Humble nature gives Unilever's James Brennan the edge #NxtGen

Marketing reveals its list of 10 Nxt Gen marketers. Here, Unilever's James Brennan and his mentor discuss how his open nature has lead to success.

Brennan (left): giant, genuine, ginger
Brennan (left): giant, genuine, ginger

James Brennan, 27, Unilever

Senior global brand manager, Axe/Lynx

Describe yourself in three words.

Giant, genuine, ginger.

What skills do you think are most important for getting ahead in marketing today?

Optimism, persistence and creativity. Though I think the power of instinct should not be underestimated either – if it feels right, it often is (and vice versa).

What attracted you to marketing?

The variety that the role offers. Each project is like running your own business in terms of the different facets of responsibility. From product innovation and business cases to advertising, the marketing remit covers it all and I enjoy the diversity.

What are your biggest marketing challenges?

Creating products and communications that can efficiently travel to more than 90 markets globally. But more importantly, doing this in a way that still feels exciting and relevant to the individual guys we’re talking to the world over.

What are the biggest trends affecting your business?

The trend toward local, niche, artisan brands would certainly be up there. Axe/Lynx is the biggest male deodorant in the world. A challenge presented by this kind of ubiquity is that we have to continuously reinvent and reinvigorate to stay loved.

What are the traits that make your boss Tomas Marcenaro such an inspiration?

Everyone in the room’s opinion is equal. No matter how junior or senior, you have a voice that is listened to. Equally important, I think, is his near-obsession with doing what is right by the consumer.

What is the best piece of advice he has given you?

Don’t put off tough conversations. Follow your heart/gut. Spend some time debating, but then make a decision and get on with it.

Tomas Marcenaro, mentor

Global vice-president for Axe/Lynx, Unilever

What was the first thing you noticed about James?

His size and good spirit. He is really a very good person.

What made James stand out among the young marketers you work with?

Three qualities: his consumer sensitivity, his intellectual power and his use of the language. He can translate a consumer observation into a valuable and resonating insight.

What could others, wanting to get on in marketing today, learn from James?

He is humble, does not believe he has all the answers, is always open to seeing new things – and, by doing so, understands the consumers in a deeper way.

What attributes does he have that mean he deserves his place in the Power 100 Next Generation?

He has a strong intellectual power and consumer’s sensitivity and, when it comes to leadership, he knows how to lead and be led. He listens, digests, forms his point of view and invigorates teams
toward it.

What has been your major piece of advice to him?

Think about consumers first, customer second and Unilever third. If whatever we are discussing does not work for any of those three groups, then the business is not sustainable.

What training do you think is most important for young marketers today?

It is essential to learn how to translate a consumer insight into a business opportunity. Of course, media training and how to engage with consumers are also important, but they come after you have a good business idea.

What’s the secret to nurturing young talent?

Listen to them.