Nov 21, 2023

Oana Leonte: The Mastermind Marketer Behind Some of the World's Biggest Brands

Oana Leonte's blueprint for success in the dynamic landscape of global marketing

Oana Leonte: The Mastermind Marketer Behind Some of the World's Biggest Brands

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Our story begins on the shores of the Black Sea, in Constanta, Romania, a place caught between the dusk of the falling communist regime and the dawn of new possibilities. This is where Oana Leonte grew up, amidst a culture of resilience and determination that forged the core of her identity. As the daughter of the first entrepreneurs to start their own private business in Constanta after the fall of communism, she was immersed in the tenets of business and marketing from an early age. This exposure was the kindling that would ignite a lifelong career in the world of global branding and marketing.

Oana’s professional saga is characterized not just by the roles she’s held, but by the evolution of a philosophy—the kind that shapes markets and consumer experiences worldwide. "I was always surrounded by entrepreneurial thinking and a desire to do better," Oana reflects, crediting her parents as the catalysts for her enduring drive. This spirit carried her from her seaside beginnings to the bustling streets of Madrid, and eventually to the corporate headquarters of PUMA in Germany.

It’s often said that life is a series of fortuitous accidents; for Oana, an internship at the Walt Disney Company in Madrid was serendipity that charted her course. "The day I started to work there was the first day of the rest of my life," she says, marking the convergence of childhood passions for cartoons and TV ads with her burgeoning marketing acumen. A stint at Disney evolved into a broader odyssey encompassing roles at Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, and a slew of positions in fashion and advertising that enriched her perspective.

Fast forward through an illustrious career, Oana now helms the marketing division at PUMA, a brand that once held her childhood fascination. Her narrative is not simply a chronology of job titles but rather reflects a holistic understanding of business and branding. She's lived her professional life as a testament to continuous learning, bolstered by a digital marketing certification from Cornell and a solid academic foundation from Staffordshire University.

In her own words, Oana encapsulates her journey as the head of BU Marketing Accessories & Licensing at PUMA: "9 years ago, I decided for a career and life change and moved to Germany where I now work." This shift wasn’t merely geographical: the sports brand that dominated her youth now serves as the platform for her influential work in marketing and licensing.

Beyond the corporate sphere, Oana founded Unmtchd in 2023—a dynamic platform comprising a newsletter, podcast, and brand dedicated to marketing leadership and innovation. It's a venture that marries her expertise with her mission to elevate the industry dialogue.

It’s also a portal to her thought leadership, where she encourages others to build "an unmatched brand positioning." It's here that Oana steps into her role as a guide, helping others navigate the transformative waves of marketing and business, much like she has sailed from the shores of Constanta to the forefront of global marketing strategy.

Personal interests like tennis, meditation, and the pursuit of knowledge in fields like artificial intelligence and web3 indicate a mind never at rest, always expanding its horizons. Yet, despite her relentless pursuit of progress, Oana remains intimately tied to her roots, embodying the entrepreneurial spirit instilled by her parents on the Black Sea coast.

How have your previous roles in Fortune 500 entertainment companies like Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Paramount influenced your approach to marketing at PUMA?

My time at Disney early in my career imprinted the idea of emotion-driven marketing and storytelling. Disney does not sell movies and products, they sell magic. And this was something that I always resonated with a lot because I strongly believe that our mission as marketers should be to make people dream and see themselves in the best light possible. Marketing is not about the company, the product, the movie or whatever we want to sell. It is all about how the person on the receiving end of our message interprets it and distils it for themselves. So having had the amazing opportunity to work in the entertainment business for so long really taught me that the value is in the story and the attention you get by engaging with consumers in the right way.

What are some of the key marketing strategies and campaigns you've been involved in at PUMA that you're particularly proud of?

I’m proud of everything I had the chance to work on at PUMA – from setting up the Licensing OUT team back in 2016, being involved in some of the biggest motorsport agreements that PUMA closed with Red Bull and Porsche to my current role in marketing for Business Unit Accessories. I had the immense privilege to work with great mentors and had amazing teams working with me.

In recent years I was able to build an extremely talented team around me all driven by this idea that creativity does not have to be constrained by budgets or other limitations. So on the basis of this, we created some amazing concepts and campaigns, like the PUMA Headwear Hometown Heroes campaign or the PUMA beanies initiative that played into deep storytelling and the power of the people behind the products.

My marketing playbook always rolls out on a few key components, in this exact order: the consumer, the platform to communicate on, the content that needs to be native to each platform, the distribution upside, and lastly, the product.

My firm belief is that when you get all these components right, and you focus first on the receiver of the message, there is no way you can fail.

As the founder of Unmtchd, can you tell us more about the inspiration behind creating this platform and what you hope to achieve with it?

Unmtchd. is the expression of my entire marketing philosophy and playbook really. It’s one word that expresses my belief that the future of marketing is personal, and that the brand and the personality should sit at the centre of our marketing tactics.

It’s a podcast and a newsletter that I have created to give space for meaningful conversations with industry leaders but also people from all walks of life and areas that are not directly related to mine.

My hope is that Unmtchd. becomes a go to platform for people that are curious and interested to explore what the future of marketing looks like.

In your opinion, what are some of the most significant trends and challenges in the marketing industry today, and how do you think Unmtchd can address them?

The single biggest threat to big corporations today is not their direct competition, but the 19 year old influencer that has quickly amassed millions of followers on TikTok and can sell them any product she wants, with ZERO investment. To win, big companies have to understand where under-priced attention sits, what the best influencers to work with are, and how to maximize every single $ of their marketing spent.

Unmtchd. speaks to that directly and showcases the power of defining an unmatched positioning which can connect better with consumers, like a person would. Behind every brand, there are also people, which we sometimes forget. So if we are able to empower those people to express themselves in the same way influencers and consumers would, the brand become more relevant and more engaging.

With your extensive experience in brand partnerships and licensing, what advice do you have for businesses looking to forge successful collaborations in the modern marketing landscape?

Two things: alignment on values and the maximisation of attention.

I am a team player and believe in business and in life you can never win alone, but in a collective. So brand partnerships are critical for expanding the reach of a brand—if done right. First, you must find the right partners that align to your brand values, so the partnership looks and feels authentic and organic. At the same time, depending on whether you seek more awareness or more sales, you need a partner that is relevant on channels where you are not, so you can maximise attention there.

PUMA is known for its unique brand identity. How do you maintain and evolve this identity while staying relevant in a constantly changing market?

PUMA has such a fantastic heritage and has always been a game changer in how it created products and stories, or how it worked with some of the most game changing athletes in the world, like Usain Bolt. That spirit is carried through today, in everything we do, and each initiative and product we create. Our Forever.Faster. mantra drives this message home so well in showing how sport and culture can come together in the most authentic ways.

What is your vision for the future of marketing?

I believe the future of marketing is personal. What this means is that the brand has to be more personal, that the engagement with consumers needs to be more personal, and the stories we tell need to be more personal. The beauty of today’s world is that even if you tell a simple story for one single person out there, if it’s a meaningful one, it can quickly pick up and go viral, spreading globally. We don’t need big budgets and big campaigns anymore to reach millions, we simply and only need a powerful story well told.

How do you balance the need for creativity and the demands of data-driven marketing in your current role at PUMA?

Data is here to support our creativity, not to crush it. It’s meant to optimize the reach of our message, not to diminish it. Creativity is always at the centre of my work, and I look at the data in order to help us spread the message further.  

Can you share a story of a particular marketing challenge you faced in your career and how you overcame it, along with the lessons you learned?

A few years ago, we wanted to extend the visibility of our accessories, but we had finished our yearly budget already. So we came up with a creative idea of using our employees as models and shooting a campaign around them, their stories and their personalities. We ended up creating a franchise initiative around beanies – such a simple but impactful product – for zero budget, and which is now running for the third year in a row.

What advice would you give to aspiring marketing professionals who aim to achieve the level of success and influence that you have in your career?

Be curious. Never stop exploring and be willing to step out of your comfort zone to do things that you don’t know how to yet. Early in my career I was willing to push myself beyond my comfort in so many ways and I still do this today. Two years ago, when I started to write online and publish content on video, it was a massive push outside of my own comfort zone and it took a lot of time and drive to feel comfortable with it. But I did it anyway, because I believed—and still do—that you must take control over your career and your life and drive the journey forward yourself.

What has been your one guiding principle in both life and work?

One word: curiosity.

I was a curious child, and I still am a curious individual today. I love speaking to people, learning from them and connecting, and oftentimes my curiosity has opened opportunities that I never thought I’d have access to.

Images courtesy of: Oana Leonte

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