Cut the crap

that’s what a better relationship between brand and consumer essentially comes down to
by Hanne Dedeurwaerder from

Frustrations can have a negative effect – as in unproductive chatter – but they can also lead to solutions that put an end to those frustrations. The latter is certainly the case with Bart Baeyens and Karl De Beul, founders of the Antwerp-based marketing technology company Hashting. They observed that promotional campaigns by brands often have little effect. “The more accessible marketing seems to become, the harder it is to achieve results. That is the paradox we want to eliminate.”

The idea of Hashting – a contraction of hashtag and couponing – was born in 2015. Co-founder Karl De Beul tells the story: “When Bart and I were still working as brand managers and trade marketers at big brands like Unilever and Danone, and then in the world of agencies and

service companies, we found that campaigns often underperformed, while those brands just assumed success. Add to that the fact that, according to Nielsen, three out of four marketing managers have no idea of the ROI of their budgets, and we knew we could hit a blind spot with Hashting.”

The entrepreneurial duo’s initial aim was to tackle the so-called “grey channel”: fragmented retail (petrol stations, night shops, pubs, etc.), where the promotions and campaigns of representatives of major brands are often not carried out because the owners do not have the time. Or, if they do: where the effect could not be calculated, let alone that there was an effect.

For example, at the time AB Inbev launched a happy hour campaign in no less than 4,000 pubs. What did it turn out to be? Only in one out of four pubs was the promotion actually implemented, while the brewery assumed it would be a success.

The drawing of the triangle

“That’s why we started working with text messages: anyone who entered a night shop or restaurant with a smartphone could, on their own initiative – consumer consent is sacred to Hashting – and via messaging, participate in the promotion or competition,” says De Beul. “That also made it much more measurable for such a brand.”

Gradually, however, we began to see missing links between any marketing touchpoints and sales results. So our ambition became more general: to create a one-to-one link between brand and consumer through a platform with real-time data. There, we were able to establish many more missing links between brands: between social media and sales, between advertising and in-store, between influencers and sales,... That's how we evolved from fragmented retail to direct consumer marketing in general, and from coupons to engagement.

“At our first talks, Karl always drew a triangle,” adds co-founder Bart Baeyens. “Between brand, consumer and point-of-sale. He said that within marketing, one of those sides is always missing. If, for example, the link between brand and shop can be made, it is usually not known which consumers bought the products.”

“Our platform can use data to establish any missing link in the triangle. The first campaign will not always produce the results the customer expects, but at least he will know where things are going wrong, so that he can start optimising on that basis.”

Chasing and spamming

Corona, too, made brands realise the importance of one-to-one marketing: all of a sudden, all retail outlets disappeared and promotions were banned. Brands had to look for other ways to connect. All the more challenging because today we live in a world without cookies and with the GDPR privacy legislation, which prohibits consumers from being tracked secretly.

In other words, everything push falls away, making pull all the more important," Baeyens notes. "As a marketer by trade, I find this very interesting, because it brings us back to the pure essence: attracting the consumer and provoking a sincere and relevant click, instead of chasing and spamming them with a message. That combination of GDPR, cookie less world and corona plays right into Hashting's hands. Connect, convert and engage: that's pull for us in a nutshell. Nothing more. In essence, a better relationship between brand and consumer comes down to: cut the crap.

“Push just doesn’t work”, Baeyens continues, “because brands don’t get their message relevant. Simple example: suppose my wife goes to to look for a handbag, then I get spammed on my computer with advertisements for handbags and often even after she has bought them (laughs). This can be seen as a good example of frustration: the feeling that brands don’t treat you sincerely. As a consumer, you’re pushed into a kind of straitjacket that you don’t recognise yourself in, purely because of that tunnel vision.”“Big brands often throw huge budgets at campaigns that they launch as widely as possible, while they might only convince a few people with it. That is what is known as the promotion paradox, which is alive and well among trade marketers. Investing more and more money in promotion while delivering less and less ROI. Many brands have relatively few customers who buy from them regularly. They need to target those specific profiles, instead of shooting a cannon at a gnat.”

Belgium as laboratory

"In media, the same paradox exists: marketers have never had so many channels and data at their disposal, and yet they fail to connect with consumers in a sustainable way"

“In other words, the easier marketing seems to become, the harder it is to achieve results. That’s what we want to remedy with our platform.”

We are only at the start of this expansion, but we see that the engine is picking up. Our big advantage is that we can scale very quickly – in 20 minutes we can set up a campaign in a new country

“With Belgium as our lab country, and the world as our market,” adds Karl De Beul. “We are therefore growing very quickly internationally and already have several units worldwide – in the UK, North and South America, East and West Africa – rolling out our platform. In total, we have already set up campaigns in more than 30 different countries.”

“We are only at the start of this expansion, but we see that the engine is picking up. Our big advantage is that we can scale very quickly – in twenty minutes we can set up a campaign in a new country – and win a lot of global innovation pitches with our solution.”

Tankers and speedboats

With their start-up, Baeyens and De Beul respond to the rapidly changing amount of consumers – something that large companies are less able to do because of their unwieldy structure. That is why a multinational company like Procter & Gamble works with start-ups on open innovation. Hashting was one of the guests in their incubator.

“Big companies need innovation through small companies, and small companies need big companies to make things happen,” Karl De Beul also knows. “Thanks to /, the right start-ups were matched with Procter & Gamble, so that a sustainable, fruitful collaboration could really emerge.”

“A nice analogy in this respect is that of the multinational tanker, which braves the seas robustly, but has difficulty changing course when the market demands it. Start-ups, as small, manoeuvrable speedboats, can, and at the same time they profit from the wake of the tanker. Bottom line: as a small start-up, you do have something to add to a corporate environment, no matter how big or impressive it may be.”

(Photos by Kris Van Exel)

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