Why Bacardi's creative chief has left for women's healthcare startup Maven

Zara Mirza joins Maven Clinic as chief brand officer

Zara Mirza, Bacardi’s head of creative excellence and “right-hand woman” to former chief executive Mike Dolan, has departed the Bermuda-based brand to take on the challenge of startup marketing with Maven – a digital clinic designed purely for women.

Launched in 2014, Maven’s core B2C offer is a pay-as-you-go app, which lets women speak directly to doctors, nurses, mental health providers and other specialists through video call and messaging. It has also launched a business offering that complements or supplements company-provided maternity programmes, guiding female employees from conception to their return to work to encourage higher rates of working mothers.

While based in the US – the only country in which it can currently link users with prescriptions – Maven was used in 166 countries last year. This high level of market growth, coupled with its unique proposition in a burgeoning sector (Deloitte has predicted the global digital health industry will be worth £43bn by the end of 2018), has clearly turned the heads of high-profile investors; Maven counts people ‘that have founded companies including Wordpress’, ‘invested in companies like Spotify’ and ‘run companies like Glossier’ as its financial supporters.

Mirza, who has taken on the role of chief brand officer, was also attracted to this growth potential. However after 15 years at network agencies and nearly four with Bacardi, it was the freedom of startup marketing – and the lure of a brand with real purpose – that brought her to Maven’s Manhattan office.

“You have such a bigger opportunity to really be involved in consumers’ lives with a tech-based service brand [compared to] consumer packaged goods,” she said. “Service brands are much more naturally embedded. I also wanted to move to a company where digital is at the heart of the business platform – rather than being an extension of it – and a company with growth.

“I wanted to work in an industry that is on gangbuster dynamic growth, versus traditional categories that are trying to keep stable at best, or manage decline.”

At Bacardi, Mirza and her team were the creative, digital-led “outsiders looking in” to a traditional corporation. Her job was to work with the brand’s agencies on multi-million pound, above the line and social campaigns, and broker partnership deals with the likes Swizz Beatz and Major Lazer. Now, she’s working with a small, in-house team of copywriters and art directors – “a group of people used to driving change” – on reactive creative with very short lead times.

“We can decide to do a campaign and execute in one day,” she said. “We don’t have to place a big bet on a million-dollar TV ad. We're not looking at plans a year in advance – we go month by month, quarter by quarter, because growth is so fast. We can launch a campaign and see results the next week. We can see that impact on the business, and that’s very exciting.”

For the time being at least, Maven’s marketing output will bed down in non-traditional media and continue to be developed in-house. The brand chief sees the exercise as important not only for developing the strength of the Maven name externally, but internally too.

The tone of brand voice that Mirza has been tasked with amplifying is one that is “absolutely expert but completely caring” – evidenced in the juxtaposition of dusty pink, Instagram-worth brand design and the company’s stridently curated pool of practitioners (only 30% of healthcare professionals that apply to Maven get through). It also echoes throughout company culture, which Mirza proclaims to be a mile away from the "cultish" New York startup stereotype “where everyone is working around the clock”.

Mirza will surely miss the trips to Bermuda and all the perks that that come with leading creative for a heritage multinational. But no kickback could undo the fact that her career priorities have changed.

“I did what I was brought in to do [at Bacardi] and then I needed a new challenge,” she said. “I’m still young, I still want to do more, and on a personal note I want to do more for women. That’s what I got out of bed to do at Bacardi and when I got the opportunity to do that more centrally and actively I jumped at it.”

Entries to The Drum Marketing Awards are being accepted until Friday 16 February. Find more details on the awards website.

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