Ben Harrill – Tenzing Natural Energy

Ben Harrill – Tenzing Natural Energy

Ben Harrill is the Head of Creative at Tenzing. He joined just over 2 years ago, being drawn to the ethos of the company and the clear mission of the brand in the ‘energy’ category. Operating with a non-hierarchical structure and open culture has fostered creative contributions from the very start. This initially involved out of home assets but soon evolved to him managing social and digital activities and most recently, directing the brand’s first ever TV campaign. Ben is now overseeing all creative content that the brand produces including the packaging.

Ben is proud to say that the mission is to give consumers the best of what nature can offer.  At the same time, the company is giving back to the planet with charity projects like their efforts to eradicate litter in the Himalayas with the SPCC, or providing real time, world-leading air pollution data for London-based athletes. These efforts are the embodiment of the brand’s guiding philosophy: appreciating and connecting with nature. Ben: “This ethos was shared by the company’s late namesake, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, who’s family are active partners in the business.”

Breaking down convention

The big challenge for Ben is to change peoples’ minds about energy and turn their heads towards the power of nature and the environment. The Tenzing story is at odds with the codes of the ‘energy’ category.  As Ben explains; “Energy can feel a bit ‘dirty’. The modern collective psyche associates energy with ‘in your face’ extremes, epitomized by monster trucks, bikini-clad women and pyromaniacal motifs. We don’t solely want to offer an alternative to the big-name brands, but also to appeal to those out there who want energy but don’t see themselves as ‘energy’ drinkers.”

According to Ben, the brand is ideally placed to address that challenge. “We broke new ground in creating our own category. Being the first Natural Energy drink, we aren’t shackled by long-standing recipes. We are well aligned with the increasing consumer voice for plant-based products but we’re not just looking to jump on a bandwagon. Our recipe inspiration has ancient roots, and comes from the natural brews of Himalayan mountaineers who achieved arguably the most extreme physical feat in history; climbing Mt. Everest. In that sense, our credentials are there in all aspects of our proposition already.  What marvels of outdoor adventure have been fueled by synthetic ingredients, or tons of sugar?”

Drivers for growth

Ben expands on the (highly) competitive context: “We look at sales and rate of sale first and foremost. Next to the big dogs on shelf,we have to hit the numbers in order to have the opportunity to grow with retailers. As a start-up brand, it can be tricky to be considered when you are shoulder to shoulder with what people have been picking up for 10+ years. So, over and above understanding how our trade marketing is working, we also measure unaided and aided awareness. If Tenzing can earn a place in peoples’ memories, that is a big win for us.” At the same time as jostling for position in the category, Ben also understands the importance of brand building in these early stages: “We need to reach people as often as possible and start to put those neural pathways in place.”

Creative: art & science

Ben sees dual roles for creative to play. “One is more romantic with the creative acting as a vehicle for emotive story telling. It really becomes the material that sets you apart and substantiates your brand beyond the product itself. The other is more neurological. As a challenger brand, it’s extremely important for us to be consistent so we can build salience. Part of my job is to put guidelines in place so we can build a brand with a consistent visual identity and tone of voice. That can be hard in a small, agile company where there is a temptation to continually tweak, especially as we produce a lot of our own content and are so open to criticism.”

In both roles, the creative needs to give consumers the reasons to believe and convince them of the benefits. Ben continues, “Researchwe’ve conducted shows that 9 in 10 Londoners would rather get their energy from plant-based sources, but only 2 in 10 are actually making the switch.”

The channel mix

As a start-up, all activities play a part in giving the brand a jump up in the growth KPIs, but creative is diffused differently across channels. Ben explains, “OOH has been effective in driving rate of sale and awareness. We have an ‘always-on’ strategy for digital so there is always something simmering away. The recent, first ever TV campaign was an amazing opportunity to really introduce ourselves in the UK to a lot of people who wouldn’t have come across us.”

Ben also sees great value in engaging with the Tenzing community via social. “Together with King’s College London we help runners find clean air runs in the city and avoid highly polluted areas.” It’s part of giving back and for Ben, is a great example of the marketing philosophy in action; looking for ways to add value beyond sales driving activities.

The role of research

Ben is clear that research has a specific purpose in helping to drive growth and he would like to do more as the brand develops. For now, the main aim is to get the products out there and allow ‘live research in the field’ to influence decisions, although the team does use research to measure progress against the growth KPIs and to get consumer input into creative development. Ben explains that there is always one check they do on anything that does go out to market, “It must align with our strong brand ethos. We must know that it’s right.”

Current context and looking ahead

There has been commercial impact for the brand during lockdown, but opportunities for growth have also emerged. Ben: “We’ve been working in the last few months to try to nail the e-commerce side of the business with Amazon and the web-shop. We’re also now looking at innovative ways to get our energy to people who aren’t in shops or on the high-street as much. We want to come out of lockdown having pivoted well because people are being less city centre based, but more health-conscious and looking for more health-related products. The future is bright for brands like us.”