In today’s interview, I’m thrilled to welcome Sara Berry. Sara is a former London advertising executive with more than 15 years-experience working with major global and local brands.
Following her departure from hard-core corporate, Sara established a consultancy, to help SME’s find their feet, and, if they’re established, help them to grow. She specialises in building the marketing basics to build the business.
Small disclosure, Sara has provided me with some genius professional guidance, and out of self-interest, there were a few directions I would have liked to take this conversation – however we're here to learn about Sara and what she loves about her work.
Thanks for being available for this interview Sara – just to get us going, can you tell us about your work, and how you came to do it? My parents ran businesses and I grew up surrounded by business owners and entrepreneurs - I think building and honing business skills was a big part of life growing up in London in the 80’s!
My passion as a kid was the performing arts and I spent my formative years either performing on stage, or behind the stage writing or directing. I sadly realised I was not going to be able to get together a house deposit from a career in the arts (I was not going to be the next Kate Winslet after all). So I took up the offer of a spot at a prestigious business college which was followed by an internship with a London ad agency. All of this felt like a natural progression, because I think I have fairly innate business skills as well as a flair for creativity and commercial art.
Fast forward twentysomething years, and I now run my own company, Marketing Sense, which is a marketing strategy agency.
There is so much to explore in that introduction - can we start with what is ‘marketing strategy’? Marketing strategy is a business process that delivers growth. It’s about getting clear on business environment, and using evidence and insights to generate more awareness, demand and obviously sales. I set up Marketing Sense to help small businesses create customer focused marketing that results in profitable growth.
So what kind of people have you worked with? I've worked with big ad agencies on large accounts. I’ve worked with the Commonwealth Bank and also lead the FlyBuys launch for a big Travel brand. Since 2007, I’ve been working with small businesses from 3D printing to recruitment and even a school. I really love the diversity of what I do!
What was your first-ever job? I was a papergirl and I also did invoicing for one of my father's business.
So when you were a child, can you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? A pop star, a dancer…a thespian! <laughs> Kate Bush? Margot Fonteyn?
What do you love about your work? I love helping small business owners understand the real value of having a marketing strategy, and I especially enjoy helping clients build their marketing capability. Every month, I get at least one call or meet with a business owner who has jumped straight to the tactics, spending big dollars on adwords or Facebook advertising, and not got a cent of return on their investment.
I get a great deal of satisfaction helping people to set clear marketing goals, develop a competitive offering, understand how to really engage with their customers and work out how to make their marketing dollars go further - get their marketing really working for them – after a few sessions I’ll see a light go on, that moment when they get it is so satisfying!
It sounds like what you love about your work is that you’re actually really helping people? Yes! That’s is absolutely the best part! I'll have someone who is really upset about how their business is not working out - we all know business ownership can be a real rollercoaster. And then to work with them and watch them fall in love with their business again – it’s so satisfying, I am fortunate…my work is very rewarding,
Speaking of rewards, what are the rewards working for yourself versus working with a big company? Being the purveyor of my own destiny.
And what challenges does your self-purveyor face? Keeping up! I work in the digital world, we all do. The business world has been majorly disrupted and transformed by digital, and my profession is really impacted! Just a simple update to an algorithm and ‘boom’ everything changes!
Online entrepreneurship, the internet of everything, the reduced cost of starting a business, the rise in self-employment and the gig economy all mean the market place is constantly changing, and so are the customers. Keeping up with - and on top of - change is challenging, for any business! Being a part of the fourth industrial revolution and contributing to the changes is exhausting, exciting and exhilarating!
How do you stay on top of the changes? I do lots and lots of reading and listening - also, because I’m constantly delivering workshops to businesses, I get to hear from them about the changes they’re experiencing and how they’re dealing with the disruptions.
So, clients are paying for your marketing expertise either to get on top of a business challenge or build foundation knowledge? Absolutely. Once I’ve helped someone with strategy, which really is the foundation of business success, and they see good results they’ll often continue to seek me out because they recognise, they need further help, say with SEO.
I’ll continue to work with them to develop their capability, and they continue to check in with me on an ‘as needs’ basis.
You mention SEO… SEO! OMG! SEO is a minefield for small business. Our inboxes are flooded with how to game Google, aren’t they? Actually, I think we put way too much emphasis on digital. Digital has been oversold as an inexpensive, magical path to overnight success. It may work for some, but not all business. There’s a temptation for businesses to jump on social media without joining the dots or thinking about what they’re trying to achieve. Businesses need to think of their marketing as a business process, which includes digital, but isn’t exclusively digital.
Asking from self-interest – but doesn’t everyone do digital because it’s cheaper than conventional campaigns - and also where the audience seem to live? Yes, true. But there’s a problem within that – or rather a risk – being, if you don't really understand what you're doing with your marketing, and it’s not based on some basic philosophy or groundwork or part of a thought-out process, then it's not going to be effective or cheaper.
Remember when Facebook first came out, and it was this amazing platform that was free for small businesses. It generated sales and built engagement and brand awareness. But that organic reach that we saw a few years ago has all gone now. Facebook is a pay to play platform. Nowadays, I really wouldn’t recommend just going onto Facebook, boosting a post and expect to see results.
You really need to think about how you’re going to create awareness, interest, consideration to motivate a purchase. The rule of seven means that your prospect needs to interact with your business seven times before they take action! You need to tap into that power!
So, don’t just build it and they will come! Let’s switch, can you give us one of your standout career moments? I honestly really struggle with this question, so many highlights but I think it would have to be when I was doing some work with a client in Melbourne, and I got to travel First-Class! <laughs> I got to work on a really exciting project, with corporate decision makers working as part of a team of a joint venture – I discovered my love of bircher muesli during those first class corporate travel days!
It's lovely to have those signals that you're successful. Is there anyone in your profession who you really admire? Actually, there's a couple of people. Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, she opened her first store in Brighton, which was in my territory when I was growing up. Anita was probably the first person I looked up to because she built and ran a really successful business that had ethical integrity.
Another is David Ogilvy, the father of advertising. His marketing philosophy was to undertake meticulous research into consumer habits, basically understanding who the customer is. Looking at what I’ve achieved, I’d say it’s because I research and immerse myself in markets, clients' psychographics, ethnography, behaviour, all of which comes from following David Ogilvy’s career.
David Ogilvy has been a kind of virtual mentor to you - do you mentor anyone? I usually mentor one or two women each year, who are either still at university or just leaving. Actually, I’d probably describe my relationship with them more as trusted adviser. I help them work out what they want to do in their marketing career, suggest suitable jobs, help build their skills and apply for roles. I love being available for this, and it’s good for me also, in that it challenges my thinking.
What are you looking at doing in your business? I want to do more speaking. In particular to people from small to medium size businesses about the digital economy, disruption, the fourth industrial revolution; how to thrive in this new age and where to focus energies. I want to share my experiences on what works and make people feel more invigorated rather than overwhelmed with change – empower people, I guess!
Do you prefer to work with businesses or individuals? I like working with people who are making decisions. Working with large organisations early in my career has built up my knowledge across a vast range of marketing disciplines. I think it’s safe to say I have worked in every marketing discipline from loyalty to retention to digital to brand. That’s really helped me to support smaller businesses to recommend the right approach, based on their particular goals.
So, what else are you working on now Sara? I’ve just launched a marketing challenge to help businesses understand the strategic marketing process. It’s still in pilot phase and I have bigger plans for it in the longer term, but for now it’s free. So if you want to learn how to develop cost efficient and effective marketing strategies and save time and money on your marketing sign up to my 7 Day Marketing Challenge.
What do you think you’d do if it wasn’t marketing? I don’t know about instead of, but I've also worked as a heritage consultant. A few years ago, I did a post-grad in heritage conservation and as well as doing the consulting work, I worked as a heritage marketer for the Office of Environment and Heritage. I’d really like an opportunity to combine my two loves of heritage conservation and marketing. I’m drawn to the history of older buildings, not necessarily architectural but stories about the people who lived there - they get unwrapped as part of understanding buildings. I think that in order to understand the present and forge a better future, we must first appreciate the past.
How do you unwind? I like going to the beach and travelling to new places. I also love music – everywhere I go I have music. Music and books are my soul-food, that and Toblerone!
What’s one word you would use to describe yourself as a child? Happy.
Awww - so finish this sentence: If you knew me really well, you'd know ... I’m loyal, empathetic and passionate.
What kind of impact do you think you have on the people around you? A few years ago, I delivered a digital mentoring program in the not for profit sector and one of my clients said that ‘my energetic problem-solving approach is like a bright magnifying glass right onto our blind spot.’ I think this is a skill that I have honed over many years of working in business, and I’m happy I get to use it every day to help my clients.
Okay, now some rapid-fire questions … what’s your favourite song? I don't really have a favourite song, but I have a favourite genre – that would include music from bands like The Clash, and The Stranglers. My music tastes are influenced by my childhood growing up in London!
What's your favourite book? Mmmm tricky – can I mention my favourite authors instead? I love the feminist writers, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte... I’m also a fan of Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.
Favourite piece of art? Not a piece of art, but an artist – again, showing my London roots, it would be Turner. I love the 19th century romantic period in history; the time of the industrial revolution and the poetry, novels and artwork - the legacy left by a group of artists trying to make sense of the changes happening around them – you can draw many similarities with our lives today really.
Your favourite place? Anywhere my people are. I’ve travelled a lot, and as a migrant, I have a real sense of place. I've been to lots of beautiful places, stayed in an ice hotel in the North Pole (pictured), sailed down the Amazon and ridden in the back of a truck on Bolivia’s most dangerous road. I have had some amazing travel adventures but ultimately people make a place don’t they!
Your people, that is so you! Thanks Sara.