She Shines: Eve Weatherburn, Brand Journey

In She Shines, Dina Soliman of BrandFull talks with some of the great minds and personalities that are shaping the world of hospitality today and in the future. We will zoom in, share their insight and celebrate their success stories. What we promise is that they will all be varied, they will be interesting, inspiring and they will all be women. This month we meet Eve Weatherburn, founder of Brand Journey.

I always interview for She Shines in person, but with the lockdown due to Covid19, one has to be flexible and think beyond the usual means. So, in come virtual interviews, and suddenly boundaries did not matter as all we need is a device and an internet connection. I immediately thought of Eve Wetherburn, founder and managing director of Brand Journey, based in Hong Kong. She had been on my list for a while, and I was waiting for her next London visit. I knew Eve since we both worked at IHG. Her role at the time was VP brand management, AMEA. Eve stood out as a leader who is not just competent, but also one with integrity, intellect and genuinely caring about people. Originally from Sydney, she lived all over the world, and had recently made Hong Kong home as she set up her own business Brand Journey.

• Following an amazing international career in Hospitality and Destination Retail with some of the world’s biggest brands, you moved to Hong Kong to found your own business; Brand Journey. Can you tell us more about it?

“I started Brand Journey just over three years ago with a slightly unusual proposition, that focuses on learning. Unlike a traditional brand consultancy, we help businesses learn how to develop their own brands, be it consumer, corporate or their own employer brand. We help them articulate it, get everyone onboard, and bring it to life through practical implementation. Learning is a passion of mine and is actually my background. My undergraduate was in education, before I focused on marketing for a profession, so I naturally like to play in the space of helping others learn. And it just made sense to combine my passion for education with my practical experience of building brands.”

• As a brander myself, I know that brands evolve and take shape over time, just like people. Although our DNA is fixed and is deeply rooted in who we are, our life experiences shapes and forms us as we go through life. How do you manage to translate this philosophy to your clients?

“That is exactly right. Building brands is an ongoing process. It is not something you just do once and finish. Brands evolve over time and that is why I called the business Brand Journey, because building a brand truly is a journey. As a young company ourselves, we also constantly evolve and innovate, for example, this year, we are launching something new; Meraki – the Brand Journey Learning Studio, which has a range of learning programmes targeted at individuals, who want to enhance their brand building and marketing skills.”

“Besides, my approach is never to take a brief, go work in the background and come back with “Ta da”, here is what you should do. We dig deep to get to the insight right. I spend time speaking to the leaders and teams in the business. Sometimes it is a family or owner-operated business, and it is particularly in those cases that I find they already have a strong sense of what sort of brand they want to create. So, we help them crystallise their idea, articulate the concept well, then work with them to bring it into practical execution. This ensures far more ownership as it is coming from within.”

• Makes sense. So with such a strong background in hospitality, do you work exclusively in the sector?

“No, actually we work across many sectors, but we focus on service and experience-led businesses as opposed to product brands. There has to be a service touchpoint that is delivered through people, and quite honestly that is the hard part. You’ve got to bring a team of people across different functions, backgrounds and skills to deliver that one cohesive experience that reflects your own specific brand. In addition to hospitality, we’ve worked with retail destinations and co-working spaces, and we can support businesses in many other areas, such as tourist attractions, property development, healthcare, wellness, as well as schools. Other industries often want to learn from hospitality, as it is seen as the ultimate in customer service and guest experience, so our strong background in the sector really gives us a good standing.”

• It is a unique proposition for a brand agency, do you find it easy for people to grasp the concept?

“I guess people’s natural instinct is to want to place you in a bucket. Many people associate a brand solutions business with a visual identity, but we don’t do anything in the visual creative space. We tend to work with smaller or medium sized companies as bigger businesses have more internal resources. We really integrate with our clients and work with their teams through the process, which includes a series of workshops to develop their brand concept and customer experience design. We don’t see ourselves as an agency or a consultancy, but rather as an extension of our clients’ teams. Another thing that differentiates Brand Journey is that we have been practitioners ourselves. When I speak to business leaders, particularly those with operational background, they quickly work out that I have walked in their shoes before. I led teams who had to get a concept from an idea into a customer-facing proposition. That resonates well.”

• True brands live and breathe through every touchpoint along the customer journey and are embraced by every member of the team. In some respect, a brand frames the culture of the entire organisation. That is not an easy task, and especially from the outside. How do you tackle this particular challenge?

“That is precisely our mission and it is why we work with all functions and as an integral part of the business . I remember we were working with a client where members from the procurement team were joining our brand workshop, and I could see they were thinking ‘Why are we here!’. By the end of the workshop, they had to leave early to catch a plane, and they did not want to go, worrying about what they were going to miss. They could suddenly see how important it is that every person in the business understands the brand and plays their part to protect it and live by its values. I LOVE seeing that A-HA moment, when everyone starts to take ownership and feel they are just as responsible for delivering the brand as the marketing team.”

• Eve, you have always been in a corporate environment. Some believe it to be a scary or at least a bold move to launch on your own. Can you talk us through your thought process and what triggered the move?

“Four five years ago, I had a career break as I was working on my doctorate and it gave me a chance to reflect and think about what I would do next. I wanted to start my own business even earlier when I was still in Australia, so I guess I always had the desire within me. I was just waiting for the right moment and to be clear on where I can add most value. I did not see it as scary or bold, it was just natural. Sometimes I think, ‘Maybe I should be a bit more scared’, but I believe that when you are ready, you will know it. I just knew I wanted to try it, it was my next step.”

• So far we have spoken about Brand Journey, and not so much about Eve. Tell us more about your own personal and professional journey – could you take us through it?

“I always loved travel. My travel bug started at 10 years old, when my parents took my sister and I out of school for three months to travel the world. By the time I finished Uni, I had travelled extensively, and although I graduated with a degree in education, which I Ioved, the travel industry drew me in. I started in a hotel in Sydney as a sales coordinator, then moved to Vancouver for a year on a working visa, where I took every opportunity to travel around. When I came back to Sydney, I worked for Starwood and then Carlson Hotels in a regional role for Asia Pacific. It was my first exposure to Asia, working across Japan, Indonesia, China, and India and I knew then that I wanted to get more experience working in Asia.”

“Then the time came when I felt I needed to stretch my skills and try another industry, so I stepped out and worked for a retail destination property group, but I quickly missed the international side of hospitality. It was then when I left Australia, joining IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) in Singapore, where I worked across Asia Pacific, then the Americas then Europe and the Middle East. After that I worked as VP marketing for Anantara Hotels & Resorts based in Thailand. I was fortunate to gain experience in both; marketing communications as well as the brand development process, allowing me to get deeper into consumer insight and designing the guest experience. Being in the brand team, I got to work with every function across the business, which I really enjoyed. Then after my study break, I spent some time in China working with a luxury retail destination group. It was absolutely amazing, but at the back of my mind I was constantly thinking ‘When am I going to start the business?’. After talking to a couple of people who started their own businesses, I just felt it was the right time, so I moved to Hong Kong and set up Brand Journey.”

• You have lived all over the world, so why did you choose Hong Kong?

“I wanted to continue to live and work in Asia, and having lived in Singapore, Shanghai and Bangkok previously, I thought Hong Kong was a good next choice. Being a very international city, and very accessible to clients around the region, it makes it easier to do business. There is also such a vibrant entrepreneurial scene here and I really enjoy the variety of people I got to meet over the last few years. There is such a sense of energy across the whole region. There is speed and pace with which we work here in Asia that I have not found anywhere else. There is also a huge appetite for trying new things, there is creativity, ideas and a desire to get things done. I just find it exciting and I think there is unlimited growth potential in this part of the world, which is why I choose to be based in Asia.”

• You have such energy and enthusiasm. Where do you find your inspiration?

“I get inspired by others who have a great idea or like to try something new. I’ve been inspired by many of my team over the years. On one occasion, two managers in my team came up asking me for extra time and a small budget for our monthly team meeting. They wanted to lead a brand engagement exercise, which they conceptualised completely off their own initiative. They kept it a secret until the team meeting day and it was a great brand learning exercise racing around Singapore in teams. It is 6 years later and I still mention it as an example of creativity, ownership and initiative. They inspired me.”

• Do you have any words of wisdom or thoughts you want to share?

“I think everyone you meet, and everywhere you work, will be for a good reason and it will come back full circle. I don’t believe in coincidence. I think keeping an open mind and not always having everything planned out, helps you find the career path that is a true fit for you.”

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