Rob Langtry, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Australian Wool Innovation/Woolmark International, Sydney

For over 200 years, Australia led the world in the production of fine wool used in fashion apparel. In 1964, the wool industry created a global certification standard - the Woolmark - which enjoyed success in sustaining demand for new wool. However in the mid 1990's, as a result of a Government decision to reduce its involvement in wool, active marketing of the fiber ceased.  Plus the increased production of synthetic fibers caused a decline in wool’s share in fashion apparel.

As an independent consultant in 2006, Rob Langtry was asked to commission major global consumer research with Millward Brown. The results of this work showed that consumers' knowledge and perceptions of wool had indeed declined. Seen as old-fashioned, itchy and hot, the research underscored a significant gap between the perceptions and reality of Australia's Merino wool.

After 30 years of static prices and a decline in flock size from more than 200 million to less than 70 million, the woolgrower shareholders of AWI/Australian Wool Innovation, the industry-owned R&D body, voted that the company add marketing to its portfolio. AWI had no internal marketing capability, but owned the Woolmark, and had a legacy global network.

Rob Langtry was appointed as Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer. Starting with a new Strategic Plan, Australian Wool Innovation began a global program to revitalize the Woolmark and reposition wool as a desirable ingredient in luxury fashion.

Langtry launched an integrated campaign, "Merino. No Finer Feeling," to the trade in August 2010 and to consumers in September 2010. The response was rapid: trade confidence grew and consumer demand escalated. With a static supply of wool, the price of wool increased to $15 per Kilo from the $8 base level that had characterized the average price for a decade.

Since June 2010 AWI has built a fully functional marketing department, servicing a global supply chain and now publicly supported by iconic brands such as Missoni, Benetton, Armani, and Zegna.

When asked how he accomplished so much, Rob is matter of fact: “I have spent my career working with some of the world’s leading brands. All of them taught me the value of a brand and the necessity to define the essence of a brand, embrace its intrinsics while building extrinsics. Many products fulfill the same functional needs; fewer satisfy underlying emotional needs; very few present consumers with the ‘whole package’. Working to identify, protect and enhance these brands and their ability to connect with consumers is, I believe, what drives successful organizations.

In a global market where there is constant downward pressure on pricing and margin, value and service delivery, I am a constant advocate that the real variable that impacts elasticity is the health of a brand and its relationship with its consumers.  And I don’t mind boring people with that message at every opportunity!”

Although Rob makes his role sound easy, he has overcome numerous marketing difficulties.  He says, “As an ingredient or component brand in luxury apparel, wool has probably the most complex supply chain I have ever encountered and its challenges are monumental. We service partners that range from growers in distant, difficult-to-reach areas to processing and manufacturing plants located in regional China, India, Turkey, Vietnam and Eastern Europe to brands that occupy the number one high street addresses in New York, London, Paris, Milan, Shanghai and Tokyo. This means global thinking is a cost of entry and long-haul travel (sadly) a cost of doing business.

He also believes that without risk there is no innovation. Rob explains:  “In 2011 we took a significant risk in creating a partnership with Apple Inc, and adopting their iAds platform as one of our main media for the US and Western Europe. An untried platform, it had the potential to deliver a rich and involving consumer experience, helping us tell a story (about wool) that is unfamiliar to many consumers of luxury fashion. In fact we were the first fiber brand and luxury apparel industry brand to do so; and the very first user of Apple’s Facebook connectivity function. Apple’s intimate knowledge of their customers, dynamic targeting and willingness to co-create content gave us the confidence to take the risk. It worked well for us and ended up yielding cut-through engagement levels that not only exceeded Apple’s best to date, but those of other media we used. Their back-end diagnostics helped us to optimize the messaging we created and delivered.”