At Marketing Trends we are discovering what drives Australia’s top marketers. Brendan Biddell’s career in marketing has taken him from theme parks in the USA to movie sets in Australia and creative studios in Hong Kong. In this interview, he shares with us his unique story, gives us amazing resources recommendations, and tells us about his latest role as National Marketing Manager at Meriton Suites.
Career & professional background
Brendan, how did your career in marketing start?
When I was around 7 years old, my dad took me to his office to watch a TV commercial being filmed onsite. I still remember to this day being in awe by the lights, cameras, and actors. It blew my mind and I wanted to know more about advertising.
When I would watch TV, I was just as excited for the ads as the program. It was there I understood the concept of generating awareness and trying to convey a message. I thought the concept was incredible and that’s when I knew the direction I wanted to take.
During my time at university, I found my passion for international marketing, this passion took me on one of the most amazing adventures of my life, with an exchange to San Francisco. At that time in the USA, social media was basically handouts at parties, a few photos posted to a blog, MySpace and early Facebook. Influencers were mostly students who were given free products such as energy drinks to hand out at dorm and frat parties.
Another thing that caught my attention in America was the sense of community. Especially within universities, student clubs and volunteering are huge and students take their positions very seriously. Sure, we have them in Australia and some of them are very serious, but in the USA, it's a whole new level and it’s almost a necessity to get behind if you want to end up in front when you’ve finished your degree.
My time abroad gave me a whole new perspective on community and networking, and when I came back to UTS, I wanted to replicate that environment and started the Exchange Club & Study Abroad Club (ESAC) and started applying what I had learnt overseas. I was using social media, mailing lists, working with the UTS exchange office to promote events, putting up posters, holding weekly table sessions and setting up banners to promote the club. This was a great way to network with like-minded people who wanted to see Sydney, market a purpose and meet locals!
Time and time again, we filled venues to capacity with 1000s of students from all around the globe experiencing some of the best nightlife and cultural experiences Sydney had to offer. At the peak of ESAC, we were the second largest club at UTS, however we were number 1 in attendance in participation by a long way.
This experience helped me understand the true value of networking, community, and vision. When I finished my degree and was applying for jobs, I knew I had to stand out. The story of ESAC helped open those doors.
My career has literally taken me around the world, from theme parks in the USA, movie sets in Australia, creative studios in Hong Kong, to theme park construction sites in China and has exposed me to various international segments, including tourism, hospitality, film franchises, intellectual property, university education and finance.
Recently during my career, I had the pleasure of changing the face of Sydney at Luna Park Sydney, collaborating with various major LA studios and working alongside my fellow colleagues in China to execute the opening strategy for Lionsgate Entertainment World, in partnership with Village Roadshow Theme Parks Australia, Lionsgate Studios LA and the Lai Sun Group Hong Kong.
If you hadn’t pursued a career in marketing, in which other industry do you think you might be?
I've always been creative. I always wanted to be an artist, and I'm a hobbyist photographer, and I also did a bit of acting when I was at university, which helped me better understand people and emotional intelligence.
I'd say becoming a professional actor or dedicating myself to photography are careers I considered pursuing, however marketing fascinated me much more.
I guess one of the things that I'm always trying to do in marketing is be hands-on with everything. When I'm talking about a campaign or a photography session, I know about the equipment, including hardware, lenses and the software they’re using. I know the terminology, and if I don't, I’ll make sure I do. I like to take control of the vision to ensure we have continuity and clear brand integration.
Could you tell us about your last role as National Marketing Manager at Meriton Suites?
There were no two days alike. I know everyone says that, but especially in marketing, it really is that way. One day you're doing a TV commercial, the next day you are focusing on content for social media or building your tech stack.
At Meriton Suites, we were focused on digital marketing, content and tightening up the tech stack. With the current climate, I was avoiding ATL marketing, as agility is an issue, borders may and could close in a moment’s notice.
Essentially, my job was to build the persona, the journey, and the look and feel of the brand.
Marketing & Industry Trends
Could you tell us a bit about the impact COVID-19 had in the industry?
COVID-19 had a massive impact on the entire industry. With travel reduced considerably, especially international travel, the whole industry had to adapt, which has been very interesting.
We had to change a lot of processes, including cashless check-ins, training frontline staff, creating safety information processes for staff and guests, and putting new practices in place for social distancing. Normally housekeeping is just part of the hotel experience, now it’s conveyed as a feature with practices like high temperature washing of linen and the use of particular brand name cleaning products, a major draw card in many hotels and public premises.
I think one of the most important effects the pandemic has had is how consumers have accepted the digital transition when it comes to eCommerce. In this sense, it's as if the western world moved 10 years ahead. That’s changed how we promote, and it's taught us that when it comes to marketing, we need to be proactive to be able to be reactive.
As an example, a few months ago we were getting ready for the opening of Queensland’s borders, which never happened. In this new normal, all it takes is one COVID-19 case for months of planning to become redundant. It is for this reason, we always have a backup campaign ready to go: being proactive, so we can be reactive.
As a marketer, what do you believe is the biggest challenge facing your industry in the future?
I believe that in marketing we need to learn to adapt to the consumer. Nowadays, brands and companies are held more responsible than ever. Consumers now can interact with a brand on a public platform, and they want answers and engagement straight away. Brands now literally have a voice, however many brands don’t use it to their advantage and misalign their purpose.
Before, if something went wrong, companies could work on a press release and then push it throughout whatever channel and connections they had when they were ready.
It doesn't work that way anymore. Now, we need instant responses and companies have to be held accountable for their actions both good and bad.
This is a huge change, not just in hospitality but for brands in general. I think that's what some companies lack and are stuck in the old 90s model when brands had one name, one logo and a single voice. Now, there are multiple voices from the same company; and everyone's a representative and even the consumer.
What is the most exciting trend or innovation happening in your field in terms of growth?
In terms of exciting innovations, I am fascinated with QR codes. Now, everyone has seen them, but QR codes are something which I’ve had a major interest in for a long time and unsuccessfully started using back in 2010. When I was working in China, QR codes or similar barcodes that could be read by any mobile device were used everywhere. Unfortunately, the west has fallen behind with digital integration compared to what I have experienced and worked with in China.
The way the Chinese use QR codes for marketing is just phenomenal. The physical world and digital world are integrated seamlessly. I think a lot of people don't know what that means in the western world, however they soon will. But if you look at Asia, it's already happening and it’s been happening for a while. Some of our old processes have been holding us back.
One of the key differences in China is the use of WeChat. WeChat started off as a similar product to WhatsApp, but it’s involved into a super app with a true integrated experience. Integration is what we in the west are lacking when it comes to our online eco system, and in particular payments, shopping and services.
I don’t necessarily see WeChat taking over in the West, but I already see Western apps and brands starting to offer similar services and integration as WeChat.
Lastly, I see Out of Home (OOH) continuing to grow at a rapid rate. With the integration of QR codes, the possibilities are endless. Recently in Shanghai, they created a QR code in the sky using drones. The code allegedly could be scanned from miles away. How amazing is that, digital integration in our skies!
Tools, recommendations & sources of inspiration
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you structure your week?
Given I’ve decided to pursue a few side projects, my schedule has recently changed and I’m multitasking harder than ever before!
But while working at Meriton, I worked in a few different calendars. I had a yearly calendar, to know what was coming up: events, public holidays, sporting events, school holidays, etc. Seasons made a huge difference for us, so I needed to have a rough idea to be able to plan our EDMs, social media campaigns and our radio advertising schedules. I planned these 12 months in advance.
Then I worked on a short-term calendar, to know what I needed to achieve for the month. Because, as I mentioned, I like to be proactive to be reactive.
And the third and last calendar is my daily one, and it’s for personal and team goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than ticking off checkboxes throughout the day.
Software and tools recommendations: what is the one software you can’t work without and why?
I love Slack, Asana and JIRA, especially when we are dealing with website builds. Yet my favourite tools are WeChat and my LUDDITE Daily Planner.
In the end, all these tools are great and people are always trying to find the perfect digital tool to create a healthy work environment. Yet, what people forget is that the tools are there to assist, sometimes they take too much time to maintain and don’t provide much value. Don’t undervalue face-to-face communication.
Face-to-face communication or picking up the phone is always going to be faster than using these tools. I really value real connections, real relationships and actually talking to my clients taking notes in a notebook. Communication is key. Digital tools have helped with COVID-19, but no software is going to replace a genuine business relationship.
What brands do you take inspiration from?
Brands that inspire me: definitely Apple. What I love about Apple is their attention to design. They might not have the most advanced products, but they simply have the best marketing and appear to have the best quality.
Apple tends to make the intangible tangible. When everybody else was doing black headphones, they made them white, and they stood out. When MP3 players came out, brands were focusing on promoting their gigabyte capability - which few understood. Apple instead created the iPod with the slogan, 1000 songs in your pocket. Similar product, but Apple focused on the purpose, the why and gave the brand meaning.
Other brands I love are Atlassian and Canva. They took the market by storm and both have such an incredible backstory. It's astonishing what they’ve achieved and how they have adapted.
Disney is just a branding machine, taking on Star Wars and Marvel with theme parks, which they truly focus on purpose. Though with so many assets and remakes, they are at risk of offending their loyalists.
Also, AfterPay has phenomenal marketing and the shopping eco system is something they do better than their competition in my opinion.
What resources you would recommend for anyone working in your field?
- I love audiobooks and podcasts and listening to them at double speed. It takes a while to get used to, but when you do, it's incredible. And I can’t stress enough the power of a whiteboard and the must-have tool: YouTube (double speed).
- Books - Some of my favourite ones:
- Freakonomics, by Stephen J. Dubner, a fantastic book about statistics and manipulation.
- Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, both by Simon Sinek. These are absolutely fantastic books on purpose and meaning.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.
- Emotional intelligence by Daniel Coleman.
- Sapiens, A Brief Story of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari.
- Homo Deus, A Brief Histroy of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Convey.
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear.
- The Cosmos, by Carl Sagan.