Coca-Cola marketing director: Variety is the spice of careers

The marketing director at Coca-Cola UK & Ireland shares key lessons from her career.

Variety is the spice of life

My passion to instigate change, stay inspired and to be creative has allowed me to develop my career across a variety of businesses and functions. I have had the privilege to work in-house and as a consultant and to work with brands that I hugely admire, including Kellogg’s, Heineken, Telefonica and of course, Coca-Cola.

It might sound counterintuitive to suggest that I enjoy variety, having worked for Coca-Cola for 15 years, but it’s here that I’ve experienced the most varied challenges across a variety of different functions and roles. 

At Coca-Cola, I learn from incredible people and teams across the business and the globe, all who offer fresh perspectives and take me out of my comfort zone.

In 2011, I made the decision to leave the world of soft drinks and set up my own marketing consultancy to seek inspiration and inspire change outside of the familiar. In doing so I also tested myself to operate without the support of my team at Coke. It was daunting but hugely rewarding.

There’s nothing quite like working for yourself. But ultimately, I realised I missed being part of a team, and leading a team of exceptional talent with marketing at its heart. Having been back at Coca-Cola for the last two years, I am now at the heart of a team of the best marketers in the industry with the collective goal of delivering perception-changing marketing campaigns and world-class innovation.

Keep your marketing simple – it’s about knowing your consumer well

Regardless of the discipline, brand or the problem, insight is where the best campaigns are borne. Over the course of my career working in such a vibrant, fast-paced industry, I’ve learnt that marketing is essentially a people business. Marketers have to love getting out of bed every day because they get to work with a diverse group of immensely talented people in-house and within their agencies. And marketers need to have a burning desire to understand exactly what different consumers want from their lives – it’s as simple as that. A genuine curiosity about people – their lives, their likes and dislikes – is a prerequisite for marketers. 

It seems to still be the case that in many businesses, marketing is still viewed as an ivory tower. This is genuinely not the case for marketers at Coca-Cola. We sit front and centre in our leadership teams, we plan and report with business growth in mind, and we shape the investment choices across our brands and campaigns – a winning formula for a fulfilled career.

Marketers are the storytellers of a business – the skill lies in mining and leveraging insights to tell a story with a human truth at its core and in a beautifully simple way.

Big issues faced: making the right choices

Some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced have related to my career and knowing when it was the right time to make a change. My first decision came early on.

I started my working life in the finance industry and made the radical decision to move into sales at Coca-Cola Hellenic in order to learn the business from the bottom up. I developed fundamental operational and brand marketing skills before growing into commercial leadership and general management. That early career change decision paid off. My inside out knowledge of the business has allowed me to lead business-changing initiatives and marketing campaigns that set us apart from our competitors.

As a business, the biggest challenge we face is how we choose to invest across our portfolio as we diversify. There is much more to Coca-Cola than just the name above the door – in Great Britain we have 20 brands and more than 80 drinks from Sprite to Schweppes to Smartwater. We’re investing to further expand our portfolio while we continue to invest in our existing brands.

Treat challenges as opportunities

I try to see issues as opportunities to lead change – something that shapes the choices I make daily to ensure everything my team delivers offers value to consumers, our customers and our business.

For example, as consumers’ tastes have evolved, with a greater preference for light and no sugar options, we’ve evolved and innovated ahead of the curve. The launch of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar last year is a perfect example of this innovation. Similarly, since launching Smartwater in Great Britain in 2014, we have innovated and grown the brand even further – launching both a sparkling variant and a sparkling flavours range this year. Honest, an organic herbal tea, is one of our most recent investments, and is our first organic drink in the UK. Launching Honest was a bold choice but it is gaining traction as consumers’ demand for organic produce grows, which is driving our ambition to expand the range later this year.

By investing in all our brands, we’re giving consumers more choice – something we know is important. 

Aedamar Howlett is marketing director at Coca-Cola UK & Ireland. She has worked across a range of marketing and commercial roles for the brand in Ireland and was previously country manager for Coca-Cola Ireland. 

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