Brand expert Mike Edmonds and Ronnie Duncan took a leap of faith when they challenged the traditional advertising industry with the launch of their creative solutions business, Meerkats.
From humble beginnings in a Perth backyard, the multi-million dollar Australian brand now operates from a two storey creative space in Perth’s popular Subiaco. However, despite the company’s exponential financial growth over the past 14 years, it’s the brand credibility that Edmonds values most.
“Financially, we’ve grown from a loose startup that couldn’t pay its owners for a year to a tightly-run professional services firm with a multi-million dollar income. We are creating channel-neutral business solutions in banking, insurance, retail, fashion, FMCG, as well as many charities and FNPs. But the growth I value most is that of our brand reputation, here in Perth, around Australia and now in many parts of the world, especially Asia,” he said.
“In our first years, as a challenger brand going up against well-entrenched conventional competitors, our biggest hurdle was making money to survive while not giving up on our true purpose. We’d take on conventional advertising clients and create ad campaigns in the expected way, but at the first opportunity, we would try and educate them to the potency of truth and purpose.”
Meerkats’ unique business approach to finding a company’s truth and purpose is what sets them apart from their competitors and has contributed to their success.
“In an always-on, super-connected world increasingly populated by smart shoppers, the path to commercial success for our clients is not to ask people what they want and then pretend that’s what their business is really good at. Today, genuine market-making growth and innovation – the kind CEO’s everywhere are chasing in order to deliver on those hefty quarterly profit targets set by their boards – comes from aligning your business behaviour to an authentic motive. Not a fake brand image … we help companies find that authentic motive and align their business’s entire behaviour to it; from staff buy-in, to product design, customer loyalty and much more.”
Like any start-up, the early days were daunting and filled with doubt but Edmonds said they took every opportunity to boost his confidence and remind himself that they were doing the right thing.
“We had all those little voices sowing the seeds of doubt. We were, after all, trying to reinvent the whole concept of branding from a small regional base. But like we tell our own clients to this day, once you have surfaced your true purpose, it has an incredible power to make your confidence self-fulfilling. Soon, that confidence was ingrained and we started having one success after another.
“It helped that we practiced what we preached about branding and brand meaning. We wanted to have a distinctive name and a brand image that made us more user-friendly and accessible to clients than the brash Mad Men image of ad agencies. So, we chose the meerkat as our name and symbol because they have a lot of attributes that matched our new agency – insanely curious, great eyesight, live in large democratic families, share the work etc… All terrific analogies for our beliefs and agency culture.”
Despite the success of Meerkats there are two key learnings that have stayed with Edmonds throughout the company’s rise: one, adopt the mantra ‘no fear for a year’ and two, leave your ego at the door.
“It’s important for start-ups to accept that in the first year, you will be scared. You will worry. You will hear scary little voices in your head about failure and debt and ridicule. Accept them but don’t let them get to you or they will kill a great company before it’s had the chance to prove itself,” he said.
“The second key learning is that most startup founders expect to sacrifice money and family but I was surprised to learn how often I needed to also sacrifice my ego. More specifically, to give up an opportunity to be seen as a winner in order to stay on track with our true purpose. I have seen many start-ups make the mistake of taking on bad customers or releasing speculative product lines, just for the press headline, or the short-term sales blip or the money… and have devalued their brand image as a result, or even had a terrific destiny derailed.”
Staying true to the company’s purpose, Meerkats hopes to change more lives through its creative solutions and over the next 10 years plans to expand nationally – and hopefully globally – with an office in at least two cities outside Perth.
“I see us expanding into Asia and the east coast of Australia and not for the usual rationales behind the rise of networked agencies, such as more income or income security. We want to expand into more influential locales because that strategy is aligned to our purpose: to help foster a better form of capitalism in the world.”