5 Things That I Have (Re)Learned Since I Left P&G 5 Years Ago



Five years ago today I left P&G as a brand manager.  Working for a firm like P&G is akin to learning a “way of thinking.” I have found that the core lessons I learned have applied across a variety of settings (McKinsey, another CPG, a start-up in London), but that the nuances in reapplying them are equally key to adapting to new settings.

1) Take the time to define your marketing essentials. At P&G a brand’s “WHO” (target consumer,) “WHAT” (equity) and “HOW” (marketing strategies/tactics) are well defined and understood by any brand team.  When they’re not, or when they sit idle in a binder on ABMs’ desks, it often shows in the business results.  It’s important that this work is not academic or mundane, but rather invigorates the team.  Since I left, I was surprised at a number of clients and companies at how little effort went into this style of work and how this led to “brand confusion” in their portfolios or with the competition.  Tip: Define your key marketing essentials; identify gaps in what you know; conduct appropriate market research (it doesn’t have to be expensive) to fill in the gaps and inform your plans.

2) Understand the marketing return of every dollar you spend or look to spend (as best you can). Companies like P&G have (expensive) marketing mix models that analyze the results of marketing investments.  You almost took them for granted in decision-making (and indeed some wished that they could when the results did not square with their plans.)  For unproven tactics, you would estimate the potential payout in a part art, part science, way, but logic drove the planning process.  I am routinely amazed at how little is invested in understanding ROI on marketing, either through formal modeling of simple estimations.  Tip: Apply ROI logic to every investment – even if you can’t fully demonstrate it, applying the logic will drive a fruitful discussion with your team.

3) Do more with less. One of the biggest learnings for me was about being choiceful about what you do.  You could always want more money or more staff, but typically you had to make do with what you had.  (One could make the case for more to management, and occasionally win, but you also had to prepare for the downward drift of budget cuts and the occasional staff cut.)  It was better to operate from a position of few resources than too many resources; as my first brand manager reminded me, in her unique Texan way, “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Indeed, sometimes too many resources can lead to too few choices and unfocused marketing, as was the case with many brands inside and outside of P&G.  Tip:   Focus.  Focus.  Be relentless about choices.

4) Get ahead of the “trend du jour.” At times, even insight-driven, consumer-driven companies like P&G can get overly enamored with the flavor of the moment (once it was shopper marketing, then it was digital, then it was the path to purchase, then it became big data and somewhere to the side was design thinking).  Sometimes it feels like “insights” are merely “data points” and “soundbytes” in some cultures.  However, smart marketers find a home for these topics and integrate them into their everyday marketing plans.  Further, by not treating them as separate efforts, they reduce the risk of inconsistencies in the eyes of the consumer.  Indeed, shopper and digital marketing have found their homes as part of integrated, holistic marketing.  Conversations about big data have shifted from “how big is your database” to “how actionable are your insights,” where it should have always started.  Tip:  seek to understand how the trend fits in current marketing models, but do not force fit it, change your assumptions and model as appropriate but not for changes sake.

5) Get easy access to relevant data to aid decisions. It’s one of those things that is “big and obvious” but at too many companies data resides in multiple reports and on multiple people’s desks.  This is not about having a “dashboard” or a “cockpit” for the sake of “seeing all of the data” but rather of enabling quick visibility to the daily/weekly business data to give a snapshot of performance and enable adjustments, rather than waiting for monthly or quarterly “update” meetings.  It’s amazing how easily start-ups can access such data and within a few clicks develop deeper customer insights.  Tip:  Craft a simple tool that can easily track and report key business metrics for informing and engaging the team.

Note: this post is intended to reflect my lessons learned since I left P&G, not a commentary on P&G’s recent performance.  From a newly outside perspective, perhaps because these points are not as commonly embraced as they once were, which could well be the topic for a future post.




Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Alan Levine

About the author: James Black

James Black is a marketing and insights consultant and freelancer based in New York.  He has 10+ years in marketing and sales experience across P&G, McKinsey and L’Oreal.  Most recently, he founded and led a retail start-up, Black & Puryear Ltd., in the U.K., where he served as Director and Chief Curator.  At L’Oreal, James was head of shopper insights, where he identified and shaped shopper insights to drive greater connection between consumers and L’Oreal’s portfolio of beauty brands across channels.  At McKinsey, he worked in the firm’s Marketing & Sales practices, advising clients on marketing topics across B2B, packaged good and retail clients.  At P&G, he working in both traditional brand management roles as well as in the company’s marketing centre of excellence, studying best practices.  He has an AB from Harvard in Government and an MBA from the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).

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