Britvic CMO Looks To Innovation And Agility For Growth

Matt Barwell, CMO of U.K. soft drinks firm Britvic, discusses the company’s strategy in building and maintaining a successful global business with a strong brand portfolio.

Britvic CMO Looks To Innovation And Agility For Growth

Soft drinks producer Britvic evolved from the British Vitamin Products Company in the 1930s to become the owner of a number of well-known international brands including Robinsons, J20, Tango and Fruit Shoot, as well as producing and selling PepsiCo drinks in the U.K.

Today the company is just as focused on innovation—in both its products and its marketing—and in 2014 launched Squash’d, a pocket-sized squash product aimed at creating new growth in the category. Former Diageo marketer Matt Barwell, now CMO at Britvic, is leading the charge, and I began by asking him about the Britvic name and its brands.

Barwell: We haven’t leveraged the Britvic name with our consumers, and that is a deliberate decision. At one level we could use our corporate name as an endorsement of quality, authenticity and taste. But the risk of bundling brands together under an umbrella brand name is that you confuse people and flatten the different propositions. Companies like Unilever use their name to a greater degree, but we haven’t seen the benefit of doing so at this point.

That said, the Britvic story is very positive; we have health at our heart, and increasingly that is important to consumers. In the context of the whole health and obesity agenda, tapping into some of the elements that the original Britvic company stood for could become more important for us in the future. Britvic recently appointed former Unilever marketer Kevin McNair as GB Marketing Director. Why is this significant?

Barwell: We are on a transformational journey, from being essentially a bottler which happens to have a number of great brands, to being a brand owner that happens to be a great bottler. It is about focusing more on building a strong global business with a strong portfolio of brands, and putting more emphasis on innovation and innovating into new spaces, as well as building the core categories we have.

We wanted to bring new talent into the GB team. Kevin has a great track record with Unilever, and has international and local experience, and we were lucky enough to attract him to the business. It is part of a broader strategy of upgrading our talent wherever we can, as well as developing existing talent. It means putting in place a really clear sense of purpose and a new way of working within marketing at Britvic.

We have created something called WOW:ME—Ways of Working for Marketing Excellence. It is an end-to-end capability programme, so we have a distinctive set of tools and templates for Britvic which starts from brand purpose and conditioning right through to how we plan and execute campaigns. It is part of a broader agenda aimed at upgrading the quality of our output. Kevin is part of that. We have also recruited a lot of other talent in the U.K. and in other countries. You talk about the importance of innovation. What success have you seen with new category product, Squash’d?

Barwell: We are very pleased with the results. In 2014 we generated about £11million of retail sales value. And, critically, it has introduced new consumers to the Robinsons brand. Soft drinks is all about building penetration, and Squash’d has been successful in doing that. It has also increased the average age of the brand’s consumer, so the profile of Squash’d users is slightly older than Robinsons drinkers, which was our strategy. What are the challenges of marketing a new category like Squash’d?

Barwell: Launching a new category requires a big behavioural change from consumers, and like many innovations, getting trial is hard and getting repeat purchase is really difficult.

The challenge with Squash’d lies in communicating at scale, and doing it in a way that actually changes behaviour. Getting it right demands great execution, from making sure it is visible—distributed next to water in grocery stores with the right display units at the right price—and having the confidence to stick with it. Inevitably you get something wrong and learn from that and move on. But the focus on brilliant execution is critical. And what lessons did you learn?

Barwell: The biggest thing is making sure that such a physically small product is visible in store, and if you are one of a small number of brands starting to play in a new category, it is difficult to get scale and visibility. We under-estimated the importance of merchandising and merchandising solutions.

We also expected the product to be purchased more on-the-go than it was; the majority of purchase is in grocery stores, yet it tends to be used more when people are out and about. We didn’t have enough insight around that. Therefore, how you use your communications to signal the occasionality, rather than using your distribution to signal the occasionality, is something we have learnt, and we probably have to evolve that further.

We also found that the halo benefit we got from Robinsons as a result of talking to consumers about Squash’d has been very high. I experienced it when I was at Diageo. When you bring exciting news to an existing category and an existing brand, you tend to get really positive responses from people and they often buy more of both the new product and the brand in total because you are telling them something new about a brand they love. How important is digital to Britvic’s marketing?

Barwell: It is how consumers live their lives today so it is probably an unhelpful term to even use. It is about being in the right places to talk to consumers within their everyday lives. And it is increasingly about having the right conversation and the right content, engaging in real conversations that people want to have and share. In numerical terms we have significantly increased our investment in digital—we have doubled it in the last year to about 30% of our spend.

But regardless of the channel, you have to start with clarity of positioning and clarity of idea, and when you have got that it is far easier to create content that is relevant across multiple disciplines and multiple channels. Trying to force spend and activity in digital in itself won’t work. With greater investment, how is your digital focus evolving?

Barwell: We have put a lot of effort into tightening the ideas behind our brands, and into identifying the right environments and channels to have those conversations with consumers, before we actually get into creative executions.

For example, we recently formed a partnership with [star of U.K. reality TV series Made in Chelsea ] Millie Mackintosh to promote our J2O Spritz brand. The work was Instagram-led, and we were one of the first brands to use Instagram ads. Finding people—whether bloggers or celebrities with large social followings—who have a strong and credible fit with a brand, and are genuinely interested in the brand, is a challenge. If you can hit that sweet spot you can create content that people are genuinely interested in, and people like Millie are able to do that for us. We are seeing real improvements in terms of driving the relevance of J2O and driving traffic to the web site.

We have also done a lot of work using data. For example, with Robinsons we used Dunnhumby data to target light and lapsed squash buyers to get them back into the category. We have seen benefits from using data to target specific groups more precisely at scale with the right messaging. Data is becoming more important to us. How has the growth of digital changed the way your marketing department is organised?

Barwell: In the U.K. and Ireland we have embedded digital leads into our teams, rather than have a separate standalone digital function. It means we are totally integrated, although clearly there are some people who are more conversant in digital than others, and it tends to be the younger marketers. The skill lies in building up that capability and making sure people understand how it actually builds penetration and scale for the brand.

We work with digital agencies, as well as working directly with the likes of Facebook and Google, to make sure we are up-skilling and training our people. That is a constant journey. I am dissatisfied with where we are and there is an awful lot further for us to go. How will you get there?

Barwell: It starts with having great leaders who, even if they lack the depth of knowledge or hands-on experience, have an understanding of how rapidly changing tools can work to grow brands.

It’s a difficult game that moves continuously and you have to be prepared to experiment and get things wrong. You need a much greater level of agility than in the past, because when you are trying different things and don’t absolutely know which things will take off, you have to be very responsive. We are nowhere near where we need to be but that is the model we need to get to. As digital has evolved into a mindset how has Britvic’s wider business changed?

Barwell: It is our job, as a marketing function, to lead and champion digital, and to help the wider organisation see the benefits; we should be the ones pioneering it.

For example, I have a marketing council that has cross-functional attendees, and one of those is the head of IT. We meet three or four times a year to try and figure out the right strategy; whether it’s ensuring we have the right CMS or the right back office or the right interface. It means our digital strategy and capability can be built within the organisation. That is a big part of it.

Having an executive team that understands the journey we are on is harder because people will see the 48 sheet or six sheet [billboard] ads when driving around but they don’t always see the latest mention by Zoella about Robinsons on her blog, so it’s our job to make sure we communicate those things and demonstrate the benefits. Will you ever be satisfied with where you are?

Barwell: A slight sense of restlessness is not a bad thing. I am fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant people who challenge me and I get to work across some amazing brands. We are operating in a world where, in the U.K, Ireland, France, and Benelux, there is relatively little growth to be had; certainly relatively little value growth in our category. Therefore, in order to win we have to keep on innovating, from a product point of view and in the way we talk about our brands to consumers. I expect I will remain positively dissatisfied—but in a good way.

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