Pete Blackshaw is global head of digital marketing and social media marketing and consumer communication at Nestlé. He runs the company’s Digital Acceleration Team, a programme bringing Nestlé marketers from around the world to a centre in Switzerland to immerse them in digital thinking. The DAT launched in February 2012 and is now on its third intake.
Blackshaw recently spoke to CMO.com, and I first asked him to explain Nestlé’s philosophy around digital marketing.
PB: Digital and social media is increasingly central to our brand-building process, and the good news is that our foundations in brand building are very compatible with what we need to do to accelerate in digital. One of the things that attracted me to Nestlé was “Brand-building the Nestlé way”, our framework for building great brands. This is broken into areas like “Creating engaging brand experiences”, “How to win with shoppers” and “Delight with product experiences”. These are not necessarily new concepts for marketers, but what we’ve been doing for several years is ensuring that digital brings vitality and new opportunities to them. So we’re trying to build a strong digital capacity, but anchored to the things we know are almost timeless.
With the Digital Acceleration Team we recognise digital is also a cultural shift. You need to bring an element of a start-up mentality into large companies to realise digital’s full potential. We decided to develop a programme as an island of innovation, one that would go viral within the broader organisation to inspire our thinking. So the DAT is broken into the three key pillars of our digital strategy; listening, engaging and inspiring/transforming.
We bring in up to 12 leaders from Nestlé markets. The markets pay for them and we put them into our Consumer Engagement Centre for eight months’ fully immersive training. They spend a lot of time studying how to properly engage with and respond to consumers. Like many companies, our consumers are asking a lot of questions and we have to respond, which is easier said than done. You have to build operations, you have to align incentives, and these are all things that we’re trying to figure out.
We’re just about to start our third class, so we’re a couple of iterations into this. We obviously have a lot more demand than supply, and we try to drive a lot of cultural and geographical diversity on the team. In the first three classes we’ll have had upwards of 40 markets represented. Then they go back to the markets to lead digital.
CMO.com: What backgrounds do the leaders coming to the DAT come from?
PB: We’re pretty open. I put the biggest premium on entrepreneurial mindset. We’ve brought folks in who didn’t have any digital pedigree, but they were pretty good at change management, pretty good at working in environments where you’re working with limited resources. If you have strong leadership skills and are sufficiently adaptable, you’ll thrive in the digital environment.
CMO.com: Is there a specific level in the organisation that you recruit people from?
PB: No. When we first started it leaned younger, but the age is going up. If you think about what makes a really good brand-builder, they’ve already bought into the key philosophies of listening, engaging and inspiring. You could be a 20 year marketing veteran who’s obsessed with consumer understanding, and you’ll do really well on the Digital Acceleration Team.
And it’s not just a marketing thing; our corporate communications department has been central to the work and we’re getting folks from sales. Digital is softening silos across organisations, and if you’re creating a business innovation lab, you also want to test the proposition of bridge-building.
The DAT works a little like a VC. You have a lot of businesses pitching “Hey, we’d love to figure out the following”. Then based on the quality of the project and the fit with the available DAT members, we’ll marry them up. And many of the projects are way beyond just “Help me sell more Kit-Kat.” We’ve done a lot of projects around social responsibility, how we ensure our work in this area is resonating with multiple stakeholders, not just consumers. So a lot of projects have cut across the consumer area, and that is helping the organisation to appreciate the silo-flattening aspect of digital.
CMO.com: Are you involving your agencies in the process?
PB: Agencies, partners and suppliers all bring expertise and smarts to the table, and we certainly want to integrate that into the process. About 25% of the DAT is intense training and thought-leadership and in many cases our agencies are best equipped to contribute to the knowledge quotient. And it works both ways. People who visit the DAT are learning a lot from this diverse group of digital leaders.
CMO.com: Were there particular challenges that you wanted to address through the DAT?
PB: We have close to 120m fans on Facebook alone. Add in followers on Twitter, plus we’ve got a few brands doing things on Google+, Pinterest, and we’ve built this massive fan/follower ecosystem. But there’s a really complicated question around how you operationalise community management. This is mass-marketing inverted, and I don’t think any brand has a complete answer. You can’t push a button and make it happen. You can’t call up the media agency and say “Take care of this.” And it keeps getting more complex.
The definition of community management has changed dramatically since we started this. On platforms like Facebook, community management is more than just CRM, it’s become a media buying activity, it’s clearly a consumer services and call-centre activity, and for a lot of smart brands it’s becoming a research activity. So this is probably the most substantive and immediate area that we’ve been trying to tackle. I’d love to tell you that we’ve got it all figured out, but that’s not the case, but it’s been a fascinating and stimulating learning journey so far.