, we get that now.”

I think sometimes when you’re so close to it, you just don’t see those little refinements that can just make other people’s lives a hell of a lot easier.

Dave:

One of the most important things I think Jodie and I got right at the start was we brought in a product guy and a developer guy as co-founders. And specifically, high-end, complex SaaS expertise.

And so, having a founder who’s building the code means that when we have to pivot, when we get some feedback that hits us between the eyes, and we can’t believe that we ever thought something else — we’ve got a guy there, Matt who’s completely invested, who spends all weekend changing something that we told him was the right way to do it, and is now the wrong way to do it.

Jodie:

He loves us so much.

Dave:

It makes a big difference.

Darren:

But this is part of any software development. And especially when you’re building a user platform, it is I imagine going to be like you can get it 99% right, but you’re going to constantly be tweaking as you must do.

Look, one of the exciting things from my perspective is when I received the email from you guys promoting it, you launched it in mid-August — was I had ringing in my ears, Professor Mark Ritson who is constantly saying to the industry, we’ve got to get strategy back into the centre of marketing.

And I thought, well, this is a great step to help that happen. Because as you both shared earlier, strategy becomes one of those things, it’s either undervalued or overlooked or just poorly done. So, I really have to congratulate you both on this endeavour and wish you all success in making it happen.

I’m wondering if you’ve had any clients interested in actually taking this because increasingly, we’re seeing clients wanting to “drive” their strategy development.

Dave:

Yes, we have. It’s a vexed question for us to the extent that of the six workshops I’ve done, four of the clients have requested to use the tool themselves for other products that they’ve got. And it’s a vexed question because we’ve built this for agencies. And the last thing we want to do is undermine the value for agencies by handing the keys over to clients.

A couple of clients who I know well, I’ve let them drive the Brandvas car and see how they do. And thankfully, I think it’s going to solve itself, which is that as good as our process is, most clients don’t have the level of marketing knowledge and experience required to really get a good outcome.

The way we’ve built Brandvas for agencies, it’s just a little too sophisticated for most clients. But having said that, clients with in-house marketing departments, with sophisticated marketers — I’m thinking the FMCG companies, for instance, I could definitely see them implementing it in their businesses.

brand strategy

Darren:

No, I think there’s also something else that makes a platform like this work better in the hands of agencies. And that is the constant external perspective looking into the factory rather than trying to use it from the factory, looking out to the consumer.

And I think that’s been a universal issue for years and years because you can have great tools, but the hardest thing is bringing the right perspective. And in a world where we’re constantly talking about being customer-centric or consumer-centric, you need the right external partner to be able to do that no matter what tool.

So, I think this is a great enabler for giving agencies the opportunity to be able to bring something quite structured, robust, and credible into that relationship. I think it’s a terrific innovation.

Jodie:

Thank you. And if a marketer or marketing company does use the tool, and they’re working with a creative agency, it would certainly help in the client writing a strategic creative brief.

So, whether or not they actually do the full brand strategy process or condense it down to a more customised, smaller sort of process, but at least then, providing their agency with a solid creative brief and background information that the agency could then take from there, or then go back into the start of the process again and run the strategy. It’s always going to help.

Darren:

Yeah. Fantastic. Look, guys, we’ve run out of time. It’s a topic that I think everyone’s going to be interested in. If there are agencies out there that are interested in finding out more, what’s their first step, what’s your website?

Jodie:

www.brandvas.io.

Darren:

Io. So, make sure you get that right. What happens if they put .com.au or something silly? Have you checked out the other options? And also, the pricing, is this a typical SaaS, it’s subscription license seats, that type of thing?

Jodie:

Yes, a hundred per cent. We offer a free version of the platform, in which you can have access to create a brief, media brief and also, the research because it’s a separate paid amount. Or we have individual subscription which are only $39 a month, and they have full access to the platform. For smaller agencies between one to five users, it’s $99 a month. And then for larger agencies, it’s $199 a month.

Darren:

There you go, you’ve got the whole rate card.

Jodie:

Got the whole rate card, that’s it. But every person who signs up automatically has a 30-day free trial.

Darren:

Wow. So, you’ve certainly, the two of you have embraced the software world with the freemium pricing and the free trial, and well done.

So, look, I just want to thank you both. So, Dave Ansett and Jodie Catalfamo, both co-founders of Brandvas — are two of the four founders of Brandvas, which is a platform for developing brand strategies and all of the components that come out of that.

Thank you very much for joining me today.

Jodie:

Thank you for having us.

Dave:

Thanks, Darren.

Darren:

Look, I have got one question before you go, and that is, do you think you could work on something that would help agencies actually learn how to charge their clients for the work they do?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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