Battling private labels
One of Australia’s oldest stationery brands, Marbig, has used innovative design and strong branding to fight back against the onslaught of competition from local and foreign private label brands and grow market share.
Through Sydney-based design agency Hulsbosch, Marbig has been able to turn around slumping sales and market share against the private labels without requiring heavy marketing expenditure.
Over the last five years, Hulsbosch has continually refreshed the Marbig brand with new brand and packaging design.
Marbig is an Australian stationery brand established in 1974 by trading company Martin Biggs and Sons.
The original understated black and white Marbig logo can still be found on the inside of old folders, at the end of biro pens and the underside of old steel office storage units all over Australia.
In the late 1980s Marbig was acquired by ACCO Australia, a subsidiary of US-based ACCO Brands Corp, one of the world’s largest suppliers of office products.
Marbig is now ACCO Australia’s leading brand in a portfolio that includes Rexel Business Machines, Rexel Stapling and Punching, Kensington Computer Products, Crystalfile Filing Solutions, MACO Labels, Sasco planners and Derwent art products.
ACCO Australia supplies the retail and commercial market with over 4000 product lines to more than 1500 customers nationwide, every day.
Over the last 30 years, the stationery category in Australia has become commoditised.
Before this campaign, an office ring binder had become just another office ring binder with little to differentiate between products and manufacturers.
Stationery product innovations were occurring in niche categories and new entrants were launching in the premium stationery bracket.
ACCO Brands Australia commercial director Mark Griffiths is responsible for the Marbig brand.
“In 2005, Marbig saw the opportunity to address the emergence of more private labels, but more critically to reshape a commodity driven market within the context of increased merging of some of the leading market players,” says Griffiths.
“We knew we needed to be thinking and doing things differently. Our research showed stationery was a low interest category and purchasing stationery was a painful and joyless exercise that had to be done.
“It had become part of everyone’s daily routine without even realising it. The most common issue among our customer base when it came to buying stationery was ‘not getting it wrong’. We found ourselves asking the question: what does Marbig really mean to our customers?”
In 2005, ACCO appointed Hulsbosch to update and refresh the Marbig brand strategy and visual image.
Hulsbosch was asked to bring the brand back into the forefront of consumers’ minds. Marbig had market share, but lacked brand awareness.
Research showed most consumers were not interested in the difference and quality between products and brands in the category.
In fact, the sentiment was even less passive than that and, surprisingly, there was actually an ‘active disinterest’.
Across the market, brand awareness for all category players was relatively low. Marbig saw it needed to make sure it could easily remind people about its existence and what it stood for without changing its core value proposition.
“Hulsbosch worked closely with us to reinvigorate the brand, give it relevance and help us increase sales,” says Griffiths.
“Working closely together with Hulsbosch, we came up with some big ideas, and distilled them down to a brand strategy and a range of relevant business solutions to help us reverse flat sales. We also needed to help our brand grow stronger over the coming decade,” continues Griffiths.
“With consolidation among large office product retailers, a strong and recognisable brand is a critical advantage for long-term success.”
The strategy developed with Hulsbosch was to reconnect with customers in a meaningful way.
If purchasing stationery was a chore it was necessary to create a brand exhibiting fun and personality in order to make customers stop and take notice of Marbig.
Hulsbosch’s work included a total brand and visual identity update, the introduction of more colour and emotive graphics, and a ‘busy bee’ mnemonic that resonated with the busy lives of Marbig customers.
“The team also worked to develop new channel strategies that were direct and linked closely to customers in a closed circle of engagement,” explains Griffith.
Hulsbosch general manager, Angela Baglin, adds, “Through this kind of engagement we have been able to help Marbig build dialogue with its valued customers, consumers, commercial and trade, which they were able to use to build knowledge around the kind of products, services and offers that were most relevant.
“This kind of feedback and productive interaction with Marbig customers has been invaluable to the continual enhancements on which we’ve collaborated with our client to ensure Marbig’s success to date.
Over the last five years, Hulsbosch has continually refreshed the Marbig brand with new ideas, promotional initiatives and packaging design.
During its partnership with Hulsbosch, Marbig has significantly increased brand awareness and now has a high level of customer engagement and loyalty despite the intense competition in the Australian stationery market.
“We worked with Marbig to evolve and create a new brand that was fun, unique, contemporary and friendly, and that would appeal to business and private customers across Australia,” says Baglin. “The identity we created is distinctive from Marbig’s competitors. It evokes a personality that is warm, fun and welcoming. The design solution embodies optimism and a lively spirit that reflects the essence of the brand’s customers and their use of the product.”
Over the last five years Marbig has posted an increase in growth, despite the intense competition in the Australian stationery market. Design has played a key role in the company’s strong performance.
Hulsbosch has reinvigorated an established Australian brand and now acts as the permanent ‘brand guardian’ for the Marbig range.
“Hulsbosch has set, and is constantly evolving, the core guidelines for ACCO’s internal designers,” says Griffiths. “They act as a touch point for us to turn to when developing new materials – providing advice, design recommendations and leadership wherever possible.
“Hulsbosch was able to update a popular, although unrecognised, Australian brand and turn it around to be one of the most recognised in the local stationery supplies market. With consolidation among office product retailers, a strong and recognisable brand is a critical advantage for long-term success, and we have achieved this through our work with Hulsbosch,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths was coy on giving sales data but offered a number of examples that demonstrate the uplift the work by Hulsbosch has given the Marbig brand since 2006. Griffiths said a key measure of the effectiveness of Hulsbosch's work was the significant surge in traffic to the Marbig’s website. In January 2006, the site drew less than 7,000 unique visitors each month. Fast forward to July 2010 and traffic is now a robust 24,000 visits per month and growing, an increase of over 300 percent since the brand was re-focused.
A key driver of traffic has been Marbig's free document and label templates program which is promoted on every Marbig product package created by Hulsbosch.
Griffiths said the other driver of customer interest and traffic to the website had been Hulsbosch's consumer promotions initiated over the past few years. Griffith gave the example of a Christmas promotion in 2005 that ran for five months and attracted 32,000 entries nationally.
As the work began to engage more and more customers, Marbig saw a similar four month customer promotion in 2007 draw over 90,000 entries across Australia.
Griffith said Marbig had launched a new website in August 2010 which was created by Hulsbosch and the old Australian stationery brand would establish a presence on several social media platforms before the end of 2010.