Marketing Week’s 2013 marketer of the year, John Bernard, is not short of enthusiasm. Not only does he compare his win with his life’s greatest moments – his children’s births, his wedding, Luton Town’s 1988 Littlewood’s Cup win – he also professes a genuine love for the sectors he has worked in.
After early roles at Granada and Ford, his first sector specialism was in mobile phone manufacturers – moving through Siemens, LG and Sony Ericsson – before making a shift into the software industry. It was while at Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser and mobile operating system, that Marketing Week recognised his achievements, and he still thinks “fondly” of the organisation. But in moving into another new industry with medical devices manufacturer Dexcom, he has a challenge he clearly relishes.
The maker of blood glucose trackers for diabetics has a 2,000-strong workforce at its San Diego headquarters, but in the UK it acts more like a startup. Bernard was the first employee at its Edinburgh office and has been responsible for building the marketing capability across Europe from the ground up.
It’s not the first time he is operated in this kind of environment – even though LG was a global electronics brand when he joined in 2004, its European mobile division was newly launched with no market share and he was the third employee. Similarly he was responsible for launching Firefox OS, with an aim of “getting the next billion people online” in emerging markets via the mobile web.
My role is taking what I have learned over the last 25 years, setting up a digital function, hiring staff across multiple countries, authoring the strategy, and lots of lead nurturing and commercial aspects.
John Bernard, Dexcom
If there is a common theme to all his roles it is that he has always focused on two twin priorities: “I always look at volume and brand. More people in marketing need to partner with sales and be aware of the revenue function.” He adds: “I want our marketing team to be adored by other departments, especially sales.”
Bernard is also passionate about improving the standing of marketing generally, moving marketers into boardrooms and convincing companies that, rather than cutting back marketing, if anything they should “double down” to benefit from the revenue and brand amplification it brings. It is for that reason he sits on the board of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Scotland,
Yet he is also modest enough to admit that he depends greatly on the expertise of agency partners and his team: “I don’t know what I don’t know. There are elements of marketing I haven’t learned, for example search engine optimisation – you need to have someone who is really an expert. You can’t be a jack of all trades as a marketer any more.”
The bottom rung
Granada, marketing executive leading to brand manager (1995–1999)
Ford Motor Company, events manager (1999-2002)
“At Granada I was a marketing executive at the bottom rung of the ladder but I learned a lot from my managers and from the print process, which I found to be really useful later for looking at digital processes and approvals. I thought I wanted to make ads and that’s why I did marketing as a degree. In my first job I realised marketing is all about process, planning, dealing with agencies and can be really hard work.
“I knew I wanted a job with international experience and at Granada at times it was a slog, juggling multiple projects and lots of responsibility. I fancied a change and a job with travel, so went to run global motor shows for Ford, and work in sponsorship around Formula 1, which would help later in my work at LG and Siemens.
“I didn’t have just one mentor, but at Granada the marketing director – a scary man called Tim O’Neill – taught me one thing I will carry with me my whole life: be honest. When something goes wrong, you can find your way around it.”
Working out ‘what I truly wanted’
Siemens Mobile, various roles (2002–2004)
“At Siemens I started as a channel marketing manager and left at a head of marketing. I knew at the age of 30 I wanted to work in mobile. Maybe that makes me a late starter, but after seven or eight years in marketing I realised this was what I wanted to do. I have been lucky that I have worked in industries I have truly wanted to work in.
“In 2003-2004 Siemens was number two behind Nokia, driven by our marketing and offers. We were heavily sponsoring football and F1. From there, my career took off when I was headhunted by LG.”
LG Mobile, marketing director (2004–2007)
“LG saw the growth in mobiles starting before most people, along with Samsung. They were the biggest brand you had never heard of – Lucky Goldstar made TVs, fridge freezers and vacuum cleaners. I was employee number three in LG in Europe, and the UK became the European headquarters for LG Mobile.
“What was great was starting from a position of zero, setting up all the marketing. This is present in all my roles, pretty much – getting a PR agency first of all so we could start making noise for a good value of spend, building up the team, getting an online presence. The benefit of working alongside both products and sales teams would pay dividends later in life.
“One of the biggest things I did was launch a phone called Chocolate. I got the LG UK board to agree to put all the budget for one year into this one product. It really put LG on the map in the UK.”
‘It didn’t feel like work’
Sony Ericsson, head of global marketing (2007–2009)
“For Sony Ericsson, I looked after the Vodafone global customer unit. What a time to be at a fantastic brand – my role was big-budget sponsorship and big advertising campaigns. I ran a team of about 30 staff to drive market share and we hit the number three spot. Vodafone was our biggest customer and I was doing a lot of product presentations and roadmaps, but ultimately the sexiest stuff that I did was running promotions with Justin Timberlake and Usher. Given Sony Ericsson’s legacy in music with the Walkman, it was always a natural fit to use music as a platform to sell phones and raise awareness.
“We also sponsored something called the Champions’ League. It was a really good platform not just for competition winners but on the B2B side to get closer to our partners. There were times when it didn’t seem like I was working and I think that’s a sign you’re enjoying your job and career – I think marketing is fun, dynamic but also gets results, and we did get those results at Sony Ericsson.”
A conscious shift to software
Canonical, head of global marketing (2009–2012)
“Canonical is not a brand you’d necessarily have heard of but they make an operating system called Ubuntu. Similar to Firefox, it was big on desktop and looking to move into mobile. When I left Sony Ericsson I had opportunities with operators and BlackBerry but it would have been my fourth mobile manufacturer. I took the conscious decision to move into software, even though Apple’s App Store was still new and big software companies such as Airbnb and Uber didn’t exist yet.
“I was mostly working in emerging markets – Brazil, Russia, India and China – working in partnership with Dell and HP making Ubuntu into a competitor to Microsoft, stored on PCs. Mozilla loved my Canonical background and it helped me get that role.”
Getting the next billion online
Mozilla, global marketing director (2012–2016)
“At Mozilla my role was to get the next billion people online with Firefox OS, the mobile brand. Mozilla needed someone who knew the mobile industry to build a competitor to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. We launched Firefox OS phones 80 times across 50 markets with 17 operators in the four-year period.
“One thing I was proud of at Mozilla was creating the Firefox OS brand. I also created a community of ‘Mozillians’ who helped with our launches, and became spokespeople and trainers. They continue to be a vital cog in the Mozilla machine.
“Mozilla is a not-for-profit, so the thought of working with operators and manufacturers and driving commercial revenue was at times difficult. It is a fine balancing act to service the needs of being a mission-driven organisation and driving revenue.
“Over four years, we spent the first in Latin America, the second in south-east Asia where we launched the first $25 smartphone and brought smartphones to India. My last year was across Africa where, working with Orange, we launched in several countries. We won awards for the Klif device and marketing campaign.
“Mozilla today generates a lot more revenue than ever before thanks in large part to the growth in mobile achieved through Firefox OS.”
Dexcom, marketing director (2016-present)
“Dexcom is a medical devices company based in San Diego with a range of products that check blood glucose levels. Diabetes is an epidemic globally – one person in 11 has diabetes. We get two or three letters every week from people who say they love Dexcom and it has saved their child’s life. Every new app is out there to save people’s lives, but we genuinely see this happen.
“We opened an office in Edinburgh and I was hire number one. Now in Europe we are over a hundred strong. My role is taking what I have learned over the last 25 years, setting up a digital function, hiring staff across multiple countries, authoring the strategy, and lots of lead nurturing and commercial aspects. It’s also maintaining the brand and creating lots of assets – there are 39 websites across EMEA.
“We have 2,000 people behind us and a head office in San Diego, but we are still ostensibly a startup.”
John Bernard’s CV
Marketing director, EMEA
Global marketing director
Head of global marketing
Head of global marketing
Ford Motor Company
Marketing executive leading to brand manager