Being More – Brand Innovator, Sara Marshall

Sara came to Epic from a career in brand development and innovation both agency and client-side, mainly but not exclusively in premium food and drink categories. She loves working in more indulgent spaces because, she says, you can connect to deeper and richer insights to create something really emotionally elevating and unique. Travel was just the next step!. We asked her about her views on Innovation.

How did you find yourself at Epic?

I’ve always travelled quite a bit for work, in my last job I went to Finland every four weeks and absorbed the culture there. Having travelled to Morocco I loved the culture, creativity, warmth and energy of the place, I’d had a chance to set up an agency with a group of ex-colleagues and friends, but having worked so hard the past few years, I was exhausted, I wanted a lifestyle change. I decided to move to Morocco instead, and as Fortune follows the brave as they say, I met my husband there, picked up some remote work to keep me going, wrote a blog and then found Charlie, Carla and Epic; I felt like it was my kind of company and people – being with Epic has given me so many opportunities.

Enjoying the diverse landscapes and creativity of Morocco

What do you do at Epic?

I have a double hat role, I manage how the Epic brand adapts as we grow (visually and in terms of our offering). My first job was to work with Charlie and Carla on the rebranding of the company, I developed our positioning and the Epic promise to help people to do more and be more through travel, the outcome of which you can see in our communications and straplines. In order to deliver that promise I have to be forward-thinking, look further out for new ideas for the business and our partners, which I do as part of Epic’s Innovation team, which includes Charlie and Horacio . Travel is changing and our clients want even more unique and inspirational experiences, in particular at the ultra high end, that’s the segment we’re focussing on most right now.

As a company our values are around being pioneering as well as empowering, I find that exciting as there is always an appetite to challenge the status quo and go further while respecting the people on the ground and our wider community.

What are your passionate about?

I love to create vibrant and engaging experiences, whether that’s in travel or food and drink. My roles have always featured the need to capture and communicate new innovative concepts internally or externally, so I love finding the connection between a motivating idea and the right language, name and visuals to get the message across, I also like the challenge of working with an extended team to make the idea real.

What does innovation mean?

For me, innovation isn’t about doing an unusual new flavour in soft drinks, or adding in a new cooking experience to an existing itinerary in travel. True innovation should shine a light on what is possible, challenge existing conventions and deliver real value. I think innovation is fundamental to how people perceive your brand, if you want to be differentiated you have to move on, excite and inspire – even though it’s hard and people might think you’re crazy at times! Great innovators have tenacity, they get energy from ideas – but they also have to have the common sense to know when to call it a day rationally and commercially.

What innovations have you worked on in the past?

My craziest client-side innovation was Turbo Tango in the UK, which was a different way of consuming soft drinks. using ‘squirty cream’ technology. You squirted the orange drink at high pressure into your mouth (or on someone else if you were a teen). It was a completely different drinking sensation and a new technology which required setting up a soft drinks line in Portugal in an aerosol factory. It was a huge challenge, but the sell-in to customers was so much fun as you can imagine! I think the investors enjoyed it too! It really brought the values of the brand to life – a break from the norm and bit of boredom relief. It was as much a new form of advertising, I’m sure it’s not something you would launch now though, it was of its time.

I have also worked on umbrella branding and a premium chocolate line for travel retail called the ‘Magic’ line for the fantastic Finnish brand Fazer. We also created another ‘diffusion’ line to attract a millennial audience with packaging, name and product design that appealed to their need for more adventurous experiences. I love understanding the needs of different groups, what drives them and locking the learning into a creative idea.

I’ve also developed concepts for adult energy for Coca-Cola, worked extensively with Diageo, William Grant, and The Edrington Group and worked in a team creating gaming concepts for Camelot the UK lottery provider to ensure fair play. Of course, all of this has been possible because of the great people I’ve worked with, everyone has a role, you’re not an island.

Sara has worked mainly in premium and indulgent categories

What does it mean to innovate in travel?

It’s quite like innovating in a lot of sectors, you have to have a solid understanding of the landscape, what is possible, where you can and can’t go and why, and a filter for what you will and won’t do as a brand and organisation. Then you have to have the right team, a mix of big-picture thinkers and more operational rational left-brain people so that you’re not creating a white elephant that won’t work on the ground.

It’s helpful to look at what is going on outside of your category for inspiration, we have plenty of people here from different walks of life who bring another perspective, we have also started to work with an external team of producers, writers, event specialists and safety experts to gain insight from their experience and help to deliver ideas which sit outside of the traditional travel realm.

In our team, we track trends more generally in terms of the luxury market, and events, and look at leisure and wellness experiences outside of travel for inspiration.

How can travel make a difference to the community, as well as travellers?

Good question – I think businesses tend to think in a circular way these days, well that’s certainly the case for Epic, and in the work I do tracking trends across pleasure and leisure globally, people are embracing more wholesome forms of enjoyment. At Epic we look for concepts and opportunities which can help bring value to an underserved region for instance, but at a small scale, so reducing impact; and at where we can we bake local community support efforts into our business models. That way everyone benefits and you get the halo of a bigger feel-good factor behind your idea. Travellers can also sense the local atmosphere and feel good aspects of giving back through travel. It’s so important to get that right so that everyone benefits.