To showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week’s 10 Questions are put to Kris Robbens, marketing director for Great Britain and Ireland at the Coca-Cola Company
What was your first-ever job?
I used to spend a lot of my summers bartending in my hometown in Belgium. It was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to engage with people and different products firsthand, and that’s been invaluable ever since.
After that, my first office job was at Unilever in Belgium on a graduate programme. It was a brilliant set up, offering the chance to rotate through different functions from field sales to category, and brand management.
Which industry buzzword annoys you most?
They are terms that are used a lot and it’s the likes of ‘millennial’ or ‘gen z’. I studied social sciences, and whilst I understand that we need to simplify and manage audiences, I think it’s the least consumer-centric way to approach it, as instead it can miss individual differences and fail to grasp what we really have in common. I’ve always been wary of defining a generation based on an often broad, outside view, and instead, I think there are so many more interesting ways of defining
Who do you find most interesting to follow on social media?
Whilst I am on social media, I’m inspired more by wider elements. I listen to a lot of TED Talks and love the breadth of topics, conversations and opinions shared by so many people across different sectors. At a time when there is a lot of debate and uncertainty, it’s interesting to hear about different innovations and trends, and that stretches your mind to think positively, differently and creatively.
I’m also a big fan of Mindbullets by futureworld.org, a weekly publication of possible future scenarios. It really stretches your brain to think about the ‘what if’.
The highlight of your career (so far?)
The highlight has been experiencing the power of diversity of thought and how that has then delivered incredible ideas. I’m also very lucky to have such huge variety to my job. No two days at Coca-Cola are the same: I’ve had the opportunity to work in countries all over the world, meet and learn from different colleagues, and work with a range of amazing brands, each with their own unique identity. My biggest fear in my work life is being bored, and I count myself incredibly lucky that I have never been bored in my career.
What piece of tech can you not live without?
Besides my phone, noise cancellation headphones! I use them every day on the commute and for those necessary moments of reflection. I’m also learning Spanish, so I’m really enjoying Duolingo. It’s a brilliant app and the gamification element of it really supports learning in a fun and creative way.
Who or what did you have posters of on your bedroom wall as a teenager?
I’m really inspired by music and photography, so it was a total mix of the two. As well as featuring Bjork as a result of a love for her music, I also studied photography, so had posters of my favourites, particularly from Andreas Gursky, a German photographer. His work is all about challenging and changing perspectives, and creates what looks like a realistic image at first glance, but you realise it’s been manipulated, and you can look at it in so many different ways. It completely skews perspective and you could look at it for hours.
In advertising, what needs to change soon?
Everything and nothing. By truly being consumer-centric, you need to remain consistently open to the consumer’s changing mindset and therefore, change, flex and innovate with them. On the other hand, a brand is like a good friend. You buy into it in the first place and you need it to be consistent, reliable and available, whilst pleasantly challenging.
What is (in your opinion) the greatest film/album/book of your life?
I read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari earlier this year and I think about it every day. The book combines the beauty of nature and nurture, but stretches it to a whole new level of combining it with the likes of archaeology, history, and human sciences, to mix it together into a brief history of mankind. It’s mind-blowing.
Which industry event can you not afford to miss each year and why?
I recently attended The Marketing Society Awards as Coca-Cola received the Iconic Brand Award which is awarded to the most iconic brand of the past 60 years. It was a brilliant evening and we were very excited to have been awarded.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Start with the why, end with the why and ask why five times.
One of the lessons I learnt studying social sciences was that what consumers say isn’t always what they feel and mean – so data is important, but you also need to consider the “why” behind the numbers. For example, social norms and expectations might make people feel they ought to answer a question in a certain way, so understanding their motivations at the start, middle and end is the key to getting real consumer insight.