When Ross Farquhar joined mochi ice cream brand Little Moons as marketing director in 2020, he immediately set about forming a 12-month strategy. Things were looking good and even under lockdown there was plenty of momentum, decent growth and a nice foothold across various European markets.
So far, so good. However, when a young graduate in his office set up a Little Moons TikTok account and began posting videos, things began to get really interesting.
By January of this year, the product had gone viral on the platform, as young users discovered the joys of bite-sized Japanese ice cream treats. Soon there were over 15,000 Little Moons-themed TikTok videos, boasting over 500 million views. And Little Moons’ sales skyrocketed by 2,000%.
Planning for the unexpected has become something of a horror story under lockdown, as companies have been forced to cut costs, rethink strategies and find new ways to adapt to a changing retail landscape.
‘Flexibility’ has been very much the buzzword of the past year, but as Farquhar, speaking at The Festival of Marketing: The Bottom Line, explained, having a marketing plan firmly in place can help when the unforeseen strikes. Preparation is all, not least because it helps build trust from within the organisation. That in turn means when you take a risk, you can do so with the backing of your colleagues.
A good marketing plan relates all of your spend back to smart objectives, so that each piece of your execution has a red thread to your strategy.
Ross Farquhar, Little Moons
“Having a plan that makes room for complete punts isn’t a luxury,” he said. “It’s the thing that has the ability to elevate you above your peers. At the same time, not having a plan that guarantees to put food on the table is foolhardy. Planning for both is planning to succeed.”
When TikTok began to pick up pace among consumers, Farquhar and his team were able to take a punt on the platform, to see what they could do with it and bring that narrative into a more mainstream setting.
“While it’s completely unrealistic to have a plan for every eventuality, equally having no plan isn’t setting you up to [make the] best decisions when the unexpected happens,” he added.
“Having a well-written one that helps you navigate uncertainty is like having a life raft and a compass at the ready for when things go differently to how you imagined.”
A rigorous marketing plan needn’t be a straitjacket, it can be a map. With that in mind, when German Gen Zers, bored under lockdown, began posting about Little Moons on TikTok late last year, Farquhar began studying the videos, and even got to interview some of those doing the posting.
Things began to move quickly and, one week in late January, there was “pure organisational panic”, as the #LittleMoons leapt to 25 million users then 50 million, then 150 million. All in the same week. Undeterred, Farquhar used his trusted marketing plan as the basis for an idea.
A modest TikTok media buy added further momentum and exposure, before journalists from mainstream media outlets were contacted and invited to write about the developing phenomenon. That then armed Farquhar with enough ammo to go and stir up a bit of FOMO among high street retailers.
“A good marketing plan relates all of your spend back to smart objectives, so that each piece of your execution has a red thread to your strategy,” Farquhar said. But crucially that doesn’t mean it has to be rigid.
Being trusted sets you free as a marketer, it allows you to tweak your plans and to make some wiggle room for those unexpected developments, whether that’s landing a big hit on social or enjoying some sudden brand exposure elsewhere.
Of course, as with any punt, Farquhar advised against over-resourcing. The graduate creating TikTok videos was pretty much left to her own devices and indeed still is to this day (though she’s suddenly become an awful lot busier).
As they say at the racetrack, don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.