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Tim Pethick - exposes himself

Tim Pethick
exposes himself
by Doris Ho
May 30, 2005

The fruit, they say, doesn't fall far from the tree. The real story behind nudie ("naked as nature intended," completely bare of preservatives and additives, with "a day's fruit in every bottle") is a simple one about a man with a passion for fruit and brands, who then went out to create a synergy of both passions.

Tall Tim (at two meters) or Tim Pethick, founder of nudie drinks in Australia, hails from more conventional senior management positions (in companies such as Looksmart, Britannica and Microsoft MSN) and a background in accounting. But his hugely popular national beverage brand took only two years to catch on.

 
 

"When I first thought of starting a new brand and business, the Australian market, especially the food industry, was dominated by big traditional commercial entities. There wasn't much flexibility or creative space to build brands," recalls Pethick. "But I wanted to demonstrate that brand creation is important and possible, and the best way to do it was to create one on my own. I saw an opportunity in the market, and went for it."

What's the appeal of nudie? Apparently everything from the cheeky nudie icon and chatty labels to the highly visible delivery vans that zip around town. The real secret behind Pethick's success in building up the nudie brand has been his ability to make nudie feel real, personal and sincere to its customers.

"I'm a huge believer of putting real people behind brands. When customers talk to traditional brands, they know they are talking more to an organization. We're really focused on making an individual impact and connection with each customer at every touch point. After all, it's much easier to build a brand when it has a relationship with customers."

"The vans, the Nudie hot air balloon, our characters…these are not just ways to show that that we're around, but ways by which we consistently draw customers into our brand experience."

So what is it that drives Pethick to crush fruit?

"Customers, absolutely…" he says. "I've never met Sir Richard Branson but I share one of his points of view: customers are so often under-served and not respected by traditional brands. I want our customers to have an absolutely delightful experience with our brand. That's why nudie has never been set up as a fruit juice brand, but [instead as] an inspiration brand.

Pethick eschews conventional advertising for what he judges to be a more meaningful and personal dialogue with his customers. Customers are invited to have high involvement in the evolution of the brand.

"Our every effort is at keeping the conversation going with our customers," he explains. "You get the most amazing response from customers when you listen to them and get them involved. We try and make a very individual connection with our customers. It helped the brand's customers feel they were part of creating the brand."

For example, nudie school orders come in the form of petitions that students can sign, declaring that "I want my nudie" in school because they "keep us healthy and make us better at our school work. (They are much better than fizzy drinks too!)" This gets the customer to speak the nudie language and immerses him in the brand as an involved participant. Customers also get to suggest new flavors or vote for their favorite nudies. Return policies even include a personal promise to do better.

Critics accuse Nudie of being a copy of the Innocent brand of fresh fruit juices from the UK. Of these remarks, Tim is nonplussed. "I'll be the first to admit that I draw inspiration from brands I've observed in the different markets I've been in the last 25 years. But I don't think you can say that nudie is a complete copy of any one or two brands"

"I'm biased, but personally, I think we've done a better job as a brand than Innocent, or even the Naked brand of juices from the US, whom we've been compared to as well," he continues. "That's simply because the intention was never to create nudie as just a juice brand, which they are, but I always wanted nudie to be an inspiration brand that would be able to stretch to other categories."

Although nudie has received recognition in its short life, there have been low points as well. In its two years of operations, nudie has had not one, but two fires. The second fire in 2004 burnt down the factory, forcing production to halt for six weeks.

Demonstrating true nudie spunk, Pethick and his team bounced back with a new factory in lightning speed. In appreciation of the fire fighters, they released a special "fire fighter nudie" and offered free juices to all fire fighters at their headquarters in Sydney.

Reflecting on the incident, Pethick says, "Let's all agree that the key message is: we were in a fire and we came back, and we're always going to be around."

The brand may always be around, but the same is not true for Pethick. In February 2005, he made a surprising announcement to step down as Chief Executive Officer at nudie.

About his recent decision, the ex-CEO is refreshingly frank. "While the brand is going strong, I'm beginning to be too involved in operational issues in keeping the wheels turning; which to me, is less enjoyable. I would like to concentrate on growing the brand."

"In addition, we recently introduced new investors in the juice business, and their view of brand building is different from mine," he says. "I foresee that there would be clashes if I remained too involved in business operations."

There are already plans to extend nudie into new categories such as skin care, and Pethick is looking into new and innovative ways of stretching the brand across new boundaries. Or not. According to Pethick, creating new brands entirely should not be ruled out as a possibility.

So what will life after nudie be like for the man who loves fruit?

"I'll still be around and ‘Tall Tim' will most certainly be around," he says, referring to his iconographic status as founder. "Inevitably nudie will be a little different. The major challenge is in maintaining the right voice and approach between the brand and customers.

"I've appointed myself as the Brand Policeman for nudie, especially in overseeing the customer service team on how to respond to and handle customer feedback," he says. "We need to constantly be on the look out for how business operations impact the brand and the customer."

In the meantime, he braces himself for his next challenge, which is of a somewhat different nature. "I think the hardest thing is in letting go," he says, although he admits that "entrepreneurs are made differently—it's hard for us to relax." This may have special resonance since nudie is Pethick's first independent business venture.

If his restlessness is anything to go by, we may be seeing more of Pethick (as Tall Tim or in other forms) much sooner than we think.

 
  
Doris Ho is principal consultant at Sprout Brands, a brand consultancy specializing in brand development and extension in Asia. Email info@sproutbrands.com for more on branding issues in China and other parts of Asia.
     
 
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