Full interview at inpractise.com

We interviewed a former Associate Brand Director at P&G who has over 16 years of experience at the company. He first joined P&G as an advertising development manager and worked his way up to overseeing the branding for P&G’s fabric care segment and was responsible a number of major product launches in Asia.

We covered some fundamental topics for any brand manager interested in excellence in brand building:

  • P&G's approach to building brands: the brand equity pyramid, customer obsession, and "marketing from the street, not from your office"
  • P&G brand strategy pillars: owning the #1 and #2 benefits in a category
  • Brand transformation case study: Pampers
  • How brands get broken: the case of failing to innovate
  • How brand marketing is changing - performance vs brand advertising
  • Examples of the traditional approaches to brand equity and brand building that still matter, and how these should be used in conjunction with new marketing channels and techniques

In terms of these core principles that you’ve taken away, you’ve talked in detail about really walking in your customer’s shoes. You’ve explained this dimension of customer obsession and what that means on a very practical level. Is there anything else about the P&G way that you’re taking with you, into this new step of your career?

Absolutely. I’ve been lucky enough to see a variety of FMCG global companies and they all have something in common. They have strategic tools. They work on best practices and everything is documented. At P&G, the tool is called the equity pyramid. Each brand has an equity pyramid, starting from the top, which defines what the role of the brand is, in the life of the consumers, going through the benefits of the brand. What is the benefit that the brand brings to the consumer? That benefit can be emotional or it can be functional. Given P&G categories, most of the time, it’s functional; it starts with a function. What is the function that you fulfil, in the consumer’s life? No matter how you spin it, a diaper has to absorb; a laundry detergent has to wash fabric; a dishwashing liquid has to wash the dishes. At the same time, when we’re talking about skin cream, it can be much more subtle and much more emotional. It can be anti-ageing or it can be about whitening. It can have a different set of benefits. So it’s really understanding, what are the two or three benefits that you want to own, in consumer’s minds.

It doesn’t cover all the category benefits. If you take any category, you will have four or five different benefits and brands will compete on those four or five different benefits. At P&G, we tend to focus on the one benefit we can own, in consumer’s minds. We don’t want to be good at everything. We want to be excellent at one thing that every consumer will tell us, that’s the best brand for that benefit. It is supposed to be the archetypal benefit for the category.

Let me give you an example. Take the toothpaste category. When you’re facing the shelves of the toothpaste category, you’ll see that you have 10 or 12 different benefits, from cavity protection, to whitening, to gum protection. What P&G wants to own, with a brand like Crest, is the number one and number two benefits. We understand that the number 10 benefit can be a very profitable business, but it’s only driving a niche market. Whereas the number one and number two benefits will be where the bulk of the market is. That’s where we want Crest to be winning.

It does not mean that Crest will not have fringe offerings, because these are good businesses to cover. But the marketing effort will be in owning the number one and number two drivers of the category. That will be the ‘what’ part.

The ‘how’ part will be – it will not go into the media strategies as that’s part of the execution – what does the brand look and feel like? What is the brand characteristic? If the brand was a person, how would that brand behave? Is it a brand that you want to be very empathetic? Is it a brand that you want to be very scientific, very didactic? For some brands, you want the consumers to think that the brands are like their friends or their ally. Other brands, you want them to be a bit more detached, depending on the category, depending on the business environment.

The ‘how’ part will determine all these facts. It will determine not only the visual identity of the brand, but also how the brand looks and feels and how the brand talks. The advantage of that system is that, when you are new to a brand, this is the first document you are going to be exposed to, no matter what your function is, from product development to marketing. So if you work in the R&D department, you will know exactly what the two benefits are that you have to work against. If you go into the marketing department, you will know exactly what the two benefits are that you have to market, because you will know that the product people are working towards delivering the best products on the market, for these two benefits. So everybody sings the same tune and that tune is encapsulated in one strategic document.