Fear kills ideas and risk-taking, says Britvic's marketing chief

Encourage your teams to be brave, dream big but start small, learn quickly and accept failure, says Matthew Barwell.

Build relationships with a broad group of people

Learning the importance of humility and building your resilience are essential if you’re to be successful.

You cannot progress without these critical skills; particularly in marketing, where being able to connect emotionally with your audience is key.

I had to quickly hone these skills on finding out that I had been accepted by Mars on its sales and marketing graduate scheme. I imagined myself passing my days on tropical islands surrounded by beautiful women making Bounty ads.

To find myself in Newcastle trying to sell Whiskas chicken and tuna to corner shops was, to say the least, something of a shock to me. I also wasn’t very good at it. But it helped me learn so much about myself and how to work in true partnership with others.

All marketers should start with a period in sales

My time on the graduate scheme also helped me to understand the commercial drivers of the business, and how I as a marketer fitted into that and added value.

Many Mars graduates spent six months in sales. I spent a year before finally grasping what it took to be successful and Mars felt I was ready to move on. In hindsight, it was the best training I could have had.

Effectiveness is critical and at its heart is creativity

Great creative ideas can deliver growth and part of the leadership challenge for a CMO or marketing director is to create a culture where creativity can flourish.

This is easy to say but much harder to achieve, particularly, ironically, as we strive for effectiveness. Andy Fennell used to have a framed poster in his office saying: "What would you do if you weren’t afraid?" This is a great question as we all have fears, particularly the fear of failure.

But fear kills ideas and it kills risk-taking. Encouraging your teams to be brave, dreaming big but starting small, learning quickly while accepting that failure is bound to be part of this, is central to the job.

You can only create the right culture if you surround yourself with great people, get clear on the direction you are heading and then get out of their way

This is probably the most important advice I’ve ever received as a leader and, while there are more complex models of leadership, this is a good place to start.

Remembering that your product must deliver what your marketing promises and that, for consumers, the relationship with a brand doesn’t end at the till, must be kept front and centre

I have been lucky to work in three amazing businesses – Mars, Diageo and now Britvic. In all cases, product quality has been at the heart of the success of the organisations.

Understanding this and integrating consumer care and consumer conversations into your brand plans is critical.

Discussion around the role of purpose for brands, and also more broadly for leadership, has become increasingly widespread

For me, purpose is key, both personally and professionally. Having a sense of why you exist as a brand is essential, particularly in a world where there are so many choices, so much information and so many touchpoints.

A clear brand purpose provides a framework for every consumer conversation or every act that your brand makes; it ensures everything ladders up to a clear role in the world and in the life of your consumer.

Having a strong sense of purpose as an organisation and as a brand also helps to navigate some of the tough calls you have to make. Having worked in confectionery, alcohol and now soft drinks, I am no stranger to public debates around health and the freedoms and responsibilities that we have as brand owners and marketers.

I believe in a market economy and in freedom of choice, but with these also come responsibilities. I am also a parent and consumer.

The simplest test for me around the direction we are taking is to be able to go home in the evening and speak with pride about what we are doing on our brands.

I’ll end on the most important point of all

Know what gets you up in the morning and inspires you. I’m driven by the fact that I love what I do and work with great people. That makes it much easier to live with another jam on the M25 in the evening.

Matthew Barwell is chief marketing officer at Britvic and responsible for all aspects of the company's global brand strategy and execution, innovation, corporate affairs and sustainability agenda

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