“Rebranding is the path of least resistance for a business owner.” Interview with the managing partners of the Aimbulance agency

In November 2018, Aimbulance was transformed from a digital agency to a full-service marketing agency. The project has large customers in Ukraine (Mastercard, Ukrsibbank, in the past – Pepsi) and a foreign representative office. Now Aimbulance seeks to reach a new category of customers. AIN.UA editor talked to managing partners Roman Gavrish and Viktor Dubrovin about how the changes took place, what is relevant in the market and what goals the business has set itself.

In simple words: what does the transition from a digital agency to a full-cycle agency mean?

Victor Dubrovin: For us, this is evolution, the natural course of things. Obviously, digital does not solve all the issues. We began to look wider and started with the question: “what does the client need?”

After all, in fact, the client does not come for SMM or BTL, rebranding, etc. The client comes to help increase sales, increase the demand for his/her product.

When we realized for ourselves that this was the key question of the client in the category of marketing, we came to the realization in which direction it was necessary to develop.

Victor Dubrovin

Roman Gavrish: My colleague explained it in such a way that it would not be clear to an ordinary person.

Look: there used to be a tire shop, and now there is a service center.

Previously, they came to change the tires and said, “and here something is out of whack.” Now we started to look for it and try to understand. This led to the creation of a full-service station. We can disassemble the car from a beginning to an end. We do solve problems, we don’t just change winter tires. I’m not saying that winter tires aren’t important, however, when there is a problem, it needs to be addressed globally. That’s what we started doing.

What stages can this transformation be divided into? How did it start?

V.D.: The first project that we “shot” was Viasat, this is our work from nine years ago. Customer’s request was the following: you need to increase the conversion to the site. We realized that the request is actually much deeper and wider, and the value that we can create is worth much more.

As a part of that project, we not only redid the site but also looked at what happens after receiving the applications, how the display advertising works. We helped the client with display advertising, and with recommendations on the work of the call center and the processing of applications.

As a result, the conversion increased 15 times. This was only through the site, through the digital channel. The cost of attracting a client has become cheaper than through TV. This happened not only because we changed the site, but because we looked at the situation as widely as possible in terms of the consumer experience.

R.G.: Then we realized that we can generate a difference in the results several times.

This became the starting point. Then the clients came and asked for a conditional site, and we looked at the wide picture and understood that the site would not help. They have a problem with the price offer, for example. Even if we make a new site, without changing the price offer, the consumer will not buy the product.

Or we also had situations when the client ordered an advertising campaign from us, and we understood that the product did not meet the price category. You need to change the price and only then there will be a good result.

That is, we tried in some way to solve the final problem – increasing customers’ demand.

After some time, we realized that we had been doing marketing for a long time. We barely do digital work now. Accordingly, we decided to arrange it and went into the process of working with marketing.

Roman Gavrish

How does this happen from a client’s point of view? You come to the site, and you offer to reduce the price?

V.D.: There are, I think, two types of clients.

There are those who are afraid of such an approach. As if you come to the doctor and say: “I have a headache” (hoping that he will give you a pill), and he says: “Oh, you need to do some tests first. In general, firstly go to a physiotherapist, do the massages.” After all, you only had a headache!

The second type of clients is those who have the most suffered problem. They need expertise. A request for a conditional “site” is just a reason for us to start a conversation. And in fact, we lay out the whole situation, so the client immediately understands the issue. After all, when they come for a promotion video, the problem is not always in the video clip. Perhaps the old video is suitable, however, the problem is quite different here.

For the client, everything can be obvious and understandable, but he/she lacks an expert opinion or a desire to understand the issue him/herself.

Our task is to abstract, look like a sober diagnostician and tell the client where the problem is, and whether it’s “like”, “dislike”, “pleasant”, “unpleasant” – that is the whole other story.

When is it worth not just changing the price, but doing the whole re-branding?

R.G.: In two cases.

  • The first case is when there are technical problems with the brand. For example, naming is not readable. The font is chosen poorly, it is hard to see from afar, from the shop window, etc. If it is impossible to read, then we need to change it.
  • Second, we recommend to re-brand if the business is really undergoing change, but it has low recognition. When people know little about business, but it is already changing and transforming.

Therefore, in these two cases: when there are technical problems, and the second, when there are no technical problems, but there is some change with low recognition.

V.D.: For us, branding is functional. A brand should be easily recognizable, remembered and be the same everywhere, in all contexts, whether it is a shop window, packaging or a business card. It should be well and conveniently used.

There is an analogy with road signs. There is no need to experiment, no need to change the parking sign and change the letter “P”. Replacing the mark should take place only if it is unreadable.

What about the current wave of rebranding – is it just hype or real accumulated problems?

R.G.: This is surely hype. A lot of times the owner, director or marketing manager is bored.

Rebranding is the way to occupy yourself.

As a result, they find arguments that make rebranding a necessary step in the development of the company: they expanded the range of products, changed the direction of their activities, got a new audience. This is not a rational idea, there is no rationality behind it. People just want to do it. Worst of all, most often it hurts the business.

V.D.: I would add here that often rebranding is the path of least resistance for a business owner when it comes to marketing because the updated brand is noticeable to everyone. You made a re-branding, and everyone starts saying that cardinal changes are taking place. At the same time, the company itself does not change, working in the old way. Rebranding is not a functional task. This story is not about helping businesses, but about personal ambitions.

Do you often discourage customers from something?

R.G.: Yes, regularly. For example, rebranding is one of the “must-haves”. Next, I want to make a promo video. Next, I will ask to start the site, without changing anything in the product. In other words, they are not interested in the back-end, which is important, they only look at the front-end.

Everyone wants to look beautiful. We say that we need to change something inside as well.

What is the chronology of work with the customer, how is everything arranged?

R.G.: The client, as a rule, comes for one thing. We carry out the task smoothly and in parallel, we show the diagnosis. It shows that there are other nuances. Very often, the client is interested in their resolution. As a result, we are already working on other tasks. For example, we have been working with Mastercard for 5 years. Before that, we worked with Pepsi for 6 years.

V.D.: We have two lines of services:

  • intellectual – strategy and consulting;
  • production – the creation of the final product (promotion video, outdoor advertising, etc.).

As a result, some of our products are, in fact, just presentations. The client requests an audit, a session, and after receiving information from us, he/she goes on to solve it with his/her marketing team.

However, it also happens that we shoot promotion videos, create a new brand, etc. Depending on the situation, we are already working on the system of cooperation with the client.

You want to work with small and medium-sized businesses. Aren’t you scared of working with such clients? After all, the smaller the scale, the less money you get.

R.G.: In fact, this market has a larger scale and more money. Of course, if we compare the individual budgets of companies, they are several times smaller. But you see it otherwise.

There are hundreds of thousands of officially registered enterprises, including sole proprietors, and only two thousand of big businesses. There are about fifteen or twenty thousand of average size businesses. Total, if you remove sole proprietors from the counting, about 300,000 customers can withstand a check of UAH 100,000. Our task is to sell our services to them.

How will this work? Through the so-called batch product. We will begin to issue recommendations that will be unified for different formats. We will not sharpen cases for a specific business, as we do it with large customers. We will give a typical product, and the client will deal with it. Whether they will be able to work effectively or not – that’s their question, our business is to give them such a guide to action, an instruction.

V.D.: The idea is to reduce the check and the participation of different specialists. The product can be repeated, it can be reused. In this way, we reduce the cost to people, and they gain access to our knowledge. But there won’t be such work as we do with large customers.

What is Aimbulance today, in numbers?

V.D.: We now have more than 70 employees. At the same time, there are about 40-50 projects in work, of varying degrees of complexity. Some projects are a full-fledged marketing strategy with product development, value proposition and brand from scratch, some are just the development of an advertising campaign, and some – the development/creation of an online service and its promotion in digital.

The work is spread between the teams inside the company, we have 5 separate teams. One team works on the foreign market and 4 of them work on the local market. Formats are also different. There is, for example, annual cooperation when we work as a creative agency for a client. We also do point tasks: either we are working on a strategy, or just covering the media project, or just a commercial or branding. It happens when we do everything from the beginning to the end.

R.G.: In addition, there are representative offices in three more countries – the USA, Belgium and the Netherlands.

How do you work abroad?

R.G.: Belgium and the Netherlands are difficult markets for us. They are more conservative, they do not like working with remote teams. The countries have very specific nuances that we do not know how to work with. The prospects of the markets are incomprehensible – everything is very complicated there.

We have been working with America for the past six months. Everything is much more dynamic there, much easier. They are more open to international work, and now we are working on the third project. Everything will be faster in the future. Therefore, for now, America is our bet.

V.D.: Such a situation was a surprise for us because we have been flying to Europe for a whole year and completed only 5-6 projects. And when we entered the US market, we completed three projects of a serious level in a couple of months. In Europe, we only have customers who say, “make us landing” or “make a promotion video”.

Why do you have such a choice of countries?

R.G.: Absolutely by chance. We have partners who were interested in promoting us. This opportunity came to us and we decided to use it.

Do you have big offices abroad?

V.D.: No, in fact, these are small offices. Our goal is to sell local professionals there. Therefore, the team is here, and there we have people who sell our services.

Everyone loves to read about money, but nobody likes to talk about it. Tell us about the order of numbers in which the company earns.

V.D.: The revenue of the agency is about 50 million, so far in Ukrainian hryvnias. I can’t talk about the prices, because we have a variable product.

R.G.: Our task is to enter the global market, so we don’t have to depend only on Ukraine and to increase our revenue. Our plan is to increase the revenue threefold by the end of the next year. This is the maximum plan if all goes well.

In addition, a global presence will allow us to remain competitive in the long run. Everything is globalizing and it is possible that local companies start ordering creative in London, in Poland, in Hong Kong, anywhere. Then we need to understand how they think.

What are the feelings after getting another Red Dot? Did it help you?

R.G.: For the agency, in terms of business growth, the rewards do not matter. That is, in principle, we even once tracked such a situation with the Effie nomination: when you win a lot of Effies, a lot of bad traffic starts coming to you. What does bad traffic mean? I mean those who came and saw you at the award ceremony. However, in reality, they suck out resources, then they don’t want to do projects, etc., because they came on the hype wave. Therefore, from a business point of view, it can be said that the reward is not the main driver.

V.D.: It can be a driver, when it is used consciously as a tool for promotion, when you get an award and you trumpet everywhere about it, it’s just a reason to announce yourself. It is also a nice bonus for a team whose project is appreciated.

Is there such a reward that you would like to receive? Your personal challenge?

R.G.: Yes. Market share. Global one.

We want to win a large share of the global market.

Specifically, for me and Victor, probably, this is the main reward, which cannot be replaced with anything.