Top Marques Interview: Michael Taylor

02 July 2015
Top Marques Interview: Michael Taylor
From chef to brand manager of New Zealand's most famous beer, Steinlager, we chat with Michael Taylor

Your latest campaign for Steinlager is called Born to Defy, in one sentence, what does this mean?
Born to Defy talks to the spirit of New Zealanders, who despite being isolated at the bottom of the world, and with significantly less resources are continually able to beat the odds and break conventions to perform at our best on the world stage.

This feels quite different to anything you’ve done before – what sold you on the idea?
At the core of the idea is a territory that resonates closely to the New Zealand attitude and we think it’s quite well aligned to some of the work we’ve done previously. The fact that NZ is so isolated from the rest of the world has given us a freedom to achieve in ways that many other people can’t. If you think back to the Harvey and Willem executions, the “What you say no to” line, works with this idea territory just as well.

The idea speaks to the ethos of high performing Kiwis, but it also speaks closely to the original story for both Steinlager Classic (that of the black budget and NZ brewers being challenged to make a beer of “international quality” which Steinlager obviously did wining several trophies at international shows), and Steinlager Pure (when Steinlager as a brand was largely seen as being overtaken by imports, we launched Steinlager Pure, again reinterpreting what premium beer meant in New Zealand and defying most expectations). In this case the William Trubridge execution is pretty stunning, but I can also see the idea being brought to life in new and interesting ways over the coming years.

What is it about the idea that you think will resonate with the consumer?
I think it shifts New Zealanders into a new space; evoking feelings of pride in our country. It doesn’t rely on us harking back to our past glories, but gives us reason to believe in what makes us different and special as a people and the values unique to us that allow us to achieve. It captures the independent spirit, the freedom of thought, and it looks optimistically to the future.

In this execution I think Kiwis will be excited to hear the story of another New Zealander achieving on the world stage. It’s great to be able to be the brand that shares a relatively unknown achievement that might have been missed if it wasn’t for the amplification we are able to give it.

What could New Zealanders learn from William Trubridge?
William’s single minded pursuit to achieve his goals is something we could all learn from. He has some great writings on his website that talk to continuous learning and growth, practice and preparation and the “bane of natural ability”.

Pity those poor freedivers with big lungs, or who equalise hands-free, for they won’t have the same motivation to train as you do, and in time, like the complacent hare napping under the tree, they will fall far behind.

If anything, what I love about William is he is such a humble, down to earth guy who is passionate about what he does. Spending time with him is pretty inspirational. 

How are you going to use social media in the Born to Defy campaign?
Social is always an important part of the media mix in any campaign these days. At the moment, we are using it to tell William’s story, and adding more depth and texture to the Born to Defy message.

As the campaign moves towards the live event, social will enable us to keep consumers up to date with Will’s training, preparation and then on the day offer insight into what is happening as he dives.

We’re also hosting a blog for Will on Tumblr which talks to this journey and is replicated on, and we will build on this as the campaign grows.

With the alcohol market in decline, what do you think needs to be done to reverse the trend?
I think as an industry we need to keep up with the trends in moderation and premiumisation that continue to develop in the marketplace. What this means is that we need to look at what products we can offer as alternatives in each category to suit today’s lifestyles.

Currently Craft is offering some good opportunities to tap into, that allow consumers to experiment with lower ABV beers such as Emerson’s Bookbinder and Little Creatures Rogers.

How have your thoughts about social media changed over the last couple of years?
The hardest shift for marketers with social is the change from treating social media as a broadcast medium to one where we’re engaging in dialogue with our consumers 24/7. I was discussing this with a colleague the other day who was having an issue with the directness of some of the feedback we can get from consumers through social channels.

To my mind this is a good thing and, as marketers, we should get better at using these channels as a great tool to listen with, rather than just another avenue to push the same messages we have in other media channels.

The genius of course is in creating an eco-system where consumers can seamlessly journey through the various media channels in their lives and have a good brand experience no matter what.

How did you get into the marketing industry?
After working in kitchens as a chef through my undergraduate degree, I spent a while trying to decide whether or not that was the side of hospitality I wanted to be in.

What ultimately led me to a career in marketing was my interest in human psychology and understanding what makes us tick. That sent me back to university for a year to get a post grad qualification under my belt and then I searched for a company I wanted to work for with products I was passionate about.

At that time, my foot in the door at Lion was into their call centre answering the phones and taking orders. 11 years later with roles in trade marketing, sales, wine brand marketing and now beer, here I am.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started in the industry?
Find a job working with something you’re passionate about. It is a whole lot easier to work with a product/service you care about than one you don’t.

Then, look for a role that will get you a foot in the door and work your arse off. The brand manager/marketing manager/marketing director role will come as you prove yourself to be a smart strategic thinker with a good work ethic and you can do that in most roles these days.

Also, if you get a chance, do some time in sales to get an understanding of what it takes to sell something face to face. Ultimately I think it helps you become a better marketer.

How do you get the right balance between campaigns and long-term brand development?
I think you need to be consistent in the message you’re delivering across all campaigns – when you deviate you run the risk of confusing the consumer and then can run into further trouble trying to over-correct.

Great brands have a really strong truth and benefit that can be communicated in compelling ways campaign after campaign, which in turn results in good long-term brand development.

What improvements would you make to the agency-client relationship?
Like any relationship, strength comes from communication. Both client and agency need to be brave enough to talk to each other openly and honestly. If this isn’t happening, ultimately the work suffers either with briefs that aren’t understood or are unclear, or with work rushed to market before it is ready.

This requires the agency to be brave enough to ask for a clearer brief, or ask more questions if they feel there is some ambiguity and in some cases to ask for more time if they think their work needs more development.

For the client, it means we need to be prepared to really understand how our agencies work and what resources they need from us to develop great campaigns. And we can’t do any of this unless we ask open-ended, direct questions.