Tim Pethick has held influential positions as marketing director at Microsoft in Australia, CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica in the UK, and CEO of BTLookSmart, delivering web search and directory solutions to businesses in 15 languages and more than 20 markets worldwide.
But he is most known for many as the brainchild behind one of Australia’s biggest beverage brands, Nudie Juice, founded in his own home in 2002. Inside of two years, the company generated $12 million in revenue with nationwide distribution, and was recognized in the top 10 most influential brands in the Asia Pacific region.
Currently, Tim Pethick is Chief Executive Officer of Healthspan, one of the largest direct providers of nutritional supplements in the UK.
He also launched potato chip brand Salty Sally, and was CEO of Gecko, a simple phone for youngsters. He often delivers talks about brand building, marketing, entrepreneurship, innovation, and connecting with customers.
Why did you launch Nudie Juice?
Tim Pethick: At the time I was the CEO, the juice marketplace that was awash with juices that were made from concentrate, and that were preservatized. One of the reasons Nudie took off so quickly is …. It was so different from what was in the marketplace. There weren’t any preservative free, completely natural, pure fruit juices in the marketplace at the time.
Can you talk about Nudie Juice’s unique marketing strategy?
Tim Pethick: It’s funny now, thinking about it. It was a world before social media. Facebook didn’t launch until 2005. In a way, it was simpler times. It was still mainly a television advertising marketplace. We didn’t have the wherewithal or depth of pocket to take on the mainstream media markets. So, what we did was focus on what lots of people would call stunts; many people would call it guerrilla marketing, and sampling.
We did an enormous amount of product sampling – stood on street corners, stood on beaches, railway stations, anywhere there were people – and invited them to try the product. Initially, it was just me and a couple of other people doing it. Ultimately, we had whole teams of students who would go out.
Initially, my view was that people need to try this product to understand why it was different. So, we need to encourage them to sample the product. But, I very quickly realized that all I was doing was giving away free product and that wasn’t very productive.
I went home after spending a whole day on a beach in Sydney giving away free samples, and I created a little flyer at home on the computer. It basically said, ‘If you love this product, could you go to a shop you’d like to buy it from, and ask them to stock it for you? They can contact this number.’
What we did was turn sampling into an opportunity to recruit potential customers to be our sales people. Every time we’d offer a sample, we’d give them a little flyer. And they did [promote it to stores] in droves. Then, we put a petition up on our website. That petition was, ‘Sign a petition to petition your supermarkets and local retailers to stock the product.’
Aside from that what we did was two things. One, is bought a fleet of cute little vans, made in the 80s for delivery in Tokyo’s crowded streets. They are cute little bubble cars they stopped making in 1991. I stumbled across one, and thought, ‘Wow, that is really keen and different.’ I started buying them, and started importing them from Japan. I assembled this fleet – 27 of them. They were just cute cars that stood out. We used to do things like beach runs handing out Nudies from the back of them.
Then we graduated from that to our hot air balloon program. We bought a very big hot air balloon in the shape of the Nudie character, and flew it over Sydney and Melbourne, and we used it to – for example, fly the Nudie balloon right down the length of Sydney Harbour. It was very unusual to have a hot air balloon flying over Sydney Harbour. They ran it on the evening news because it was such an unusual event. All sorts of things to get people excited and talking about the brand.
Could you mention something that you discovered that you wouldn’t have known unless you had hands-on experience?
Tim Pethick: So much marketing focuses on pitches and benefits, and fails to try to engage consumers. The things that people like about brands are the emotions and engagement, which most marketing doesn’t focus on.
How has your past experience lent itself in the capacity as a CEO of Healthspan?
Tim Pethick: For me, the whole media experience of launching a fresh, natural, healthy product, launching and engaging brands, and the fact that I come from a digital background and the ‘dot com’ world and understanding digital marketing, come together to form how I want to transform this business around all of those dimensions… That’s involved us launching new products that we’ve never thought of before. It’s involving us redoing our brand identity from top to bottom, and a completely different data-driven way to engage with customers.
Can you tell me what differentiates a good manager from a great manager?
Tim Pethick: I think what differentiates is focusing on purpose rather than focusing on tasks. Good managers can undertake tasks, and get their teams to undertake tasks, and build well-oiled machines. Great managers and leaders understand that there is a purpose or outcome, and that transcends the tasks. It might make some of the tasks redundant, if you understand the purpose and not the task.
I mean, the important thing is not the activity the teams of people undertake, or the hours they put in, it’s what they produce, and how what they produce delivers something to customers.
All the hard work in the world is useless unless it delivers something of value to customers. A really great leader, in my mind, is able to stay focused on customers, focused on those outcomes, and can engage the time in that – the why, rather than the what. People in teams are far more rewarded when they are engaged around purpose – when they can see their hard work reflected, not just in, ‘I’ve worked 8 hours and produced a certain amount of paper or whatever else’. Instead, ‘I’ve delivered something that has tangible value.’
What would you tell your entrepreneur self, twenty years ago?
Tim Pethick: I’d say be tougher. I struggle all the time with the internal debate that I pride myself on being able to see things from another person’s point of view. It’s that empathy, in a way, that makes me good at understanding consumers and consumer behavior. But it’s also bad if you are on the other side of a negotiation trying to achieve an outcome. Because, if you spend too much time understanding the other person’s point of view, you lose sight of your objective in that negotiation. If I look back now, I would say that there were times in the past where that made me too soft. My advice to myself would be, not to abandon the empathetic approach, but sometimes to use that to drive harder for what is required for the business point of view. At the end of the day, businesses have to drive commercial returns. Sometimes, that means you have to fight for what you need. Sometimes, I’ve let my empathy get in the way of that.
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