Why Big Ideas Still Matter

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?”

Stop the Presses: TV Still Works

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 8.51.08 AMThe presenter spoke with a certainty of a televangelist offering a laundry list of directives to his flock. “Times have changed” he intoned and “marketers must change with it.”  “You can’t control the conversation, you have to discover the context, not try to dictate it,” he shouted. “Context is more important than content” was followed by “You are competing for attention against everything.”  Heads in the audience were nodding dutifully while I started reaching for my Buzzword Bingo playing card just in case he had more. And he did. But then he said two things that made me laugh out loud, “Only Bozos buy eyeballs” which was followed by “You don’t want to be at the airport when your ship comes in!”  Evidently, “TV is dead” and “we’re never going back.”

I laughed because it reminded me of the “Bring Out Your Dead” scene in Monty Python and the Hold Grail when an old man protests “I’m not dead yet” and John Cleese replies, “Oh yes you are, don’t be such a baby.”  Truth be told, TV spending at $42B in 2015 still represented 42% of all ad dollars. Yes, digital spending especially mobile is rapidly gaining ground but it is lunacy to suggest that TV should be thrown on the trash heap when many brands are still deploying it effectively.  Which brings me to my interview below with Tad Kittredge, who at the time was the Associate Director of Global Marketing at Burt’s Bees.

Now about to become the Director of Marketing for Clorox’s Brita juggernaut, Tad was once a strategic planner at Renegade, and one of the brightest minds to pass through our doors. He left Renegade to go to business school and has been rising through the ranks at Clorox ever since.  Read our interview below and you’ll see why.  Placing a big bet on TV for Burt’s Bees, Tad and his team saw sales triple, not just at brick and mortar stores but also online. Of course, it wasn’t just about the media, he also made sure the strategy was sound and the execution fresh. Although Tad is no evangelist, he certainly offers an inspiring yet clear-eyed perspective on real-world problem solving.

Drew: Can you give me a little bit of background on the challenge you faced with Burt’s Bees prior to your recent campaign?  

Burt’s Bees has been pioneering natural personal care for over 30 years. Our Original Beeswax Lip Balm with peppermint oil is the #1 selling sku in the category and has really become synonymous with the brand. The flip side of being a trusted icon to millions of passionate consumers, however, is that you can appear old and boring to the next generation and that’s a dangerous place to find your brand. A disruptive, new competitor entered our category and quickly attracted younger consumers. We suddenly started losing households and market share for the first time in our history. We realized that this was the wake-up call we needed to redefine our brand’s future.

Drew: You and I talked about making sure you identify the right problem before you go about solving it. For example, you mentioned that “increasing sales” is not the right starting point.  Can you talk a little bit about the process (how, why) you and your team went through to make sure you were focused on the right challenge?

A great strategy or idea always starts with asking the right question. In a world where there is so much data at our fingertips and a demand for immediate answers, I find inspiration in a quote from Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Design thinking has some great tools for properly defining the problem. One of my favorites is repeatedly asking “Why?” or “How?” to ensure we’ve struck the right balance in defining a problem that it’s specific enough to focus a team but ambiguous enough to allow in creativity. In our case we had to translate “Why are we losing market share?” into “How can we drive more impulse purchases with younger consumers?”. We then found a simple insight, most consumer only know our peppermint flavored balm, that led us to our strategy and campaign idea of “Uncap Flavor”

Drew: We also talked about how product development and marketing should be in lock step.  Can you describe how product development for your lip balm line was an essential prerequisite for the new campaign?

Marketing begins and ends with the product. You can spend as much money as you want on an ad campaign but your core product or service is what the consumer builds his or her relationship around. We took the insights behind our marketing strategy and instead of just applying them to our marketing campaign, we looked at how to infuse them into our products, our packaging and even where and how we distributed our products in store and online. This led us to develop new lip balm flavors, a different naming architecture on packaging and a new sales strategy. They might be old school, but with the growth of social media, it’s even more important to ensure that you get your “4 Ps” right before driving talk and relevance online.

Drew: So now you have a new line of lip balms and this being 2015, one might assume that you put all of your marketing dollars into digital, right?  But you didn’t.  Can you talk about your media mix for this campaign?  

Again, it goes back to asking the right question and ensuring you are answering the question versus chasing a solution. Beware the marketer who starts the conversation with “We need a new digital campaign” or “We need to be on Snapchat”- you’ve already missed the most important part of that decision process. In our case the media objective became how to drive rapid awareness of our flavor variety with a seasonal product. As sexy as social media is, TV is still the best hammer to hit that nail so we started building our toolbox around it.  Of course we supported it with a full marketing mix but that became our big bet.

Drew: Wasn’t that a risky bet putting so much emphasis on TV?  Was there any evidence that TV would work or was it more a leap of faith?  

Risk is an often misunderstood concept. As any good investor knows, risk and return are often correlated. So when your growth aspirations change you need to ensure that your acceptance of risk is adequate to support those. In our case, we looked at our potential options and identified the smartest bets to best address our problem and hit our growth goals. TV was simply the smartest bet to make.

Drew: If this hadn’t worked, it might have had a negative impact on your career at least in the short term.  What emboldened you to take this risk?

There are three approaches I’ve found helpful for addressing risk. The first is to really asses the risk of doing nothing. All too often we assume the status quo looks like today, when in reality competitors will keep pushing and consumer preferences will keep shifting so the do nothing scenario is really negative or often an accelerated negative option. I call this the burning platform. Sometimes you need to look down and see your feet on fire to make jumping look a little less scary.

Second is to define a “no regrets bet”. I like to think of business choices in terms of an investment strategy. If you can make enough safe choices that act like bonds for your business, that frees you up to make a bigger bet on a risky stock. Start by identifying how much loss your business can afford to absorb in pursuit of a new growth vector and that’s probably a good starting budget.

Lastly and most importantly is to win the battle before it’s fought. Marketers need to get out of their bubble and partner with their sales counterparts to leverage bold marketing choices and secure incremental displays, distribution and merchandising programs. Meeting with a retailer and saying, “We are turning on TV for the first time in our 30 year history. How can we help you disproportionately win over those consumers in your store?” is a really compelling conversation that leads to better integration across online and offline, in-store and out-of-store execution. Ultimately that kind of Marketing-Sales collaboration helped us put a lot of incremental revenue on the board before the first ad ever aired.

Drew:  How did it all work out?  Did sales meet or exceed expectations? Did the TV impact both online and offline sales?  

We’ve been thrilled with the success of our integrated program. We’ve seen our sales growth triple in the year following the launch and Burt’s Bees is again the fastest growing lip balm in the US. Interestingly we saw our biggest lift happen online despite the heavy investment in TV. Seeing more than triple digit growth in those online channels was a very nice surprise.

Drew: Looking back on this campaign, what are the key lessons you’d share with your fellow marketers?  

First of all, a good marketing idea can become a great one when it’s integrated across all consumer touchpoints. That means looking at how to influence the product, the package, the retailer and then the marketing campaign, all behind a common, consumer-driven insight. Second, the biggest risk is often the risk of doing nothing. So don’t be afraid to swing for the fences when the right pitch comes at you. And lastly, an insatiable curiosity is a marketer’s greatest asset. Never stop asking that extra question which can unlock the answer for the team.