Why Big Ideas Still Matter

an interview with
Eric Reynolds Chief Marketing Officer, Clorox

Every once in a while I stumble upon a marketing campaign that makes me proud of my chosen profession.  You see, after more than three decades in this business, I still believe that great marketing can be a force of goodness for both brand and society.  Admittedly it’s a lofty goal and not one a lot of marketers care about. What it takes is a recognition that exceptional brands need to do exceptional things, that brands are ideas enriched by ideals not just products laden with rational attributes.  And in my humble opinion, Brita’s The Filtered Life, a campaign you will learn about shortly, meets if not exceeds this standard.

In my extensive interview with Eric Reynolds, Chief Marketing Officer at Clorox, you will learn the rationale behind Brita’s new campaign and get to know the man behind the marketing curtain at Brita’s parent company.  You’ll also quickly understand why Eric was recognized by The CMO Club with its Marketing Innovation award. It takes Courage to join a conversation that is bigger than your brand and it requires a bit of Artfulness to make sure your brand has permission to go there.  Reynolds exhibits both which along with being Thoughtful and Scientific, adds him to my growing list of cool CATS.  But don’t take my acronym for it, read on. [And stay tuned– my new podcast series Renegade Thinkers Unite kicks off March 1, 2017 with a different yet equally compelling conversation with Eric!]


Drew: What’s your proudest accomplishment as a marketer at Clorox?

Eric: Marketing that meant something to me is the way I’d like to approach that. I had the privilege of working in the Caribbean for about 4 years with Clorox. One of the proudest things I did was, during the time of H1N1 [swine flu], our ability to drive not just the brand and the product but a lot of our disinfecting products used in everyday ordinary ways can dramatically reduce everything from infectious diseases to speed bumps like the cold and the flu. The proudest thing was our work in Haiti. We were working to sell bleach to kill something in water that can kill you. We were partnering with the Clinton foundation to get bleach over the border in greater supply from the DR and then in 2010 in January, Haiti suffered that earthquake. We sent people in to hand out bleach to disinfect their water supplies because that’s the biggest fear after the earthquake- infectious diseases. We sold a lot of bleach, we drove the brand, but I’m really proud because we connected to a very human need and we found a very creative way- we put backpacks on people, gave them sashes of bleach. They went around to all these poor areas and were handing out a packet of bleach so people can add it to their rain barrels. I was proud that we could put that all together. It touched me because we actually touched a human life. When you feel the intimate connection between the brand and the product and the person, it means a lot.

Drew: If you were pointing to “the” brand right now, what would that brand be?

Eric: Some of the best marketing we’re doing today is getting manifested in Brita. What I like about the work here is, Brita has been a troubled business for a while, the water category continues to grow but filtered water penetration has been falling and we’ve just found that Brita as a brand has a point of view that filtering out water is a much better thing. We have a point of view of the world as a brand that encourages people to filter out all the negativity and things that stand in their way. The point was, we tied filtration to a deeper point of view. Bringing it to life, and then leveraging someone like Steph Curry. Soon, he’ll be talking about filtering out the negativity. I can’t wait for this to hit the market because one of the things he’s passionate about is online bullying. That comes from a deep-seeded place in Steph Curry, but it’s also something we care about. If you’re bullied online, you run the risk of having that start to influence how you see yourself. The point is, Brita with Steph Curry talking about filtration as a larger concept and bringing it all the way down into our product is just really smart marketing. It’s a natural place for us to be as a brand and we don’t forsake all the product innovation that’s coming and the products we have. We’re seeing consumers beginning to respond in really compelling, social ways. In ways that start a cultural conversation. I would say we’re just starting to turn the corner on being clear about our brands, what their point of view is, how we connect consumers with both the big brand story as well as stories about the products that make a real difference in peoples’ lives. They’re doing it in a very nimble, studio-focused, team way.

Drew: What is the data and tech that Brita uses?

Eric: We’ve done a lot of programmatic, media things all the way to custom content. We’ve certainly leveraged that on Brita because the category has relatively small penetration but we can find these small targets. We’ve leveraged everything from our own first party data to retailer data and weather data. One of the things that excites me though is we’ve used our data science to identify new segments within water filtration that would not have been apparent to us, that defy classic segmentation. We found a strong growth in college students and that came out of data science. We found another thing with people who are very involved with tea. It’s always intuitive post facto but data scientists looked at all these ways and people started clustering who were heavy tea and coffee drinkers. We probably never would’ve come up with our own segment like college students but now that we’ve identified these people we can develop products against them, innovate against them, talk to them. That’s what excites me. It’s not just a marketing communications programmatic story, it’s how we leverage data. Machine learning clusters consumers in ways we never would’ve got to and I think that is very much part of the future. I’m very proud of data technology affecting marketing in the broad sense.

Drew: I particularly admire that you’re thinking about creating products that match a particular target’s needs. So often marketers simply take the same old product and then try to use distinctive advertising to say, “hey we get you so buy our product.” Seems like there’s a bigger opportunity to create a specific product particularly for say college students and then figure how to support that product online and at the right retail locations.

Eric: I’d just like to build on that point. I think you’ve hit on something extremely important which is “how do we redefine product experiences, how do you extend an experience digitally, how do you begin to use it to meet those needs?” That’s the harder part but if marketing is going to own the growth agenda, and we’re definitely going to have all this data sitting around, it has to transcend from what we call doing digital to being digital. If you are being digital, you’re going to rethink innovation and product and digital requirements. It’s a bigger reframing and I think that’s something we’re way under-leveraging that we’re eager to put our shoulder into as we go from doing digital to being digital.

Drew: I would think your new positioning for Brita of filtering out negativity would resonate with college students. It might require different degrees of execution, but the overall message has got to be hugely relevant, right?

Eric: When we said “hey, we stand for something and you’re going to see more about what we call the Filtered Life” we found that with our targeting and our very intimate segmentation, that idea can resonate for lots of different people but you have to tune it to them. That’s the joy of marketing, when you get to have a piece of communication or a message or idea that feels like a natural part of their day, that they invite you in to be considered. That’s the great part about this filtered idea. To your point, you’ll share that idea with college students differently. Now with rapid content, maybe an influencer thrown in, we can begin to really romance that group and say “we have real value.” Of course, college students don’t talk this way, marketers do, but they will gravitate towards us. We have a new product coming out that I can’t share with you but I think you’re going to find that this really addresses the younger and college age group and their needs in a way that I don’t think we would have done before.

Drew: What were some of the key steps to bring Brita’s Filtered Life campaign to market?

Eric: It started with a very large strategic reimagining of the brand. At some point, someone has to say “Stop. We’re doing all this stuff. Why? Why does it matter?” That really started as a catalyst of 2 people. We had some new leadership on the brand. As a function, we’re more committed to articulating this, but we brought our new advertising agency on board at the same time. There’s nothing like having new friends who don’t know the brand as well to ask some really hard questions about what we’re all about. You put the alchemy of those forces acting upon the brand and then the courage to do something with it. That’s really what kicked it off. It’s a leadership question, it’s someone declaring a better future and willing to go back and question some of the fundamentals of the brand and why we’re not winning as much as we want to. What I like about the Brita story is the commitment that the idea, the brand, the product experience, would lead us out of the woods. Leaning into the fundamentals was a way to win so that we’d have a brand for the next 50 years and not just put the consumer more reliant on price promotion and other offers. I love the commitment to brand building as a craft and a business imperative all coming together. We’ve got high hopes for Brita over the next year.

Drew: You already have a huge share of market in a category that has been flat for a while. To some extent, all your energy has to be in growing the category and that’s very hard. In this new positioning, the filtering of things, how will you measure success? Are there other measures that will make you believe that what you’re doing has made a difference?

Eric: We have all kinds of metrics. We have sales, of course, a way of measuring media effectiveness on some of our channels. We’re also working on the listening and asking metrics. We definitely want to change the idea of Brita in people’s head and we’re going to be tracking our progress against those metrics as well. We will use the brand to sell more stuff this year. That’s our job as marketers, but there’s an equity journey for Brita and then there are metrics. Is the brand becoming more relevant to college students, do they see it as a credible alternative to bottled water, do they see us as standing on their side? Fundamentally those metrics in addition to the sales metrics will put them all together.

Drew: If you don’t have brand health you have no hope.

Eric: Sometimes the attention goes to the alarmists. Sometimes you say “no, let’s look at our health metrics. They’re very strong. Yes, we don’t like this brand saying something about our brand or doing something.” We’re not disregarding it but we won’t overreact either. We need to stay on our plan. We think the equity can long withstand this relatively short attack on what we stand for. I think it just helps us keep an intelligent course. When I started in the field a long time ago, I don’t think we had that balance of brand health metrics. We got overly focused on ROI or sales. I think today’s conception of it is bringing it all together and trying to chart the right course for the short, mid, and long term.

Drew: As you look at this Brita program, is there a lesson that stands out that other marketers might benefit from?

Eric: It took more time. We got to the big idea of Brita faster than we thought. We had ways of learning, sharing this idea with people and learning about it. What took us longer was let’s make sure we just don’t celebrate. Let’s follow that idea down into the product moments, into the communication. Does the whole thing hang together? We found an idea around Brita that we think is relevant and true and then we just realized it took us longer. I would tell all marketers that once you find the big idea, keep going but really pressure test it and make sure it can speak to your category authentically all the way down to your product experience. You’ll know you’re on to a good one when it speaks comfortably on all those levels. We have wonderful PR and social leaders in our company. We put them all the way up front. They’re not just like “here’s an idea, go find a way to activate it” because they’re listening for “can we create an idea that is shareable, that will work comfortably in the social space from day one?”

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