This interview is part of the Marketer’s Toolkit 2020. Download the summary report here.

In this exclusive interview for WARC’s annual Marketer’s Toolkit release, Cheryl Calverley – Chief Marketing Officer at Eve Sleep, a British sleep wellness brand– speaks to WARC’s Anna Hamill about ‘scaling up’ a new brand, the challenges facing programmatic media, and the balance between short term performance and long term brand-building.

Cheryl Calverley, Chief Marketing Officer, Eve Sleep

WARC: Let's start at the top – which consumer trends are having the biggest impact on your work at Eve?

Calverley: The fundamental trend is consumers' increasing confidence buying online. If you go back ten years, people were just about buying a few clothes online. Now people are buying houses and cars online.

The other really big underlying one is the wellness trend. Wellness has been a trend forever, but if you go back to the '90s, it was all about nutrition. If you go back to the ‘00s and early '10s, it was all about fitness. Luckily, what people are now seeing is that the third pillar of wellness is sleep. If you look at searches for sleep, you can really see the rapid growth in people's understanding of that as a core factor in well-being.

WARC: You just mentioned one of the major changes has been the willingness of people to buy online. What do you think has been the major motivator for that change over the last few years? Are people more trusting of online retailers? Is direct to commerce a much popular thing than it used to be? Why do you think that has changed?

Calverley: Anything which takes friction out of the customer journey will always appeal. You have people's resistance to change and lack of trust in anything new or different, which is counterbalanced by people's desire to do things that are just easier. As that trust grows, the weight goes towards doing the easy thing as opposed to doing the safe thing. It's a fundamental human nature thing. You'll find the same with the adoption of automated cars or AI – it's essentially an adoption trend.

WARC: One of the major themes from WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit survey – and we've surveyed more than 800 marketers about the things that are top of mind for them – is the move from brand purpose into activism. What does purpose look like at your brand, because this definitely isn't a one size fits all, but a lot of brands now are thinking about their impact in the wider world rather than just selling products.

Calverley: People are conflating what your product does, and what the purpose of your product is for people. Good consumer insight and a powerful consumer insight will always have purpose in it. Great products have purpose in the heart of the product, and that is fundamentally why those products are successful. We are quite lucky at Eve because we have purpose in the heart of the product. Our product is to help you sleep better. That's not a new thing. It's always been the case that great products have a really strong consumer insight at the heart. That, I think, is getting conflated with corporate purpose.

I think it's really important you separate the two. The impact of your business on society and to what extent that is a focus for your business is a different question to what extent your brand would have purpose. From our point of view, we're a small business. Our footprint on wider society corporately is relatively small. But our product and our brand is absolutely purpose driven, which is around helping people sleep better. That's a commercially driven purpose, so it's not because we have a desire to just do good arbitrarily. It's because we know helping people sleep better – there is literally money in that as well as good. Generally, you find that money and good go together.

WARC: How do you prioritise media selection at your brand? As a younger brand, as an online brand, what trade-offs are you making? How are you putting all of that together?

Calverley: We are a younger brand, however, I unfortunately am not a young marketeer. I've worked on a lot of very old brands in my time. I don't see marketing, or media investment particularly as "What's next week's decision? What's next month's decision?" I know full well that media investment builds brands over huge amounts of time, and the money that was invested in advertising in the '90s is still creating memory structures today. My focus at Eve Sleep is not about how to make trade-offs tomorrow, or next week, or next month. … Am I balancing my investment and my spend in such a way that I'm building a sustainable brand and I'm also efficiently delivering sales today?

There's times when there's a heavily discounted period and we've got strong pressures from competitors and then you'll make decisions on your marketing trade-offs. Then there's times where you can build your brand without big media investment, you can build your brand through distribution, or product development, or partnerships. There are times when you go, "now is the right time to do some investments in big communication and work on brand awareness a bit more."

So, it's not about making a trade-off. A better analogy is choosing which club to play depending where you are on the golf course. Right now, I might be putting it into the hole. Next week, I might be looking to drive down the fairway, so I'd choose a different club for that objective.

WARC: What part of your media investment journey would you say Eve Sleep is currently on at the moment?

Calverley: I'm not for sure it's a journey. I think it's 18 holes. We've been through a period of very good brand awareness expansion – we've grown our brand awareness significantly over the summer time. We will look to do a bit more of that. You're constantly making a read going, "What progress have I made here, in brand awareness? What progress have I made here, in consideration? What progress have I made here, in terms of distribution and physical availability?" A lot of what we spend in advertising is to allow us to then talk to retail partners and talk to brand partners about physical availability.

You’re taking steps forward on different fronts and going, "Oh, that was a good leap forward there. Actually, we're a bit behind there, let's spend a bit more on that and a bit less on that." So, you're balancing. It's not really a journey.

WARC: Do you plan to make any changes in the next 12 months, particularly in digital media? One of the major concerns that's come out of WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit survey is that programmatic media isn't perhaps delivering in the way that some people had expected. Do you have any views on that?

Calverley: I have never been a proponent of programmatic ever. We are here to build a brand as well as to harvest the sales. There are definitely brands doing it quite well, but most programmatic is brand-damaging in the way it ends up being executed. You might harvest a sale tomorrow, but what you can't see in your data and see in your numbers is a number of customers that have been, quite frankly, pissed off by your programmatic.

Particularly when you're a young brand, your media behaviour is your body language. People are choosing brands by the company they want to keep – that's what brands are. "I want this thing in my life," is basically the question of the brand, regardless of what else you might say. Your body language is how people select you, and I am absolutely not a fan of programmatic in the way it's ended up evolving. … I think Google are developing some interesting products, although I'm still struggling with how they execute. I think Facebook are, but again, they don't execute well. Until I can find programmatic execution that is quality and delivers a quality environment, I really struggle with it. We may find in a year's time that I'm spending all my money on programmatic, by the way, because that's the nature of a small business.

WARC: As a newer brand, how are your marketing choices differing from those that perhaps more established brands might be making?

Calverley: They're not. We are a ‘scale-up’, we're not a start-up. We are on a path to profitability, and so our absolute focus is to create a sustainable business. It is not to grow at all costs. I think if you're looking at growth at all costs or rapid growth, you do make different choices, because you just chase the dollar. We are not doing that, and we are looking very much to create a long-term, sustainable model. A long-term, sustainable model fundamentally has very similar marketing choices.

There are choices day to day, week to week, month to month, and even year to year that flex, and every category has its own dynamic… The dynamics of marketing – once you get beyond the very early growth stages and you're not into extreme maturity – are very, very similar.

WARC: How do you balance building your brand over the long term, with that long-term horizon in mind, with driving short-term performance, because this is something that every single marketer is really worried about, it seems?

Calverley: Everything you spend can either build or erode your brand, and everything you spend can either derive a short- to medium-term response. We're not in a position, as a brand, to deploy advertising that won't pay back for five years…. The most important thing is that when you spend money on advertising, on media, it always builds something... We could go out tomorrow and we could probably earn some sales out of programmatic. It wouldn't shift the dial materially. It's not going to change my business at all, but it may make me another £10,000 or something. But the damage that would do to the brand makes it the wrong thing to do.

So, the choice is not about balance. The choice is about making the decisions that they don't damage the brand you're building. 90% of brand is not your advertising. It's not your media spend. Brand is made up of your product, of your customer experience. All your advertising and communication… which, by the way, includes your reviews, your social media, your PR, and your corporate positioning. If you talk to a customer about a brand and you say, "Talk to me about Coke," they'll talk about how it tastes. They'll talk about how it feels and the experience of it…. That's a brand. Not the advertising.

You need to be able to go, "I can deliver long-term benefit out of short term, and I can deliver some short-term benefit out of long term." Then the question is simply around where on the fairway you are and whether it's a time to push for the long term or it's a time to harvest the short term.

WARC: Data is so important to your business. Are you expecting to make any changes to the way that you handle consumer data in 2020? If so, what factors are driving these changes for you?

Calverley: I think we will always make changes to how we handle customer data and consumer data. It has to be, and it should be, a constantly evolving beast… Like anything, it's a never-ending learning journey. We're a pretty small business, so our data stack, well, it's more like a couple of steps. It's more a data puddle than a data lake. But as our ability to connect data grows, we'll do more with it, and you just continue to build that out. We're not sophisticated. But if we were sophisticated, I'd be quite worried, at this stage of our growth. That would have been a very big investment.

WARC: What do you see as the single biggest challenge and the single biggest opportunity facing your business in the next 12 months?

Calverley: The single biggest challenge is the same challenge facing any scale-up, which is navigating the path to sustainable growth. I think you talk to anyone at our stage and they'll have the same worries: balancing that top line and that bottom line… we're absolutely focusing on sustainable profitability, not growth at all costs.

As a business, you go through these stages of growth. We have now stacked our brand awareness on significantly, we're a real proper brand in people's eyes… It's actually quite a nice time for me to go, "Look, the marketing strategy is clear. The communication strategy is clear. I don't need to make new advertising. I've got a fabulous campaign. All that difficult stuff over there is done and is kind of in-hand.” Now I can turn my attention on what that means for physical distribution, what does that mean for partnerships, what does that mean for us becoming just a bigger, stronger, more robust brand with more fingers in more pies.