Cleaning up all over the world
Adam Rostom, group marketing director of Dyson, speaks to Jonathan Bacon about the new motor for growth that will drive the brand’s expansion into China.
Marketing Week (MW): Dyson launched in China this month. Why are you targeting this market?
Adam Rostom (AR): There are around 400 million households in China but only 3.5 million have vacuum cleaners, so there is a big opportunity for us. We produce compact, energy-efficient machines and we know that type of technology is attractive across the world. Our core proposition is interesting to the Chinese people but there are also certain nuances, where their habits are not as established as they might be in other markets. In the UK, 98.5 per cent of households have vacuum cleaners, but in China that figure is only 1 per cent, so we need to explain to them how our products can be applicable to their lives.
MW: What is the brand’s strategy in China?
AR: PR is the backbone of our marketing as we find that it is the product reviews and recommendations that carry most weight. We are focusing on Beijing and Shanghai to start with and are launching with a full repertoire of Dyson products, from vacuum cleaners to our hand-dryers and fans.
All of these products have their own claims about being superior so getting that across to people in an easily digestible way is a challenge. The Chinese retail space is also intricate and there will be challenges around rolling out across a number of stores quickly. We’re looking to appoint a retail marketing director to make sure we have the right expertise and resource to support the global roll-out of our products.
MW: Is Dyson planning further international expansion?
AR: We are present in more than 50 countries at the moment and clearly there are many more countries out there. If you look at our success in Japan, where we are doing very well, we’ve found that our core technology is attractive to people and that we don’t really have to tailor our messages too much between different markets. Even in countries where there isn’t a traditional vacuum cleaning habit and people are more accustomed to sweeping, a product like a cordless, handheld vacuum cleaner offers the kind of quick clean-up they would be used to.
MW: Over 85 per cent of Dyson machines are sold outside the UK. Which markets are strongest for you?
AR: A lot of our growth has come from ‘dead markets’ - meaning the mature Western markets - in recent years. It’s exciting that even in times of recession, we’ve proven that people are willing to spend their money on premium technology.
So we’ve done well in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like the UK, France, Germany and the US, which is our largest market. Everybody’s looking towards China, India and Brazil for growth, but we’ve proven that we’re able to grow in established, mature markets. That’s simply down to the fact that we have technology with real advantages to talk about.
MW: How does Dyson target its products at consumers around the world?
AR: Dyson avoids the kind of focus group techniques that are, frankly, completely averaging. Most companies start with the consumer and say, “Hey Mr or Mrs X, what do you want from your toothbrush tomorrow or what do you want from your shampoo tomorrow?”. The depressing reality is that often you won’t get many inspiring answers.
Dyson’s approach is to interrogate products, find ways to improve them and develop prototypes. We’ll then test prototypes with people under heavy non-disclosure agreements. It’s from there that you can see the excitement and reaction to products.
For example, with our new fans people were amazed that they had no blades and wanted to know how they work. If you ran that by a focus group from the start and asked people what they wanted from their fan tomorrow, they wouldn’t say ‘get rid of the blades’. Our approach is about product breakthroughs rather than the approach of just running a focus group and testing a concept.
MW: What are Dyson’s core brand values and how do you project them?
AR: We don’t sit around talking about brand values: we simply make machines that are different and better. Our job in marketing is to amplify those truths, bring them out and explain them to people to make sure they know why we’re different and better.
TV has been a really effective way of getting the message out and it pays back quickly for us. Of course we also do digital work and use customer relationship management. But for all the marketing stuff we do, it’s the PR work that really carries the most weight. It’s not just product reviews in the mainstream media either - it’s the little online reviews or tweets about our products that are picked up and shared around. That’s when products become really credible.
MW: How do you approach creative campaigns?
AR: The first time we look at a product as marketers we interrogate the technology and find out why it’s superior, going right down to what plastics and materials it uses. We then bring that out through our marketing communications.
It’s a really rational subject matter that we work on, so we don’t need to use white horses on beaches or anything like that. We need only to explain the products. One thing we’re careful to avoid is resorting to industry-standard ways of communicating - fluffy dogs and sleeping babies and so on. We don’t want to blend in that way.
MW: What aspects of Dyson technology excite you at the moment?
AR: It’s rare for a manufacturer to develop as fundamental a technology as a motor. If you look at the motors in other manufacturers’ products, the technology is about 150 years old. We’ve taken a different approach and developed a motor that is more efficient and that allows people to get increased levels of power by using battery technology.
This is called our Dyson digital motor and it is a fundamentally enabling technology that will drive our difference going forward for a long time. In marketing speak, it’s our reason to believe - it’s not a fluffy reason to believe, it’s the thing that’s going to power our expansion.
MW: Dyson has announced plans to hire 300 more people across the business. What is the thinking behind that recruitment?
AR: It’s a proven formula for us. We’ve got strong growth ambitions - we just reported £1bn revenue last year and we want to grow to £2bn and beyond quite quickly. So what’s the fodder for that growth? It’s more of these better, superior, different products. We want more products in more geographies so we maintain a strong investment in our research and development, and in our recruitment.
MW: Will your marketing department hire more staff as part of that growth?
AR: We’ve got a reasonable level of resource and are trying to become more efficient and clever in the application of what we do, so I don’t think [the marketing department] will continue to grow in line with the engineering team.
But there’s a strong focus now on how to take our business more global. The challenge for the retail marketing director position that we’re looking to fill is that suddenly we’re thinking about hundreds of stores in China and literally 20,000 in the US, as well as opening in different countries around the world - the Middle East or the Nordics or wherever else. Therefore we need a strong retail presence around the world and the right people in place to deliver.
We’ve also got a strong graduate pipeline and have been recruiting graduates like nobody’s business this year, because we acknowledge that what we do is distinct and we want to train our people to be future leaders.
MW: What are the biggest challenges you face as group marketing director?
AR: Keeping our secrets secret - which is tricky - and finding the right people. Because we’re broadly an in-house operation with aggressive ambitions for growth, we’ve got to make sure we find the right people who get what we do and are able to bring Dyson’s story to life around the world.
Dyson in context
Dyson, the engineering company famous for its bagless vacuum cleaners, has become one of the UK’s biggest business success stories. Although still relatively young, having been founded by inventor Sir James Dyson 20 years ago, the company saw its revenues surge past the £1bn mark last year, while profit rose by 30 per cent. Such growth was fuelled by new products and an ever-expanding global presence, which covers more than 50 countries.
To say that Dyson is the UK equivalent of Apple might be a little strong (vacuum cleaners, after all, are not quite as sexy as smartphones), but the Wiltshire-based company carries the same reputation for market-leading innovation and quality as the much-adored iPhone manufacturer. Dyson has continued to invest in research and development with an almost ideological zeal that has ensured it remains ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest technology.
Recent products include cordless, lightweight vacuum cleaners and bladeless fans for the workplace or home - gadgets that have driven growth in emerging markets and mature Western economies alike. Dyson himself has remained at the centre of it all, shepherding the business as its sole shareholder while simultaneously becoming one of the UK’s most respected voices on business, design and entrepreneurship.
But as the company continues to expand, both in new and established markets, it faces a diverse set of challenges. In October, Dyson filed proceedings at the High Court against rival Bosch, accusing the German home appliance firm of getting a spy to steal engineering secrets from Dyson’s headquarters for up to two years, while employed at the company.
Bosch responded with a statement saying only that it had sought “to establish the full details of what occurred” and that it “regrets” Dyson’s decision to take legal action.
On top of its concerns over protecting intellectual property, Dyson’s current search for a retail marketing director reflects the challenge of taking complex products to market in foreign, and often very different, retail settings. To date, the brand has shown that innovation and premium product engineering are valued around the world - it must continue to do so as it crosses new borders.
Facts & Figures
- £1.06bn Dyson turnover in 2011, up 19 per cent on the previous year (£887m)
- £306m Profits in 2011, up 30 per cent on the previous year (£237m)
- £1.3m Weekly spend on research and development (R&D) in 2011
- 20% Planned year-on-year increase in R&D investment for the next five years
- 85% Proportion of Dyson machines sold outside UK, up from 30 per cent in 2005