Graeme Smeaton

Founder, Royal & Awesome

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Graeme Smeaton - Royal & Awesome

Career to date:

2012, Founder, Royal & Awesome
2011, Account Manager - Tesco, Kraft Foods
2008, UK Commercial Graduate, Cadbury (from Grocery Sales Exec to Customer Marketing Manager)

Creativebrief: How has your career path led you to working at Royal & Awesome?

Graeme Smeaton: I started my career at Cadbury doing a sales and marketing graduate scheme and loved it there, learnt loads, got a real cross section of education from brand positioning, marketing comms through to some trade and shopper marketing and front-line sales. I learnt a lot of transferable business skills there.

At the same time, my brothers were starting the Morphsuits fancy dress business. We recognised there was an opportunity to potentially put those two things together of a business that was well set up for bringing new products to market and the skills that I’ve been learning at Cadbury. I saw an opportunity in the golf market and went to the Morphsuits guys and said let’s partner up. I launched the Royal & Awesome Golf brand in partnership with the Morphsuits costume business in 2012.

Creativebrief: What was it in the first place that made you choose a career in marketing?

Graeme Smeaton: It goes to the fact that you get so many transferable skills from it. The core marketing skills of understanding your consumer, building propositions that they really care about and communicating those propositions clearly, are transferable to any business. They’re also really valuable in leading teams so, understanding what’s important to your team, creating roles that they value and communicating what you’re trying to achieve. I think being a good marketer sets you up for doing whatever you want in the world and that’s what I recognise now having been in marketing for a little while. If you want to lead any sort of change, so much of it is about understanding what’s important to your audience and the best way of getting that message across.

Creativebrief: Over the last six years, what do you think the main drivers of growth have been within the business?

Graeme Smeaton: We’ve grown at an average of 50% for the last six years and the first thing we got right was getting the core brand proposition right. We make really fun bright golf trousers at a good price for people. Then the next thing was working out the right channels to raise awareness of that. We tried lots of different things but the one that’s consistently driven brand awareness for us in a scalable way has been Facebook advertising.

Then the third part has been getting the right retail distribution to capitalise on all that awareness and again we’ve tried everything from ecommerce through to wholesale and distributors. But the two channels that are driving really good growth for us are our own website and Amazon Marketplace. We do about half of our business through Amazon Marketplace now. There’s a massive audience of people that do most of their online shopping through Amazon. So, by being visible on key search terms in that channel we drive really significant sales and growth there.

“Being a good marketer sets you up for doing whatever you want in the world...If you want to lead any sort of change, so much of it is about understanding what's important to your audience and the best way of getting that message across." 

Creativebrief: As part of that Amazon marketing have you started looking at voice technology yet?

Graeme Smeaton: No. One of the most important things for running a small business is understanding which are the things that are really going to help you differentiate from your competition. Nobody [who’s] selling bright golf trousers is doing voice and so it’s not something we need to have in place to help us compete.

Creativebrief: Social media has obviously been key to all this growth. What do you think the challenges are facing a business that is all-in on social media?

Graeme Smeaton: Probably the biggest challenge we face on a daily basis is attribution within it. At a holistic level Facebook is pretty good at attributing sales to your advertising so you can see how many people that have seen your ads then go on to purchase through your website. But where it’s not particularly good is helping you identify which specific ads have driven those sales. Because if you show someone an awareness driving ad and then serve them a more sales led ad at the bottom of the funnel, the attribution will go to the last one of those that had the impact. So, it’s very difficult to efficiently allocate all of your marketing spend. It goes back to that old adage of half of your spend is wasted and you don’t know which half.

Creativebrief: You’re a global brand with aspirations to be selling bright golf trousers all around the world. Is your marketing centralised and does it translate well to the US? Or do you create local advertising?

Graeme Smeaton: It’s very transferable because our core consumer is someone who wants to have fun while they’re playing golf and really enjoys the social elements of golf. A lot of our content shows people doing fun and interesting things in golf, people having fun with their golf. We’ll post things on Facebook and encourage people to tag their mate that that post relates to and that definitely translates to the US and Australia, another key market for us.

We’ll tweak certain things in terms of the product offering so our American flag design is one of our top selling designs in the States and then we’ve got Union Jack designs in this country. We tailor our product offering but generally our tone of voice is pretty consistent and that makes things much easier.

Creativebrief: Do you have half an eye on getting Donald Trump into some Royal & Awesome trousers?! Because he’s a big golf fan.

Graeme Smeaton: Who knows! I think to be honest, it would help with brand awareness...

“We have a big audience and people want to share interesting content, so we partner with them. That shared goal has been working really well for getting us good content."

Creativebrief: You had some success with sponsorship in the past. Is this the route you’re taking with Royal & Awesome as well?

Graeme Smeaton: It’s something that we continually keep an eye on. The things we consider are, who would be the right person that really embodies what Royal & Awesome is about because we’re not necessarily focused on elite performance and best scoring. We’re looking for someone who is focussed on having a good time. So, a good embodiment of that might be Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston who has become very popular over the last couple of years and just looks like he enjoys life.

So, that would definitely be something we’d be interested in and we’re now getting to the scale where the sums of money involved aren’t completely out of the question. That was a big barrier in the early days, the amount of money involved in sponsoring top players is significant. Our core strategy is about raising awareness of the brand and at the moment we do most of that through Facebook. But we are certainly considering new channels.

Creativebrief: Do influencers play into that as well?

Graeme Smeaton: We do a lot with people on Instagram who are good at golf stuff, like top trick shot artists, some golf comedians, basically anyone who does fun stuff relating to golf who wants to grow their audience. We have a big audience and people want to share interesting content, so we partner with them. That shared goal has been working really well for getting us good content. We’ve got hundreds of videos of people doing amazing stuff in Royal & Awesome which would either take years or hundreds of thousands of pounds to do through advertising agencies or doing your own shoots.

Creativebrief: What do you think are the main challenges facing marketers today?

Graeme Smeaton: The big challenge for marketers is to get the balance right between being strategic and being tactical, or having expertise in both of those fields. A lot of marketers are either strong in one or the other depending on what career path they’ve had and where they’ve focused their experience. But it is so important to know what you’re trying to achieve strategically. Answering those big questions of what we’re trying to achieve, who we’re trying to reach, what message are we trying to land. But then also know the tactics that can help you deliver that. Be comfortable deselecting certain tactics, knowing you’re not going to be an expert in everything so that you can build a deeper understanding in the tactics that can help you deliver your strategy.

“The big challenge for marketers is to get the balance right between being strategic and being tactical, or having expertise in both of those fields."

Creativebrief: Do you think you’re a generalist or a specialist?

Graeme Smeaton: To run a small business successfully you’ve definitely got to be a generalist. You need to understand how the finances of your business work, how the logistics work and how to motivate people. But that being said, it’s really important for everyone to understand what they’re particularly good at. You need an element of being a specialist so that you can articulate what makes you different to everyone else so that you can understand the value that you add in organisations.

Creativebrief: How do you keep track in touch with what’s going on around you in the latest industry work?

Graeme Smeaton: It links a little bit to what I said earlier about knowing what are the key things that you need to keep up to date on and then actively deselecting quite a lot of the other stuff. Because there is so much information about new initiatives, new media that if you tried to keep up to date with all of it, it would be a full-time job. I’m pretty clear on what are the key initiatives that I need to be an expert in. I keep up to date with them through a combination of reading online articles, speaking to interesting people and generally keeping my radar up for interesting opportunities.

Creativebrief: What’s really stood out to you this year? What campaigns have really grabbed your attention?

Graeme Smeaton: One of the campaigns that grabbed my attention recently is the McDonald’s Flat White campaign and I think it resonated with me because I had gone through that exact experience of suddenly clocking that everyone was ordering these things called flat whites that I’d never heard of. McDonald’s have obviously identified that consumer insight. The reason it’s an effective campaign is that it’s obviously got a very clear objective of letting people know that McDonald’s now make flat whites and it builds on a solid foundation of McDonald’s having a good reputation for pretty decent coffees. Those things, combining a good product proposition, a clear objective for a campaign and a consumer insight are a really good example of what marketing should be trying to achieve.