As global director of marketing, Pip led the first-ever global marketing strategy for recruitment firm Robert Walters and went on to lead the EMEA marketing for Vita Coco, taking it from startup to the UK’s leading coconut water brand. As a consultant specializing in companies looking to grow fast, she has worked with organisations as diverse as the Pentillie Castle Estate, pet food brand Edgar & Cooper, and The Room Service, which sells hotel-worthy interior products. Her passion is for building winning teams, and turning startups and challenger brands into major players.
So you have the idea, you’ve built and tested your product and you have your first customers. But now you want to scale up and get your vision into the hands of the masses. In one of our hour-long sessions, we spoke to Pip Brook, who has spent her career turning startups and challenger brands into major success stories through marketing strategies, including taking the Vita Coco coconut water from small startup to the UK’s leading coconut water brand.
On getting started in a bigger business ‘I went into Sainsbury’s to work in PR and marketing and that was a great start for me because you get to benefit from the bluechip training structure on how businesses work. It was a great jumping point for my career.
On wanting to get into the start-up world ‘So my real passion was that I wanted to work in the small startup world, I love watching brands grow from A to Z and being part of the whole journey’
On getting the first gig ‘It was with my brother Giles who at the time was moving out of his job and starting a couple of brands. He called me up and invited me to join him, and from there the rest was history.’ ‘I got on a plane from Australia on a very, very cold morning in January 2010 and arrived back here in the UK at a desk in South London in a back bedroom with nothing apart from a pen, and a piece of paper. And I thought, well, we better build this brand. And actually, not just let’s build this brand but a whole new category. Because then, coconut water, nobody knew anything about it’
On launching a whole new category ‘The whole challenge was we were building a new category. It wasn’t for example another carbonated drink. It wasn’t another smoothie. It was a whole new category and people didn’t know what coconut water was and the benefits it has. So it really was a big mountain to climb at the beginning.’
On having to be agile and learning new things ‘My first day was like, ‘Welcome to the start of a new business’. We were building from scratch with no team. We did everything, no job specifications, we just both mucked in. And I remember thinking…but I’m a marketer, what do I know about shipping, or production, and a whole lot more that!! But I very quickly learnt a lot about all of the other areas of the business and I am forever thankful for that – it was a great learning curve.
On the importance of brand consistency to grow your global audience ‘Making sure that we were building the brand in a consistent way was absolutely vital. Consumers are global today, not regional. Our customer is in one place today and somewhere different tomorrow. They can be in London and tomorrow could be in Paris next week and then New York the week after in normal times. So the brand experience, the brand appeal, the connection with the brand, how the brand is merchandised is so, so important to us as a business. The attention to brand consistency was strong from the very beginning’
On your brand toolkit ‘What you have in the background is what we always call the brand toolkit, because at the end of the day, the brand toolkit is what you are going to constantly refer to – it is your guide and reference point. The brand toolkit can be taken into new markets and tweaked to take into account cultural nuances. That’s how you build a consistent brand. But I always say to small startups, people get very fixated on we’ve got to get global, and it’s like yes but with time and make sure you are really ready. Build depth and breadth in existing markets, do them well and then move into new markets
Big brands take time to scale It didn’t just happen overnight. A very, very important insight, I think, for people to take away is that the most successful brands have spent time perfecting their brand toolkit, perfecting their blueprint, knowing their market roll out strategy. That allows them to move into markets with a bigger opportunity for success. They will test and adapt and every market they enter they learn something from and continue to tweak their new market strategy.
On hiring talent for start-ups ‘When I’m interviewing people they say to me, are you trying to put me off the job because I really drill them on why they want to work in a startup? Are you really sure about this? And they laugh and they’re like, I feel like you’re putting me off the job. And I always say I’m not putting you off the job I’m just really trying to get under your skin to understand your motives. Have you got what it takes? Because everybody loves the idea of being part of a startup, but it’s gritty, it’s hard, you go through the highest highs and the lowest lows on the journey building brands and so you have to be a certain character.
On building a brand identity that’s designed around values ‘When we talk about the brand is not just about your corporate identity, it’s everything around it in terms of what it stands for, how it is perceived, it’s place in the world. But getting the brand proposition, the brand values, the brand identity is so important. Spend your time doing that to get it as right as you can, because when you launch, you want to hit the market as well as you can possibly hit it at that stage. Yes. You tweak along the way but have a strong starting point’ ‘And if you don’t, I promise you, you’ll have to come back down the line and rebuild it again because your company will suffer from a lack of clarity on the brand values, vision, purpose, mission, all of that brand strategy detail that is so important. What you do at the beginning, that framework is your central reference. It’s your go to, the thing that brings you together and guides you through.’
On working in a flat structure ‘I’m a fan of absolutely no hierarchy whatsoever. Of course there will always be someone at the top, but it’s how you build the culture. I don’t even like those conversations of top or bottom. There’s no such thing as top and bottom. For me in the business, whatever level you’re at, you’re all making an equal contribution, for me that’s how good business is built. It’s the sum of the parts – everyone’s input and output is vital.You need to keep people engaged through the journey, empower them to drive the destiny of the brand. Culture comes from brand values so stay true to them. ’
On mentorship ‘So having the sounding board of a mentor is so, so important at different stages of your growth for any professional whether a business founder or otherwise. And I certainly wouldn’t have got to where I got to today if it wasn’t for my mentors.’ ‘Surround yourself with a community of like-minded people at different levels. Mentors have different roles, but they’re not there to tell you how to do things they are there to challenge your thinking of how you do things and how you approach things. And you may have personal mentors. You might have work-related mentors, and they might change all the time and that’s fine. Just find people that you respect, that respect you and that push you to really think. I also believe mentoring is a truly important skill for anyone leading a team. So mentoring is in terms of people’s development going forward, but it’s also that part of making sure that you’re helping your team grow individually. Those people you mentor should aspire to want to mentor others, it’s a full circle – I’m a massive advocate of it.’
On having fun ‘So build that resilience, hire the best people around you really. Build a business that is true to your brand values. And the most important thing is to have fun. Life’s too short not to have fun.’
Further learning from Pip’s talk:
Pip’s go-to book when she needs a restart is a Life without limits
and when she’s looking for a reminder about the importance of positivity and happiness, she opts for Think like a monk, by Jay Shetty
Pip also loves podcasts, so do check out:
Miss the talk? No problem! You can listen to the whole conversation right here
For more insights, our up and coming event series are now online!