Why Eve’s CMO made the move from big corporate to the startup world

In her first interview since joining Eve Cheryl Calverley, the brand’s new CMO, talks about swapping big corporates for the startup world and her mission to refocus the brand and build a sustainable business that will stand the test of time.

Eve’s CMO Cheryl Calverley.

The trend for senior marketers moving from big corporates to the startup world is accelerating. The convergence of these two worlds makes sense as startups hoping to drive their companies forward and professionalise their marketing meet senior marketers, hungry for the chance to experience all aspects of business and supercharge their growth.

Take Sainsbury’s former marketing director Sarah Warby, who last January was appointed chief growth officer at startup finance app HyperJar, or Andrew Warner, former CMO of recruitment firm Monster, who in September was named global chief marketing officer at Hi Inc, a suite of travel and lifestyle brands.

Then in December Cheryl Calverley left her role as marketing director at the AA to become CMO of sleep brand, Eve Sleep. The decision to switch to a startup was pretty clear cut as Eve, which delivers mattresses direct to consumers’ doors, felt like a great personality fit.

“I’m a relative maverick and not a classic corporate beast,” says Calverley who has also worked at Unilever and Birds Eye.

“I really wanted to take the opportunity to work with something much earlier in its development, somewhere smaller where I could stretch my wings in terms of creativity, bravery and really build something, without being constrained by the corporate beast I was within or to a certain extent the history of the brand you’re working with.”

Prior to Calverley’s appointment, chief brand officer and co-founder, Kuba Wieczorek, worked with a CMO who led exclusively on performance marketing. But this new CMO role unites the brand, creative and performance elements together under Calverley, with Wieczorek consulting as chief brand officer.

You can’t have a relationship with a brand. It’s just nonsense.

Cheryl Calverley, Eve

She joins the brand at a significant point in the development of the Eve business. Despite going public in May 2017 with a £140m valuation, the company posted a pre-tax loss of £19m for the 12 months ending 31 December 2017, 68% higher than the previous year. The company attributed the losses to its marketing costs, which rose 119% to £17.2m in 2017.

A profit warning followed in July, at which point co-founder and chief executive Jas Bagnieowski announced his departure. Then in November, a month before hiring Calverley, Eve outlined plans to “refocus” the strategy on its key markets – the UK and France – expand the product range, enhance deliveries and improve its online sales conversion.

Calverley acknowledges that she has come into the business as it reaches a new stage of development but her eyes are firmly set on long-term goals.

“The business has grown excitingly quickly and handily – because Kuba is an absolute genius – it’s grown with a clear brand identity, but with all rapid growth businesses there comes a point where you need to just steady down a bit and go, ‘hang on, what are we building up here? Are we building a sustainable business that might shape the future? Are we building a business where we can see long-term growth, as opposed to short-term rapid growth?’,” she asks.

“I would not have taken the job if that was not the intention. I’m here to build something which in 20 years is a phenomenally powerful and effective sleep business. I’m not here to make a fast buck tomorrow and the year after it goes boom.”

Forget ‘relationship building’

When it comes to engaging consumers, Eve sees its role as thinking about its customers and reaching out when it has products they might like. There is, however, a misnomer in marketing about building relationships with customers, Calverley argues.

“People get hung up on ‘this is a relationship’ and it’s largely bollocks. Brand is the relationship. You have in your head a bit of a relationship with Apple [but] you have a relationship with the brand of Apple, not because they are emailing you or not emailing you. You can’t have a relationship with a brand. It’s just nonsense,” she states.

“What we need to do is build a really effective brand that people like, so when they come into the category it is our product they think of first. That’s what we’ve always had to do and yes we will try email marketing and a bit of the relationship channels to help feed that but we’re not building a relationship.”

Eve positions itself as a sleep lifestyle brand, rather than a pure mattress company.

Calverley also prefers to be channel agnostic when it comes to how consumers interact with the Eve brand, whether that be through its website, sites like Amazon or retail stockists such as Debenhams, Next Home and bed specialist Dreams.

“I’m not here saying ‘no, the only way you can ever access Eve is if you come to our website’. That would be really arrogant and really silly. It’s very important for us that we work well with partners and its important we have a brilliant online experience,” she explains.

“All we are is the equivalent of FMCG but we’ve started from ecommerce first. I am creating a product and we sell it through our own channels and we sell it through retail partners. We have to follow the consumer and how they want to shop.”

Preferring not to get hung up on using specific channels, Calverley believes it is more important to think about tactics and appreciate that while Instagram works well for inspiration and visual lifestyle, platforms like Facebook and YouTube are better for communicating facts.

Likewise, Eve uses outdoor advertising to build trust and demonstrate brand strength. Its outdoor campaigns are designed to fit a “clean and premium” aesthetic, with longer linger time formats featuring dense copy to build brand perceptions and high frequency formats, like bus advertising, being more about direct response with messaging about next day delivery and the 100 days free trial.

Completing the marketing puzzle

While Calverley cut her teeth in FMCG working for brands such as Unilever and Birds Eye, she sees her new role as providing an opportunity to mix her personal passion for bio-psychology, with a love for physical product and the opportunity to embrace a new sector.

“In FMCG you only see one half of the marketing puzzle. It’s the harder half to learn, because you learn consumer insight, strategy, product development and a lot of the more fundamental stuff but you don’t have any exposure to digital, ecommerce, CRM, the lifetime value and the relationship marketing,” she explains.

“That’s why I went to the AA and I had a fantastic time, but I’ve always had a love of physical products. I come from FMCG, I come from making things that people enjoy and make their lives a bit happier. I was quite keen after three and half years at the AA to get back to physical products that make a difference in people’s lives every day.”

For Eve, tapping into the experience and leadership credentials of a senior marketer also means having someone on board who can reassure the team about where they’re going right.

In a small business it can feel like the big players know exactly what they’re doing and everything is seamless, when in reality that’s not always the case, Calverley admits.

“It’s been fascinating getting to Eve and seeing what a fantastic job the team are doing and how the data is in a better shape than at the AA – a lot of creativity is in a better shape, the strategy and clarity is in a better shape – and give the team a sense of confidence that this is a great business,” she adds.

Brand identity is a key area of focus, informing Eve’s philosophy on creativity and approach to working with agencies. Speaking to Marketing Week in August, Wieczorek, who has 18 years’ experience in creative advertising, explained that direct-to-consumer brands are best at defining and building their own brand, which can be hard for agencies to “assimilate into their thinking”.

Eve’s new premium mattress with instant pressure relief.

For this reason, he explained, Eve commissions all its creative work, photography and digital campaigns internally, while working closely with media planning and buying agency, Good Stuff.

Calverley takes a more neutral view on working with agencies, seeing a clear role for strong, strategic partners to add value when the opportunity is right.

“We are tying ourselves in knots at the moment about in-housing and out-housing. In reality all that matters, and all that’s ever mattered, is great people working together to make great work. I’m absolutely neutral on whether we in-house or out-house, what I will always do is look at my cost base and look at my ability to flex my capability,” she explains.

“I will undoubtedly look for a strategic partner in a creative way and then actually execute the creative, as much as possible, in-house until it’s not possible to do the best possible work and we’ll look out. There’s not a hard and fast rule.”

I was quite keen after three and half years at the AA to get back to physical products that make a difference in people’s lives every day.

Cheryl Calverley, Eve

She does believe, however, that agencies are adapting to the shifting marketing landscape, meaning the “binary in-house, out-house conversation” is changing.

“The big agencies are understanding they need to create different models and work with businesses in different ways. Incubating units, startup units and bespoke sets of people that fit around the business,” Calverley notes.

“If we’re going to go anywhere with agencies I think that is the sort of thing we would look to do, access really good talent in a very effective, controlled way.”

READ MORE: How direct-to-consumer brands are reshaping marketing

Going forward, the core business ambition is to become the consumer’s first choice for sleep wellness. Calverley firmly believes the single biggest thing the UK could do to increase productivity is to ensure everyone has a decent night’s sleep.

Convinced that sleep deprivation is the next great western health crisis after obesity, her focus is helping Eve develop a strong voice in the sector. Over the next six months, the brand plans to dig deeper into the science of sleep and “raise its head above the parapet” on the issues of wellness, productivity and the wider health benefits.

Calverley believes that Eve’s desire to relate to every aspect of the sleep environment, beyond simply the mattress, will resonate with consumers.

“It helps that we’re a real lifestyle brand, rather than just a transactional brand,” she states. “People buy into the Eve way and we work incredibly hard on our tone of voice, and the look and feel of our products, to make sure that it feels really special.”