From the Minds of Marketers with Greg Hoyos

In this first of a series of articles to introduce you to thought leaders across the Caribbean business landscape, one of the most prolific and successful marketers in the region, Greg Hoyos, shares his thoughts on the state of marketing in the Caribbean.

Greg Hoyos started his first Caribbean ad agency in 1970, with clients Colgate-Palmolive and Barclays Bank. Creatively, he has won five CLIO’s (including the 1979 Worldwide Copywriting statue) as well as numerous Caribbean ADDYs. In 1981, he published a book on marketing in the Caribbean, “Marketing and Demand”. In 1982 he relocated to Sydney, Australia, where he served on the boards of two multinational ad agencies (Leo Burnett and DDB Worldwide) and also wrote a marketing column for a national marketing weekly. In 1987, he was voted (by clients) 4th in the “Top 10 Outstanding Advertising Personalities in Australia” poll by Fairfax Media.

Returning home to Barbados, he re-established a regional agency, linked into the Omnicom and IPG Groups, which now represents DDB Worldwide and media giant Initiative in the English, French and Dutch-speaking countries throughout the region. He writes a sometime marketing blog on, and in 2015 he wrote his second book, “A History Of Marketing In 32 Objects.”

AE: People often confuse marketing, branding and advertising. What do you consider to be the difference between the three?

Greg: Marketing’s job is to organize the supply of products to people, including communications, getting products on to the shelf, packaging, and so on. Branding and advertising are subsets of marketing. Branding is what you call the product or service you want to sell in a way that resonates with your intended target market. Advertising is a form of communicating that brand. In my view, marketing in the Caribbean is still extremely basic. We are sales community – probably because this has been our historical practice – and our advertising tends to dictate to consumers. It is very top-down and not very consumer-centric. Good advertising, in my opinion, should allow consumers to put their own meaning into what you’re saying. A good example of this approach is the tagline for Banks beer – Banks Exactly – which came directly from customers, not from the company.

AE: I read an article in Forbes called Marketing 101 that was written back in 2007. The author said, “I’ll give the essence of marketing in two sentences: First, it’s marketing’s responsibility to see that everyone is playing the same tune in unison. Second, it’s marketing’s assignment to turn that tune or differentiating idea into what we call a coherent marketing direction.” Do you think that marketers within Caribbean businesses would define their roles this way?

Greg: Probably not. It is often the case that the CEO dictates the differentiating idea, and marketers have to run with it. But there are cases where the idea came from the marketing team. For example, the name, brand and story behind Consumers Guarantee Insurance (CGI) were created by the marketing team when the company was launched. All of the early ads that told the brand’s story focused on the idea that CGI would do things differently; and that idea was reflected in everything from the products they offered to the ads they published.

I’ve come to believe that it’s marketing’s responsibility to ensure that everything is aligned to deliver on any brand initiative, not just to stimulate customer demand. In the past, for example, I have not paid enough attention to distribution and a failure in the distribution arm of the business led to the failure of a product. We were working on the launch and initial campaigns for Stallion Stout. They were doing well and demand was high. The drivers of the trucks that delivered Stallion Stout were also responsible for delivering another product produced by the company. Unfortunately, their commission structure was such that they made more money from the other product than from Stallion, so they slowed down the delivery of Stallion, which ultimately led to the demise of the Stallion brand. People often see marketing as the glamour, the ads, the packaging, the pretty side of it. They don’t see the hard work that goes into getting the product out and on to the shelves. Not having products on the shelf will kill a brand faster than anything else. The battle for shelf space is crucial all over the world, which is why some of the most successful companies control shelf space. They control what consumers can access. These companies are usually impatient with marketing, relegating marketers to simply running campaigns.

AE: Given your time working in marketing in the Caribbean, how do you think local brands are performing in terms of developing strong brand identities? How do you think local brands compare to international brands?

Greg: If we think of our brands that did well, the world had to tell us they were good before we thought they were good. If the world doesn’t say it is good, then we don’t think it is good. This is not necessarily unique to the Caribbean; new brands all over the world are very hard to launch. Plus we have a small country bias; even larger countries like England and Australia struggle with this. Nonetheless, in the Caribbean, we have created brands that have stood the test of time and did very well. But in all of those cases, the brands were created to address a consumer need. If you address a consumer need and all other aspects of your marketing are done well, we can create long-lasting, successful brands. Examples such as Twist and Magna prove this.

AE: On that note, one morning on one of the radio call-in programmes in Barbados, a caller lamented that Barbadian marketers do not know how to create brands and how to create advertisements that encourage consumers to buy. What are your thoughts on this?

Greg: I agree. The ads are still dictated by the boss; companies are still dictating to consumers. Furthermore, creativity is our false god. Jingles, for example, are memorable, but they don’t necessarily make people buy. To be successful, ads have to be relevant and have to make sense. Too often we focus on being different, and while consumers may find our ads interesting and amusing, the ads do not make consumers go and purchase the product. If ads do not address a consumer need, they will not make consumers change. CGI won over consumers when they created Automate, Homemate and Agreed Value for your car. In each of those cases, the products addressed a consumer need. And all of their competitors eventually copied them.

Advertising does not change, and cannot change, people’s behavior. All advertising can do is reinforce existing product buys. Why do people give you three bars of soap together? Because the likelihood of you coming back to that soap is higher if they get you to use it repeatedly. Yet we spend most of our time on ads, not tapping into existing behavior.

I will also add that marketers have to figure out what category their products fall into, as that constrains how successful your ads can be. Are you in a quick-moving product segment, where consumers switch easily, or do your consumers tend to stick to what they know/like/trust?

AE: Do you think our advertising markets are limited by the media options available to us in the Caribbean? For example, we have a small number of local TV channels in each island, but developed markets have not only more channels, but also more niche channels that allow marketers to hone into their target market more effectively.

Greg: All of the heritage media are dying all over the world, so I do not believe that our relatively fewer options are a hindrance in this current environment. Even internationally, traditional media is losing its relevance. The audience is moving away from us rapidly, yet we advertise as if they are in the building. The only traditional media that still appears to be relevant is radio, but even then there is so much fragmentation that it is not clear where you should place your ads.

The challenge today is drawing consumers to you. More and more people are collecting info online. Furthermore, what other people say about your products is more important than ads, and now we can go online and find those opinions easier than before we had the Internet. And the Internet itself is so fragmented that people are not even watching the same show at the same time. All of the old levers of power over consumers are gone and can no longer work for us. We can’t get away with just interrupting consumers with a pop up ad. We have to engage them with a brand story, and that is why inbound digital marketing –blogs, etc. – is more important.

AE: What would you advise regional companies to do to strengthen their brands?

Greg: First, they need to understand the behavior and needs of their customers. They then need to create a strong brand around addressing those needs. Thirdly, use research to follow consumers. Establish where they are going – don’t interrupt them – and follow them. And have the discipline and humility to engage them and tell them stories.

Greg Hoyos is the Chairman of Greg Hoyos Associates. This interview was conducted by Stacia Howard, Managing Director of Antilles Economics.

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