When Stan Joosten first contacted me about joining Procter & Gamble’s Digital Advisory Board, I initially hesitated. The volunteer position would demand a few days of my time every year just as I was beginning to transition my focus to B2B and away from P&G’s consumer markets. But this was P&G, after all, and Stan, who is Innovation Manager for Holistic Consumer Communications, is a persuasive guy who had already signed up several people I respect. I said what the heck.
It was the best decision I’ve made in the last five years.
This week I sat in an auditorium at P&G headquarters in Cincinnati and heard CEO Bob McDonald talk about the centrality of one-to-one relationships to the company’s future and declare “We want to be the most digitized company in the world.”
Mark Pritchard, who heads global marketing, echoed the one-to-one theme, noting “Digital marketing is past. Brand building in the digital world is the future.” That’s an impressive statement coming from one of the world’s largest TV and print advertisers.
The fact that this week’s event was even going on was notable in itself. Organized in just seven weeks and spearheaded by John Battelle’s Federated Media Group, Signal P&G brought top executives from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and many other digital and consumer brands to talk about the future of marketing. About 300 P&Gers crowded the John G. Smale Tower Auditorium in Cincinnati and another 1,300 watched online. Most people in the room stayed till the very end.
From my conversations with employees and the discussions I overheard in the hallway, I came away convinced that this is a company that is successfully transforming both its culture and its approach to market. When you consider that P&G has nearly 130,000 employees spread across the world and marketing practices that have made it an icon of excellence for a century, that’s no small achievement.
New Measures of Success
P&G has been called the world greatest marketing company. Success can be a curse, though, and the maker of Crest, Tide and about 25 other billion-dollar brands has struggled to wean itself from a traditional focus on coupons and samples in favor of a culture of engagement.
It’s not that P&G doesn’t understand its markets. The company’s almost obsessive approach to research has marketers and engineers routinely visiting customers’ homes to spend hours watch people doing laundry, diapering their babies and brushing their teeth. P&Gers understand that the reason moms buy Tide goes far beyond clean clothes and gets to issues like self-esteem and peer acceptance. Its brand marketers are some of the savviest marketing pros I’ve ever met.
This deep understanding of customers was evident even in the Advisory Board’s earliest meetings with brand managers. What was missing was a sense of how to engage. P&G marketers create brilliant campaigns, but their success milestones have been defined by traditional metrics like impressions, coupons and trials.
Assumptions are breaking down, however, thanks to a willingness to change and the success of campaigns like last year’s Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” which combined traditional TV advertising with a brilliant series of companion videos on YouTube. This week Federated Media showed off StyleUnited, a new P&G community for “want it all women” that logged one million page views in its first three months and is already driving new sales.
Support From the Top
More important, though, is the support shown by top executives like McDonald and Pritchard. They’re obviously keenly aware of the Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s theory of how successful businesses destroy themselves by being unable to discard the tactics that made them successful. P&G’s revenues continue to be strong, but its traditional retail channels are under intense pressure, warehouse clubs are squeezing margins and Amazon wants to trump its brands. Consumer packaged goods companies today face the risk of being marginalized as commodities. Digital channels are the lifeline that can establish long-term connections with their customers. It appears to me that the key people at P&G understand that, and once a company of this caliber gets on board, entire industries change.
I’m not sure there’s much I can tell P&G marketers that they don’t already know at this point. While P&G has never paid me a fee, they have enabled me to connect with people I would never otherwise meet and to get the briefest of glances into how a great company stays on top of its game. It is been an amazing experience and I’m grateful to Stan, Tonia Elrod, Daniel Epstein and the others who have permitted me to be a part of it. If I can ever be of service, don’t hesitate to call.