Managing Marketing: Portfolios, creativity and consistency in a fickle world

Alana Burnside is the marketing director of the Industry Super Fund group. Alana and David discuss how the famous cupped hands ISA logo has kept relevance and consistency, the potentially life-changing importance of superannuation marketing, and the power of consistency in a marketing world often obsessed with the ‘bright, shiny and new’.

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 Our creative agency is very committed to understanding the policy stuff and the law.
So, they’re across all of the detail.
They know what lies ahead for super, they immerse themselves in the subject, but at the end of the day, the message must be really simple.



My name is David Angell, and welcome to Managing Marketing, a podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

And remember, if you are enjoying the Managing Marketing Podcast, please either like, review, or share this episode to help spread the words and wisdom from our guests each week. Today, I am very happy to be joined by Alana Burnside, who is the Director of Marketing at Industry Super Australia.

Welcome Alana, and thanks for joining me.


Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be joining you.


Thanks very much. Well, that’s a good start. I’d like to start by asking you something that’s been pretty cool to your role, and I think you’ve achieved some great things in this particular space. Let’s start with building a strong brand in what I think personally, you might disagree, but what I think is quite a challenging category in superannuation.

So, I do think you’ve achieved great things with us over many years, and you really have been here for many years, five or six years at least. And I’m interested to know what you believe has been the biggest driving forces behind building such a recognizable and trusted brand.


Very good. So, I’ve actually worked on the joint marketing campaign here at ISA for over 10 years. And I’ve also done a stint on it in agency life as well. So, I’m very familiar with the longstanding brand. And I think some of the key reasons to its success are some traditional marketing 101 things, and some sort of out of the box things to challenge your thinking.

So, firstly, this is a term many people will be familiar with, but I think one of the main reasons the brand is so recognizable and successful is just that old theory of consistency over complacency. But you’ve got to pick the elements and the assets that are your consistent elements, and you’ve sort of got to evolve with the times, obviously.

And I actually think the Industry SuperFund Campaign, I am a little biased, but I think it’s one of those examples where the campaign has evolved over time, but really stayed true to its core elements.

And most people know the little hand symbol. And I think even if I say that without people seeing that, they know what it is, and they Compare the Pair device, the up and down, the odometers, all of those sorts of assets I think that have been so consistent throughout, have really been key to building recognition, and then trust that goes with it.

So, look, that’s sort of something that most people teach you in school when you learn about these things, but we’ve really stayed true to that. The other thing is Super’s complex. It can be really boring, it can be complicated, so we just have to keep things really simple.

And with Compare the Pair, the modeling behind that is actually very complex. It involves averages of different funds, it involves net returns and growth, fees being taken out. There’s insurance considerations, there’s a whole lot of things in that.

But really what the punter needs to see at the end of the day is two numbers, one going up further than the other. And the simplicity of it all, I think is what’s key to its success. That’s all you really need to know. And time and time again in focus groups, we have people say, I just want to be with one of the ones that go up. That is the key message takeout. It’s really simple.

Memorability, I think, for everybody is something that’s really important. And because we represent Middle Australia, we’re not looking for fancy models. We are not looking for all the time, beautiful people, we’re looking for real people, but memorable people.

And I think casting is key to the success of cutting through the clutter and making your campaign work. So, we work really hard on our casting, and I’m proud of some of our key talent. They come through really well.

But then the last one I think is on campaign wear out. And I think that’s a really tricky thing to unpack. And I reckon marketers get a little bit fascinated with campaign wear out. And I’m not sure campaign wear out is actually an easy thing to track.

And I think I’m not sure it exists as much as we think. Obviously consumers don’t get sick of the campaign as quickly as we do. And all the sorts of ad trackers, we’ve got a really sophisticated brand and ad tracker in place. It does monitor wear out, but most of the time, wear out tells you things like, “How often have you seen this ad? Is that too many times?” That doesn’t mean that it’s not successful anymore.

And so, I think you just really need to interpret that carefully and know that a consistent well-known ad that people have seen for many, many, many years often doesn’t wear out as long as you’re evolving it and keeping it sort of up-to-date.


That’s a really interesting answer, and particularly the last part of that answer — I was about to pick you up and it’s even more relevant now on this concept of being consistent. Which you quite rightly said, we all sort of get taught that in marketing school.

But I think you raised some really interesting challenges for marketers, partly around the tenure of the average marketing lead, and I want to come and talk about you in that context in a minute. But the average tenure of the marketing lead, as we all know, goes down and down and down over time. I think the pressure on marketers to do something different, to be attracted to the new shiny thing, to look at-


Make their mark.


Yeah, as a way of making their mark or in evolution, I think marketers have that pressure on them.

I think they put themselves under that pressure, and I also think there tends to be a lot of pressure from their internal stakeholders to do that as well.

I mean, this is commentary more on the question, but I’m really interested in your thoughts on that because you are someone who obviously bucks the trend of you are consistent. Culturally, what happens inside the ISA to enable you to do your job like you’ve done it.


Well, we are very lucky we do have a lot of people that have worked in this organization for a long time. So, the organization’s got a great culture first and foremost, I think. I’ve raised two little children and gone off and had time away and come back. So, I think it’s a great place to work. That is what keeps good people. But in superannuation for most people on the outside you sort of think, “Oh, it’s a bit boring.” It’s constantly changing and it’s very challenging. So, we really enjoy working on it.

I think too, this is one of these campaigns that when we have people join our team, they are so grateful to work on such a well-known Australian brand. Like not many people get to work on a household known brand like that. And we’re a very small marketing campaign and we steer this ship and it’s a lot of fun.

So, I think for me, personally, that’s what’s kept me there. But yeah, I think in terms of that comment about people coming in and making their mark, there was actually a time in my career where you’re sort of at a crossroads with the campaign, and I’m happy to share that the Compare the Pair campaign, there was a fundamental change in legislation, and the conversation was whether or not it is time for Compare the Pair to fundamentally change.

And I just did not feel the Compare the Pair was done. And so, we did all the work in the back end, sort of boring stuff, but to adjust the model, and the board was even considering whether it was done.

But we have continued on for, that might’ve been eight years ago. And it is still going so strong. I cannot tell you the metrics are through the roof. Awareness is really strong, but the ability to persuade consumers and give them trust that these super funds are better performing funds is really strong.


I mean, another concept that you talk to there without actually mentioning the word, is bravery. Is bravery, encouraging marketing and the definition of that, what that actually means. Because I think a lot of industry commentary focuses on marketing in this country in a quite negative way, I think.

And advertising particularly, within marketing, and talks to, well, it’s not evolutionary enough. There’s not enough change, not brave enough. But I think you are talking about the bravery of being consistent and staying true to what you believe is right.

And you’ve had to fight — fight is the wrong word, but you’ve had to convince your own board of that. I think that is also bravery and encouraging in a marketing approach. It sounds like I’m over complimenting you. It is more broadly. It’s really interesting the concepts of what bravery means.


No, it is because you’re not taking it that, “Look, this is my idea because I’ve sort of crafted this.” You actually see merit in something else and you nurture it into its next phase. And I think is also a great achievement anyway.

But it’s a challenge for agencies. And I know maybe down the track, we’re going to talk about agencies. But when you do give them a brief, and we’ve worked with our agencies for a very long time, I really support the idea that you foster longstanding relationships with agencies.

But the challenge is when your creative is very consistent, to sort of also get a nice tight brief for the creative agencies that these are the parameters that we’re working within. Of course, we’ll always test a couple of ideas here and there. We’ll stretch the limits, but yeah, that’s where the challenge can come in as well.


I think it points to your other point about casting though, isn’t it? I mean, even within the parameters that are going to be fairly fixed over time, you still got to consider casting, you still got to consider the actual creative execution.

So, I guess there is enough for agencies to do, but I take your point. Again, it’s what the agencies concept of in “fun and excitement.” But then you’ve fostered consistent relationships with them as well, which is also good.

I mean, agencies change hands too many times, as clients change their interest too many times, and that doesn’t always work either.


No, no, no, I agree.


There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? I think there’s a pattern of consistency.

Let’s change gears a bit. I’d love to talk to you a bit about the portfolio of brands that you work with, because it’s worth mentioning, I mean, you’re the lead of Industry Super Australia, but you’re actually working, of course, with a group of superannuation companies all of whom collaborate on joint projects but who are also direct competitors with each other.

And even more so, I mean, you mentioned changing the superannuation industry, even though the last couple of years, it’s been huge changes that affect that. How do you manage those competing interests, and at the same time, holding that unity when you’re building collective campaigns?


It’s a great question because stakeholder management has probably become one of the key parts of my role, and it’s challenging, but it’s also really enjoyable.

And it’s a really incredible thing to watch when some of the country’s biggest super funds get in a room together to put their individual needs aside to do things in a collective way. And that happens at our steering committee meetings eight or nine times a year. They get together to really build a collective brand that’s in the best interest of their members.

And when the industry fund started out, they started out with pretty strong industrial ties with the sort of industries they represent. Most of them now have grown so big that they’re public offer and open to anyone.

But they all really value the collective brand and what that brings for them. And when you think about the traditional sort of marketing funnel, it really does show that people look for this blue symbol. So, they look for the funds within that, and then they look for which fund they want.

So, with the high levels of awareness of the symbol and the trust, it’s something that’s worth them all coming together for. But yeah, it is challenging at times because you might have a fund that works on a certain demographic, and so we’ve got to consider that within our targeting versus another one that doesn’t. But I probably think I’ve done it for so long now I’m used to it.


Well, and without obviously revealing anything sensitive, I’m guessing that these funds, I mean, they all have different CEOs, they all have different budgets, they all have different priorities in marketing aside from the target audience. So, I guess, yeah, I mean, consistency again, but a lot of communication.


Yeah, it is. It’s a lot of communication and it’s sort of not the first time that a group of like-minded organizations come together for a collective reason, but this has been going for a long time. They see a lot of value in it. But they really see that it delivers for their members too. So, yeah, it’s a great thing when everyone comes together.


I’d say it’s fairly unusual. I mean, I’ve worked on a number of … I mean, portfolio clients aren’t nothing new. I’ve worked with some corp, and I’ve worked with Kraft, Mondelez, and they’re all separate too.

But I think the difference with this, is that there really is a merged whole entity from a marketing perspective that really is out there, a lot. And is an absolute cornerstone. That’s actually different from most others I think, certainly that I’ve worked with.


Yeah. It is interesting.


So, well, 10 years in the job, I guess, like you say, you know what you’re doing. Well, look, let’s talk a bit about consumers. Because with the owner of the consumer as marketers, what are they saying about superannuation now?

I mean, I’m particularly interested in attitudinal changes you may have observed in research or any other way through what have been, let’s face it, a tumultuous three years. We all know there’s been a pandemic, we all know there’s a cost-of-living crisis.

There’s been labor issues to whole sectors. Construction, particularly, is one just example that touches you guys. And there’s a lot of people in tough times. What are people saying right now? What are their attitudes?


This is the stuff that fascinates me and that I love. And a lot of our work is based on evidence and research, and really keeping a very close eye on how consumers feel about things, particularly in difficult times.

So, the past few years in particular, there’s been some huge shifts in sentiment towards superannuation and the way consumers think about this and feel about it. Some are really good, and some are not so good and challenging. So, I just thought I’d break it up into a few different cohorts for you when thinking about them.

Pretty simple cohorts. But firstly, starting with the youth market. Don’t assume the usual, not interested in super vibes anymore, sort of not connected too far away, don’t care. We have an incredibly smart and savvy youth cohort in Australia that is focused on wealth building and management.

They’re very progressive, they care about the future of their country. They care about their individual futures. And this is a cohort that is very savvy at getting information. And so, we really need to think differently about how we communicate with this, and I think all brands do.

I think you need to really understand that you’re not talking to kids. You are talking to kids that are educating their parents on the big issues of the world. And when it comes to super, it’s a pretty big thing. They’re sort of born into this world where super is a thing that you just live with. It’s around you all the time.

Their parents didn’t necessarily have it, their grandparents certainly didn’t. So, I think we need to speak to them in a way that respects that they know what we’re talking about, and also, accept that they want this information, they want to build their wealth.

Whether their expectations are real or not is a different story. But I think just really giving the youth market the respect around finances that they deserve is a really important thing.


I mean, you’re touching on, again, stuff that is societal in nature. So, it’s the dichotomy between yes, historically, or the stereotype of well, it’s too far away and what have you. But they’re engaged, which is a good thing, not just because it’s good for your business, but the more independence these kids are going to have financially when they’re in their sixties and seventies, that’s going to have profound effects for the state of Australia.

That’s going to have profound effects for taxpayer money and subsidizing and people’s health and wellbeing. And so, I think, like that just can’t be overstated, can it? You’ve got a really, really fundamental job there to do with the youth of today, is a terrible threat.


No, exactly though. But you can’t assume the usual disinterested sort of vibe. So, I think that’s a really important takeaway for youth. But the next thing is young families, and I think this is where everybody is focused at the moment.

These hardworking Australians are doing it really tough at the moment. We’ve got interest rate rises, there’s inflation, there’s cost-of-living pressures and just getting food on the table for families is really difficult at the moment.

And so, we talk a lot about the bandwidth that this cohort has to deal with. And you know what, superannuation at the moment is just not something that they can focus on. They’re just dealing with what’s in front of them. And I think acknowledging that and just sort of understanding that you’ve just got to pay the bills.

But our research shows that they value their super, that’s like a safety net for the future. That money is there that they can’t touch, and they know that when they sort of come out of these times and they look forward to the good times again, that’s going to be their retirement savings. So, protecting that is really important.

But we are starting to see things like individuals are dropping back on their additional contributions that they would’ve otherwise made. That sort of behavioral changes we see when they’re just trying to make ends meet.

And look, I imagine any marketer is really tuned into this at the moment about what people are focused on. And so, I think for us, the communication to them just really needs to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

And at times, through the global financial crisis and through the pandemic, we have communicated quite strongly, like we pull out of market of certain messages, and we really sort of wrap our campaign around reassurance messages and just letting people know that your money is being looked after and its long-term growth and that sort of thing, you really do need to sort of respond to what’s going on in the market.

But yes, I suppose the thought I’d leave there with the young families is that they’re very thankful that they have super, and that it’s a big safety net for them in the future.


I mean, what constitutes discretionary expenditure, and it’s just changing so much.


Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. And look, this sort of also links a little bit to the last cohort that I’m thinking of, which is those approaching retirement and/or those in retirement, and the usual assumptions apply here. Like they engage a lot more in super particularly leading up to retirement.

We’ve got this huge wave of baby boomers hitting retirement, and most of them have had superannuation for a long time. So, we’ve got serious big balances happening here where sort of people are moving from the saving phase into the spending phase, which is great.

But they have seen bad times before, and they’re nervous, and they’re nervous about market volatility. But we talk a lot about there’s a new saying for this group of people, and it’s not FoMo, it’s FoRo, and it’s the fear of running out. People are living a lot longer now too.

And so, just that uncertainty about, “Have I saved enough for retirement? Have I got enough? How long am I going to live for?” And so, it’s just I know that the super funds that we work with are really focusing on this phase, and making sure that they deliver what their members need in this big stage of retirement where they should be spending all of their savings.


Look, I mean, that’s a really interesting set of cohorts with a really life-defining kind of set of challenges. And as marketers, you’re right, I mean, a lot of what you’ve said does touch, it bleeds into other categories, and of course, and it’s societal. I’m struggling to think of them quite as fundamental as superannuation, honestly when we think about these challenges.


Yeah, no, that’s right.


Wow, big job. Big job. Well, this wouldn’t be a marketing podcast without talking about agencies. You mentioned, you anticipated my question earlier on. I mean, as a category I think, and what you just talked about and messaging to these cohorts.

I mean, from marketing, but also, in advertising, it can be a tough gig, I think for agencies creatively. Cutting through a hell of a lot of cutter, there’s ever more competition, there’s tight regulation of course, there’s gaining consumer attention, understanding, cutting through these challenges that you just talked about.

Added to, which of course, it’s not a straightforward purchase. And purchase even in the right word, I don’t think. What have you valued most in your agencies? You mentioned long-term partnerships before, what have you valued most in them over the years?


Well, we are a very small team, marketing team at ISA, so our agencies are our team members. So, creative agencies, research agencies, web agencies, media agencies are extended parts of our team. So, that’s why we really value the long-term partnership with them. And yeah, sure, team members change within the agencies and that sort of thing.

Bronwyn, my colleague conducts these fantastic sort of induction presentations for when new started … like one of their first things is come in and learn about us, and it’s really good. And I think people can feel a little bit daunted when they first join the team, but while super is really complex, I just remind everybody, look, our job is to make it really simple.

So, if you don’t understand it, they’re not going to understand it. So, don’t worry, our job is to make it really simple. And I actually think our agency partners relish in this challenge. And so, just really lifting ourselves up out of the forest and keeping things simple.

That said though, our creative agency is very committed to understanding the policy stuff and the law. So, they’re across all of the detail. They know what lies ahead for super, they immerse themselves in the subject, but at the end of the day, the message must be really simple.

Now, our media agency, look, they probably don’t need to concentrate on the detail of superannuation legislation as much, but we rely on them so much to be the experts in keeping up with media consumption habits.

We, as a team ourselves, don’t have the time to attend all of the seminars and learn all about that and what’s happening with the latest social platform, and what are the latest sort of benchmarks that we should be striving for. For this, we really rely heavily on our agency for that.

And we rely on them to sort of help us partner with big top tier trusted platforms. So, I think our agencies know their role and they all collaborate together. In fact, we like to give joint briefs to our agencies at the time as well and get them all collaborating together.

But research is critical. So, all of the other agencies will be working on the research that comes through. And same with the research, even though we’re trying to understand something’s a bit complex, we need to stay true to that. All of the questions need to be really simple.

So, I actually think they quite enjoy working on it. We have people that do feel daunted when they first walk in, but once they’re sort of working on it, they realize actually this is challenging and interesting.


Well, that challenging and interesting is always good. And I think the space is ever changing in superannuation. The consumers are ever changing. And for the agencies, I mean, I know having worked in agencies myself, the agencies are always changing too.


They are. And look, I think the other thought I might just say about the people at the agencies is we’re superannuation but we’re not just any superannuation. We are profit to member superannuation.

And so, everything that we do needs to be in the best financial interests of members, and we collaborate with other organizations in the best interest of members to make sure that policy changes are helping members so that super can be fairer for women, so that unpaid super is sorted out.

And so, I think people working in agency life, especially if you’ve done it for quite a while, to be working on something with a sense of purpose like that is also really fulfilling. So, yes, it’s superannuation and it’s sort of a bit financey, but it’s also some really good feel-good stuff too.


You’re going to get calls from agencies after this wanting to work on your business or people or agencies, one of the two.


No, we have longstanding relationships, so-


I know. That’s not a suggestion, anyone from agencies listening. I was more thinking about individuals actually who might want to go and work for your agencies. But yeah, look, it’s clearly quite challenging and there’s a big future.

So, what’s in the future for you? What’s exciting you at the moment about what’s happening in the future?


It’s a really good question. The future for superannuation is incredibly exciting. So, there’s currently about $3.5 trillion in superannuation assets in Australia. I don’t know if you know how much a trillion is. It’s sort of as a big number, right?


Thousand billion, right? Isn’t it? From my math knowledge.


So, I’ve done this before, but I had to check my numbers again. But if I was to give you a dollar every minute from now on, it would take me more than 1.9 million years to just get to $1 trillion. So, there’s $3.5 trillion in superannuation. So, that’s a lot of retirement savings for hardworking Australians.

And our funds are working really hard to make sure that that money is invested in really good things that give them a good return. But that does things like help protect our country from future GFCs and things like that.

It’s a really important thing in the country, so we don’t need … and sort of, we build infrastructure and things that create jobs. And superannuation is a great story in itself. So, if you think about the future of super, it’s really exciting.

But we are really looking forward to working with the funds in this transitional phase of all these baby boomers shifting into the spending phase now of retirement and really enjoying the fruits of their labor.

And there’s a lot of marketing and comms that comes with that in nurturing them in the lead up to retirement, getting them to see their options, helping them through retirement so that they’ve got flexibility and control when they are retired. So, there’s a lot of work in that.

But when it comes to sort of things in marketing that we’re looking forward to, and I was sort of thinking about innovations and things like that, there’s nothing in particular that stands out. And you might have an answer for me, but this is something that I’m quite interested in, is finding ways to manage … this is what we are up against at the moment, and it’s only going to get worse in the future — is the production of assets across a diverse range of media channels.

Now, I’m casting my mind back to when I was sort of in agency land, and you’d roll out an integrated campaign with some TV, some outdoor, some radio, and you’d have your material nominations. And now, it just blows my mind, the teams, every campaign, there’s like 150 different pieces of material across everything, and it feels a little inefficient, but I know that it’s necessary because of the complex media consumption habits.

But we’re really conscious that every dollar we spend has to go towards delivering a benefit to members. And I think that’s something that we are quite keen to figure out as the years go on, that just as a new platform pops up here and there, we’ve got to make sure that we’re still being efficient. And I’m sure that’s something you are seeing with everybody as well.


Yes, with pretty much everybody. Dynamic content versioning and AI are two things that are being … obviously, AI is talked about endlessly, but the ability of marketers to be able to plug first party data particularly back into advertising in order to create dynamic content that suits a given point to a given person, and do that in such a way that doesn’t involve a whole new creative process is what people are investing in.

And clearly, as the third-party cookie disintegrates, first party data becoming more and more important, these technologies are becoming more and more central to what advertisers are doing. But of course, on the horizon, there’s also changes to privacy laws.

And you are already regulated, highly regulated already. So, it’s not as easy as oh yeah, let’s just have an Excel file with everyone’s names and addresses. But those are the things that … I’m not teaching you any of this.


No, that’s right. Everybody’s up against it.


No doubt you’re investing and looking at in your agencies will be too.


And ensuring though that every piece of creative that’s developed contributes to building that sort of trust and consistency that I spoke about earlier on, and managing each execution as an important piece that’s representing your brand.

So, that’s sort of something like, in terms of the future, it’s not just for us, it’s for everybody. But it’s just about the best way of how much you lean into the AI stuff, but how much you also need to make sure that you’re just managing everything to make sure that it’s all still true to brand.


You raised a really good point. I mean, the AI stuff, and I’ve spoken to people in similar industries to you in the sense that regulation is really critical. And this conversation about, “Yeah, look, it’s great,” but ChatGPT is still not a human being and can easily make mistakes in terms of how it generates a message, which could be really catastrophic for highly regulated businesses.

So, none of this suggests that human beings are going to be written out of that equation. In fact, it’s even more important for human beings to be involved.


Well, the human beings at the moment just need to review everything that AI does. So, we’re sort of doubling up.


Really, really carefully. And I don’t know whether that’s a question of technology advancement or whether that’s just a question of human beings having intuition that technology will never have.

But certainly, everyone’s having to look at investing and understanding at least the extent of what they can do with this kind of stuff. So, that’s the answer I often get, and that’s the conversations that are often happening.


Yeah, absolutely.


So, I don’t know whether I’ve helped you or not there. This is the start. You’ve raised a very common challenge.

Well, look, that was a pretty wide-ranging discussion. Thank you very much for all your insights. It’s been really good to talk to you.

I wish you all the best with your consistency, and your longstanding relationship, and your stakeholder management and what is a really fundamentally important industry in this country. So, thanks again.


Thank you very much. That was a lot of fun. And I will give you a little tidbit that very early next year there will be a new installment to our campaign that is very much in the theme of our current campaigns, but it’s a new campaign, but it speaks to all of the things that I just did now about using consistent elements. So, I look forward to when you see that pop up, look forward to hearing what you think.


Fantastic. Look forward to it. Thank you, Alana.