Brands & Branding: Brand-building — key lessons & insights from Nashua
by Dr Doug Mattheus. Building a company starts by offering a solution to the needs of others. Building a brand is more complex, with many different approaches to success.
The article below provides insights into what it took to build Nashua into such a successful office automation marketing company; leading with a range of innovative products and excellent service, it set itself apart and redefined the office automation sector in the 1980s, ’90s and the early part of the 2000s.
During that time, the catchy payoff line and consumer promise “Saving you time, saving you money, putting you first” registered with many South Africans as Nashua became a household name and market leader.
Bearing in mind that it was mostly a business-to-business brand that only later included cellular (thereby reaching out to the mass consumer), it was one of those rare brands that became a part of the fabric of South African society, in the process creating an engaging brand personality of trusted friend, professional yet approachable, and simplifying complex issues.
In order to identify the key lessons, innovations and breakthroughs that drove the brand’s development and success, I sat down with two former colleagues, marketing and managing directors Jac Moolman and Chris Scoble, who were pivotal in the success and profile of the brand. Having spent many years with the group progressing through the ranks to cellular marketing director, I added some of my personal experiences and summarised our conversations into a framework of marketing lessons in the broader sense. Based on the holistic approach Nashua applied to its marketing, they are as applicable and relevant today as they were then.
1. Marketing is both art and science
This is such a critical point: Successful marketing is a combination of a lot of hard work that goes on with product design and selection, pricing, and having the correct, loyal and cost-effective distribution channels, as well as effective and break-through communications.
The secret was that Nashua spent a lot of time in understanding the current pulse of society, and tapped into and maximised that. (At the time, television was new so people watched a lot, and were loyal and patriotic, and supported sport.) That insight and lesson is timeless and relevant for all markets. The challenge for today’s marketers and brands is to find that zeitgeist. Always be relevant!
Throughout time, Nashua continually used those insights and, in the process, became a pioneer, innovative and pushed the boundaries, racking up a string of notable firsts and achievements. Some of those ground-breaking and defining moments include:
- Being the first office-automation company to advertise on television with its 1978 advertisement featuring the actor Orson Wells endorsing Nashua photocopiers (Nashua had to wait a year to get a slot from the SABC as it never thought an office automation brand would want to go on television).
- Being the first South African company to put its name across the front of a provincial rugby jersey.
- Having a deep understanding of the tax laws and rebates that offered incentives and allowed Nashua to host international events such as the Formula 1 and Motorcycle Grand Prix, and great national events with global competitors, such as the Nashua Wild Coast Golf competition.
- Producing one of South Africa’s most-loved television adverts, “Little Boy”, that was voted the second most appealing advert in the world in 1992.
- Being Ernie Els’ first sponsor and instrumental in the start of his fantastic golfing career.
- Being the long-time sponsor of world champion boxer, Brian Mitchell.
- Was always at the forefront of technology by being an early adopter of digitisation and integration in the modern office. It was the only office-automation company to diversify into, and make a huge success out of, cellular communications.
2. Understand the business that you are in and ensure that your culture is aligned to support it
At Nashua, there were two guiding business principles that were paramount and underpinned all that was done: business is built on relationships and Nashua is in the service business. In the case of the former, it prided itself on the great business relationships built with partners (suppliers, franchise holders, staff etc).
This was emphasised to an even greater extent with the obsessive focus that was placed on customer service, where there was a belief that you did not need a customer contract lock-in to do business if your service is superior. This customer-centric focus was also evident later on the cellular side; Nashua Mobile was the country’s most-successful independent cellular service provider that offered the services of all three cellular networks at the time (Vodacom, MTN and Cell C), based on its legendary service philosophy.
The correct culture is key to success, and was one of the most-important factors in achieving success, as the consumer promise that any brand makes has to be delivered by its people. Nashua understood that, and built and fostered the right culture. ‘People make the place’, and the result was a work-hard play-hard, performance-based culture, with travel often being the incentive. “Join Nashua and see the world” was an internal slogan that drove most employees to achieve stretch-targets beyond what they thought possible. There was a confidence and an unwavering sense of self-belief as many came to feel that nothing was impossible and out of reach.
Looking back, and in today’s marketing terminology, Nashua was one of the original challenger brands (although it never called itself that). Nashua was also one of those rare companies where the internal culture matched what was promised by the external marketing. There’s a saying ‘what happens inside a company will find itself outside’, and it is so true and important that brands have this authenticity and congruency.
Another crucial aspect of this culture was that it wasn’t just reserved for the head office staff but permeated throughout every franchise across the country with a great degree of consistency. A further key to the marketing philosophy was that you had to be part of and contribute to your community — put something back and give before you get. This was particularly prevalent with franchises in some of the smaller towns in SA, where they were so involved and closely linked with the people and success of that town.
Nashua was an employer of choice with many bright, talented, passionate and driven people wanting to work there; the power of the brand attracted the best to experience the Nashua culture.
3. Invest in brand-building
Through the period, a lot of focus and attention went into building the brand, which then provided an ideal platform to sell off. Creating high awareness and being visible was paramount, and it was believed that people must be exposed to the brand every single day, whether it was through classical advertising, a Nashua truck driving past, someone carrying a Nashua shopping bag or franchises engaging at a local level — there was no ‘off-day’ and Nashua had to always be top of mind. As part of the communications mix, creative television adverts like the ones mentioned played a major role, but Nashua also understood the value and role of journalists and good PR, and was very aggressive in that area, often speaking on behalf of the entire industry as a thought leader.
Another area that was very successful in building the brand was that of sponsorship. But sponsorship without leveraging is merely ‘badging’, and Nashua employed a holistic approach with this. It is critical to understand and maximise all the audiences at a sponsorship, as a brand is often talking to people in their leisure time. This is something that many companies still get wrong today as they buy the (often-expensive) rights but do not maximise them. Nashua certainly understood that sponsorship is a personal type of marketing that allows you to buy the overt rights but also opens up staff, partner and customer entertainment opportunities, and allows you to appear bigger than you are. At that time, through clever negotiation and astute business skills, Nashua often created the appearance that it had massive budgets when, in reality, they were not that big but were used well and maximised. Part of the formula was to create unique events that were owned and immediately associated with Nashua, allowing the consumer to take the brand into their home (Nashua Marathon t-shirts, medals, Nashua hero autograph cards etc).
In later years, when sponsorship prices started to skyrocket as new entrants bought up properties, I made the point that the person with the biggest budget in town is just that — the person with the biggest budget but not necessarily the best. I encouraged my teams to rise to the occasion and asked, “If the budgets were exactly the same, do you feel that you would be able to out-market that person?” The answer was always yes. That again was the unwavering Nashua self-belief in action, as it bought small and maximised leverage.
Another important factor for brand success is the correct and clever use of media, especially with the amount that is spent on it. Nashua always aimed for an innovative and novel approach, eg using the findings of a study into the psychology of people at an airport to decide where to place the billboard (they are more excited about their upcoming trip and thus more aware at the departures side, as opposed to the arrivals side where they are tired from their trip and not that receptive). Working with TV cameramen to find the best angles for a live broadcast, experimenting with a primary and secondary logo and inverted colours, as they showed up better in media, and so on. Today, a lot of these practices are commonplace, and it’s more complex with greater media fragmentation and different media types, but that is the current challenge and no reason for excuses from smart marketers.
As a closing thought, with the amount of product and price marketing that I see these days (with absolutely no brand affinity and emotional attachment), modern-day marketers may heed the lessons from this era: there is always a place for great storytelling and ‘brand love’; so strive to make your brand a household name, like Nashua became then.
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Doug Mattheus is an independent business consultant and part-time lecturer/facilitator at USB-Ed, with 30 years business expertise in marketing, leadership, culture, strategy and organisational performance. His career started at Firestone in 1989. Since then, he has worked at Radiospoor, Nashua, Nashua Mobile, Ster-Kinekor and, until recently, was executive head of marketing at Cell C. Doug has four degrees: BComm, BComm Hons, MBA from Wits Business School (with a thesis on sport sponsorship), and a DBA from the University of Phoenix in Arizona, US (with a dissertation on organisational culture).
The article first appeared in the 2019 edition of Brands & Branding in South Africa, an annual review from Affinity Publishing of all aspects of brand marketing — consisting of case-studies, profiles, articles and research — shortly accessible at Brands.MarkLives.com. Order your copy of the 25th annual edition now!