Where are they now: Tim Pethick, Nudie
What motivates someone who started a career as a chartered accountant to become the successful innovator of a groundbreaking product? For Tim Pethick, founder of the Nudie fruit drink brand, the answer is simple. “Fear of failure,” he says. With this mindset, Pethick has excelled, launching from manager to accomplished entrepreneur.
Escaping the drudgery of auditing into management consulting developed Pethick’s strategic thinking in terms of businesses and industries. His first business venture, in rental video advertising, was a dismal failure, but propelled him into running a small venture capital fund with commercial property company Lend Lease. This provided opportunities to work on a variety of technology projects – a taste of what was to come.
“I became managing director of the Frontline Agency, which just happened to be the advertising agency for the Microsoft Network,” Pethick recalls. “This was all pre web and from that I ventured into the whole online space. Gerry Davis, CEO of MSN at the time and someone I had worked with at Lend Lease, then headhunted me for the role of marketing director for MSN.”
This opportunity stood Pethick in good stead for a later role with Encyclopaedia Britannica as managing director, responsible for dragging the company out of traditional print publishing into the CD ROM and digital era. His experience in web continued with one of Australia’s most successful internet companies and biggest web exports, LookSmart Australia.
Becoming CEO of London headquartered BTLooksmart, a joint venture between British Telecom and LookSmart, gave Pethick the opportunity to witness the UK’s creative hotbed firsthand. It is a subject he speaks passionately about and which, after leaving the dotcom space, was a driving force behind the establishment of Nudie.
“Throughout my career I’ve been involved in marketing in various countries,” he says. “I formed a view that Australia didn’t do brand building very well or understand brands. I wanted to demonstrate it was possible to build a brand differently.”
Nudie also gave Pethick a tangible, physical product he could have a bit of fun with and on which he could use his creative flair, something he enjoys. He understands that to truly stand out in the marketplace you need to contemplate doing something outside the box.
“The essence of creativity is seeing things differently and that requires thinking differently,” he says. “You have to be able to start with a fresh sheet of paper, which lots of people find quite challenging. But I would much rather invent something new with a clean sheet of paper than follow the lead of someone that has gone before.”
Of course Nudie wasn’t all fun and games, it also presented some major challenges along the way – including rebuilding the business in record time after a fire destroyed the entire headquarters back in 2004. In terms of launching the business, there were also some significant logistical challenges to overcome, from trying to get a highly perishable product made in small volumes, to securing the fruit and distributing a short shelf life, chilled product nationally.
“There were some toughies in there,” recounts Pethick. “I had no experience in the industry or background in FMCG or food and beverage. From my point of view, that was a benefit as I could bring a fresh set of eyes to the industry and the business. But it was also challenging because I had to learn all those things.”
Luckily for Pethick he was able to source inspiration from people that he respects and admires, sometimes from competitive environments. “It’s often great to be mentored by people in the same space that are doing really well,” he says. “An example is Innocent in the UK, which is a like product to Nudie. The guy did a great job of building the business and brand and it is possible to learn from someone like that.”
Nudie is undoubtedly a career highlight to date for Pethick. Not only did he gain personal enjoyment from building the brand and the business, but Nudie changed the industry quite dramatically, punching far above its weight in terms of the impact it had.
At the time of its creation in 2003, Nudie was a product innovation, with chilled fresh fruit products in a bottle being a new concept. But the whole Nudie experience was also characterised by the marketing innovations used. Pethick demonstrated that it is possible to think differently about how to reach out to consumers and, as such, provided a powerful example of a genuine emotional brand that really engages the audience.
“As in the Nudie case, having a powerful vision around a brand is part of what is required for a successful business,” he explains. “If you can rally people around the cause of the business, then you can do extraordinary things and build powerful organisations.”
With the continued rise of digital media and viral marketing, Pethick recognises the important role both play in brand building today and that, although marketers are still coming to grips with how best to make that work, those that ignore the web do so at their peril.
As a keen advocate of ‘experiential marketing’, Pethick believes that really engaging people, particularly around consumer-driven propositions, is key. “In Nudie’s case, for example, we used a lot of outdoor media like the Nudie vans, a powerful marketing tool that people still talk about. And event marketing like the hot-air balloons is a relatively low-cost way to make a powerful visual impact that engages consumers and generates publicity. Alternative marketing media devices are important.”
Today Pethick is the new managing director of ?What If!, a prominent independent creative innovation company. Formed in 1992 in the UK, the company now comprises a global team of 300 and launched in Australia in 2001.
Pethick’s involvement with the company stemmed from an email. “Somebody I know sent me a link to a website saying ?What If! was looking for an inventor in Australia. I’d never heard of it and thought, ‘Who on earth has inventors on their team, is it some sort of scientific organisation?’ The title was enough to get me to search it out and go and have a look.”
Flying to the UK to meet with the founders, Pethick perceived ?What If! to be an exciting organisation doing fantastic work. It wasn’t long before he was signing on the dotted line and putting ideas together to enact in his new role.
“?What If! is very well-respected and well-known in the UK,” he says. “I want to turn ?What If! here in Australia into the same innovation powerhouse as it is in the UK. That means conditioning it in people’s minds as being synonymous with business model innovation. There are a couple of things involved in that. One is to build the depth and breadth of the skills and resources inside the organisation. The other is to start engaging with clients in a very different way as we build on the scope and capability that we have here in Australia to help them innovate.”
Pethick considers innovation to be a crucial component of marketing and business success, particularly today in a world where there is so much similarity in the products and services that businesses offer. “If you are going to build a new business or reinvigorate an existing business you have to do things differently,” he says. “Essentially that’s what the process of innovation is all about. It’s got to have customers at the heart. Putting yourself in their shoes and really understanding what you can do to make a difference to them is the starting point for the process of innovation and for marketing.”
Determined to turn the tide on Australia’s innovative performance to date, Pethick is seeking a shift in focus from technical and scientific innovation to business model innovation, which he believes makes the most compelling commercial case for innovation. With a marketing-led approach, it involves using advertising and the media to communicate with customers.
“The industry is stuck in a formulated mindset, but when you do innovate well, as with the Nudie case study, customers reach out and embrace it. There are commercial gains to be had from successful innovation,” he says.
It is this inability to effectively innovate as a society that Pethick sees at the root of why we are losing our young Australian marketers to the UK and other creative hotbeds. He sees London in particular as more creative from a brand and marketing point of view, where they are prepared to try new things and really ‘push the envelope’ in a way we don’t do here. He considers it to be the reason behind why UK creatives in the advertising industry are so highly prized here in Australia.
“You get powerful brands and marketing approaches in the UK,” he explains. “One example is the own label products in any UK supermarket. Whether it’s Tesco, Waitrose, ASDA or Sainsbury’s, the packaging, the approach, the presentation of their own label brands, is significantly better than anything we’ve seen in Coles and Woolworths. They really get how to create powerful and engaging brands.”
Innovative branding is just one component of Pethick’s approach to business. Having successfully metamorphosed himself from a manager to an entrepreneur, he is happy to divulge his formula.
“You have to really think about the customers and the value you can deliver them rather than think about it in terms of a product- or service-driven business,” he says. “If you do that then you can build powerful products, services, marketing ideas and businesses around those true customer insights. You have to think about how you can really change the lives of your customers in a better way. That should drive your approach to marketing and your approach to building your business if you’re going to be an entrepreneur.”