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Procter & Gamble on winning its business

Procter & Gamble on winning its business Lori Luechtefeld

As the interactive innovation director at Procter & Gamble (P&G), Ted McConnell is currently responsible for driving advances in digital marketing for the consumer packaged goods giant. That's no small task at a company whose products include everything from batteries and body wash to potato chips and prescription drugs.

Ted McConnell

McConnell's 30-year career has spanned many roles with P&G, including positions in IT, customer business development, R&D and a three-year role as the company futurist. McConnell has also been awarded the role of information technology fellow within the company.

According to McConnell, "I'm driven by the idea that, somehow, the $700 billion a year that humans spends on advertising could create a lot of good and achieve its business goals if advertisers focus harder on crafting value rather than messages." 

Despite the fact that CPG companies are rarely espoused as interactive marketing trendsetters, P&G continues to make bold digital moves. For example, the company recently tapped into the blogger community as a means of generating word-of-mouth buzz for subsidiary Crest's new offering, Crest Weekly Clean Intensive Cleaning Paste. In addition to sending the product to bloggers for review, the brand used P&G's Vocalpoint program -- a network of influential moms -- to survey women regarding the product's marketing program.

In this exclusive interview with iMedia Connection, McConnell elaborates on P&G's approach to harnessing digital marketing technologies for traditional brands, as well as his thoughts on digital marketing opportunities that have not yet -- or never will -- emerge.

iMedia: Describe one of your favorite or most successful interactive campaigns that you've spearheaded at Procter & Gamble.
Ted McConnell: My favorite thing is always the next thing -- and I can't talk about that. My favorite campaign in recent history was the Iams-sponsored content initiative in which we created great content for dog owners and then syndicated it to a number of pet websites. This really helped consumers without cluttering the landscape, and did well for the brand.

iMedia: P&G markets many well-known household brands -- ones with decades of traditional advertising behind them. Is it sometimes difficult to convince your marketing colleagues and P&G's executive team to use new and emerging marketing channels to promote such well-established, traditional brands? How do you get them to buy in to your ideas?

McConnell: It's not about my ideas -- it's about getting the right ideas to the right people. Our role is to find the right ideas and use educational processes to assure that the people who need to understand them do understand them. We function as an enabler and a broker. We help brands understand risks and then enable the activation of experiments. Then we measure the results and propagate the learning.

iMedia: How do you determine which P&G brands are ripe for marketing through interactive channels? And how do you determine which are most appropriate?

McConnell: We don't look so much at brands as we do at consumers. We are interested in how consumers are using digital in their lives, and finding the situations where brands can create entertainment or information for a consumer who is receptive to that value.

iMedia: What's the biggest interactive marketing risk you've taken that has paid off?

McConnell: Generally, the introduction of new measures is always risky. This is because new measures are universally disruptive. So, basically, it's an area where it's difficult to find partners. I was a founder of the industry team that looked at "engagement" as a measure, and there were no less than 40 companies that swore they had the answer -- which, of course, makes it difficult to claim there is a standard measurement.

iMedia: Tell me about a marketing risk you've taken that you wish you hadn't.

McConnell: I'm happy to say that I've never taken a risk I've regretted. That's mostly a result of the fact that I have support from within the company to take those risks -- it's my job. Also, remember, I don't take the risks by myself -- I share that risk and find ways to mitigate that risk for our business partners. One risky project was the Mobile Ad Lab in which we did 29 in-market tests of mobile technology. Not all the projects had high ROI, but some were spectacular. I honestly think we gained a lot of insight into mobile and know how to win in this market.

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iMedia: Are there any supposed "emerging interactive marketing platforms" that you don't think will ever truly emerge? If so, what are they and why?

McConnell: I think that mobile location-based services will not emerge as envisioned because of consumer concerns about privacy. They will emerge, but the model in which consumers get a message about a coupon based on proximity will come slowly or not at all. I don't think we will ever buy into a model that relies on personalized, unsolicited messages in a private addressable channel such as a telephone -- and neither will consumers. Opt-in could change that, but at that point, it's not unsolicited.  

iMedia: Where do you think the largest untapped opportunity for interactive marketers currently exists?

McConnell: Better measurement... and fanatical devotion to the idea of value creation.

iMedia: There's no doubt that interactive marketers are doing exciting new things every day. How well are the metrics to measure these exciting new campaigns keeping up? Currently, what's your biggest metrics-related headache?

McConnell: Valid post-campaign metrics are only beginning to emerge -- and we still can't fully correlate them with profitability -- so the big gap is a continuous learning loop. Direct marketers have that on the web, but it's much more difficult in mass. The good news for P&G is that our internal measurement organization has embraced digital, and they are extremely capable.

iMedia: According to Advertising Age, in 2007, about $80.6 million of P&G's $5.2 billion U.S. ad spending was dedicated to internet channels. Do you see that proportion increasing this year and in future years? What factors go into determining the investment P&G makes in interactive marketing channels?

McConnell: I can't share financial numbers, but I can tell you we will go where the consumer is going and that is clearly toward the web.

iMedia: When you listen to pitches from interactive ad agencies, what approaches do you find most compelling and persuasive?

McConnell: I love it when they are brief and to the point, clear about why they have a right to win, and what their competitive edge is. They should be able to say that in a couple of sentences. I love it when they seem to appreciate the breadth and scope of P&G. They need to understand that brands are business management, not just advertising management, and that media and planning agency buy-in is critical. What I absolutely love about vendors in our industry is their passion, and brilliant understanding of how the marketplace works. I've learned much of what I know about marketing from suppliers, and I am very grateful for that.

Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.

Lori Luechtefeld is principal of strategic content firm Wookit Media and an associate at WIT Strategy. In both roles, she works with a network of media and marketing professionals to devise and fulfill on content strategies that connect...

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Commenter: Brett Sherman

2008, September 16

Great interview with a true pioneer