Few CEOs and managing directors come from a marketing background and there are still relatively few examples of marketers going on to take up business leadership positions. However, this week Matt Tapper took on the newly created role of managing director of Lion’s global brand division.
Tapper has been marketing director of Lion’s beers, wines and ciders portfolio for the past five years. He’s been with the company for 18 years in a mix of marketing, sales and commercial roles.
The newly created role he took on from 1 October is one with no set path. He’s taking on a journey of test and try, to explore and experiment with what might work to grow Lion’s brands overseas.
The transition from marketer to business leader has prompted Tapper to rethink his approach and evolve the way he thinks about leadership.
“I’ve been reflecting on how things are changing and how my approach and my thinking is changing and one thing that’s jumped out at me, more recently, was that I used to hold this mantra or idea, that it was the role of marketers and leaders to get a sense of the future and bring it into the present,” he explains.
“I’ve been challenging that more recently. If you think about the world we’re living in, there’s a lot more volatility and ambiguity, and it feels like while technology is disrupting us, it’s also allowing us to do things we haven’t been able to do before, so it’s a double-edged sword.
“How quickly technology is moving got me thinking that you can flip the thought about trying to bring the future into the present, and instead think about leaders and marketers making more sense of the present to create the future.”
Tapper will be tasked with international expansion of some of Lion’s brands. Whether that will be deciding which brands to invest behind or which regions to focus on.
So, that reframing of how to drive the strategy for brands and business is something he is likely to lean on in developing the global strategy.
“I’ve been quite a future-oriented marketer, but I think what I’m learning now is to look more at what’s happening right now. Because of the volatility, the ambiguity, I think it’s more difficult to predict [the future],” he says.
“It’s an age of greater levels of experimentation. You can hold on to a fuzzy vision, but be prepared to change direction. That’s where my thinking is. If you’ve got a clear goal and a roadmap of how to get there, I’m not sure that’s the world we’re currently living in.”
Tapper is in week one, so what those global priorities will be are nowhere near defined as yet, but it’s likely that the focus will skew to the more premium, boutique end of Lion’s brand portfolio.
His international team is yet to be finalised, but the first step will be to work with Lion’s existing international teams to figure out current scale of activity. Tapper will draw on Lion’s existing North American wines team, the Australian-based team that has been doing work in Asia, and the team based in New Zealand which has been servicing Europe and the UK, to see what are the biggest potential brands or regions to focus on.
“A lot of our brands are available in different parts of the world via distributors and partners, but I think we’re at a point where we’re going to give that more focus and understand which brands in which markets we should invest in to build. As yet I don’t know which, but at Lion, we’re brand builders so we will be looking for opportunities to do that because we believe that’s the sustainable way to be in a market,” Tapper says.
“Strategy is followed by resource. But the days of going and making big, significant bets are possibly behind us, so it comes back to finding markets where we’re prepared to test and learn and organically grow – I think it’s less about investment and more about the way we go about doing things.”
So, while Tapper has demonstrated to the organisation that marketing is a good foundation for leading a business unit tasked with driving growth, a lot of organisations still underappreciate marketing’s capability. A lot of people still think marketing is just advertising and promotions – both critical elements, but by no means the full extent of marketing’s ability to drive growth for an organisation.
“In a world where it’s becoming more challenging to find growth, increasingly organisations have to make sure that the purpose and the vision of that organisation is aligned externally to the needs of the community and the customers. It’s almost like positioning a business to be on-trend,” he explains.
“Marketing is perfectly positioned to help set up the business so it’s positioned to grow and it will only increase as people try to make sense of a very volatile world.”
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