Marketing Interview with Sven Ripper
We caught up with Chief Marketing Officer Sven Ripper to get his thoughts on marketing best practice;
Can you tell us about your career so far and what you do today?
I have been in the digital space for 23 years. I started my career in Boston at Vistaprint as an intern and became full-time. We went through all the exciting phases of a start-up starting with the internet bubble bursting, layoffs, going through an IPO and growing a billion-dollar business over time. At the onset of my career, I got the chance to start the European business from scratch. I initially managed a team in Boston and later Barcelona, which became our European Market HQ. In my thirteen years at Vistaprint, Europe grew to over $320m revenue, $60m in marketing spend and over 200 people in the marketing and customer services teams.
After Vistaprint, I moved to London to join MyOptique Group as CMO to re-accelerate their growth and help prepare them for an exit, which would happen in a few years. I primarily focused on their Glasses Direct brand and made TV the main vehicle to help drive growth. MyOptique was an interesting experience because I had to manage many different kinds of brands, such as sunglasses, contact lenses, luxury design eyewear and allocate the budget to each vertical. After being acquired by EssilorLuxottica, I moved to LoveCrafts to help accelerate their growth. The business focuses on products and community in the crafting space.
Most recently, I’ve been doing consultancy work as a fractional CMO & Advisor for start-ups,accelerators, VCs and private equity. My work ranges from organizational design and go-to-market strategy to due diligence for my clients. I enjoy dipping into all the different verticals as a consultant – anywhere from fintech, health-tech, to DTC subscription and other sectors.
What is the inspiration behind the name of your consultancy company “Mauna Kea Koru”?
Mauna Kea is a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, and is actually the tallest mountain in the world as measured from the sea bottom. Most of it is underwater, however, which is a great metaphor for startups on a path to raise money, grow the business, unlock their potential and be the best in market. Koru is a Māori word representing a fern frond unfolding, so also growth and personal development. Mauna Kea stands for unlocking potential and scale. Both Hawaiian and Māori are Polynesian languages. Polynesian seafarers expanded their empire 1000s of years ago. Their trade territory extended as far as the Caribbean. Polynesian expansion exemplifies internationalization and taking risks.
You have held a CMO role multiple times before. What have you learned since becoming a CMO, that you didn’t fully appreciate before?
The thing I’ve learned as a CMO that I didn’t quite fully appreciate before, is how hot the seat gets. CMO tenures tend to be quite short on average, and it is a role that can be appreciated very quickly but blamed even quicker.
Often I see businesses with weak revenue and profit growth, where marketing wasn’t the cause of the problem.
I think I didn’t appreciate how hard it gets until I got into the seat. When I was a VP of Marketing, I was very close to the CMO and was protected from certain things that I didn’t even realize I had to be protected from. When you become a CMO, you need to protect your team from pressure from the board, but pass down the pressure at the same time, and it can be hard to find the balance. But it’s fun because you are in the driver’s seat to help to scale the business.
“CMO tenures tend to be quite short on average, and it is a role that can be appreciated very quickly but blamed even quicker.”
Many e-commerce companies are facing a rising cost of acquisition through traditional performance marketing channels like SEM. How can a company reduce its reliance on expensive acquisition channels effectively?
I think they should go back to the basics – understanding things like target audiences and where the customers spend money and time. For instance, I’m a big believer of TV adverts as a scalable low-cost customer acquisition channel. It can work well for the right businesses.
Ultimately, the only thing to do is to go back to your target audiences, see which type of media they are consuming and find a way to address that market effectively. This can be through social networks like TikTok or traditional offline channels like TV. Your product does not just need to fit with the market, but also with the channels in which you deploy it.
There are a lot of “Above The Line” traditional advertising channels like TV, which have traditionally been associated with brand advertising. Do you think they are becoming more effective as a means of customer acquisition?
If you have the right partner on your side, they can be. Personally, I’m not a big fan of agencies and prefer to do things in-house because your marketing team knows your customers better than any agency. But for TV adverts, you don’t have a choice but to go to agencies , and there are a lot of good agencies who are effective at buying the media. Likewise, there are some amazing production houses for the creative.
Do you think if marketing is strategically important within businesses, having an in-house advertising team is better than outsourced providers?
I generally prefer to build marketing teams in-house rather than be overly reliant on external agencies, as an agency will never be as close to your customer and your product as your in-house talent will be. Often the best talent pool is within agencies, so hiring talent directly from agencies can be a great approach.
How important is a knowledge of data science to modern marketers?
I think both data science and technology skills are incredibly important. I recently saw a job post where a company was looking for a CMTO – Chief Marketing and Technology Officer, a job title I hadn’t seen before. It shows how important an understanding of marketing technology is to the modern marketer. I have to admit I learned SQL at one point in my life and haven’t used it for a long time. I don’t think you have to go deep “into the weeds” but definitely it’s better if you can write your own queries. The most important thing to know is how to interpret the analysis, and even more importantly, how to develop your own hypotheses and questions. These skills are critical for marketers, and not just c-level ones.
Thinking about early-stage or entrepreneurial companies, at what stage do you think they might need to hire their first Chief Marketing Officer?
Personally I think it is better to have one as soon as possible. I like companies where one of the co-founders is the CMO. Sometimes a company hires a CMO but it’s just a glorified Head of Marketing if you see their salary and what that person is responsible for. They are looking for someone who can do everything – put online campaigns together, define target audiences and execute marketing campaigns. Those are very important skills – especially for start-ups, but I think you should hire the CMO before Series A [VC funding], or at the latest at Series A – perhaps someone who has 10 years of experience. Ultimately those people don’t have to be very expensive because they have equity incentives. I think in general companies tend to take too long to get a proper CMO.
If a company already has a Head of Performance Marketing and a Head of Brand Marketing but no CMO, what value can a CMO hire bring to the business?
A CMO can bring a more strategic outlook, more knowledge about what will succeed and what will fail and shine a light on a new type of marketing strategy. The Head of Performance Marketing or Brand Marketing often run the risk to be micromanaged by the board or CEO, who don’t understand marketing, or be given free reign and then blamed if things don’t go as expected. It is critical to have a CMO who brings the strategic view and the breadth and depth from previous experiences to the table. A CMO can also effectively build bridges to other departments such as product, technology or customer service teams, which can sometimes have a challenging relationship with marketing.
“A CMO can bring a more strategic outlook, more knowledge about what will succeed and what will fail and shine a light on a new type of marketing strategy. The Head of Performance Marketing or Brand Marketing often run the risk to be micromanaged by the board or CEO.”
Should B2C businesses who need both performance marketing and brand marketing skills prioritize hiring a CMO from a performance marketing background?
Ultimately, it’s about finding the right balance. Brand activity drives performance over the mid- to long-term. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal that nowadays there is a big demand for CMOs with performance marketing backgrounds. Having a performance marketing background myself, I think the knowledge of channels, acquisition, CRM and how to optimize digital advertising campaigns is important just as much as is having a good understanding of Analytics. CMOs with pure brand marketing backgrounds find it much harder to manage performance marketing, which is often the “bread and butter” of these businesses.
You’re currently consulting as a fractional CMO. What value do you think a fractional CMO can bring to a business?
The key benefit is that a fractional CMO has lots of experiences in a variety of verticals and can advise you as a neutral party, which can be very powerful. In my experience, a fractional CMO can talk to the team, see how good they are and see what is lacking in the team and business. They focus on filling specific strategic and leadership gaps. A fractional CMO can drive a concrete plan of action with data provided by the clients and be the bridge until a new CMO is found. Pricing is typically on a day rate or project fee basis, so a business is able to get immediate high-value without a commitment to long-term costs.
If you were to give some advice to a new graduate who wants to pursue career in marketing, what would you say?
The first thing is that you have so many resources at your fingertips beyond books and university. Podcasts, blogs, newsletters and even LinkedIn could help you to find valuable information. When I graduated, books were the main source of information but they can become quickly outdated. If you can, I’d also recommend working within start-ups during your early career.
Looking back, I was really lucky that I got a job as an intern at a start-up. Start-ups give you an amazing opportunity to grow your responsibilities quickly. Growing fast means you have to keep up with the pace in terms of your personal development. In start-ups, people need to wear multiple hats which makes it uncomfortable sometimes, but such an opportunity will grow you 10x or 100x faster compared to someone who is just doing the same thing again and again. You can also go to an amazing product-led company like P&G that has lots of talent and is a great place to learn about brand and product marketing.
Do you see any new trends in marketing emerging over the next few years?
Clearly ChatGPT is very hot right now, and AI in general will revolutionize marketing. We’ll see increased marketing automation and AI being used more and more to create content. There will also be even more start-ups who provide more efficient and effective marketing services. I’m also expecting more consolidation in the martech sector. We are just seeing the tip of what’s possible.
You can find out more about Sven’s consulting business Mauna Kea Koru – here
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