Dr Martens brand boss: Marketing can ‘get in the way’ of product

Chief brand officer Ije Nkoworie, who takes over as CEO next year, says marketing can get distracted by trends and risk preventing customers discovering product.

Dr Martens product marketing alignment C-19Dr Martens’ chief brand officer and incoming CEO Ije Nwokorie says marketing can sometimes “get in the way” of customers discovering products by overly focusing on trends.

Speaking at Creative Equals’ RISE 2024 event today (24 April), Nwokorie claimed his role as chief brand officer involves “stripping away” anything that gets in the way of customers discovering Dr Martens’ products, whether that’s in advertising, stores or online journeys. He described himself as being product-obsessed, something that informs everything he does.

Last week, Nwokorie was announced as the brand’s new chief executive, taking over from incumbent CEO Kenny Wilson next year. Nwokorie only began his role as chief brand officer in February, but has been on the board of the business since 2021.

He is the first chief brand officer Dr Martens has had. Speaking today, Nwokorie described how he urged the business to create the role during his time as a non-executive director on the board, before eventually taking it on himself.

Because [Dr Martens] is not trying to be fashionable, it’s attractive to those who don’t want to conform.

Ije Nwokorie, Dr Martens

The language of modern marketing, in talking about taking a position and “targeting” consumers, can create an ‘us versus them’ dynamic, said Nwokorie. Instead, he prefers the language of product, where you talk about making a product for a consumer.

Another aspect of modern marketing he singled out is the way some “generic” products “have become branded”. By comparison, Nwokorie described Dr Martens as a brand with a “unique” product proposition.

“If you make something unique…why would you talk about something else?” he said.

Before taking on his current role, Nwokorie was senior director at Apple Retail. Apple is another example of a product-led business, he said, meaning the advertising doesn’t focus on telling stories about the brand but focuses on the quality of its products.

Diversity as a superpower

Nwokorie was also critical of brands that follow trends. While the Dr Martens brand has been popular among lots of different subcultures, its products are first and foremost utilitarian, he explained. As a result the brand does not define itself by a particular subculture or trend.

Brands shouldn’t move away from the core of what they do to cater to particular trends or groups of consumers, Nwokorie explained. He claimed this approach ties the brand to a trend and when that fades it puts your brand at risk.

Indeed, Nwokorie believes Dr Martens not being concerned about following trends is exactly what makes it attractive to so many groups.

“Because it’s not trying to be fashionable, it’s attractive to those who don’t want to conform,” he noted.

The organisation itself is extremely diverse, said Nwokorie, something he describes as a “superpower” when it comes to making products, because you need as many different voices in the room as possible.

Speaking during the session, Nwokorie also described his own background as a “superpower”. He grew up in post-civil war Nigeria and said the environment gave him “no choice” but to deploy creativity growing up.