Former Associate Brand Director - Fabric Care at P&G
Dominique has over 25 years experience in marketing and brand communication. He spent 17 years with Procter & Gamble, during which he led the design and delivery of brand communications from strategy to creative briefing and project management across several major regions. Dominique 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. Prior to P&G, he worked with Swatch as the head of advertising. In his role there, he oversaw the creative design and development of communications solutions for Swatch watches and jewels globally. Dominique started his career at Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi. Dominique is currently Director of Shokunin, which offers marketing as a service for Asia-based brand teams. Read moreView Profile Page
Regarding your career experience, before we dive into our conversation, could you share a little bit about what you’ve been up to?
I’ve always been a bit of an outlier in everything I’ve done. I started my career in advertising. I had a passion for advertising as a skillset, as an industry, so I started with Leo Burnett, in France; I’m French. That was probably the most expected move for me, because that is what I did when I was a student. I wanted to get into advertising and I wrote my thesis on merger strategies for advertising agencies. That was in 1990 and that’s when WPP was starting to be built and it was the big talk of the town. That got me my first job at Leo Burnett.
After that, I moved client-side, after a number of years, because I had an amazing opportunity to be the head of communications, the head of advertising, for Swatch Group, the watchmaker. That was one of the coolest, hippest brands that you could imagine, at the time, in Europe and I really wanted to work for that cool brand. Then, I have to say, I’ve been lucky, because 16 years ago, P&G called me and said, hey, we know you – because I had been handling the P&G accounts at Saatchi, in my last agency job – and we have this corporate marketing department that is doing a lot of knowledge creation and a lot of internal advisory and we’d like you to join the group.
I had to take a big decision because, at the time, I had a job from Apple on the table and a job offer from P&G. There was so much from my professional life, where I could hear, I wonder how P&G does this or I wonder what P&G would say about that? I thought, I’ll have a go at it. I’ll go and look at how these guys do things, from the inside. I’ll probably stay a couple of years and then I’ll leave. That was 16 years ago. I stayed, happily, at P&G for 16 years, moving from Europe to Latin America and then to Asia. I had a very international career, focusing a lot on launching new products into white-space markets. I’ve been lucky enough to work in markets where P&G was either not present, or decided to focus on that market, while I was in that region.
So I’ve been part of the team that exploded the business in Brazil and I’ve been part of the team that reset the business in China, in the past three or four years. After 16 happy years, I decided, a couple of months back, to start my own consultancy and use everything I had learnt, for the interest of smaller clients, in Asia.
Speaking about what you’ve learned, working with such an iconic group, could we talk about some of the marketing fundamentals or some of the core principles that you picked up, over your years at the business?
That’s an interesting question, because the marketing fundamentals have evolved, but have not changed that much, during my time at P&G. I would say, it’s part of the beliefs of the company that marketing, to some extent, is part art and part science, but P&G has done a very good job at formulating the scientific part of it. The artistic part is down to people’s talent. But the scientific part is that there is a science of marketing. It’s based on a very simple triangle; we call it the equity pyramid. Basically, it’s knowing who you are talking to, knowing what you are going to tell them and understanding how you are going to share that message with them.
I have had the opportunity to discuss it with a lot of my ex-colleagues, who have left P&G. Before I left P&G, I asked them, what is it that you are missing the most? The overarching answer was, the obsession in understanding the consumers. The time that the P&G marketer spends on the ground, not in the office strategizing, but on the ground, with the prospective consumers, is something that I have never seen anywhere else. I’m French and I’ve been living in Asia for seven years. I’ve probably spent more time in a Japanese house than a lot of other expats working for FMCG companies. The way we did the work was to go and do, what we call, living experiences; walk in their shoes. Go and shop along with your consumers.
I was going to ask what it means to be on the ground and, I guess, you’re describing that. That’s helpful.
It starts with living on a budget. What’s the average budget of your consumers? Your consumers probably have less income, less cash available, than you. I worked, a lot, on diapers. Diapers are incredibly difficult to market, because if you have a low income, buying a big pack of diapers is a massive investment. At the same time, you want the best for your child, you know that you have all these modern products out there, but you know it’s going to cost you a sacrifice, a compromise. You know it’s meat or diapers. You know it’s going to the movies or diapers. It’s incredibly difficult to understand, when you’re the brand manager, sitting in Geneva or sitting in Singapore, what the weight of that sacrifice is, unless you’ve had to live for four weeks, on the budget of your consumers.
If you’ve done that, you’re going to tackle the issue of value totally differently, than if you are only talking about the price point of your diaper. You may think you’re doing the research as to why my diaper is a bit more expensive than the competition, but it’s so much better and it’s well worth it. Well, it depends on how much cash you have. Nobody sells diapers on credit. I can tell you, one of the worst mistakes I’ve made was in South Africa, when we launched what we call jumbo packs, for Pampers. The idea, which is in the marketing playbook, is that if you sell a big pack of your product, the unit cost will be lower. Instead of selling a pack of 10 diapers, I’m going to sell you a pack of 50 diapers, so that the cost of each diaper will be way less. The economic equation makes perfect sense. You’re marketing it to low-income targets so you think they will be happy to see that every day, they’re going to spend less on diapers, because you know you have to use diapers every day.
What we forgot is that the low-income consumers, in South Africa, do not have a private car. They travel in the public bus. The last thing you want, in a public bus, is a large jumbo pack of diapers because, quite simply, you cannot carry it. The economic equation was right. What we would call today, the consumer experience, was totally off and totally wrong. Of course, none of us had shopped with the consumers and had gone to the supermarket on the bus. We totally missed it. Then we were sitting there and even our South African colleagues were thinking, it is such an obvious mistake. That’s the type of mistake you make, when you market from your office and not from the street.
I would say, for me, one of the fundamentals of P&G marketing is that it’s always marketed from the street up and not from the office down.
Spending time with your customers, getting into their lives deeply, understanding their budgeting, understanding the way they allocate or make sacrifices or choices between different products?
Also understanding the way they use the product. Say it’s something in the West, that is very popular, such as the idea of [product] concentration. I don’t want to buy a big bottle of dishwashing liquid, so I’m going to buy a small bottle and I’m going to use just one drop. We’ve had these washing liquids, in the West, for 40 or 50 years, pretty much. The idea that you can use one drop and it will be good enough for your entire load is acceptable. When you’ve launched a dishwashing liquid category only a couple of years ago, people don’t believe that one drop will be enough. So they overdose the product. In the end, they pay more, for the same amount, because they do not buy into the idea of the concentration. You need to understand, are they going to buy the concentrated power of the product, or not. If your consumer is not ready for it, the fact that you can manufacture it is not good enough. You have to educate them and you have to go through the education phase.
To go through that, you have to understand at which stage of the market understanding they are. It’s not to say that they do not understand what you’re doing but there’s a believability threshold that you have to pass, before you can market the product in a certain region or country.
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.