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Managing digital: Reckitt Benckiser's marketing VP

VP to agencies: understand consumers' digital behaviour and deliver KPIs

This week, a contributor from Canadian Grocer‘s sister publication, Marketing chats with Shailesh Shukla, vice-president marketing & trade marketing at Reckitt Benckiser, to get an idea how the company is navigating its way through the digital marketing revolution. What’s your vision for the future of digital in your organization? It’s defined by what we do. We are in the business of providing solutions for consumers that lead to healthier lives and happier homes and how the consumer is moving into the digital world will dictate the role of digital. Right now, digital is becoming the lead in terms of consumer communications, media and content. Overtime I see development of etailing and direct selling to the consumer becoming a larger portion of digital, though that will take time. The third thing coming to the fore is market research because it’s a tool that leads to input into R+D into what consumers are looking for and asking for. But above all, our vision will be driven by consumer’s digital behaviour because we are here to service the consumer. What areas of digital do you do in-house vs. outsource, and why? Brand strategy, digital strategy and how our digital footprint is interacting with the consumer is all done internally. The media strategy and deployment, content strategy and content deployment is outsourced. The one exception, our online video buying is done in house because we have a huge volume of online video across the world, and we have a central team that buys that for us. Do you use a one-stop agency or split out digital separately, and why? At the moment it’s split out separately for two reasons: First because we could not find one agency that was expert in all aspects of digital. Knowing consumer behaviour with a particular category in digital was important in planning. We needed expertise in managing search and optimization in specific categories. We needed expertise in social, CRM as well as programmatic buying and so on. And we just didn’t find all that expertise in one place. Second, as we started walking in this space, all these new technologies and ways of connecting with the consumer started coming up and we were approached by companies like Facebook, which demonstrated its expertise in specific areas. So the fact the new technologies were emerging and our agencies weren’t comprehending all of them, we had to form specialist partnerships where necessary. How has digital impacted your marketing org chart? The only way it has impacted us is that we have a digital manager in-house now. What it’s really impacted is the thinking of our marketing organization and being digital at heart and digital first because the comfort levels used to take them back to traditional. But, the thinking now is rapidly evolving to digital first and digital at heart because that’s the most important and complex thing to grasp and deploy. I’m pushing the team to think digital first and digital at heart. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing from a digital perspective? I need our digital agencies and partners to have the expertise to understand the consumer digital behaviour in relation to the category. For example, how the consumer interacts with removing a stain from their clothes digitally is completely different from the same consumer’s behaviour when it comes to preventing cold and flu infection in their home digitally. One requires an immediate solution to get rid of the stain and search might be the most obvious interaction digitally, and we have to be number one there. If someone is concerned about germs in cold and flu season, then they may be looking for content and going into sites and information areas that may not be driven by search. That’s where we sometimes apply digital as a tool without really thinking about the real objective or the KPI. At times I’ve seen the same strategy come to me for Resolve stain remover and the same strategy for Lysol. But it’s different. We have to ask have we thought through how the consumer is using digital in relation to the category. We are marketing in a digital world, we’re not doing digital marketing for the sake of digital. What are the key expectations from your brand team and digital partner? Three things:

  • Understand my brand and my consumer
  • Understand the digital consumer behaviour in relation to the category
  • Deliver the media and content strategy accordingly

Everything should align and all the dots should connect. What key lessons have you learned as an organization when it comes to digital? What we are learning now is that digital is very shiny and very exciting. There seems to be a new tool and a new app everyday and we can sometimes get carried away. So there are two things that we need to do. First we have to ask, does it make sense with what we want to achieve with the consumer, is this the right bridge connecting us with the consumer, or is it a nice shiny toy and I’m running after it? Second, what’s the ROI? We sometimes get very excited and we run it, but we realize it’s not the right bridge that connects us to the consumer and we’ve wasted time and money and we don’t see an appropriate ROI. Do you decide how to allocate budget between traditional and digital? It’s driven by our objectives. There’s no directive as to what the percentages should be. It’s driven by what the brand objectives, media objectives, consumer digital behaviour and what our consumers are looking for. I expect it to grow, but what I don’t want to do is make it a fixed percentage of say 60% because then we’ll make it 60% without thinking about what really makes sense. How can agencies be more effective to you and other marketers in their digital solutions? Understand what the brand’s strategy and objectives are. Clearly understand what the consumer digital behaviour is and deliver the brand KPIs in that manner with the right tools. I want my agencies to keep on bringing the new shiny apps and solutions to us, after thinking through whether it makes sense, while educating us on what’s changing consumer behaviour in the digital world. Stephan Argent is president at The Argedia Group, an agency management consultancy. This article first appeared on

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