Marketer profile: Campari Group’s Nicole Stanners talks cultural dynamics, iconic brands and effective teamwork

After touring the world as a marketer, Nicole Stanners, marketing director of Campari Australia and New Zealand, now works on a cocktail of brands from as far afield as Jamaica, Scotland, Kentucky, Italy and Mexico, all from the comfort of her Sydney office. By Rob Grant.


Nicole Stanners has built a marketing career on working with iconic brands across far-flung continents and myriad categories. By coincidence, rather than design, she has always worked for global organisations in markets outside their home base – giving her a perfect reason to act on her passion for asking tricky questions in order to examine what makes consumers tick.

She started in the sensitive world of personal care, initially with Body Form (Libra in Australia) while living in the UK and next with Unilever in both Australia and Thailand. Moves to delight the taste buds came next, with roles at Cadbury in Singapore and Arnott’s in Sydney. Lately, the alcohol segment has shaken up her career and, after spending time at Diageo, she is now Australia/New Zealand marketing director for Gruppo Campari, the Italian global liquor business.

No stranger to an aeroplane, Stanners maintains a belief that the innate skills of a marketer are entirely transferable to different countries and categories. There is, however, one thing she quickly discovered in her early days working in Bangkok: you had better make an effort to understand the local culture.


Marketing: Your career has been a long journey, where did it all start?

Nicole Stanners: My first ever role – at the time I had just landed in the UK after two years backpacking – was marketing assistant for Body Form, which is Libra in Australia. I didn’t exactly find sanitary protection very inspirational, but I was desperate to get into marketing and in retrospect it was the perfect choice. There were so many interesting things about consumer behaviour, that you had to understand in order to market products. It was an excellent starting point.


You’ve always worked for overseas companies in different markets – what does that say about you?

I like variety. I like change. I like adversity. I’d hate to do something that was always the same. I think travelling probably fuelled that. But then I’ve realised I love working across new industries with different people, because it’s always a challenge. You can apply your learning, but in a completely different way.


What has been your experience of working in international markets?

Well, my first move was actually coming back from the UK, where I worked for a Swedish company, to Australia, where I worked for a British company. In the UK, we were the biggest market, so we drove the thinking and were always at the forefront of decision-making. I moved back to Australia, where we were a smaller market and it was completely different. To move from an environment where you have influence on global strategy to one where you don’t is difficult.


How did you then find moving to Asia? 

The move from Australia to Asia was really interesting. I was really lucky as Unilever provided an excellent ‘cultural immersion’ before I departed, including a handy reference guide on Thai versus Australian culture. I think Australians are naturally pretty straight-talking; they’ll say what they feel and they have no problems with that. You can’t be such a straight-talker in Asia, as their style means they aren’t necessarily upfront about what’s in their heads.


Is it fair to describe Asia as a homogenous region?

Not at all. I think the big myth is that people move from Australia to Asia, but it’s not one country to one country. It’s actually a massive region, full of complexity at every single level. And having worked in Europe and Asia, there is a lot more homogeneity in Europe than in Asia. It is so diverse. After a couple of years I had a team of Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indian and Indonesian nationality. I learned that many Thais respond better one-on-one, Vietnamese were the most efficient project managers, Indians were sticklers on getting the thinking right up front and Filipinos were the glue that held the team together. You’ve got so many dynamics to manage to ensure the team is cohesive, aligned on their vision and output driven.


How does an Australian fit into this mix?

One of the funniest things I remember was when I first started and had a project to run with a cross-functional team. After a couple of months the packaging manager wasn’t really doing what was needed. So, I sat down and had a conversation with him trying, tentatively, to ask what was stopping him from doing what was needed. He finally said I talked too fast and he couldn’t understand anything I said in meetings! But he had never raised it, so it’s important to learn to read the signs better.


Aside from the cultural side, what else did you learn as a marketer in Asia?

Being from Australia, where knowing your market is intuitive, you need to get down to basics with the consumer to really feel it. Within the first few months I went to a tiny village outside of a small town to talk with a beautiful lady about her hair and her life, for a low-income haircare project. It was amazingly insightful. I would have had no concept of what she really thought and felt just reading it in a report.


Cadbury, Dove, Tim Tam, Campari… you’ve worked on some iconic brands, what separates them from the rest?

This is a personal passion for me: what separates iconic brands from good brands is purpose. Not every brand can do it, but you need to get under the skin and discover what really matters to your target consumer. What is an insight you can connect your brand to in an authentic way, which then allows you to deliver a strong point of view to consumers. Some brands will never get to a higher order purpose, but many can. I worked across Asia on Dove for Unilever, which was amazing in terms of what it stirs in consumers. Not only consumers, but the people who worked on the brand, at every level, were super-passionate about what they did because it actually made a difference.

The only watch-out is how execution translates across different cultures. For example, do you remember the ‘Tick Box’ campaign for Real Beauty that Dove ran in Australia? That did not work in Asia as they took it far too literally. But when we took it back to the brand’s core idea of ‘self-confidence’, we found a motivating execution that was equally as powerful.


What is the purpose of Campari Group?

Campari is about delivering quality drinking experiences to consumers. We have a very premium portfolio and so it’s about quality not quantity, which aligns with the responsible consumption of alcohol. We also have many brands that are lower alcohol content, which are more for enjoying with food, such as the aperitivo brands, Campari, Aperol and Cinzano.


Sounds fun. What is it like working for an Italian company?

Having worked in a few different company cultures and noticed how it really drives the style of business, I thought coming into an Italian company there may be certain stereotypes. What I found was really liberating. The Italian culture is open, classy and entrepreneurial, which translates to what we do and it spreads to the marketing function; we work like a close-knit family.

I also personally believe Campari is the marketer’s dream. We have amazing brands that are on trend such as Wild Turkey Bourbon, Campari and Appleton Estate Rum, senior executives that are focused on growth and a marketing framework that provides strong global support, while allowing a lot of entrepreneurial flair at a local level.


How would you describe an effective marketing team?

A good team needs a rigorous base around its thinking. If you get the thinking right up front, everything flows well from there. If you don’t get it right, everything can go off track. Next is inspiration, making sure the team is looking at what is happening in the world, especially from outside of your category. Lastly, the icing on the top is entrepreneurialism. You don’t want to get too bogged down in process and consensus, or ideas and initiatives lose their edge. The best marketing teams have a balance of those three things.

It’s also good to have a bit of diversity in styles and background. Alcohol is a good example where you need people with and without alcohol experience, as you get a better debate.


How do you apply this thinking to your recruitment approach?

My view is a little bit different. I think good marketers can be made and brilliant marketers are born. They need to have the gut feel and a bit of an x-factor about them. Then you know they’ve got the potential to move through the organisation. They have natural curiosity, creativity and intuition from the start.


How do these skills apply to the team you’ve built at Campari?

Working in the drinks industry is amazing because you work on brands with artisanal stories that are hundreds of years old. At the same time, Campari has a whole portfolio of products that come from a lot of different countries, that are in different categories that have different drivers and appeal to different consumers. That makes it really interesting, because you are not just aiming for a standard mass consumer. You are aiming for lots of different consumers, with mass brands that need larger communication activities and niche brands that need to be seeded over time with a strategy targeting influencers.


Is there a smaller brand we should look out for in a nearby bar?

Aperol is probably one of my favourite brands. I didn’t know much about aperitivo culture until I joined Campari, but I quickly realised it was a big opportunity for Aperol. It’s completely on trend with the way the market is moving in Australia – lighter drinking, more craft spirits, more immersive experiences.

I love working on challenger brands that aren’t particularly big, but can punch above their weight. We’ve been able to grow the brand with a seeding strategy, promoting a signature drink, the Aperol Spritz, in iconic venues with key influencers. The activity is then amplified through social media and PR. It’s a simple idea, but it has hit the target audience well and the brand is in double-digit growth. It’s also a great brand to put in the hands of more junior brand managers to play with and see what can be done.


Finally, what advice would you give to young marketers starting out?

For me, looking back to when I first started I was hell bent on climbing the ladder, on ticking all those boxes. My advice would be to relax a little – it’s not about titles, companies and achievements. If you do what you enjoy, opportunities will come. They come up all the time, you don’t need to force things.