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
Dominique, thank you for joining us. On the subject of building brands in Asia, you’ve had so much international experience and I wanted to ask you if we could dive into some case studies beginning, first, with Gillette, in China? Could we explore some of the lessons you learned from bringing established, Western brands into Asia and what you learned about the local consumer, in China, in that process?
I’ll focus, first, on Gillette, in China. China is a separate universe, even in Asia, because all the economic conditions and the ecosystems in China are a bit different, on one hand. But also very domestic; very focused on China. The interesting factor is that Gillette is a brand that has been established forever. To everybody that comes from the West, it’s relatively easy to market Gillette, because there is no awareness problem.
To some extent, Gillette had been in China for 30 years, as well. Having had some really good success, at some point, especially when the brand launched the first hand blades, which were plastic handles, relatively cheap, but still an example of modernity. At the time when China was opening, Gillette was one of those brands that surfed the wave of getting the best from the West and had some success with that. After a while, the market conditions had radically changed and one of the things that happened was that you could now get, today in China, a very good dry shaver, an electric shaver, which will cost you the same as a wet shaver; the same as the disposable handles that you are used to using with Gillette.
From an economic standpoint, the two propositions didn’t really match. The dry shaver, you can keep it for a couple of weeks, a couple of months. When it’s broken, you just dispose of it and you get a new one. It’s bad for the environment but that’s the way the economy works, today. We were struggling to position our offer. But that was only one part of the difficulty. The other part of the difficulty is that, for obvious reasons, Chinese men do not shave the same way as non-Chinese men, in general. What you have is, based on ethnicity, you will have various shaving needs. For example, I come from a mixed background, I come from the Caribbean, my dad barely shaves. I look at my mum’s brother, who is French and he shaves in the morning and if he goes out for dinner, he has to shave again, in the evening. You have these physiological differences where, in China, in particular, men don’t shave every morning or evening. Of course, there are some nuances and everything I am saying is broad strokes, to set the stage. But the reality is that the needs are not the same. The skin is not the same, in the sense that the skin, with the weather not being the same and the skin not being subject to the same type of aggression or external environment, has different needs, for softness, for care, for closeness of shave.
So on top of the economic hurdle that we had, we had a product barrier, because all of our products were designed in the West, tested in the West, very intensively. It’s a Catch-22. Because the Chinese market was not such a big market, it was not a market for where we would, necessarily, design the product.
A couple of years back, everybody sat down and thought, if we really want to crack China, we have to do things right. That started by being able to manufacture the right product, for the Chinese consumers. The P&G philosophy, I would say, is that if you have the right products that answer the true consumer need, you will not necessarily have a value problem, because you will give a lot of value to your consumers. You can price that high, in comparison to the market. The idea was, if we want to fight with price, we don’t stand a chance. If we want to fight with a poor-performing product, we don’t stand a chance. We need to have a superior product, so that we can ask the price that makes in economically viable for us to grow in China. That was the whole set up.
That was the product we relaunched. We started the work about two years ago. The other thing was that we realized that we couldn’t market it, based on the same functional benefits. As we discussed last time, every brand has a functional benefit that it wants to own and, in the West, it was very often this idea of the close shave; the shave that doesn’t leave any marks after and that doesn’t trigger any nicks or cuts. Your skin is perfect. You don’t get any rashes, redness or any cuts. You shave in the morning and you can go out and you’re good to go. The type of products we had engineered before were a bit too harsh on the skin and were creating more nicks and cuts than we wanted. The engineers completely redesigned the product. It is still a reusable handle, with cartridges, but the way the cartridges are being processed and manufactured is radically different.
Instead of pulling the hair out, it pushes the skin down, so it can give you a close cut, but without having the blades in contact with the skin. Once we had that, we realized that when we tested the product, our potential users were saying, it’s like their first skincare routine, in the morning. It is more than shaving; it’s the way they take care of their face and it’s the way they take care of their skin. Men, in general, don’t take that great a care of their skin. They have a couple of products, if they’re advanced. They will have, maybe, a moisturizer and something to protect from the sun, but that’s pretty much it.
Turning the act of shaving into a skincare routine was the way we decided to pitch the new product. That was positioning the brand more on skincare, than on the shave care benefit that we had established for everywhere else in the world. That type of decision creates a lot of discussion, internally, as well. Of course, you have people who have been there forever and who will tell you that this will not work, that the core of the brand is shave care and that it’s bastardizing the brand to move it to a skincare product.
Then you have to be relatively confident that you are doing the right thing, that you have the right input in the system and the input is the consumer information that this is the product they need, this is the product they want and this is the product they are going to pay for. Then you realize that, even within a global brand, like Gillette, what matters is that the look and feel, the personality of the brand, is locally relevant, but very consistent globally. The rest of the offering has to be totally adjusted to the local market situation. That goes from the product to the way that you market and advertise it.
China has seen an explosion of social commerce, where you have social platforms where you can, actually, also sell your products. Imagine Amazon, where you would go on Amazon, to be entertained and then you’d buy something on the site. This is, pretty much, Tmall today, where you have live streaming and you have viewers who stay two hours, watching a live streaming from a local celebrity, and during that show, they can also buy a product. We realized that, with Gillette, because we knew our target, we could try these new types of approaches. We decided we didn’t want to launch with a normal, national TV coverage, which costs a fortune and gives you massive awareness. We thought that we had to tackle the launch as a very progressive launch, where we would launch first, in one region, and then expand to the other regions and make sure that were hyper-targeting, each time. That we delivered the right message, to the right target, in the right circumstances.
We launched an agency review and we collaborated with the agency that gave us the best type of, what we called at that time, personalization at scale. Being able to talk to a 15-year-old or a 25-year-old, with the right message, at the right time, on the right platform. This idea of localizing the product and then localizing the execution plan, is what made that launch very successful. It turned the tide, for the launch of a reusable, wet shave product, in China where, for the first time in many years, we had a product that could compete, that would ask a higher price point, but that would be acceptable for consumers, because it was also providing a superior experience.
How did you approach the execution of this localized and progressive marketing strategy?
We decided to handle it totally locally. We decided that we would not even try to reuse anything that already existed, elsewhere. Of course, Gillette, as a brand, has global partnerships, global tie-ins, global agreements and we decided we would use those, with very famous athletes, with very famous institutional organizations. But everything else, that was not part of a global deal, would be developed from the ground up. For instance, understanding which type of scientific body you want to talk to, because if you’re talking about skin, it’s good to talk to a skin specialist, in China. That skin specialist could be a dermatologist or it could be a beautician. Because Gillette was a masculine brand and men don’t go to beauticians much, we used the traditional dermatologist. But you could very well imagine that you would have to go the traditional Chinese medicine, as well, to partner and collaborate with some of the spokespersons, to support your claim of a skincare product.
When you work with a celebrity, there is some merit in having David Beckham as your global ambassador, but there is also some merit in having the cool kid, round the corner, who has a channel with 30 million followers, be your brand ambassador. You have to decide, based on the available budget, how much you want to allocate to each of the communication legs. You also have to be very humble there, because sometimes – and it was not David Beckham, obviously – even David Beckham does not have as much attractivity in a market as the local hero. You need to really rely on the knowledge of your local team, to understand what will resonate with the local target audience. Based on that, you adjust.
Gillette is a brand that has always worked with artists, sportsmen and the scientific community. Those pillars do not change. But what kind of artist are you going to use? It may be a pop singer; it may be live-streaming heroes. It may not be the megastar from Hollywood. When it comes to sport, you may want to have somebody who is very anchored and rooted in the local sport and, not necessarily, a Formula 1 driver. That’s a trend a lot of multi-nationals are following, these days. More and more, you go for relevance that requires that you have local executions. The challenge for a marketer is to understand what has to be local and what can be regional or global.
For me, having lived, travelled and worked in all the regions of the world, I would say, the first sentence I always heard, when I went to a new region or a new country was, we’re different; it will not work here. For a lot of Europeans, for instance, we all think we’re very different from each other, but the minute you set foot in Asia, you realize that there is a lot in common, with the Europeans. Our culture is so common; our history is so common. That binds us together. Advertising is just a reflection of society. It doesn’t create trends; it just surfs on the waves of the trend. You have to understand that cultural background, as well. Personally, I’m a huge proponent of understanding cultural intelligence, the CQ, and I’ve worked a lot with a company called Hofstede Insights, to really get to a professional understanding of that. China has a different cultural background and you can use that to totally localize your plan.
Maybe we can approach the story of Downy, within that paradigm and to look at some of the successes you experienced there, with that particular case?
Downy, in itself, was a bit different. When you are a marketer for FMCG, it’s very rare that you come across a new category. Downy is a fabric softener. For those who are not familiar with it, it’s the extra boost you put in your washing machine, to have either a special scent or a special softness. If you want to wash your towels in your machine and you put a bit of Downy, they will be much fluffier and they will smell better. In different markets around the world, the fabric softener business is either more directed towards scent – I want my clothes to smell good, no matter what happens in the day – or it’s more focused on softness. It’s an act of love to put fabric softener in your machine, because then it feels very comfortable. It’s a very comforting feeling to put something on in the morning and feel that you’ve been wrapped in comfort.
We launched Downy in China and we realized, apart from a tiny market, concentrated in the main cities and mostly relying on imports, the fabric softener market did not exist in China. Even when we’re talking about fabric softener, people do not know what we are talking about. There are two ways to go about that. You take the old playbook that you launched fabric softener with, in Europe, 50 or 60 years ago, you modernize it and you do it for your market, today. I’ve done that and it can work. You have a lot of education to do, you have to explain what the product does, how it works and what the consumer will get out of it. In China, we decided that we didn’t have the time as it’s a slow-burning activity. We decided not to launch with our base product, with our basic fabric softener, but to launch with our most sophisticated product. It was the fifth generation of fabric softeners, in Europe or US, which was little scented beads that you add to your washing machine drum and which give a scented boost to your garments.