Mat Braddy: 'The stronger the story is, the stronger everything in marketing gets'

Since launching in the UK in 2006, online takeaway service Just Eat has become a widely cited challenger brand success story. Implementing a challenger brand strategy to compliment an already disruptive product offer, Mat Braddy joined as CMO, and self-proclaimed 'papa' in 2009, and has overseen five years of consecutive growth for the company, which now accounts for 11% of the UK delivery market. As a marketeer and brand builder, he’s a firm believer in the power of a brand having something to rebel against, and the focus, determination and energy this gives a fast-growing business. We talk to Mat at their London headquarters a few months after their £1.5Bn floatation  - the biggest UK technology float for eight years.

So, tell us how you arrived at the company and the state it was in when you arrived?

I was working at Toptable, which was also a restaurant aggregator and I didn't want to really do food and restaurants again so although I'd been recommended to them, I was initially hesitant to meet the guys at Just Eat. But when I met the team, I just fell in love with them.  There was just so much energy and passion for what they were going to do, it was infectious. So, when I got here they had done the basics of digital marketing. They had a guy that understood their SEO, they had an agency on board, they were looking at ECRM solutions for e-mail and that was about it in terms of the marketing department.

I’m the sort of person that just likes to methodically get all these things right before anything else.

But what they had done is they were brilliant at sales. So, David Butress, who's now our CEO, was the MD at the time and previously the Sales Director for the UK, had come from Coke and really understood the benefit of high street branding and it was the intention at this point to do television, which at the time I thought was insane. I was a digital marketeer thinking the e-mails aren't very good, the PPC (Pay-per-click) strategy's not great, and I'm the sort of person that just likes to methodically get all these things right before anything else. And our CEO at the time quite rightly said no, we need to get out there, we need to own this market, we need to be the thing people think about when they think about take-away before someone else comes along and becomes the thing.

You talked about the energy and passion of the team in those early days here. Tell us about that?

We were a small company. We didn't have that much money. But we were a lot of fun, like a party, and the founders weren't around to tell us what they wanted us to do all the time, so we could relax. So from the start we've always had a very strong element of play. It's really in our DNA.

That playfulness really suited us and that’s really informed the direction of the brand ever since.

So, we started to play with our customers on social media and it fitted us like a glove. We had a great deal of fun. We never did the, hey, it's Friday night, please order a pizza post that our big brand American rivals would always do but we would satirise that. If we were behind on orders we'd be like, help, marketing department, we need orders.  You know, we'd do it in a fun way. And that's really the secret of success with social media content, is playing with the customers. So, with social media we flew. We really flew. That playfulness really suited us and that's really informed the direction of the brand ever since.

Had you had big advertising budgets would you have done things differently do you think?

It had to be an inside out process for us. We didn't have the money for focus groups and I'm not really a focus groupie kind of guy.  So, really it was taking the fantastic energy of the company and projecting that outwards and it wasn't really deliberate. It was the nature of social media that drew us to it. We could see what we liked and didn't like from other brands in social media. We liked the brands that were having fun and sharing.  We didn't like the brands that were using it as an ad platform. It was our playtime but it ended up being one of our core activities because we realised we were getting more and more shares, more and more fans. We got a million plus fans in a year and we didn't have to pay for that many of them and we could just talk to them every day. So, instead of spending all this money we can earn our brand.

So many brands end up spending a fortune trying to build emotional engagement but it doesn’t always work.

The bigger guys can't play. Brands like Dominos are boring. They do some interesting stuff in PR where they pretend to have drones and stuff but their television adverts are adverts. So many brands end up spending a fortune trying to build emotional engagement but it doesn't always work and they end up with conventional adverts.

And that then became your social media strategy?

You couldn't really buy social media at this point. You can now because you can do promoted tweets etc…  but at that point they didn't have that promoted model. So, for a year there we could just earn our brand.  We could get out every day, do some brilliant content.  Some of it would be shared, some of it would be rubbish and if it was rubbish, it didn't get seen so never mind. So we end up hiring people to do content. At the same time it became a customer service channel. People would reach out to us via Facebook to give us feedback on orders and maybe problems they were having.  So, that was the interesting thing for the marketing department to deal with. Facebook was the marketing department's domain, as is Twitter, but it's got all these customers dealing with it. So, then we had to develop an approach to customer service via social media in tandem with our customer service teams.  So, all this stuff was earned through hard work.

It’s almost a failure that you have to spend money on marketing.

I'm not a huge advocate of trying to get our marketing budget up year in, year out - I shouldn’t say that in case our CFO sees it. He'll use that next time I'm asking for more budget! But for me, It's almost a failure that you have to spend money on marketing. If the product's that good and the story is that good, it can tell itself.

So shifting onto the Just Eat story and brand strategy, it’s something that’s slowly evolved during your time here. Can you tell us a bit about that evolution as you've grown?

Well initially we were just challenging the old way of doing things. We were challenging that you should be using the telephone to order a take-away, so on the one hand the dry answer to that is we were challenging the telephone. But at that time, and because we were an entrepreneurial company, we had that aggressive and rebellious energy that really drives a business forward. But we thought if we're rebels, what can we rebel against? And if we're for having food delivered to you at home tonight, we must be against you cooking it yourself. So we worked out that what we're really challenging is cooking. We don't want you to cook, we want you to order a meal. And that really changed the whole communication strategy of everything into being anti-cooking.

How did you express that?

So everything changed really. The stickers changed.  You've seen our stickers all over London and all over the country and all over Europe probably. It's baked into our sales team’s DNA and stickers all over the high streets was the biggest source of branding in the early days That's earned.  They're not costing very much. It costs a lot of effort. A guy has got to clean the window, ask permission from the owner and persuade them to stick it up and you've got to replicate that across tens of thousands of restaurants.

So we changed the stickers to say, don't cook, ironically, on the front of the restaurant. Suddenly we were on their side, trying to ban cooking. We launched a magazine to the restaurants at this time where we would then kind of give them a monthly newsletter on what was going on with the attempts to ban cooking and what we'd done to ban cooking this month. Just making it playful, the conversation we were having with them.

It made everyone in the business part of the marketing department.

It gave us a story that we could play with in social media. Rather than just general playfulness, there was a mission to it and the public were really responding to it and it was just a hell of a lot of fun. It made everyone in the business part of the marketing department. It made it more of a movement. It also made us a lot more confident as a marketing department and as a company. We'd stopped toddling and we really started running as a teenager and then growth followed, which ultimately is what we're trying to do.

And how has the brand evolved today? The brand is taking a stand against ‘the daily grind’, how do you define that?

So, we loved doing Don't Cook Just Eat. It was our personality as a company and we’d never won any awards for anything and suddenly we were winning lots of marketing awards. But really, although people were amused by what we were doing, nobody really was going to ban cooking. And of course we weren't really trying to ban cooking, it was just a brilliant brand story for a company that's selling food that's been cooked for you already.

You’re not going to hire 1,000 rebels... it would be a nightmare to manage.

Also the company changed. It's now 1,500 people, so the rebellious aggressive let's go build a global company spirit naturally gets a little bit diluted into having lots of professionals around that know what they're doing…  It's just natural. You're not going to hire 1,000 rebels... it would be a nightmare to manage. So, we realised that we hadn't really started a movement and if we're an inside out brand and the outside of a brand no longer reflects the inside, then let's get back in a room, work on it and see what the inside looks like now. So, ultimately we realised that not cooking and using Just Eat is a life hack. It is quite small compared to winning the lottery or going on holiday, but it gives you a disproportionately happy feeling. It’s the emotional truth of the take-away when you get home, you close the door, you strip off your work clothes, you put your sloppies on and then the take-away is part of that, aah. You’ve beaten the daily grind. You’re not cooking, or cleaning, you are relaxing and having an enjoyable evening.

We want Just Eat to be a solution to the grind.

We've all got a daily grind.  We're not going to try and ban it because we realise, from trying to ban cooking, that we can't ban the daily grind, but we can hack it. We want Just Eat to be a solution to the grind. It should be as relaxing and stress-free as it possibly can be. We're trying to help you have a great evening in and beat the daily grind. So, then we started playing with lots of other scenarios that give you that feeling and ultimately that led to the new campaign which is mini-fist-pump.

Why is storytelling so important to you as a brand owner?

Storytelling has become a bit of a buzzword, but it’s also become so important and has shown me how unimportant digital stats can be. When we started getting stronger and stronger as storytellers all of those digital stats just magically improved too. The stronger the story is, the stronger everything in marketing gets. Our approach and success to google or content or social media is because they are all singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the story. I believe you can learn as much from Hollywood film directors as there are lessons that you can learn from a SEO conference about how to optimize a click.

As a marketer, I want to be Peter Jackson.

I love the Lord of the Rings films and the books growing up. Peter Jackson knocked it out of the park with that trilogy and he's made them with love. He's a storyteller. We all respond to the love that Peter Jackson and his collaborators have poured into those movies with a response of love from ourselves. As a marketer, I want to be Peter Jackson. I want to be able to stand next to my work and say, yes, I've done the job for my shareholders and got lots of growth and made a ton of money for them but we did it on our own terms and we told our story and we are who we are.

How do you measure the brand’s success?

My top metric is spontaneous unprompted brand awareness because ultimately the winner is the brand. That's the first thing that comes out of your mouth when someone mentions your category.  If I mention sports shoes, you say Nike. If I mention online book retailers, it's Amazon. Search engines it’s Google. The first thing that comes out of your mouth is the autopilot thing you're going to use. You're just automatically going to pick up a Coke or go to Google today. We want people to be almost not even noticing Just Eat. We want it to be so baked into their autopilot because we're doing such a useful good job for them, that it's not even a conscious thought.


Mat Braddy on keeping a brand's momentum.

  1. Internal culture. Energy and passion that the people that work for you in all parts of the business feel is what you need to tap into to tell great stories, so make it a fantastic place to work.

  2. Play with your customers. Don’t assume consumers are always serious, after all we all like to play.

  3. Don’t be led by data. KPIs are only clues to what’s going on, be led by your experience and try to tell your own stories.