P&G executive tells marketers: Let go

ORLANDO, FL – Marketers have to understand and find ways to work with the idea that consumers essentially own their brands.

This was a key message from a presentation at the 2006 National Center for Database Marketing Conference by Kent Oldham, associate director and global business services consumer view solutions manager at consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati.

To illustrate, Mr. Oldham showed a clip of A.G. Lafley, P&G’s chairman and president/CEO, at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference in October. In the clip, Mr. Lafley said that marketers have to change their thinking: In a sense they “have to begin to let go.”

For P&G, Mr. Oldham said, this means “consumers are owning our brands, and we not only have to understand that they are owning our brands, but we also have to embrace that idea and understand the implications of [it].”

Mr. Oldham offered several factors driving this shift. One is that consumers feel less secure and less trusting of institutions than in the past. He cited the Enron scandal and a general distrust of politicians and political campaigning as reasons.

“Consumers have the need to be in control,” he said.

Another factor is that new technology lets people express themselves on a scale not possible before, with family, friends and even strangers on the Internet.

“They have ways of networking with each other that they have never been able to before,” Mr. Oldham said.

And consumers are comfortable using technology to create content. He showed an amusing video clip that basically promoted P&G’s Pringles brand, created by a youngster in England who happens to be passionate about Pringles.

“We don’t control all of our touch points, and those touch points, as a result, impact us,” he said.

Trust is an important part of the equation, Mr. Oldham said.

“People have to trust your company,” he said. “If they don’t, they will hold back and not share things with us.”

Not learning from every touch point a consumer has with your company can be costly, Mr. Oldham said. One way P&G learns from touch points is by building media mix models. This teaches the rate of return on television, print and other media.

“This allows us to learn on a macro level what works for consumers and what resonates,” he said.

The company is also improving how it learns now that it has one repository of customer historical and transactional data.

“This is a big deal for us because you are now able to answer questions you were not able to answer before,” he said. “An example of this is [being able to learn] who is my Pampers consumer on a global basis. I could not do this [when] everything was residing in different places …”

The company also learns how consumers interact with P&G Web sites and combines that information with how the consumers respond to e-mail and direct mail.

“That gives you a kind of 360-degree view of the consumer,” Mr. Oldham said.

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