This month’s interview: Stephen Smith

The CEO of 1Above was the man behind the phenomenal marketing campaign of Steinlager Pure in international markets. Today he’s applying his marketing expertise to an exciting all-new lifestyle recovery product.


NZB: How did you become involved with 1Above. What attracted you to the company?

STEPHEN: I became involved through networks. The timing was great as I was tired of the corporate world. It had been very good to me but it was time to do something with a little more risk; somewhere where you can truly make a difference everyday. 

The attraction was that I thought the business could always be bigger and more compelling than just a ‘jet lag’ product. But the first job was to settle that side of the business down as it had had no real leadership for two years when I joined. 

Now that our core business is stable and growing we are in a position to think, and be, bigger.


NZB: What was your business background prior to taking on the role at 1Above? What skills and attributes did you bring to the company?

STEPHEN: Although I was at Lion for 15-plus years I’ve always been involved in start-ups outside of corporate life. So I could bring some actual experience from a start up culture. Outside of that, the skills and experience I developed while at Lion is now proving invaluable. 

I held senior roles in both sales and marketing and sat on executive teams on both sides of the Tasman. I’ve run teams in excess of 100 people but also smaller teams and always had high engagement. 

I’ve also learnt about the need to make the hard calls around people and parts of the business that might be high risk or not working. We’ve halved our costs and significantly reduced cash burn since I’ve been in the role and now have great capability in the team.


NZB: What marketing milestones have you made with the 1Above brand in recent times? 

STEPHEN: The most significant milestone was repositioning the brand from just a ‘jet lag’ product only for consumption on a plane, to something that you should consume for your whole journey. That has opened up the occasion that we are relevant for. 

As a result we’ve seen a rejuvenation of the brand in core markets, with 45 percent growth. 

We are now launching an everyday recovery product, after consumers telling us that 1Above was the best travel recovery product they’d ever used. 

Both product lines are growing. We will double the size of the business this year.  


NZB: Tell us more about the lifestyle recovery product. What is the marketing strategy behind it? Do you want it to ultimately outsell the original 1Above?

STEPHEN: 1Above has always seen itself as wellness innovators. As I said, we decided to launch this new product through the feedback from our travel recovery fans. They’ve been telling us for years that its being used for more than just travel – but for when people are feeling tired, stressed and sometimes hungover! 

This product is a low sugar functional beverage with eight vitamins, six electrolytes, plus Pycnogenol – a natural bark extract clinically proven over 40 years to help power and protect the body. It’s not positioned as a sports product but will be targeting those ‘go getters’ in life – the ‘makers and shakers’ who struggle to find a beverage that appeals to them and don't want 14 teaspoons of sugar. 

I think it will outsell our travel product because the size of the market is significantly bigger and the occasion is more frequent. 


NZB: What will be the biggest hurdles to overcome in establishing the lifestyle product? 

STEPHEN: Our biggest challenge will be driving awareness and trial to the levels we would like to. After working with marketing budgets in the millions at Lion, here we are working with just thousands – so capital is constrained. 

The reality is that only a handful of innovation is truly successful. We need our consumers to know what makes us special and different, and that really lies in our positioning and exclusive bark extracts.. 

Once consumers connect with that we’re confident they’ll keep coming back. 


NZB: What have been some of the most valuable lessons from your time spent marketing brands internationally?

STEPHEN: Sometimes it’s about timing. You can resereach concepts to death and get good results but sometimes, in reality, ideas or concepts are either ahead of their time or the research was wrong. 

I think research is misused as a safety blanket when a lot of the experience exists internally through good heads in sales or just spending more time with customers. 

Also, it’s much easier to build brands off existing master brands than spend large amounts of money developing all new brands. There are always mistakes in assuming all consumers are the same, even if they are close in proximity. 

We know that Australians and Americans think and behave very differently to Kiwis – therefore imagine how different consumers in Asia behave? 


NZB: How have you addressed the ‘anti-sugar’ issue, and what feedback have you been receiving on both the original and the new lifestyle products?

STEPHEN: We offer low sugar products, which are one quarter of the sugar content of market leading brands. We went in that direction because no sugar means you need to either use stevia, which has a very bad taste profile, or use chemical artificial sweetners like aspartame which has been linked to health issues. 

So we believe its about the right levels of sugar as opposed to a no sugar position. 

Consumers need the right energy and taste is paramount for consumer choice. It's early days but we think we have a great balance of taste and function. 


NZB: What other plans do you have for the 1Above brand?

STEPHEN: We will now broaden our thinking to become the drivers of smart wellness innovation, which will become the must-have tools for busy and productive lives. So we will enter into new categories beyond beverages and offer more innovation using these incredible, exclusive natural bark extracts. 

Its time Kiwis stopped supporting large multinationals who cannot see beyond the global brand strategies they are developing without consideration for local needs. 

Surely as Kiwis we see beyond a sole reliance on sports personalities as a key driver of purchase behaviour – we need to dig deeper on these products and ensure they are truly supporting a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

That's our goal and a legacy we wish to leave with our products.     

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