Feature

Profile: Engineering the future

Adam Rostom, international marketing director at Dyson, has a fine balancing act to maintain with his brand.

Profile: Engineering the future

To step into Dyson's London showroom-cum-PR hub is to stumble into something akin to a modern sculpture exhibition. Strange metallic objects emerge from the floor, lining the room like a multicoloured mechanised army. No one seems more put off by the scene than the brand's international marketing director, Adam Rostom.

A self-confessed 'geek' with a PhD in biochemistry from Oxford, Rostom feels far more comfortable among the bustle of the 350 engineers working in Dyson's research and development facility in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Yet, for someone who clearly feels ill at ease with marketing cliches, the 34-year-old wields a CV that most in the industry would envy.

Rostom began his career as a graduate trainee at Unilever, working on brands such as Knorr, before jumping ship in 2003 to a, then little- known, soft-drinks brand by the name of Innocent. He spent three years there as marketing manager while the company went from strength to strength, then left for Dyson.

Rising rapidly from his first role as UK marketing director, Rostom now oversees all international marketing, communications and digital activity. Yet he is remarkably dismissive of his part in maintaining a successful brand. 'We are only as good as our last product, and we'd never trade off our name - the pressure is always on us to come up with better machines,' he insists.

Overturning convention

Most marketers will enjoy a close relationship with, or even oversee, their brand's research and development department. Innovations are based upon months, if not years, of market research, all with the aim of discovering that one customer insight that may drive a commercial return.

For Rostom, the situation is different.

He stands on the sidelines as the Dyson technicians reinvent mundane objects such as vacuum cleaners and hand-driers, before handing him the task of taking the product to market.

However, Rostom insists this is a good way to operate. 'Other companies are more predictable and you get lots of products that are similar, whereas our approach allows us to create challenging new products that are genuinely interesting,' he says. 'We look at problems with products and find solutions; my main role is to make sure what we are developing is commercial.'

Another unusual aspect of his job is that traditional marketing and advertising take a back seat to PR. This has always been the case, thanks to the high profile of company founder Sir James Dyson. Rostom is unapologetic in his assertion that 'PR is the backbone of everything we do', and helps maintain a high level of brand awareness between product launches.

'We have a great story, and PR amplifies that to the world,' he says. 'With marketing, we can't be on TV all the time running campaigns all year round. Rather, it needs to drive spikes of awareness.'

With awareness of Dyson so comprehensive, one of the biggest changes Rostom has implemented is stopping the brand talking about itself, in favour of talking more directly about its range. 'When I got to the company there was a lot of brand advertising going on,' he says. 'But if everyone at a party knows who you are, to go around and reintroduce yourself is probably wasteful.'

From a marketing perspective, Rostom's main focus has been to explain the benefits and functions of Dyson's latest innovations, including its regularly updated vacuum cleaner range, Air Blade hand-driers and most recent launch, the Air Multiplier bladeless fan.

Yet by 2008, Rostom had become concerned that consumers recognised Dyson predominantly as a manufacturer of remarkable machines of which they understood little. To redress this, he made his most influential decision to date: to use the founder in its advertising.

Since first introducing cyclonic separation vacuum cleaner technology to UK consumers in 1992, Sir James Dyson has been the public face of the brand, much like Sir Richard Branson at Virgin and Sir Stelios Haji- Ioannou at easyJet. Rostom felt that directly featuring the founder in the ads would be the best way to transform brand awareness into sales.

'James is still heavily involved in the engineering and has a great understanding of what it is we do, so who better to communicate complicated technological information to people? James is great at taking a complex idea and distilling it down into something simple,' says Rostom.

Dyson, who in March said he plans to step down as company chairman this year, has featured prominently in ads, created in-house, which explain the benefits of the brand's ball-technology vacuum cleaners. The ads grabbed the attention of consumers and the industry alike, but Rostom believes there is a danger of overusing the famed inventor.

'James' role in advertising is to explain key technologies,' he says. 'When there are big announcements that need explaining, I definitely think we should use him. He's our brand ambassador, day in, day out, but with TV ads I think we should keep James back for the moments when we have something big to announce.'

For the rest of the year, Rostom's priority will be Dyson's fans and hand-driers. The former, resembling giant magnifying glasses (albeit without lenses), were launched last October to a global fanfare of media coverage. However, Rostom claims that for all the PR and advertising support, the most effective form of marketing has been getting consumers to interact with the machines first-hand.

So what wizardry should we expect next from Dyson? Rostom remains tight- lipped, remarking only that the engineers are working on some 'very exciting' projects. However, he insists that whatever the brand produces next will deliver genuine customer benefit, rather than being quirky for the sake of it.

'What is exciting about this company is we know what we do - to use technology to make products better - and will carry on with that for as long as we can,' he adds. 'The expression of the brand isn't just a figment of the marketer's imagination. We have so much product to amplify that the future of the brand is defined by the products we release.'

Like all good scientists, Rostom feels far more comfortable in the laboratory than the boardroom, but he is blessed with a brand that is now established globally. His biggest challenge will be to ensure that consumers continue to view Dyson as a producer of relevant and practical tools, rather than a manufacturer of needlessly madcap gadgets.

INSIDE WORK
2000-2002: Management trainee, Unilever
2002-2003: Brand innovation manager, Unilever Arabia
2003-2006: Marketing manager, Innocent
2006-present: UK marketing director, rising to international marketing
director, Dyson

OUTSIDE WORK
Hobbies: Running, triathlons
Favourite gadget: Squeezebox radio
Favourite brand: Modern Toss
Favourite destination: France - for the cheese