Qurious Folk: Episode 25 with Matt Allison

Sarah Mak, CEO of TheStoryBoxes and co-founder of Folktale, interviews Matt about finding the nexus between purpose-driven marketing and commercial outcomes.

Matt was interviewed by the lovely Sarah Mak, CEO of TheStoryBoxes and co-founder of Folktale. (Given she’s also ‘mum’ to two kids, do you reckon she’s busy?!)

They cover a fair bit of ground, including:

  • Matt’s background. 
  • Matt’s take on what marketing is and should be.
  • How have brands & marketers responded to COVID-19?
  • Finding the nexus between purpose-driven marketing and commercial outcomes.
  • Matt also expands on his article “COVID-19 Marketing: Utility, Brand Building and Horseshit”.
The video and transcript are below.

And a special shout-out to Jimmy Patch for the animations. His one-page summary of a nine-minute interview is a work of art.

MATT ALLISON (MA): I think the biggest opportunity for marketers is to make values-based decisions. Be really timely and relevant, don’t hit me with ads with families going to the airport because it’s not happening.



MA: Miss Mak how are you?


SARAH MAK (SM): I’m well, I’m well, how are ya?


MA: Yeah, good.


SM: How’s your weekend? 


MA: Not too bad; what did we do? Not much obviously, catch-ups with mates, few drinks over Zoom, so it was actually quite busy.


SM: Tell me about yourself, and how you got into what you’re doing now.


MA: Yeah, so, I’ve entered marketing from a sort of strange background. I started off studying journalism, then I moved into PR, and then I moved into marketing in a roundabout way through content.


And I think it was this really interesting journey because from a traditional-media perspective, you’re really focused on the customer, and all of the content you’re producing has to provide real value, which we’d now call utility.


I guess I had naturally that storytelling background, and I think that when you combine that with a reputation background, and then move into content marketing, you’re already able to do really naturally, the storytelling, it’s more around how you then commercialise it.


I was running at Bupa, their global content marketing and that, for me, was a really interesting experience because you had to stitch together agencies across multiple disciplines. I guess that was really where the idea for my agency was born, where you could start to look at how you work across the customer journey rather than in really siloed teams.


SM: So, then define marketing for me, based on your lived experience. For those of us who don’t quite understand marketing, how is that interpreted?


MA: I think if you look at a textbook definition, it’s really around the four P’s, you know product, price, place, promotion, which I still think is right.


But I think it’s [marketing] almost really simple, I feel like we over-complicate marketing a lot,

I think it’s really about understanding your customer, creating a customer need, and then having a product that matches, and making it really easy for them to buy.

In its simplicity, that’s all marketing is. And the execution’s a lot more complicated, but it really goes back to just solving a customer problem.


SM: So let’s wind it back a couple of weeks, right, because the pre-COVID-19, just as this was starting to creep up and it became mainstream for everybody.


I think that all of us didn’t really know what to expect, but at the same time I guess, what were you hearing within the marketing communities, so the communities that you sit within?


MA: There’s this real culture of fear and uncertainty at the moment, and I’m seeing a lot of people are just so focused on really reactive marketing. Reactive sounds bad, I don’t mean it in a negative way, but they have to get marketing up around their company’s response to COVID.


So for a lot of the clients and colleagues, I’m speaking to, they’re all sort of on hamster wheels at the moment just trying to get the COVID content out. And we need to do that, and that’s why I say reactionary, because it’s a reaction, it’s a tactical one that’s the right reaction.

But it’s then about going how do we pause and think a little bit more about what we can do in the mid-long term, as opposed to just keeping being reactionary.

SM: I guess some of the things that you recently talked about is purpose-driven marketing, and that’s one of the things that we’ve connected on, walk me through, what is purpose-driven marketing, and how can organisations adopt that, if possible? 


MA: I think it’s such an interesting question. We’ve all seen Simon Sinek, and you know, why, what, how, which I love a lot of it, but I also find people take it too literally and almost try and create these false purposes.

Let’s say you’re a private equity company, or you’re a big bank, having a purpose around helping small children in Uganda has no relation to what you’re doing commercially. So I think it’s ensuring that you have a purpose that marries up commercials.

And if I look at something like Ben and Jerry’s, they’re a fantastic example of this; they’ve actually broken their purpose into three parts, so one of its around the economic mission, the social mission and then also the product mission.


That’s a really beautiful way to do it, and they’re not ashamed of making money, because by making money they’re actually able to be a sustainable company, they’re able to deliver their purpose.

So I think it’s just clarifying first off that purpose doesn’t have to be this esoteric sort of do-good concept, it does need to be tied back to commercials.

SM: And so the examples that you shared so far are very much in the corporate sector, those assumptions would be that they do have quite extensive budgets in order to execute on said marketing, whether it be good or not good.


How would not-for-profits or organisations that have a little bit more of a modest budget that still wants to live their purpose, or at least market in a way that is aligned with what they’re looking to do, but can’t afford it?


MA: I always use the example of Breast Cancer Network Australia – they’re a client of ours.


But I look at the way that they handled this COVID situation, and this was done completely independently of us, they were best practise in every single way.

And to be completely honest, they kicked the arse of most big businesses. 

So when it broke on, I can’t remember the date, but the Friday here, within that weekend, they basically had a landing page up for all of their members, it had really specific information around COVID, all of their social channels, they opened their call centre on the weekend, which had never ever been done, so that their members could talk to them, their CEO KP did a media blitz, just making sure that their members knew what was happening and could get the right information and tools, and they started recording podcasts on specifically what COVID meant for their members.


They have an entire marketing and comms team of about seven people. I look at that and go, you know, minimal money, minimal resource to roll that out, but they just had everyone chip in and get it done.


And they typify your purpose-led organisation, I mean their mission is to help people impacted by breast cancer and make sure they can access tools and information.


I love them, they’re one of my favourite clients because one, amazing people work there, but two it’s this amazing organisation that does good.


So it sort of just shows me, I think it’s more about your intent and commitment sometimes, more so than having the budgets and the teams.


SM: And so how do you think marketing will change once we’re past this pandemic? Because you just said marketing and good, do you think that’s gonna sustain, or do you think there’s gonna be a difference in the way people understand it to be?


MA: Look I’m naively optimistic that we may continue this goodness, and injecting real humanity into brands. Do I think that we’ll revert to type? Yeah probably I do, I think that consumer behaviour in a few years, I think we’ll probably just go back to the way we were.


So I hope that there’s more humanity – the optimist in me says that. But the cynic in me thinks it will go back to the way that we were generally speaking. 


SM: I hope not, you know there’s been a lot of good, wonderful things coming out of brands that I thought would never in a million years do that. So it actually has been putting new brands in front of me, I thought wow, you’re fantastic, I’m gonna remember that when it’s time to make a decision, right?


MA: Yeah, you’re spot on, and that’s the brand play. So you look at something like Zara, you know, one of millions of, well not millions, but lots of companies who are producing scrubs for medical workers and the like, now I don’t think I’ve ever been into a Zara, but I go, I will remember that for the rest of my life.


And I think that’s the optimistic part of me where I hope that people realise by doing good in a commercial way, is actually more effective than just selling stuff.

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