Melissa Littler is marketing and PR director at luxury private sales etailer BrandAlley UK
Melissa Littler is marketing and PR director at luxury private sales etailer BrandAlley UK
A view from Melissa Littler

The value of a big idea is a lesson all marketers should learn from the agency world

My career started on the graduate scheme of Prudential and continued in corporate ad agencies wor­king with blue chip businesses such as Lloyds TSB, InterContinental Hotels and Barclays.

Then I threw caution to the wind and became a founding member of BrandAlley in 2007. I played an integral role in the launch of the now much-copied, private-sales business model in the UK and helped lead the management buyout in 2013.

Bringing an agency background to a new online retail company was initially invaluable, because when you work in an agency no problem can be insurmountable. I felt empowered, inspired and, for the first time in my career, making decisions that I wholeheartedly believed in, without being hampered by the restriction of processes, resource shortages and ideas culled by rounds of amendments.

Agency employees are some of the best, most inspiring people I have worked with; fiercely brainy planners, open-minded creatives and client-service warriors. All budding marketing gurus should do at least one stint in an agency to fully appreciate the value of a big idea.

The three parallel challenges I faced when launching BrandAlley UK were educating people about the private-sales shopping model, establishing a brand and building a customer database – no small task. To overcome the challenges in a marketing career, aspiring business leaders should consider:

A vision for the brand. Always have a vision of where you want to take your brand, where it sits in the market and why. Stop and sense-check everything to make sure the brand is taking the correct direction. You are usually managing many people’s expectations; be prepared to say "no", challenge and be patient to fulfil your ideas.

Really know your audience. Recession has changed the way people shop and as the economy slowly recovers there are no signs of customers returning to their old ways. Know your audience, but also know the economic arena in which your business is playing, and be realistic. Consumers are savvier than ever – what they may do today might change tomorrow. You’re only as good as yesterday’s results.

Bigger is better. Always strive for bigger and better initiatives to drive a business; innovate, don’t follow. We’ve always performed like a big brand in our ambitions when we are still relatively small. Not only does this keep the business moving forward, but it also always keeps your job interesting and challenging.

Love your numbers. Anyone who thinks marketing is just about creative should stop and think long and hard. Data drives your insight and decisions. Creative is the cherry on top that brings it all to life. For every piece of activity you run, you need to know your numbers inside-out, because if you don’t understand these, you can’t put a robust strategy in place to grow the business.

Give it time. Marketing requires a broad understanding across areas including brand, data, online, events, creative and social. You need time to get to grips with all of these, so don’t get frustrated if you haven’t moved up as quickly as you’d like. Every project will bring a different set of challenges that you need experience to foresee and manage.

Be open. If you want to get into marketing, don’t be fussy as to which role you accept, just get a foot on the ladder – old advice, but it’s true. Be open to the types of roles you try or the industries you work in, as it will all count and build your communication and project management skills. You’ll be surprised how applicable and transferable these core skills are across industries.