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Meet the Woman Turning Boutique Brands into Household Names

Meet the Woman Turning Boutique Brands into Household Names

We use household names without thinking about it. So many times I've said I'll 'Hoover' the apartment (vaccuum) and my Aussie boyfriend has no clue what I'm talking about. Hoover is a big name in vacuums from the UK, and their brand name became synonymous with the actual action. Just like when we 'google' something. No one says 'i'll just pop that into a search engine', right?!

So how do we make our own brands infamous? What can we learn from their marketing techniques? Meet Sarah, the woman behind Product of The Year in Australia, and pick her brain on all things successful branding.

Tell us a bit about your entrepreneurial journey.

I moved from the UK to Australia in 2009 and started out working in Project Management, but soon gave that up to follow my passion of media, and landed a role in a small media house. From here, I worked my way to National Sales Manager for Good Taste magazine, before being offered the role of Sales Manager at media and production house, Now Screen.

Having just come back from maternity leave, I took on the project of launching Product of the Year into Australia and managed to get former TODAY Show host, Lisa Wilkinson, on board as our ambassador in our first year, which was a huge win.

As is the nature of these things, due to licensing laws I found myself with just three months to market and launch the first awards, however with a lot of hard work the inaugural awards ended up having 17 categories, as well as having 110 guests at the very first awards night hosted at Quay in Sydney.

Since then, the awards have gone from strength to strength, and we’re now in our tenth year which promises to be our best to date!

How did you make the leap from 9-5 office worker into full-blown Girl Boss?

I was on the hunt for a new challenge when the opportunity to launch product of the Year Australia came about. I had always wanted to start a business, and the potential reward for me outweighed the risk of having a go.

The first three years were intense but fast forward ten years and I’m now lucky enough to have a perfect work life balance. The awards now average 46 category winners every year, which is on a par with much larger markets such as the UK and US, which I’m hugely proud of. We have now doubled the amount of people we host at the awards night, and I feel incredibly lucky to work alongside some major Australian brands, including P&G and Unilever, many of the big supermarkets including Aldi, Coles, IGA and Woolworths, as well as boutique brands and smaller companies too.

Over the last seven years I’ve also been blessed with my amazing colleague, National Business manager, Rosanna Anderson, who works tirelessly to get new and exciting brands on board.  Together we’re looking to keep on growing and retaining our title as the ‘award to win’ for new product innovation in Australia.


Meet the Woman Turning Boutique Brands into Household Names


What interests you about the world of Product Innovation and what sparked your passion?

In the UK I was brought up in a ‘home brand family’. Everything in our cupboards was Sainsbury’s own! I always wanted Mum to buy new things and to try brands so I suppose that’s why I developed a fascination for those ‘forbidden’, new, & interesting products. Later in life at University my flatmates would joke that I was The Queen of new products as I was always bringing home new things to try. Shopping for groceries and general everyday products is not the most exciting thing to do and so I’m still on the look-out for new and interesting things to add that bit of fun to the experience.

What do you think the most successful brands have done to turn themselves into household names?

There are some brands that have had to work for decades to create this position, but the starting point has to be having a great product that people want and are prepared to pay for. Over time, household name brands, such as Coke or Kleenex, have listened to their customer’s wants and needs and it is these insights that have driven innovation and kept their brands relevant.

By keeping ahead of their competitors, being aware of changes in social values and trends and mixing up their advertising strategies successful companies find creative ways to expose the brand to new consumers, but they never stop looking for new ways to engage with their existing customers. Creating this balance is a key success factor for any brand.

What common traits do you see in leaders of these successful brands?

First and foremost, they deliver perceived value for money. They have a product that meets a consumer need and, in many cases they play a part in creating that need through smart consumer insights and targeted marketing. They capitalise on opportunity and they stay at the forefront of innovation. In brief, they adapt to remain relevant.

In terms of ensuring longevity, they build a strong brand identity, this includes having clear brand values that speak to consumers on a less explicit level. They then ensure that this identity is threaded through everything that they do.

Customer experience is also key. I don’t think successful leaders ever underestimate the power of content employees and good customer service.


Want more inspo? Read this: How This incredible Fitness Entrepreneur, Human Rights Activist and Mum of 3 Juggles it all Successfully


If you could give us one tip on how to improve our brand awareness and reach, what would it be?

Smart marketing that simply and clearly communicates why people need to engage with your product/brand and what it is that makes you better, easier, cheaper and/or more efficient.

Do you find that brands who have a face associated with their products (such as Carmen’s) are better received than generic faceless companies?

Not necessarily. It can certainly work in a brand’s favour when the face represents a compelling story. Saying that, there are many companies who rely on the product itself to do the selling and that can work equally as well. The risk in attaching a face to a brand, and indeed a company, is that it can polarise people and sometimes have the opposite to the desired effect.

You have a background in advertising. With digital algorithms constantly changing, how do you think brands can stay relevant and reach their dream customers?

If I had the answer to this I’d be on my yacht in the Caribbean right now 😉

Seriously, it’s very challenging. In my opinion it’s having the right people, the time, the means and the willingness to try things out. No-one really knows what will or won’t work until they try it. There are so many avenues to explore and the pace that we’re moving at is eye-watering, so keeping on top of it all, adapting to change quickly and being prepared to take risks is key.

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Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

Sal is on a mission to prove that healthy and nutritious doesn’t have to be boring – and that even while staying in shape you can have your cake and eat it too. After losing 14kg from adopting a healthier lifestyle, she shares her journey with others on The Fit Foodie Blog. She also works as a commercial food photographer and stylist, is studying a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, and is the author of two cookbooks: Love Move Eat (Bauer Media, 2017) and Meal Prep Plan (Murdoch, 2019).

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