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Pioneer Portrait: Iona Carter of Plum Guide

29 Jul 2020 By Octopus Ventures

Iona Carter – Head of Brand at Plum Guide – discovered early on what worked for her and what didn’t. A single day in a law firm and an internship in fashion (at Vogue) were all it took for her to see that pure intellect on the one side, and unfettered creativity on the other, were not her happy place. Where they meet in the middle however, very much is. “Trust your gut” has been a guiding mantra ever since.

“I love marketing because of its scientific, analytical, intellectual side. The last ten years have transformed the field into the customer-centric, data-driven discipline that drives hyper-growth for startups. But that’s only 50% of it,” says Iona. “The other half is the creative, but it’s where they overlap that the magic happens.”

Iona met Deron Meyassed, later Co-founder and CEO of Plum Guide, early on. She joined his company Promise Communities, now C Space, back in 2010. This was her baptism into the world of cutting edge marketing. Promise Communities solved brand, innovation and insight challenges through mass online collaboration. “It was all about understanding customers, then using that understanding to inspire product development and innovation processes,” says Iona.

A couple of years in, Iona was poached by a client, the VP of Strategy at Sony Music. Here her belief in the power of customer-centricity was consolidated. “The customer segment bible here was a closely-guarded legend,” she says. It contained around 28 carefully constructed customer ‘archetypes’. Sony Music – an umbrella for legendary labels such as Columbia and RCA, as well as Simon Cowell’s Syco Records – was where old school creative vision met new world customer understanding. Bands were brands. Individual band members were carefully constructed brand entities, appealing to specific customer profiles, as dictated by the customer segment bible. Syco’s world-beater, One Direction, is a prime example. Iona worked at the heart of this, as a planner, directing strategy that guided the creative, from hairstyles to Twitter feeds.

Eventually, Iona’s self-expression had to find an outlet, so branching out alone, she set up her own company, Twig, an exquisitely crafted cold brew tea brand, inspired by her travels in Japan. “I did everything; logistics, distribution, marketing, supply…”. People often level the criticism at marketers that they lack commercial awareness, but Iona’s experience of creating and running Twig dealt with that. Her big lessons?

Execution is everything

The idea is one thing, the ability and drive to execute it perfectly is another. Becoming the person who says, “no, do it again,” can take some getting used to, but it’s all in the details, the last 1%.

Aim for brilliance

Inspired by Seth Goldin’s book ‘Purple Cow’, Iona now knows that aiming high pays off. Purple Cow’s ethos is ‘stop advertising, start innovating’. Aiming for brilliance will transcend traditional marketing to create products and communications of a different order. “And you’ll learn things you didn’t know about yourself. You’ll add strings to your bow,” says Iona.

Get more sales-y

Many people think that with sales you’ve either got it or you haven’t. But what about finding your own way of doing it? Iona needed listings from the likes of Planet Organic and Daylesford, so she had to find a way – her way. “The first 3 times I stood up and ‘sold’, I wanted the ground to swallow me up,” she says. “But then I found my voice, my own authentic way of communicating something I was excited by.”

Today

Now as Head of Brand at Plum Guide, Iona brings together her journey’s lessons to create the sweetspot, where creativity and data-powered intellect meet. “Your customer, what they care about; and your product, what’s special about it – where they overlap the secret sauce is made,” she says.

Stretching, challenging, adding strings to the bow… clearly the comfort zone, for Iona, has been a place to expand from, not hide within.

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