Matt Allison On His Earned, Owned and Paid Opinion
Managing Director of Ubiquity Lab, CMO Advisor, Speaker
Consumption: No idea ('…but most days a few large Caps')
Do you know Matt Allison personally?
Lucky you, I still only know him virtually. Three years ago, I just cold-emailed him with a request to talk about his work as Head of Bupa’s Global Content Strategy, thinking he would fob off ‘the request from the Wild West’.
This is the first thing I learnt about Matt- he follows through and he keeps his word.
So, to my delight, he agreed to speak to my tiny team about his experience (read: I couldn’t stop fangirling, so I made the talk about what the team could learn from him.)
Hence I burst into my next team meeting and proudly announced that we would speak to THE MATT ALLISON, the man who brought the light of Content Marketing to the dusty corners of an insurance behemoth; we would get a chance to listen to THE MATT ALLISON on Skype.
Silence and tumbleweeds followed.
Good thing I ignored the indifference of the younger marketing generation and made everyone listen to THE MATT ALLISON anyway.
That’s the thing about Matt, once he starts talking, his energy takes over the room. The session turned out to be an awesome insight into his strategic thinking and the challenges he faced.
Fast-forward to 2020, the ad nauseam cited ‘difficult times’ have converted us to distant chatty bods on Zoom, Viper, Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp. The ‘Hello, can you hear me?’ anthem repeats on me like last night’s take away.
And I’m the worst culprit when it comes to prep the e-meeting room. Turns out it takes me a trial of four different platforms to find a ‘record the meeting button’. In the end, Matt sorted it.
That’s the thing about Matt, he is patient and kind.
When I finally settle into today’s 50 Grounds conversation, less flustered and more focused, Matt launches into his speaker persona, THE MATT ALLISON.
I get sucked into his jet stream of thoughts on the big topics. Before I can mutter ‘50 Grounds is about having a professional chinwag’, THE MATT ALLISON has made my awkwardness disappear into the Marketing Universe.
Matt’s accomplishment as Bupa’s global Content Marketing pioneering Strategist is well documented across magazines, posts, and podcasts as a huge award-winning success for the man and his principles of the craft.
As holistic thinkers and well-versed marketing generalists sometimes do, he hit the limits of building a seamless inhouse-outsourcing content delivery team and left Bupa in 2018 after nine years to venture out on his own.
Armed with massive Blue-Chip experience and the drive to fix the issues of disjointed marketing, Matt founded full-service agency Ubiquity Lab. He also co-founded The Content Leader’s Academy to ‘crack the lack’ of cohesive strategies and fragmented knowledge.
He publicly speaks, advises, mentors, guides, and inspires businesses to bridge the gap between customer needs and business goals.
‘Even though I’ve switched from corporate to running a consultancy now I still see most things from the point of ‘how do you get buy-in to drive new initiatives?’, Matt explains.
‘Clients often say the value I bring above and beyond idea and rollout is to be advised on how to navigate the challenges of taking people on the journey to try new things. Producing a good idea is easy but getting the ship to turn in a new direction is hard.’
Matt flashes a smile.’ It feels like I’m still working inhouse, only for 10 different organisations at once.’
‘Personally, and professionally I set high goals and chase them really hard.
'My biggest growth challenge right now is being a parent. That’s not different from any other parent’s challenge. Being present, loving, caring, a good partner and a good role model for my new-born son. Can’t wait to start playing sport with Jack!’
‘Born in Bethlehem (a Melbourne Hospital)’, Matt always wanted to be Jesus (?) or a journalist.
‘I label myself as introverted extrovert’, Matt muses. ‘Yes, I can be loud, but I also need downtime. Some of my friends who are energised by people really struggle now with physical distancing.
‘In my younger years, I had a fear of public speaking and I had to force myself to really overcome that. As a PR specialist I was comfortable to speak to the media all the time but on a stage with a room full of people that was a challenge.
‘Writing and reading were my favourites apart from early ambitions to become a tennis pro but the love of the sport resulted in running a tennis coaching business instead.
‘I sold that in my early twenties and got into PR agencies in Sydney where I learned a lot about corporate communication and crisis management for the big brands. Despite the constant pressure, it was my favourite thing.
‘Fourteen years ago I took a role with GE in a corporate affairs role, and social was starting to become mainstream my last few years there. It set me on the path to becoming interested in social media.
‘When I then started at Bupa in 2009, social media was quite unsophisticated. At first, I looked it from a risk and reputation angle to better drive reputational outcomes. But then I began to understand how you could harness social media in the context of building a fully integrated marketing ecosystem.
‘At Bupa, I was initially Head of Content, before the role was expanded globally across countries including the UK, Spain, Hong Kong and Australia. The CMO and I had the vision to become ‘the online health destination’ for specialist topics in Australia.
‘That’s when we started to build the concept of the Bupa Blue Room, which was a content marketing hub that would help with the focus on the customer’
Like Trevor Torrance, Matt has a competitive drive to everything he does.
‘ANZ Bank beat us by a couple of months but we were the second major brand to launch a content hub. That annoyed me from an ego perspective because I wanted to be the first’, Matt laughs.
‘Now if you jump into content marketing lots of companies and agencies have a playbook, but back then, we had to figure out the capabilities along the way.
‘My background in storytelling found a natural application but I had to get my head around the digital elements such as retargeting, SEO and performance marketing to get the value out of the content we produce.’
‘A generalist marketer is still important to the business because they deeply understand how to tell a good story. Generalists can learn from Journalists and Content Marketers how to pinpoint the real audience.’
‘You know what's funny? I never finished my marketing degree. Two-thirds of the course was about accounting.’
Matt quips ‘what are the accountants studying? Brand Positioning?’
Although what he quickly added here was that, like me, in reality, we had to study hard later on to overcome rash decisions that were made in our twenties and thirties.
‘I see content marketing as part of the whole marketing mix. It’s not a standalone activity. Some large brands had their finger on the pulse with responding to the COVID crisis’.
However, Matt is not shy in pointing out the communication laggards and their tone-deaf messages during the modern plague of 2020.
I think there is a layer of empathy now above the usual communication and it’s about the alignment of people, purpose and profits.
Brands that can read the room have done well this year in opposition to those just broadcasting self-aggrandising messages to nameless acquisition targets.’
Matt disagrees with me on the relevance to small business who in my experience often don’t have the resources or inhouse communications know-how to lead a concerted effort.
‘I know of SME’s that are getting it right in the COVID scenario. There are real benefits in being a smaller SME as you can be closer to the customer with shorter response times.’
Seeing his viewpoint, I understand how the business size and comms capability becomes irrelevant once your actions hit a nerve of what really matters to your community.
I must translate my own experience as a brand builder to a different level from Matt’s Blue-Chip experience when I compare his brand building to mine.
He agrees with me that there is no strategic benefit of differentiation and brand building unless you really do your research homework in making the strategic connections between your business capabilities, the sales funnel, and your competition.
‘Accelerating business goals through the type of marketing we do is a real art form. We are piecing it all together mostly untainted by personal bias once we’ve extracted the business knowledge from people’s heads and built an ecosystem for the brand.’
Matt’s not unlike me when he describes the favourite part of his work as ‘coming up with the big goals and the blueprint. I love the diversity of clients, industry levels and the synthesising of complex information. I think this goes for the rest of my life, too,’ he laughs.
I have a ‘no dickhead’ rule for clients, but my team didn’t allow me to put that on our Values webpage.
‘Everyone we work with is a genuinely good human. We enjoy mutual respect and collaboration with people we like.’
That’s the thing about Matt, he is not dodging truth bombs about his own performance.
Currently, he is asking inhouse marketers ‘for bloody scary feedback on Ubiquity Lab, helping him scope the marketing consultancy landscape and Ubiquity Lab’s place within it.
‘We’re only two years into the future of Ubiquity Lab. I can’t talk to an endpoint for it but I’m looking to continue in a scalable way.
‘If you ask me about my creativity, I immediately think about ‘what is the most creative way to solve a problem? And that is a strategic question for me, not a creative. I view creativity as creative problem-solving instead of painting a beautiful picture or a fantastic TV ad.’
We’re leaving the Zoom conversation with the promise to catch up in person.
By the way, if you meet THE MATT ALLISON, he’s also well worth listening to.
The Common Ground:
Understanding new viewpoints are vital to opening professional horizons
Successful people have the self-awareness to seek all kinds of constructive feedback
Values, including mutual respect, pay off, regardless of business arrangement
Brand and Marketing are one but not the same.