Career Journey with Marketing Leaders – Episode 6 with Forest Kwok
Welcome to the sixth edition of ‘Career Journey with Marketing Leaders’, where we sit down with CMOs and Senior Marketing Leaders from the CMO & Marketing Director Forum.
Each publication will ask them five questions about their career journey to date, greatest campaign, biggest failure, challenges facing CMOs and the advantages they hope to take in 2023.
I’m delighted to welcome our next guest, Forest Kwok, the Chief Marketing Officer at Vitl.
Alex Marriner: Tell us a little about your marketing career and journey to where you are today at Vitl.
Forest Kwok: Funnily enough, I aimed to work in marketing since I was quite young, but I took a long-winded route to get there. While some might think graduating with a Psychology degree from Oxford would easily get you into the field, it proved more difficult during the financial crisis. I ended up settling with being a strategy consultant with the likes of PwC, Javelin Group, and Accenture for the first few years of my career. I had to fight hard to avoid falling into HR or technology consulting. Eventually, I networked my way into working with big retail names such as Tesco, Monsoon Accessorize, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lego, and more, before jumping in-house to run marketing and commerce functions for startups.
I worked at Plum Guide to lead their performance marketing for five years, during which we achieved extraordinary growth from paid to organic. The journey was a roller coaster ride. We tried everything to hyper-grow the business: testing out many ideas, failing plenty along the way, but ultimately building ourselves up to becoming a globally recognised travel brand. An experience like this forged me to be the marketer I am today: data-first, always a champion of testing, and obsessed about hustle and execution.
I am currently the CMO of Vitl – the vitamin company with the ambitious goal of helping people feel 100% every day through science and personalised nutrition. This is going to be exciting, so watch this space.
AM: Tell us about a campaign that you’re proud of.
FK: This is less of a marketing campaign but more of something that we built up over a period of time: growing SEO at Plum Guide. When I joined, we were hardly ranking anywhere. Our site architecture wasn’t right, we didn’t have the right content, and our domain authority was poor. The aim was to get us ranking on our main generic key terms that we would otherwise be paying a lot of money for on paid search. Early efforts of working with SEO agencies were not easy – you rarely get what you need from someone who doesn’t really understand the business.
Nonetheless, after plenty of effort in technical setup, content, and backlinks, we significantly grew the channel. We now rank top 3 for key search terms from “London/Paris luxury vacation rentals” to more upper-funnel search terms such as “safest places to stay in Paris” and so on. Over my time there, SEO sales went up by 50x, with thousands of keywords ranking in the top 3 positions, and it became one of the company’s significant channels.
AM: What are the key challenges facing CMOs in 2023?
FK: Profitability. The shift in the investment landscape from valuing hyper-growth to focusing on profitability in 2022 will likely continue to be the focus for 2023. Therefore, ensuring that the company operates on a profitability-first basis while driving top-line growth will be a significant challenge.
AM: What are the most significant opportunities you hope to take advantage of this year?
FK: The increased adoption of AI, such as ChatGPT, opens up many new avenues to do things more intelligently. For example, when a piece of copy, journal article, or proposal can be created in seconds through AI, we can do things at 10x the speed. The MarTech space has always moved quickly, but this will evolve even quicker. Finding a way to adopt it and protecting the brand & quality will be a major topic for me.
AM: What has been your biggest marketing failure? And what were the key learnings you gained from that experience?
FK: I don’t have one major marketing failure, but through a never-ending process of testing things out, I have accumulated an arsenal of failures from which I could learn. One failure that I remember particularly well was when, several years back, I wanted to launch a smart display retargeting campaign by creating a dynamic display ad that was underpinned by complex rules, taking into account what the user had searched for, and then suggesting similar products they might have a high affinity for. It took a lot of effort to set up, and we designed it to look aesthetically way better than the default display ads from Google that were available then. However, in the end, Google’s default ads still won, and we ended up switching back to them. This was an early example that ‘less is more’ – sometimes the simplest, out-of-the-box solution would suffice.
Alex Marriner is the Director & Leadership Search Consultant at Acquire Digital Talent.
Acquire Digital Talent is a people-first Leadership Search Firm that exclusively partners with Technology companies and Consumer brands to build Digital & Growth Marketing Leadership teams. Our expertise and reputation ensure successful delivery across niche, critical and executive appointments from Seed to Series A and beyond.
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