Why this marketing and creative chief switched from global brands to local startup

How this former agency creative chief is working to build a startup brand

When you’re used to working with global brands and massive budgets, trading all that in for the tight constraints of a startup might seem like an exercise in masochism.

For former Publicis Mojo co-chairman and chief creative officer, Craig Davis, sea-changing his career to an Australian-born startup has given him a new perspective on marketing and brand building.

Davis left the luxury of big agency in life 2013 after a career that had seen him launch Vodafone’s 3G network in Europe, Internet portals in China, and energy drinks for Coca Cola. In 2014, he teamed up with technology entrepreneur, James Chin Moody, to become co-founder and CMO of the parcel delivery service, Sendle.

“Our purpose is to help good business take on big business, with parcel delivery that is simple, reliable and affordable,” Davis says. “And we are doing that by unlocking infrastructure that has been sitting there for a long time, but has really only be accessible and designed for the big end of town.”

Sendle isn’t Davis’ first experience with startups, having been previously involved in the creation of the brand reputation platform, Brandkarma, which he founded in 2010 while still working as chief creative officer at Publicis Mojo.

Craig Davis
Craig Davis


Davis says this time around he was attracted by the culture and ethics of Chin Moody and his previous venture, TuShare, and was also drawn in by the chance to create something from scratch.

“And the challenge of trying to do it with a very small team in a category which is dominated by a very large, capital-intensive players was very exciting – to be the David in the David and Goliath story,” he says.

But playing the role of David entails working with David-size budgets. While in his old life Davis might have turned to television and other high-impact, broad-reach channels, to date Sendle has engaged in no paid advertising, and has focused down on three low-cost channels of PR, viral/referral marketing, and partnerships with groups like NRMA, Etsy and the Velocity Frequent Flyer program.

“How you deal with limited resources is you get very specific about how you apply them,” Davis says. “You have to get really disciplined about where you focus your time and attention and not try and do too much.

“We have got fairly good at identifying things that work for us that we can really leverage.”

While the tools might be different, Davis says the key factor in building a brand remains the same – and that is trust. While television was once a proxy for trust due the access it provided to the home living room, Davis says societal trends towards non-linear and multi-screen viewing means that television is no longer as effective as it once was.

Instead, Sendle is relying on metrics such as Net Promoter Score to determine the level of trust it is building with its clients, along with other performance indicators such as cost of acquisition, lifetime value, and churn.

Like many startups, Sendle is built around concepts of rapid testing and learning, with extensive use of AB testing and the ability to gather responses quickly and make intelligent choices. The result is a metrics dashboard that Davis likens to something out of Star Trek.

“For a lot of the time I was in the ad industry, we were working with fairly blunt and imprecise instruments,” Davis says. “It was much more about leaps of faith and much less about measurement and metrics and analytics. That has changed for sure in the last four years.”

Another of the significant changes Davis has adjusted to is the more rapid decision-making and delivery of a startup.

“It is very different from a campaign mentality, which is about freezing time and making judgements and working in isolation and placing big bets,” he says. “That is still the rhythm of bigger businesses, and you just simply have to up the pace.”

And it is an experience he believes would be beneficial to many people currently working in larger agencies or brands.

“This is like an MBA in contemporary digital mass marketing,” Davis says. “The level of discipline and rigour that we are applying is quite extraordinary, and I am sure that would translate into other businesses.”

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