After an accidental segue into marketing while studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Auckland, Alex Williams’ career has led to her becoming Digital Marketing Manager at Fonterra.
What Alex Williams loved about her university marketing papers at compared to that of other disciplines was the ability to work in grey space. She loved being able to express consumer insight in different ways and be flexible with her creativity.
“It made the ads I was subconsciously consuming day to day come to life and become more of an art form than something that was trying to sell me a thing,” she says. “I’m still a major ad nerd – I get so inspired by seeing the creativity in the marketing community.”
Alex kick-started her marketing career with Fonterra’s graduate Business Programme, which is designed to move graduates into different roles across the co-operative over the course of two years. Graduates finish the programme having held three to four different roles, giving their skill-set considerable breadth.
“I was lucky to be able to spend time in digital marketing supporting our Farmer shareholders, FMCG working under the Anchor NZ brand, and Fonterra corporate brand management roles over this time,” says Alex. “Since then, I’ve been working under NZMP, Fonterra’s B2B arm of the co-operative, which takes our dairy ingredients to the world.”
Alex spends a lot of her time thinking about the customer journey, in particular bringing the offline and online elements of it together. She says this is an important consideration, no matter what discipline of marketing you’re in.
This up-and-comer also loves the human-to-human approach to marketing, something that’s inherent in consumer-facing marketing but has typically been lost in the B2B space. “I enjoy a challenge, so it’s been great trying to find new ways to humanise our marketing comms recently,” she says. “One approach from the team that I loved was sending snack bar samples to webinar attendees so that they could taste and experience the ingredient application while learning about snack bar trends in market.”
Alex started her current role just as the Covid-19 pandemic started. Working in digital, she saw first-hand the acceleration of this realm as the brand’s sales teams around the world leaned heavily on her team to get messages out to customers in less traditional ways.
“Fonterra has been hugely supportive of developing my career to date,” she says. “There are always opportunities to try something new, and given our global reach, there are even plenty of opportunities to work with Fonterra overseas.”
Working on the NZMP activation for Gulfood 2020 was a standout experience for Alex. It involved activating at the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade exhibition, and being located in the UAE, it gave her her first taste of the level at which Fonterra operates in the global ingredients market.
“It’s fantastic to see the role Fonterra plays in providing access to affordable dairy nutrition in markets where this has typically been limited,” she says.
As part of the Anchor NZ team, Alex also had the privilege of leading Fonterra’s activation at the Anchor AIMS Games as naming sponsor.
Being a young marketer comes with its challenges, and Williams says proving you’re an expert in your field beyond on-the-job experience can be tough. “I’m really passionate about marketers receiving credit in the workplace – that’s why I’m a huge fan of the Marketing Association’s initiative to create professional certifications, giving marketers micro-credentials issued by the University of Canterbury.”
Lending her advice to other young marketers, Alex says don’t underestimate your value, and find good marketers to learn from. “Focus on your foundation. Don’t feel as if you have to be working on award-winning campaigns straight out of the gate. In my first role, I was purely focused on learning how to use a CMS platform and marketing automation software, and that foundation has carried me through every job I’ve had since then. Build that foundation and the rest will follow.”
Looking forward, Alex would like to take a skills-based approach to her career plan, plugging the gaps she needs to be a well-rounded marketer. “This means I’ll be taking a step back from purest digital while maintaining my digital nous as an important skill set for all marketing roles as that landscape continues to change. In 10 years time, I’d love to be leading a team. I credit my achievements to date to great people managers, so I look forward to supporting other young marketers to achieve great things.”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.