The CMO Show:
Robbie Brammall on radical authenticity...

Do people give a sh*t about your brand? Not really, according to Robbie Brammall, director of marketing and communications for the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). He shares his guide to interrupting people with interesting things on this episode of The CMO Show.

“Whatever you do, don’t be ordinary.” This was the brief given to Robbie Brammall, director of marketing and communications for the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), by enigmatic founder and ex-professional gambler David Walsh.

David Walsh’s reputation precedes his masterpiece of art and culture, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart – an example of excellent destination marketing.

Arguably one of the world’s most creatively driven startups, MONA first opened in 2011 and had 3000 people a day queueing in its first weeks.

Before opening MONA, David told The Age that if people didn’t picket and protest about his “sex and death”-laced museum, he would be hugely disappointed. “I want people to write letters to the paper. I want people to decry the loss of the moral fabric of our community,” he said. Instead, when MONA opened in 2011 it was met with international acclaim.

MONA emcompasses around 40 brands, which means Robbie is in charge of a bunch of fun marketing stuff for the museum (MONA), a winery (Moorilla), a brewery (MooBrew), some music festivals (MOFO), a restaurant (The Source), and a convention and accommodation business. “MONA is a massive, big, unwieldy beast. But at the heart of it is the museum,” Robbie said.

Robbie’s role has been unconventional from the start. In his initial interview, four beers in with David, he was told of David’s disdain of marketing. “Maybe the interesting thing for us compared to other brands is that David hates marketing, so when he hired me he said, ‘I bloody hate marketing, it’s a snake eating its own tail,’” Robbie said.

David’s only advice? “This is probably the start of our drift to the middle, and I don’t want us to drift to the middle. Make mistakes if you have to, fail if you can, but just stop us becoming ordinary,” Robbie recalled of the conversation.

It’s a challenge Robbie has embraced wholeheartedly. “That’s a fun place as a marketer, boss telling you just don’t be ordinary. That’s where the most interesting stuff’s always come in my career,” he said.

Robbie’s pitch to David was that marketing can contribute to the creativity of the business and not just document it. Robbie’s past experience from adland saw a great opportunity to do more creative things for MONA and its brands.

”It’s not so much the controversy, [David] just wants us to be confronting assumptions and interrogating that from an intellectual place. So it has to be authentic, there has to be a point to the controversy that we create. But he does like to poke people and make them confront their own hypocrisies,” Robbie said.

MONA is proof that controversy can provide positive brand equity. “We know from the real world that people couldn’t care less about brands. They’ve got families and lives and wives and partners and holidays and money problems, and then brands are so far down the totem pole that they’re lucky to notice us at all,” Robbie said.

“So when the moons align and the consumer actually is able to interact with your brand, you better make it worth their while. The riskiest thing you can do is be boring in that case and not engage and not create a reaction, whether that’s MONA or whether that’s any brand,” he said.

Tune in to this unconventional episode of The CMO Show as Mark and Nicole talk auto-dialing Donald Trump, interesting interruptions and the world’s worst TripAdvisor reviews.

Resources

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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Candice Witton, Charlotte Goodwin

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript

Participants: Hosts: Mark Jones and Nicole Manktelow

Guest: Robbie Brammal

Mark Jones: Destination Marketing has to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the marketing universe. And MONA down in Tasmania has to be top of the list when we look at examples of how to do it right. Curiously enough, the Tasmanian visitor survey from the end of 2017 showed Tasmania received 1.28 million visitors and all of that 27%, or 350, 000 people, had said they’d visited Mona while they were on their trip.

Mark Jones:  So what does it take to become a destination and how do you sustain that in the long term

Mark Jones: This episode of The CMO Show is brought to you by Filtered Media.

Nicole Manktelow: Telling your brand story brilliantly.

Mark Jones: This is the CMO show and my name is Mark Jones. Welcome back.

Nicole Manktelow:  I’m Nicole Manktelow. We’re so happy to have you with us today.

Mark Jones:  Yes, we are indeed. And, wow. What a guest this time and what a brand we’re going to talk about today.

Nicole Manktelow:  So if anybody out there is feeling a little artistic or considers themselves to be, a culture vulture, you’ll know about MONA.

Mark Jones:  A controversial brand at times and certainly creative and provocative.

Nicole Manktelow:  The Museum of Old and New Art in Tassie, and it’s got the whole world talking. It’s got us talking today

Mark Jones:  Robbie Brammall is the director of marketing and communications for the Museum of Old and New Art, MONA, and he works for a very interesting man, it should be said up front too, David Walsh. An enigmatic figure, something of a disruptive founder,

Nicole Manktelow: Trail Blazer?

Mark Jones: Trail blazer, yeah.

Nicole Manktelow: I don’t know. Provocateur?

Mark Jones: Yeah. Anything less ordinary, I think would be one of the ways of looking at it. In fact, we’ve got a great theme for this. Do we not?

Nicole Manktelow:  Well, if this is what Robbie was told. Don’t be ordinary.

Mark Jones: Don’t be ordinary. Yeah. So how do you do something completely different? And from a marketing point of view, how do you create a brand that’s deliberately disruptive? And how do you keep it there? How do you keep it alive and fresh and change?

Nicole Manktelow: It’s got to be disruptive and yet it’s still going to appeal to you enough that it’s not completely outside your sphere of experience. It’s a pretty interesting area to mine.

Mark Jones:  we’ve got a special guest appearance from  our wonderful producer Candice in the middle of the podcasts. She’s going to look at how does this radical authenticity that we associate with Mona, how does that filter down to a sub brand like the Moorilla winery? So stick around and make sure you hear Candice talk to somebody else within the Mona crew.

Mark Jones:  As you can tell, we’re pretty keen for this. So have a listen. This is Robbie Brammall from Mona.

Mark Jones: Robbie Brammall, Director of Marketing and Communications at Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA as it’s most affectionately called, thanks for joining us.

Robbie Brammall:  Pleasure to be here.

Mark Jones:  This is a big conversation, I got to say right upfront. MONA is a big deal, Tassie’s a big deal, the people coming into Tasmania because of this from a destination marketing point of view is a big deal. The events that you run, also big deal. Can you just help get us into the picture of what you do in this landscape?

Robbie Brammall: Yeah, well MONA’s actually about 40 brands. There’s the museum, which is the major brand, and that’s been the catalyst for the MONA effect down in Tasmania, but MONA is also, we’ve got two wineries, Moorilla and Domaine A; we’ve got a brewery, Moo Brew, we own record labels, we do festival stuff, Mofo and MONA FOMA, we’ve got restaurants and accommodation businesses and wedding businesses and the list basically grows by the day. So whatever David’s interested in it will pop into my inbox. We’ve bought Domaine A, which is one of the best wineries in Australia and then we have to bring it into the ecosystem. So yeah, MONA is a massive, big, unwieldy beast. But at the heart of it is the museum.

Mark Jones:  So that’s a really big, long list. Tell me about your brand strategy. How do you tie it all together, how do you manage that?

Robbie Brammall:  So it’s a house of brands rather than a brand of houses strategy with MONA. So we treat every brand individually, so MONA has its marketing strategy, Moorilla has its marketing strategy, and we try and separate those out so that you don’t end up having, in Moorilla’s case a gift shop wine at MONA, so I suppose there’s two reasons for that. Is that, David sort of invests in things that he’s passionate about and then lets those people sort of do their thing. So Moorilla – Connor is our head winemaker there and he makes very interesting, creative, bold wines, and David prefers that he just do his thing without supervision from him. So that needs its own tone of voice, its own way of doing things. Which is separate to MONA. So that’s our, as a global strategy, it’s a house of brands.

Robbie Brammall:  On an individual level, say with MONA, it’s sort of evolving slightly, our brand strategy. Maybe this is the interesting thing for us compared to other brands, is that David hates marketing, so when he hired me he said, “I bloody hate marketing.” This is about four beers in when he was doing my interview. “I bloody hate marketing, just snake eating its own tail.”

Nicole Manktelow: Wow, that’s a strong image there.

Robbie Brammall:  I’m like, this is going well. This is going great.

Mark Jones: And by the way, we should clarify, this is David Walsh, for our listeners tell us who he is.

Robbie Brammall:  I’m going to start from the beginning, yeah so-

Robbie Brammall:  So David Walsh is the billionaire gambling playboy that owns MONA, so he’s a massively intellectually driven guy, made all his money in gambling and his sort of way of balancing the yin and the yang is to then reinvest all that money he makes back into MONA and its various businesses. So he’s motivated by initially when the museum opened it was all about sex and death. Now that’s sort of expanded a bit to be more of an interrogation of why we make art and what the biological reasons behind that are. But yeah, so he’s the one that sort of creates the brand personality and the mischief and provides the direction in terms of what the museum does and the businesses that he goes after. So that’s the David, David Walsh.

Robbie Brammall:  I was going to say he lives in the museum, he has a window down into one of the floors, so yeah. He’s got his own little bat cave in there.

Mark Jones:  That’s amazing. Well it makes sense, you’re describing your job interview over beer is entirely appropriate given that context.

Robbe BRammall: Yeah.

Nicole Manktelow:  He’s in the bat cave. Would you be a master of marketing controversy now, then, having worked with David? You know, you’ve described him as enigmatic and we know he likes a bit of controversy, I think he really wanted people picketing out the front of MONA when it launched. So tell me, have you changed your tactics and strategies from other things you’ve done in your career? Do you have a particular expertise now?

Robbie Brammall:  Well, from that first job interview with him after telling me how much he hated marketing was then to go, “Hiring you will probably be the biggest mistake I ever make, because this is probably the start of our drift to the middle, and I don’t want us to drift to the middle. Make mistakes if you have to, fail if you can, but just stop us becoming ordinary.” So that was his mantra to me, and I’d just come straight off doing one of the most complained about campaigns of all time for Devondale. So I was fairly confident that I had that covered, but it’s not so much the controversy, just wants us to be sort of confronting people’s assumptions and interrogating that from an intellectual place. So it has to be authentic, there has to be a point to the controversy that we create. But he does like to sort of poke people and make them confront their own hypocrisies.

Robbie Brammall:  So that’s a fun place as a marketer, like if your boss is telling you just don’t be ordinary. Stay on the edges, be interesting. That’s where the most interesting stuff’s always come in my career. So long may that continue. The only other change in the marketing tactics for me, being an ad guy that’s sort of come into client side, is that we just don’t spend money on bought media. So the tactics that I’m used to, whether that be with a Mars or a Unilever or a Smiths, it’s all earned and owned media that we have to generate. So if you’re a buyer and a sharp devotee like myself trying to generate growth and penetration without bought media, that’s the challenge.

Nicole Manktelow:  How do you stop ending up in stunt land?

Robbie Brammall:  David likes to build stuff that is interesting. So if we look at the suite of stuff that’s occurred lately at MONA that has generated a lot of interest and mental availability, let’s say for us, we had … He opened a new $30 million wing, Pharos, which is full of James Turrell work, so it’s based on light and perception and how that physically challenges your assumptions about what you’re seeing. And that’s an amazing building, it’s got a fantastic restaurant in there. So that’s not a stunt going out with saying MONA’s got a $30 million new wing. So that helps. We just installed Spectra, which is a Ryoji Ikeda light work that shines a light beam 15 kilometres into the air and planes have to sort of change their flight paths to avoid it.

Nicole Manktelow:  Oh, handy.

Robbie Brammall: That created a whole bunch of interest and we’re interrupting people with interesting things, rather than annoying them with stunts. So David really does help out in that regard. There’s always something interesting coming up that people will be interested in.

Nicole Manktelow: You referenced your ad campaign and your background and you say that David really hates advertising, but you have done at least one ad campaign, and I’m thinking of the worst reviews. Would you like to go through that with us?

Robbie Brammall: I suppose he hates what his understanding of marketing and advertising is, and it turns out he just hates bad advertising. He actually loves doing interesting things and poking fun at ourselves, so the first sort of brand campaign that we’ve done, which was sort of part of my tactics to generate a little bit more awareness in some key markets for us in Adelaide and Brisbane, is this if we’re going to do a MONA’s first brand campaign then it should probably sum up what we’re about, and so we came up with this idea which was to find our very worst reviews on TripAdvisor and then turn those into ads.

Robbie Brammall: So all the one star reviews of people telling us what a waste of money MONA is and how they have a disdain for all museums and artistic organisations now, they’re now our hero ads. So it’s, I suppose in my opinion, it’s a very MONA way to go to market, to go, “Look you might like it, you might hate it, but you will react to it in some way,” and that’s what David wants.

Robbie Brammall:  So yes, first brand campaign, and that’s just as we’ve discussed, is just a reaction to trying to generate some awareness in some markets where we’re just not going to get the publicity and the earnt media in suburban Adelaide for 365 days a year. We will need to increasingly invest in bought media to hit our growth objectives. So a bold new future of funny ads.

Mark Jones:  So these are the MONA moaners.

Robbie Brammall: The MONA moaners, yes. The best of our worst reviews.

Mark Jones:  What reaction, did you actually re-provoke the MONA moaners?

Robbie Brammall:  We haven’t had any backlash yet on the MONA moaners. We’re in a phased approach at the moment. So we’re gradually rolling it out into different mediums and we’ve got a shoot coming up in a couple of weeks to expand it out into some richer mediums.

Nicole Manktelow: Don’t tell me you’ve got a TripAdvisor reviewer and you’ve got them on camera to say how …

Robbie Brammall: I can’t divulge how we’re going to execute that campaign. But yeah, we’re going into a few wider channels now. But we like backlash. That’s part of the fun.

Nicole Manktelow:  Is the approach different for different audiences? So you’ve mentioned Adelaide and Brisbane, sort of the local mainland audiences, but tourism has skyrocketed in Tassie and a lot of that’s got to be international, right?

Robbie Brammall: So we mirror the growth of the Tasmanian tourism industry. So it’s a fairly long lead on the type of consumers that we attract. But Tassie is absolutely boom time down here. The industry’s growing at 8% a year. MONA visitation is growing at 8% a year. We know from our research that a great proportion of the people coming to Tasmania are coming to visit MONA. So we convert a really high percentage of people coming to Tassie, which is great. So they’re our inbound tourists.

Robbie Brammall:  Trying to generate growth in those international markets, we collaborate with Tourism Tasmania and Tourism Australia on that in some combined efforts, because we just don’t have the resources to boil the ocean and attract those audiences off our own bats. So we’re definitely seeing the growth in those audiences, which is a reflection of the growth into Tasmania. Collaborating with tourism bodies is our best way to do that.

Mark Jones:  How does your disruptive cheeky/provocative approach work when it comes with working with the formal tourism bodies?

Robbie Brammall: I suppose part of that philosophy of don’t drift to the middle, which is pretty much our only guiding principle, David doesn’t like guiding principles, he thinks they’re paths to stray from. Part of that is don’t pander to the audience. The things that we do at MONA are not commercially driven. If there is a robot drumming four piece put into the Nolan gallery and we need to attract an audience to that, it’s not because we think people will turn up, it’s because we artistically think that’s a really interesting thing to put on.

Robbie Brammall: So there’s no commercial agenda in the things that we do. There will be eventually with the things that are coming like the hotel. So that gives us a degree of authenticity and ability not to pander to the audience, and I think that’s really part of the secret of the success of MONA, that people don’t feel like they’re being sold to. They get the authenticity of the brand. So when that appears in a tourism context, it’s great for us because we’re different to everyone else in that context. But I think, especially it’s people that know about MONA, there’s that positive brand equity there that makes them see that with affection rather than with cynicism.

Mark Jones: If you’ve got a question you’d like us to answer on the show, just tweet us @CMOShow or use the hashtag #TheCMOShow. We’d love to hear from you.

Candice Witton:  Hi guys, it’s Candice, your producer here. It’s one thing to have a visionary leader who encourages mischief, mistake making and never being ordinary, but as a business gets bigger, is it possible to keep that spirit of radical authenticity alive?

Candice Witton: I went out to Vin Diemen Wine Festival to talk to Daniel McMahon, wine hospitality and tourism experiences manager for Moorilla at Mona, and the newest edition to Mona’s stable winery, Domaine A, to find out how those faraway from the dark heart of Mona are, as Robbie says,

Candice Witton:  Interrupting people with interesting things.

Daniel McMahon:  part of the initial drive for David to have a museum is that he loves the experience of museums, and he wants to share that. That’s really what he’s passionate about. And so what we have here, with you and me, we are people that love the experience of drinking wine. And so often David – David won’t talk about wine, he won’t talk to journalists too much about wine, but he’s fascinated to hear what we think about it. And luckily, at every good vineyard you need a winemaker and then a drinker – and that’s me! So, we’ve got a lot in common.

Daniel McMahon:  Shall we see if this is corked or not?

Candice Witton:  Yeah, why not.

Daniel McMahon: one of the things that David also – I think I remember from MONA and Moorilla is that we never really had a marketing plan. It wasn’t like we went out and found a market, and said, “What do you like” and started to make that. We just do whatever we like, and then hopefully we find people like you that like the wine – or like the art, or the museum, and things. But it’s about the confidence in the people that are recruited to work there as well.

Daniel McMahon:  what we have is a real challenge, which we in the different departments have to work with, and this is what we’re actually faced with – how do we work together, how do we deliver some really interesting experiences? So yes, we do have to communicate. And the first part of that is having really good leadership that says, “This is what we’re after. Do you want to be on board?” This is our final vision, but it’s not always so well communicated internally. You do have to choose to be there in that mix of things, because even if it is well communicated, our plans go awry. They go astray. Something turns up because it’s the world of MONA, so you’ve better be on board for just the chaos and the change at the same time as well.

Daniel McMahon:  And then David will change his mind, and that’s his prerogative, isn’t it? So that’s our reality, but we do work together closely to try and say, “This is our final goal. This is how we’re going to go about it. Can we be on board to achieve it?”

Candice Witton:  One of the main things that Robbie speaks about this idea that whatever you do, don’t drift to the middle How do you see that filtered down into Moorilla and Domaine A?

Daniel McMahon:  Moorilla carries that tradition forth in a really simple way. We embrace natural acidity, that is the dominant character, the first and foremost character that you’ll find of a cool climate or a Tasmanian wine is lovely, natural acidity. Now in the Australian context, that’s always lessened, softened – that’s our tradition, is to make wines from a warmer climate with less acid. So, just by embracing that and showcasing it, in the case of an extra brut, that is radical and authentic – and it’s a very small thing.

Daniel McMahon:  Now we hopefully break some ground by making a Sparkling Riesling, a Chardonnay Musque’, or the Cloth Label White – we don’t even tell people what’s in the bottle! How can you be authentic if you don’t know what’s in there? But people taste it and they figure it out themselves. It’s a really good brief. The brief to the winemaker is not necessarily quite that, it is – make wines that engage. So, we’re not trying to find commercially successful wine. We’ve got licence to make interesting wines.

Daniel McMahon:  Good wine will show the character of the different years. So once you taste a wine three years in a row, you begin to see, “Ah, okay, I start to see how the weather affects the flavours and the colours and whatnot.” So we should be grounded when we get a good introduction to the wine. We should get a sense of that place, which is only going to expand once we see more and more vintages, much like once you visit the third exhibition of David’s at MONA, you’ll start to get a more profound experience in terms of what the museum offers.

Candice Witton:  Thanks so much for those insights. Daniel.

Candice Witton:  I’m going to pass back to Mark and Nicole.

Mark Jones:  This disruptive alternative approach to everything, basically, find the mainstream and do the opposite, and really, it’s quite amusing, Ring a Mofo right? Donald Trump, Just tell us the story of how you’ve been able to really just cause so much havoc and get away with it? What’s the story here?

Robbie Brammall:  Tasmania’s a bit like Mexico isn’t it? No one really pays any attention to what’s going down there, people that come down to Tasmania look envious, especially from Sydney, look enviously at the things we can get away with down here. We’re a lot more open minded and flexible. So yeah, it’s fantastic for me coming from sort of blue chip clients on the mainland and FMCG, to then come to MONA and the shackles are let loose.

Robbie Brammall: What you referenced there, Ring a Mofo is part of our MONA FOMA summer art and music festival. The theme for this last year was freedom and protest, so we created a billboard that automatically dialled Donald Trump’s office at the White House and you would pick up the phone and it would dial straight through to his office, and you got to leave a message for him. We’re not going to be so didactic as to go it has to be a negative message or a positive message, you can say whatever you like.

Mark Jones:  Whatever you want, yeah.

Robbie Brammall: Yeah. Obviously we did hashtag it #ringamofo. But again, you can see the tactics there that this MONA FOMA, I need to create some visual assets that then earn some media and say what it does on the tin. So we created these little installations, branded installations around the place, so that we can seed Mofo out there into more audiences and generate that bit more awareness, but do it in a way that people won’t resent. So it’s got to be a good, creative, fun idea.

Mark Jones:  Now, I understand that the White House actually took notice of this. I think it’s probably hard to ignore thousands of incoming messages, right?

Robbie Brammall:  Yeah I think we sent 2000 messages and they changed the White House answering machine after the first two days of the festival. So that’s power from the people right there.

Nicole Manktelow:  It must have been a fun experience for the participants to actually go and do something, to be hands on. I think this is all part of that experience storytelling aspect that we get out of arts and culture that I love so much. But often struggle to really work out that perfect intersection between marketing and experience. In fact, often we’re told we need to use experience to do the marketing. But your marketing and experience … I don’t know. Do you spend days wandering down that path and thinking about the two of them?

Robbie Brammall:  It’s fairly simple from my end, and that again comes from where David likes to spend his money, and so MONA is a show don’t tell style of marketer. So we don’t ever tell people how good we are or how good we think we are. We just do something. So that’s historically how we’ve got away with not spending on bought media. So say driving visitation in the dead of winter to MONA, you could have chosen to do a traditional advertising campaign around that, about how come to MONA when it’s at its most deserted, or whatever idea you come up with.

Robbie Brammall:  But what Lee Carmichael, who was the creative director at the time in 2013, and David came up with was Dark Mofo. So they go, “No, let’s put our money into just doing something amazing in the middle of winter, and then that will be the thing that drives visitation.”

Mark Jones: Create it and they will come.

Robbie Brammall: That’s right. So long may that continue as well. Very little grubby, paid advertising from us, and more just big, fun experiences that you know that people will sort of get some benefit out of.

Mark Jones:  I’m interested, because we think about marketing, marketers and creatives, creative directors who have these ideas, it’s something that you I’m sure have done in the past, where you could come up with an idea like that. Now you’re actually working alongside other creatives who are working at the museum. So presumably there’s some sort of collaboration that goes on. How does that work?

Robbie Brammall: Yeah. Taking it back to the infamous interview where David and I got drunk and he told me how much he hated marketing and how bad a hire I was going to be.

Nicole Manktelow: The beginning of the end.

Robbie Brammall: Yeah. And he’s still regretting it. My pitch to him was that I believe that marketing can contribute to the creativity of the business and not just document it. So that had always been the way that MONA had operated, that the exhibitions and the curators were the creative people within the business and the marketers just communicated what they were doing. Where I was being from an advertising background, I’m like no I think this is a great opportunity to do more creative things within the business.

Robbie Brammall: So that’s been a shift in thinking for the business but one that’s been very well received. So we work very closely with the curators on exhibitions, we work very closely with the brand managers for our wineries and our beers. There’s now an expectation that if we’re going to bother to do something that it has to be creatively led and interesting, even from a marketing perspective. So I feel like that’s sort of a little victory there for the marketing world.

Mark Jones:  That’s great.

Nicole Manktelow:  What are your biggest challenges?

Robbie Brammall:  Definitely the biggest challenge is we basically sell tickets here at MONA and there’ll be a deadline every week for some event we’re doing, some festival, obviously the museum, ferry tickets. Just that constant grind of selling tickets is the biggest challenge, given that we have such a small expenditure on bought media. So we have an incredible database, likeit’s shameful to say it, but EDM marketing is by far our most effective channel. That was something that I had not much experience in, coming from an agency background, and we can send out an EDM here to our database that’s text only and get a million dollars in sales from it.

Mark Jones:  It’s hard to beat that actually.

Robbie Brammall:  It is.

Mark Jones:  Right?

Robbie Brammall:  We can overthink it but if the product’s really good, so that’s Dark Mofo, first ticket allocation going to market, don’t need to overthink it. Databases loves the product, which is interesting for marketers that you’ve got people with such affection for the brand.

Nicole Manktelow:  I take it you don’t send out EDMs every week on a regular schedule talking about something? You reserve them for when you’ve got something to sell?

Robbie Brammall:  Yeah. We’ve got different databases for different audiences as well. So we’ll target within our own ecosystem but the main task for me is to grow the brand into new areas and not preach to the converted. So that’s the challenge, selling more tickets to a wider audience and not having a huge budget to generate that penetration. It’s a fun challenge though because it’s the creativity, is the way that we generate that penetration in lieu of expenditure.

Mark Jones:  Are you doing any number crunching around return on investment for your EDMs? You mentioned selling a million bucks off an EDM, are you taking that further and of course probably not telling David about it because he probably doesn’t want to know the slide to something ordinary?

Robbie Brammall:  I hide all this from David.

Mark Jones:  Yeah there you go. Except for now.

Robbie Brammall: So I take the fun stuff to him and then leave all this grubby stuff in the background.

Mark Jones:  Don’t let him listen to the podcast.

Robbie Brammall: So we’re very data driven here in that regard. So we optimise and work out what our open rates are and what our bounce rate are and our unsubscribe rates are and yeah, make an assessment on what’s worth sending something to that audience and what we can generate through another channel. So yeah, certainly don’t like spamming people.

Nicole Manktelow: Has the data surprised you at all? When you’ve looked at what people will open and what they’re interacting with when you communicate with them? Have you discovered something about your clientele?

Robbie Brammall: I think an interesting example would be the way that people buy. So where they are in the funnel is interesting. So when we announced MONA FOMA, our summer festival, tickets were on sale, we could get a massive open rate, we got a massive website traffic, and then we could see where people stopped through that process, whether it was the consideration of who was on the list, who was playing, and we could optimise from there. So I found that really interesting, that you can, in this case an EDM drove a lot of people to the website, and then the website didn’t convert as many people as we were hoping, so we then have to optimise from that, and work out what was stopping them, what we need to tweak. So yeah, that’s it. It’s surprising just how deep you can get into it.

Mark Jones:  I’ve been thinking about other marketers, and not everybody has the experience of working in your culture, the MONA culture, etc. So when you can’t be disruptive, what would your advice be for marketers to, I guess, learn from your experience?

Robbie Brammall:Yeah so again just a caveat on all of this, that MONA certainly doesn’t pretend to know what it’s doing or tell people that there’s lessons to be learned from what we’ve done. That’s the opposite of what we’re about. So we’ll make our spectacular failures and muddle our way through, and there’s very little to learn from us I think.

Robbie Brammall: The things, if I can position myself as an outsider coming into the business, so having come from the real world and then coming into MONA, certainly the thing, the lesson that I’ve noticed the most keenly is this one of not pandering to the audience. It’s really, it’s the opposite of what we’ve been taught as marketers and communicators, is to instinctively try and find out what people want and then deliver that to them. On a daily basis here, it’s another example to me of that’s not the only way to do things, that you can present things that there’s no demand for or latent demand for and it be a success.

Robbie Brammall: So that happens with obviously stuff that MONA does and there’s a lot of brand trust there, and that obviously helps. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But our other brands, whether they be the wineries or whether they be markets or restaurants, having that authenticity and honestness with everything that you do, I found has been a really persuasive one for consumers. So as an outsider I’m going to give that little bit of advice that it was being authentic and being honest and not necessarily giving people what they want is actually quite powerful.

Mark Jones:  Right. I think also just in that, the spirit of creativity and not letting the data or preconceived notions dictate how you might approach something, or even just finding those things, this is what everybody thinks, let’s do the inverse. That’s actually a legitimate strategy, I’ve seen that in many examples.

Robbie Brammall: We know this from the real world that people could absolutely give two shits about our brands. They absolutely could care less. They’ve got families and lives and wives and partners and holidays and money problems, and then brands are so far down the totem pole that they’re lucky to notice us at all. So you really, when the moons align and the consumer actually is able to interact with your brand, you better make it worth their while, the riskiest thing you can do is be boring in that case and not engage and not create a reaction, whether that’s MONA or whether that’s any brand. So certainly that’s something that applied in my previous careers, was if you’re going to do something just make sure it gets noticed, make sure it connects. And it’s something that I continue to do here at MONA.

Mark Jones: Great, well we’ve really enjoyed the conversation with you. We could ask you many, many more questions.

Nicole Manktelow:  It’s certainly not boring, Robbie.

Mark Jones:  And in fact we I’ll because we’ve got more questions to ask you at a personal level. We call it the rapid fire questions.

Robbie Brammall: Alright, fire away.

Mark Jones:  All right. What are you grateful for?

Robbie Brammall: I’m grateful for being able to … Like, I’m Tasmanian, I’m grateful to be able to come back to Tasmania with a job that is really, really satisfying.

Mark Jones:  In the movie of your life, who would play you?

Robbie Brammall: I look very much like the drummer from Korn, but I also… Reek from Game of Thrones.

Nicole Manktelow:  Oh my.

Robbie Brammall:  And I share a similar sort of rattish demeanour. So probably him.

Mark Jones:  I just like the fact that you knew all of that in detail.

Nicole Manktelow:  But I too only know him as the character name and not as the name of the actor.

Robbie Brammall He’s Lily Allen’s brother, I know that, but I don’t know what his actual name is.

Nicole Manktelow:  Oh my god, how interesting. Beach or mountain?

Robbie Brammall: Beach.

Mark Jones: What’s your greatest career fail?

Robbie Brammall: Greatest career fail … God, there should be lots, there are lots.

Mark Jones:  Joining MONA? Because you were told it was a fail right from the beginning.

Robbie Brammall: That was one of my better decisions, but god … Coming from advertising, the number of times you’ve just, you go in there and pitch something to a client and you are so far off base of what they want, you’re pitching them a tennis racquet and they want a cricket bat, and it might be an absolutely glorious tennis racquet, but gee. I could take my pick on pretty much every client I’ve ever worked on, I’ve had that experience.

Nicole Manktelow:Who’s your hero?

Robbie Brammall:  Probably Paul McCartney.

Mark Jones:  What’s your greatest frustration?

Robbie Brammall: Conservatism.

Nicole Manktelow: If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a?

Robbie Brammall: I tried to get on Wipeout as one of the contestants. It plays to my strengths and there’s 50 grand and a trip to Argentina, so I’m on the waiting list for Wipeout, and I actually got on to Deal or No Deal and got to hold up a suitcase one time. So probably just the reality TV circuit.

Nicole Manktelow: These are the moments you look back on in your life with pride.

Robbie Brammall: The ones I’m most proud of.

Mark Jones:  Ah, life goals. I’m loving it. What’s your favourite book?

Robbie Brammall:  Probably Animal Farm.

Mark Jones: Well, Robbie, really thoughtful and provoking conversation. Thank you for your time and for those personal insights as well. May you continue to disrupt and shake the tree and get our interest and get us to think differently about the world, and we really appreciate your time.

Nicole Manktelow: And don’t drift to the middle.

Robbie Brammall: Don’t drift to the middle, and my apologies for the complete lack of wisdom.

Nicole Manktelow: I thought it was refreshing. It’s great.

Mark Jones:  Maybe you can be a mirror, a looking glass for other people, you never know.

Robbie Brammall:  Yeah.

Mark Jones: All good. Thank you so much, Robbie.

Nicole Manktelow: Thank you Robbie.

Robbie Brammall: That’s fine. Thank you.

Mark Jones: Hey Nicole, are we cool enough for Mona?

Nicole Manktelow: I’m so not cool, but I’m definitely going anyway.

Mark Jones: I totally get it. Yeah.

Nicole Manktelow: I just think it’s so amazing to have this drive to be not ordinary, and then how far can you take that? How different do you become?

Mark Jones:  The interesting thing about this type of marketing is that you are pioneering because it’s that artistic brain that that comes up with something completely wacky and many of us would just say, “Well, , that’s a bit too far out there. I’m not going to do it.” Whereas they’re like, “No, we’re totally doing that.”

Nicole Manktelow:  I’m also a bit jealous because he’s got a boss who’s just kind of gone, “Here you go, your brief is, do something different.” And he can rn with it. That’s fantastic.

Mark Jones: But also knowing he’s still got to drive visitor numbers.

Nicole Manktelow:  He’s still got to sell tickets. That’s probably the thing that just keeps him steady. Like that’s the goal and the distance, but how you get there, “Go nuts.”

Mark Jones: It’s interesting because you still have to measure your activity in some kind of way. And ticket sales is probably one of the best, particularly in tourism, right? I mean, it all just boils down to-

Nicole Manktelow Cold, hard cash.

Mark Jones: Yep. Cash, ticket sales, people through the door and just amazing to-

Nicole Manktelow: The odd TripAdvisor review.

Mark Jones: That’s right. Trying to keep those people happy. And I think sustaining that in the long-term and being cognizant of the fact that you’re also having a broader impact on the economics particularly of Hobart, right? So these tech companies that are down there, the other organisations that are springing up, Rising tide floats all boats. The cliche is right, but it’s an amazing thing to see.

Nicole Manktelow: Well,It’s not a pedestrian sort of holiday. It’s really cutting edge.

Mark Jones:Yeah. It’s amazing. Well, we hope you’ve been inspired on this episode of the CMO Show. We look forward to having you next time. Make sure you tell your friends and subscribe and all those good things.

Nicole Manktelow:  I wonder where Candice will go next time. Our roving producer.

Mark Jones: That’s right.

Nicole Manktelow: Subscribe. Love us. Like us. Tell your friends,

Mark Jones: Until next time.

Nicole Manktelow: Goodbye now

Mark Jones:  Yep. Seth Godin has said marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell. You might have also heard the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” Famously done I think by Elon Musk where you show these incredible new products and get the whole world talking. Mona is another interesting example. Incredible example. Mona is another interesting example of really off the wall exhibitions that get everybody talking and quite controversially too, it must be said. So what are you doing that really gets people talking? How are you starting a conversation?

Mark Jones: The CMO Show is a podcast produced by Filtered Media and a quick shoutout to our incredible team Candice Witton, Charlotte Goodwin, Ewan Miller

Nicole Manktelow: And our engineering wizards: Tom Henderson and Daniel Marr.

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