Adam: Could you give me a bit of an overview of what your role involves from day-to-day within the business?
Paul: As the Marketing Director of Zen, I guide our marketing activities for all the different customer groups that we serve; residential broadband customers through to the big corporates, and then also our partner network.
As a challenger brand a big part of my job is to make sure we stand out and punch well above our weight. While we’re known for providing fast, reliable connectivity, we’re proud to be differentiated as the brand that does things right - whether that’s our people first philosophy or doing the right thing for customers.
Adam: How much has changed for you during the pandemic in terms of the marketing landscape and adapting your strategy?
Paul: I think that our strategy is largely unchanged. We’ve not had to adapt, but if anything, to ensure that the strategy remains central to everything that we do, that we communicate it as effectively as we can, choose the right channels and ensure that we say it in ways that people can understand. A solid internet connection that people and businesses can trust is a bigger deal than ever and is clearly a sweet spot for Zen.
One of our biggest challenges remains spreading the word far and wide. As a smaller brand in an incredibly crowded market, cutting through the noise is one of the biggest challenges that we have.
Adam: As the only Which? Recommended providers of Broadband, what does this mean for you as a brand?
Paul: It means a lot. Awards are clearly not the be all and end all, but it’s lovely to get recognition when it’s in an area that you’re really focused on.
And more so that the Which? awards are voted for by customers – our own customers and those of the whole broadband sector – makes it even more important to us. We focus a lot on the customer experience – reliability, speed, ease of setup, technical support, and really the Which? criteria are centred around all those elements. The fact that the Zen team have worked so hard to deliver against that, the recognition is very nice.
Adam: And alongside that recognition, Zen have also been awarded B Corp status recently - tell me about the journey you went on to get there.
Paul: It’s been a long but exciting one! We started by achieving carbon neutral status at the beginning of 2020. That was the first milestone of at least measuring our carbon footprint and being able to understand what it is (and therefore being able to act upon it.) And around the same time the B Corp journey started. B Corp considers carbon as a factor but is far broader, taking into account our people, planet, community and other elements too.
Adam: There were some landmark changes that Zen had to make when you decided you were shooting for this – if you were walking another brand through it, what would you suggest?
Paul: First, we needed to make sure we’ve got people dedicated to it. There are a series of groups and individuals across the whole company that are very much focused on the objective, and therefore what we need to do to make a change. Measuring where we were was key for us; you can’t spark action if you don’t know where you’re starting from.
Probably the last piece of advice I’d give, is just having some clear objectives and commitments.
So again, once we understood where we were and what we needed to do as part of the B Corp journey, we were able to pull together a multi-year roadmap with very clear milestones of what we needed to commit to and achieve as a company. You can then bake that into your people plans, your budgets and make sure you deliver against it.
Adam: It sounds like a heavy lift, but you’ve made other commitments alongside this. I’m right in thinking you’re committing to being Net Zero by 2028?
Paul: Yes, very much a continuation of what we do at the moment with our carbon neutral status, but Net Zero is different in the effect that it looks at the carbon footprint across the whole supply chain. What that means for us in the broadband connectivity world is we’re looking right at the start of the chain – for example manufacturing of routers - through to how consumers might use a broadband connection in their home.
Adam: There’s so much to be proud of in what you’re doing at the moment. What piece of work stands out in terms of what you’ve done at Zen?
Paul: We’ve just finished a piece of work to strengthen our message hierarchy. It’s been a full team effort and it’ll be a strong call to arms on why consumers and businesses should choose Zen as a better path. You’ll see us reference the work we do more in the community and on building a better future. As a company and brand, we’ve made commitments and welcome others in joining us.
Adam: Are there any kind of brands that you admire/consider a kind of inspiration at the moment?
Paul: I look at many brands in the challenger space doing some great things.
There are probably a few references that I can give, but off the top of my mind, Tony’s Chocolonely. Again, a challenger in a very big-player dominated market, they’re standing up for what’s right. Their tone-of-voice is on point and their identity feels very different. Ultimately, it’s that sense of a clear purpose, and the fact that they are challenging some of the maybe slightly unfair practices in the world of chocolate.
Adam: Talk me through how you like to work with agencies?
Paul: It was during my time at Coca-Cola where I first truly understood that a proper agency relationship is a partnership.
Although it was a behemoth of a company, I worked with an amazing procurement person. She really taught me the benefit of working in true partnership, and that’s where I learned that relationships with agencies are very much two-way. When you’re working with people, at the end of the day, they need to be motivated and they’ve got to want to work with you. You both need skin in the game. I’m seeing an awful lot of practices where people use agencies as almost ‘get on and do something.’ That’s genuinely not what I believe.
The best agency partnerships that I’ve had feel like they’re an extension of the team, and this is where I’ve seen the best work.
It comes back to the Zen philosophy of ‘happy people.’ If your agency feels connected, feels empowered, feel like an extension of what you do, they’re going to be motivated and create the best work. In summary, it’s when agencies feel like partners and feel like an extension of your team.
Adam: What do you look for when you’re considering working for a new agency?
Paul: Probably a couple of things. The first thing that comes to mind without stating the obvious is ‘fit.’ I think fit is important, because again they should be an extension of the team. I also encourage our agencies to push back and challenge. Too much agreement and saying yes doesn’t create the best work.
I also like working with partners who are real specialists in what they do. Sometimes you need a generalist, but quite often you want someone that has that real experience from working with multiple clients and really knows their field inside and out. It’s really benefited me in the past when you’ve got people that can really push that sort of innovation, ideas and agenda forward.
Adam: If there was one thing you could change about your industry, what would it be?
Paul: I’d banish jargon. We’re in an industry that talks superfast, ultrafast, full fibre and acronyms galore... does that really mean anything? We need to talk to people as people, focusing less on the service description and more on how it benefits customers.
Adam is a Brand Partnership Manager at GO!, connecting tech brands with market-leading agencies. Connect with him on LinkedIn here or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to know more about the GO! Network, get in touch here.