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Q&A with Mukul Deoras, CMO, Colgate

In a fast-changing world, growth means being ready and able to change directions at every turn. How do you create a culture of innovation, where new ideas have room to grow, and speed and agility are top priority?

For us, innovation and excellence in execution continue to be the biggest drivers for growth. Our innovation strategy is based on the foundation of three core principles:

 

  1. Being closely connected with the consumers (our innovation teams are based on the ground … using global scale but driving regional relevance), understanding their needs and delighting them with products with significantly superior total experience
  2. Significantly higher investment in technology—we are leaders in markets we operate in, and our investment in R&D enables us to bring to market products that truly deliver significantly superior benefits
  3. Innovations that make our brands stronger—staying true to what the brand stands for and making sure every innovation enhances the strong bond our brands have with our consumers

Our operating divisions are responsible for innovations. This ensures speed to market and also alignment with business priorities. Our people-development process requires high potential talent to have cross-functional experience—and innovation is one of those experiences. In other words, innovation has a very high priority in the organization.

In order to connect a constantly shifting world, we need to find new ways of creating empathy and engagement. How do you get inside the heads—and hearts—of your customers in order to keep pace and grow with them? What keeps the people inside of your organization engaged, inspired, and eager to grow?

Being people centric is at the heart of everything we do with our brands. People centricity and not just consumer or shopper centricity is what we believe in and encourage in the teams. Knowing and understanding people and what role our brands play in their life is important for us. We have articulated a purpose for all our brands. It is a clear statement of belief that the brand has and the role it plays in the lives of people. This is the North Star for us and influences everything we do for the brand … helping us get a place in their hearts (and not just bathrooms where they use our products).

Clarity of our strategy has helped us keep the organization aligned. Our four strategic priorities are well understood and have stood the test of time for years. They are:

 

  1. Engage to build our brands—driving growth and building our brands requires the strongest possible engagement between our brands, consumers, the profession, others who influence purchase decisions, and our
  2. Innovation for Growth—we are building innovation into our culture, with an emphasis on innovative products and go-to-market strategies that contribute to topline growth.
  3. Effectiveness and Efficiency—effectiveness and efficiency calls for increasing organizational capability and speed at the lowest cost, particularly in key areas of the business: commercial investment, customer service, manufacturing, procurement, and shared services.
  4. Leading to Win—to achieve our goals, we must become even stronger at preparing the next generation to lead. We must develop all Colgate people to perform at their fullest potential. We must lead with integrity, adapt to changing times, and recognize the important role that organizational diversity and an inclusive work environment play in our global success.

Our core values of caring, global teamwork, and continuous improvement are not just statements, but clearly understood and practiced by everyone in our organization around the world. Colgate people also align their actions with five managing-with-respect principles. These principles help us put our values into action, creating an environment where people feel free to offer suggestions, contribute ideas and resources, and help grow the business. Our culture is unique and well-known and continues to attract the best talent.

But most important, we have a portfolio of very strong brands (for example, Colgate brand has a penetration of almost 62% of the world’s households—the highest penetration rate in the world); we occupy global leadership positions in toothpaste, manual toothbrushes, pet food sold in vet clinics, and liquid hand soap. We are truly global, having presence in over 200 countries and territories. Our strength and globality attracts and inspires people to work with us. We believe in building global careers. Our brands have a very clear and strong positioning in the minds of consumers—making a real difference to their lives. All these make Colgate-Palmolive a sought-after place to work.

How are you leveraging emergent or disruptive technologies to strengthen and grow your brand? How are you applying data and analytics in real, executable ways to drive growth?

Our commitment to innovation and product excellence means we offer the best products in the categories that matter most to our success. For example, in toothpaste, our distinctive formulas in the whitening, sensitivity, and multi-benefit categories are second to none. Our pace of innovation has increased to keep up with the needs of the current environment. Our experimentations have also increased. We embrace the philosophy of “test—learn—pivot” to build quick learnings and scale up. Learning in one geography and quickly adopting elsewhere is part of our DNA. Examples are the Natural products in toothpaste launched in China, finding their way across markets, or the “Save Water” campaign that started in Peru and has been one of our most successful campaigns around the world.

To further support the drive for more innovation, the company is making increasing use of design thinking. Since 2015, more than 1,000 Colgate people have received design-thinking training or direct exposure to this discipline, which we’re using to develop new solutions for a broad range of challenges.

Additionally, we maximize the impact of product breakthroughs by quickly driving innovation across geographies. For example, Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s innovative Youthful Vitality product was rolled out globally within 12 months.

Data and analytics are helping us to sharpen our marketing initiatives—be these marketing-mix modeling or price elasticity studies or campaign targeting and analytics. All these are helping us get more out of the investment we have for building brands. We have also invested in consumer engagement centers in key markets. These centers monitor in real time the conversation happening around our brands and categories and help us drive, in a very focused way, richer two-way conversation with our consumers. Advanced analytics tools and technologies have helped us achieve this.

How has your brand been central to navigating some of the biggest challenges that your organization has faced this year?

Brands have always been at the heart of our engagement with consumers. Our focus on brand purpose has helped us focus on building stronger emotional connections with our consumers. Our brand purpose gives a reason to consumers, not just something to buy but something to buy into. They are the anchor around which we drive innovation, communication, and activation. They inspire people within the organization and are the pillar around which we build strong relationships with our external partners. For example, our brand belief for Colgate is “Everyone deserves a future they can smile about.” This inspirational belief allows us to go beyond just the simple product benefits and build an enduring emotional relationship with consumers. We face slower market growth and increased competition—particularly from local players. We believe that building a stronger emotional connect on the foundation of a superior product will help us win this battle.

What shifts within your region or sector are you anticipating, and how are you proactively preparing for these changes?

We have to be ambidextrous … keeping what is good from the past and yet innovating for the future, maintaining what we are good at and learning the new. This is the core challenge for us as we build our strategic plans for the future. It is obvious that the world is changing—the way consumers shop, the way they interact with our brand, their expectations … all of these are undergoing dramatic and rapid changes. E-commerce, digital transformation, data analytics … all of these will play an increasingly important role in the future, and we are preparing ourselves to take on these challenges. But what will remain unchanged is the focus on our brands, keeping them not just relevant but highly desired by the consumers.

Hill’s Science Diet Youthful Vitality ? http://www.hillspet.com/en/us/products/sd-youthful-vitality-adult-7-plus-chicken-and-rice-recipe-dog-food-dry

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