You may not have heard of Switzerland’s Franke Group, but if you eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, Franke plays a key part in your experience.
Franke supplies all the kitchens for both those brands, and it also produces domestic kitchens, professional and semi-professional coffee machines, and professional washroom facilities. As a result, it can claim to be the biggest manufacturer of stainless steel sinks in the world.
Renato Di Rubbo, Franke Group’s CMO, is a veteran of high-tech industry. He firmly believes the company’s future lies in the strength of its brand, and, in turn, the brand depends on the quality of the experience the company offers its customers. He spoke at Adobe’s Summit EMEA 2017, and afterwards he sat down to talk to CMO.com (Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company).
CMO.com: What are the business challenges facing Franke Group?
Di Rubbo: We operate mainly in a B2B world. That means our customers are professionals, so, while we have contact with consumers in the residential kitchens business, we sell mainly to professionals. That makes it quite difficult to establish a brand. We can’t do mass marketing, but we have to make sure that the brand is recognised as the quality brand it is.
The challenge is the lack of visibility when it comes to a broader market. That means customer experience is, actually, the key to establishing our brand. Our marketing operation is mainly focused on one-to-one and on digital, because, as we can’t do huge advertising campaigns like Nestlé or L’Oréal, we have to be very specific, we have to be very direct, and we have to nurture our relations with our customers.
A few years ago, we faced a lot of competition coming from Asia in industrial products, and, when that happens, the brand is the only thing that keeps you apart. You have to invest much more into marketing even if you operate in a B2B world, because people want to know why you do the things you do and what your differentiator is.
I’ve been here now for three-and-a-half years, and I was hired because, although the company did well, we faced heavy commoditisation. So I was hired to bring the brand back up, and that’s still my challenge every day.
CMO.com: How has the approach to marketing changed since you started?
Di Rubbo: When I came here, there was hardly any marketing. Marketing was more or less sales. Catalogues were the thing, and they were, obviously, all based on paper, and we found that, more and more, the whole product decision-making process, even in the B2B world, is switching to digital.
For example, an architect wants to build a new house. He used to have all these catalogues in his office, and his assistants went through the catalogues, chose a product, and ordered it.
Nowadays they have these resource platforms like Architizer or Architonic, and we have to nurture them with data. So one of the first things we did was to partner with all these platforms. That was a huge challenge for our back office, for our data, for our digital data set-up, and also for marketing itself, because we see that 80% of the decision-making process is now digital and not paper anymore. I hope that, in a few years’ time, we’ll not have paper catalogues anymore, but, at the moment, we have to do both.
CMO.com: What’s your biggest marketing challenge?
Di Rubbo: It’s time to market. I used to sell hearing aids, and, as a high-tech company, we used to produce a completely new range of products every two years. Then I switched to Franke, where the time to market alone is two years.
For example, we produce a new oven. It takes about one year until it hits the stores, and then all the kitchen studios that want to sell the oven have to rebuild their showrooms. That takes another year. So it takes about two years until we finally see sales. Until then, everybody is getting nervous saying we have produced this product, nobody sells it, it’s a failure. Well, it’s not actually a failure. It’s the time to market that is too slow.
That’s why I was thinking we have to fundamentally change the way we go to market. What if we can show products that are not on the market yet, or we can show them in a way so our kitchen studios can sell them even if they don’t have them in a showroom?
That was the thinking behind the digital transformation, because I’m completely convinced that you don’t need to see everything in a showroom in order to be able to sell it. At the moment, if we have a kitchen studio, they have one set-up of our products if we’re lucky. But we have about 2,000 possible combinations. So how is it possible for a consumer to decide if he only has one single set of products in front of him?
That’s what we want to change. We want to change the way a consumer experiences the products, but also how the studio sells them. That’s where the virtual showroom comes in, where we can show in a very easy way what the combination of products will look like. Take that tap, take that sink, take that hob, and you can easily exchange it, and you can take it home and show it to your friends. That’s what we have in mind when we say what digital transformation means in our selling process. We’re still at the beginning, and I’m certain it doesn’t stop there, but I think that’s very important.
CMO.com: What are your next steps?
Di Rubbo: If I look at it on a timeline, I would still say that we are at the beginning of digital marketing. I think we’ve made some major steps with the new website, with the virtual showroom, but it never stops.
I want to see a world where an experience in the digital space becomes as real as if you touch it. I know in this respect I’m challenging my partners, but I won’t give up until every product can be experienced as if I had it in front of me. So there are lots of developments to come.