TFAR Podcast Transcript – Episode with Adam Wright, Head of Digital at Beiersdorf

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Episode hosted by: Athar Naser, Global Director of Transformation Consulting at CvE.

Athar Naser –  Thank you for being with us this morning. We are joined today by Adam Wright at Beiersdorf and Nivea. It’s a great honor to have him on the show. He’s got some really interesting experience. He’s done some amazing work as well. I remember being at the Mad Fest event last year and he was talking about some of the work he was doing and it was really impressive. So it would be really interesting to get under the skin of some of that. Adam, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us. Why don’t we start by just giving us a little bit of introduction on what you’re doing and who you are.

Adam Wright –  Awesome. Thanks Athar. And yes, pleasure to be here. I really appreciate you having me on today. So I am the head of digital at Beiersdorf. Beiersdorf, as most of you will probably not really know the parent company, but as a huge FMCG company responsible for brands like Nivea and Nivea Men, I’m the head of digital for our northern European region which for us covers the UK and Scandinavia. And essentially my team are responsible for all of our digital specialities. So things as wide reaching as a precision marketing, some a lot of the digital media that we buy well. So performance marketing, retail media, social influencers and our CRM topics as well. So I’ve been in the business for about eight years and it’s been a bit of a wild ride, to be honest, obviously with COVID sats in the middle of that. But we’ve been through a huge transformation journey over that time. So as you said, the team do some awesome work that I personally can’t take credit for. But it’s been a great journey to be on and obviously to talk about it with you today.

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Athar Naser –  That’s a very wide dream at Adam, isn’t it? You must have so many different things on your plate, not to mention a lot of things on your plate. With all of that, I guess you get a fairly broad view of things. I’m going to ask you just to kick us off. If you did have one wish and you could just change and reset one thing about marketing, what would that be?

Adam Wright –  Yes, it’s a great question. I think probably and I’m as guilty of it as most, it’s probably the obsession with new and shiny things. I think that for me can be to a benefit but also to a huge detriment, I think. What’s newest in the hype cycle? We tend to get hooked on a bit of a drug of newness. And I think whoever you ask has a brand new technology that’s going to change the game or what’s your strategy for the Metaverse or got industry experts coming out of everywhere to try and figure out a technology that’s been only been around for five minutes. And I think, for me, that’s probably one thing that I would like to reset. And I’m personally trying to also reset as well in terms of my focus, because I think a lot of the time the underlying technology of all of these can be great and a lot of it can be truly transformational, but that tends to get quite lost in the hype. So I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last year or two trying to reset and rebalance to focus on things that don’t change and that follow patterns that can be things like behavioral psychology, human needs. All of that, I think actually helps us focus on actually makes transformation easier. Because I think for me, that you can then truly isolate areas that actually have a meaningful change and that can be to the consumer or it can be to our company’s successes. And I think that for me is probably one thing that I think if I was to think about resetting something, I think,  yes, that’s probably if you get less hooked on the newness and more stuff on, that might have a real meaningful change.

Athar Naser –  That’s really interesting. And I like how you’ve connected transformation and new technology or those shiny objects. And obviously the shiny object that’s doing the rounds on LinkedIn at the moment is ChatGPT, isn’t it? And there’s that AI. It’s fairly impressive tech, but obviously there’s still a long way before that’s really made the mainstream, I think.

Adam Wright –   yes, and I think that’s another one. It’s one an area that I’m fascinated by and obviously I think what I’m trying to disconnect myself from is the mantra of drop everything, otherwise you get left behind for it. And I’ve done some experimenting with GPT, for instance, and I agree it can be truly transformational, but you tend to then forget the stuff that you build a strategy on if you focus all your time and attention on that.

Athar Naser –   Yes, tip number one is focus on the tried and tested, the proven things, get the basics and the foundations right?

Adam Wright –   Yes, 100%.

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Athar Naser –  Excellent. So tell us about transformation work at Beiersdorf then. What does that look like? What does transformation mean in your day-to-day world?

Adam –  So there’s varying degrees to this. So we have our overarching transformation agenda as a business and that might be the way that we’re structured to make sure that we’re fit for future and operating in the right way. Do we have the right roles in place? Do we have the right hierarchical structures or matrix structures to govern and set ourselves up right? And we’ve been like most big FMCG businesses have been through a huge amount of transformation over the last few years and a lot of that is driven in part by technological changes and world changes, but also with COVID obviously did a huge role in influencing that. So we had a big look over the last two years about have we got the right tech stack? We decided to take on salesforce as a big tech stack a few years ago, which in order to get the best out of something like that, you have to reorganize and you have to structure your set-up in the right way, right the way through to as a local team. And I talked about this in manifest as well, just how do we make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the right mantra of experimentation and rapid understanding of what works and we’ve got our own vision and thought around how we transform the areas locally as well. I think transformation for me is both a top-down and a bottom-up and it’s generally influenced by both what’s going on in the world as well as where the business has been at a bit historically.

Athar Naser –   Yes, you’re reacting to consumers and you’re also essentially just maturing the marketing function of the business, right? It’s about maturity as much as anything.

Adam Wright –  Definitely. And I think if you look at some of the huge changes that have gone over the last twelve months somewhere like retail media for instance, that’s had a huge impact then on how we orchestrate ourselves full funnel as well. So beforehand it used to be planned quite siloed. We didn’t really have a lot of interconnectivity between ecom and digital teams and we thought very long and hard and made some quite significant structural and organizational changes to make that function better. So that’s one example where the move in the market has actually dictated how we also move to the business as well.

Athar Naser –  What does the transformation team look like, Adam? Like how do you structure that? Do you lead the charge on transformation? Is that a business-wide mantra?

Adam Wright –  I guess it depends on the breadth of the transformation. If I’m leading the transformation, we’ll generally import like a project team or someone who’s orchestrating that and is thinking about that as a group. And generally I’ll try and get that from a breadth of experiences, breadth of functions and try and pull that together. So that the experimentation one. For instance, we built a growth team that included both agencies and internal, helped drive that and then equally for the bigger organizational shifts and restructures that, that obviously has a core team who dictate and govern that and then you roll out from there, basically.  yes, sometimes it can be very organic, sometimes it can be very planned.

Athar Naser –  So your transformation is not one big project, it’s actually broken up into smaller projects that take place in a team-by-team environment.

Adam Wright –  Yes, definitely. I think that’s probably the same in most big organizations. Definitely. I think because you’re trying to turn a very big ship, it doesn’t really make sense to try and try and do that all as one whole because not all of the different areas. Yes, obviously you have a big corporate vision, but all of the areas have to figure out their own ways to play up into that. So I think you have individual transformation in various degrees within each of the individual structures and then you have the total transformation over that.

Athar Naser-   Yes, that’s good to hear and really resonates. Obviously change is very difficult. A lot of people push back on change. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of buy-in from the business to make change, to mature, to transform. Did you have to work hard to get that? Or was that very evident in an environment like yours during COVID when online buying shot up, et cetera? How did that happen?

 Adam Wright – Yes, it’s a great question. I think when everyone innately understands that digitalization changes the game and that can be everyone from moving online and online shopping during COVID or it could be the move to social platforms that we’ve seen over the last ten years and just where the consumer attention has gone. All of that plays a big part then to giving you the mantra that, yes, change has to happen or change is inevitable whether you’re on board or not. That can be the difference between make or break of a business. So I think that there’s a nate understanding for that. But then the second bit of it is have you built enough trust within your business to be able to fly the flag for that and have the rain to actually make that change? And do you have got the right resources if you’ve got the right people on board, have you got the right agencies there? Can you make that change happen? And that all comes from also building trust within the team. So a lot of the work that we’ve done as a team is around that, around how do you build trust in something that not necessarily everyone understands but people trust you, that you’re going along that right path.

Athar Naser –   Yes. I hate to press you and tell me if you can’t, but are there specific examples of that that you can cite.

Adam Wright –  I think probably the one that we’ve talked about in the past is probably something like experimentation. So and like driving an experimentation agenda, which innately with a company like buyers do offer, is, we’re not necessarily long term geared up for rapid experimentation. We’re not a Facebook, we’re not a Netflix. Our products are innately physical. They’re products that you can’t hold in your hands. So when you talk about, rapid experimentation, people, will step back and go, well, there’s our cycle plans, two years long. some of our innovations take ten years to come through.

Adam Wright –  So how do you take what are essentially a Silicon Valley principle of experimentation and try and put that into a company like Beiersdorf that is traditional CPG. And what we tried to do with that is take some very small steps, really try and at least in the first instance, not really have a mind of we we want to run like,  experiments a year, or we want to make huge change. It’s right. Let’s start with, five experiments. Let’s see how that goes, that’s and, and as a small group, and let’s almost test and learn the way that we do that as we go as well. So we set up an experimentation team was at the start of  with the goal of, let’s try and run three experiments a week, and let’s try and get to a good cadence of that. And they can be tiny experiments, just really small ones at the start, and that’s snowballed now, and we’ve been able to build the resource and everything that’s around that. But that started really small, and I think that’s also built with it an understanding that transformation and change doesn’t necessarily have to occur in a huge big bang right from Monday to the next. Let’s do it. It can be very incremental over time. And if you look at where we were and how our website was at that point and how operating was then versus where it is now, it’s a huge difference. But that’s built through a lot of tiny steps along the way.

Athar Naser –  That’s great. So essentially start small, prove, prove change, prove the case, and then obviously that builds trust and then leverage for the bigger projects.

Adam Wright –  Definitely.

Arthur –  Or scale up, essentially, isn’t it? When you find the successful formula yes, exactly.

Adam Wright –  If you look at the growth of Amazon and the way that we’ve run that over the last few years, I think that’s exactly the same. Like, you prove out a successful formula, it helps that you’ve got transparency of data and something like that as well, and you can see it and you can lay that out for people. So that the story and the results are very clear for everyone to see, which then makes it much easier to excellent.

Athar Naser-  What are the common challenges that you come up against, Adam? Obviously by the sounds of things, every transformation project or every transformation track is very different. So no two projects are the same. But are there common things that you find getting in the way of the day-to-day, the ground-level work?

Adam Wright –   Yes, there’s a few things probably I’d say the macro environment obviously plays a huge part. I think everyone is dealing with their own personal changes and big societal shifts and things that happen in the macro environment which then derails or can put into perspective a lot of the changes that you’re trying to drive on a day-to-day basis. I’d say that’s the overarching macro that definitely plays a part in terms of the speed of change that you’re able to enact.

Athar Naser –  So are we talking about a project perhaps taking even longer than the market takes to change?

 Adam Wright –  Definitely,  yes. And I think part of that is because the speed of change and that can be everything from big global crises we obviously have the pandemic we’ve had cost of living crisis that all of these things play a big impact even into stuff that you’re trying to win at that might not seemingly have a very close resemblance to it, like, let’s say some smaller scale organizational changes. But because these big changes then change your business focus. That makes them the knock-on effect, actually, to how you prioritize and the time that people have to get round the other changes because of the other stuff that they’ve got on in their mind. So I think it has quite a big knock-on effect on how you transform and the speed of transformation that businesses go into.

Athar Naser –  I was going to say, I guess the experimentation work that you did probably really aids in just building the company’s capacity for speed and working at pace, right?

Adam Wright –  It does, definitely. And I think probably the biggest thing that it shifted is just the mindset around that change doesn’t have to be huge like big bangs and you don’t have to wait for the next huge marketing campaign to make any sizable change. There are things that you can go and test at speed and things that you can learn without necessarily needing to do those big bang changes. So I’d say the mindset shift that’s driven has the biggest knock-on effect.

Athar Naser-   Yes, in terms of I mean, you mentioned shifting some of the hierarchical structures and looking at roles and responsibilities, et cetera. That obviously speaks to the operating model that you’re having to look at. You also mentioned data and tech. Are you finding those areas are needing more and more changes? What’s your impression on for example, the operating model? And is that having to happen sort of piecemeal across the business and how you’re transforming those?

Adam Wright –  So it does have to happen piecemeal because any meaningful change obviously starts with some compelling vision or a reason to change. So if somebody needs call it like an enemy or something that you have a real point of if we don’t act now on this, then this is the future and the sloping future that’s going to happen from it. And I think that takes people a while to get their head around. I think whoever comes up with that vision in the first instance has a huge job in trying to get everyone on board to do that. And an operating model is no different when you’re trying to move  people in a different direction. It’s a huge thing that people have to understand what’s the reason and the motive for going to change that. So because of that there are certain groups by nature that come on board with that quicker and there are certain groups who tend to drag their heels and it takes a much slower time to get back. And I think we’re right in the middle of that now. Basically there’s certain teams who’ve embraced it and there’s certain markets that embraced it, but then there’s certain markets who don’t. And I think I’m pleased to say that the Northern European region tend to be on the front foot of that, but you still get micro teens within that. So I think with any big-scale transformation you get a big difference.

Athar Naser –   Yes, that’s really interesting. I’ll ask you perhaps a slightly difficult question. Is there anything that you can pinpoint that makes certain teams or certain people more receptive to change than other people? And I’m asking you a psychology question.

Adam Wright –   Yes, I’ve played with this one a lot myself. Because even like if you think about like it’s a perfect time of year now, we start and sat in January. Everyone has their own goals for the year and has their own habits they want to make and break and everyone’s in the gym and all of this stuff. And I think meaningful change and long-term change has to have some big fire or big ignition event that causes that. So I think if I had to probably reflect on it by not dramatizing or getting a team to really see that change and the reason for change probably has the biggest knock-on impact then to whether or not they are motivated enough to do it. So if you’re, I guess, leading the charge on it, trying to ignite that and trying to find a reason for why that specific person on that specific team also has to follow on down the route. That’s going to be probably the difference between whether that changes how fast it comes and also whether it sticks. Probably.

Athar Naser –   Yes. I think that’s very well answered, Adam. So essentially what you’re saying is that part of the job is selling that change in correctly, isn’t it? This is why and getting people to buy into the change themselves so that they can come to the table rather than just saying here’s the change, this is what’s going to happen whether you like it or not. So essentially getting by in, isn’t it?

Adam Wright –  Definitely. And I think if you think people are innately selfish, right, people are in it, what’s in it for me? How’s it going to impact me? What’s my long term why should I care? Why am I going to move and change? And I think setting that and getting people to innately understand that that is the difference between whether someone’s going to be on board or not. And yes, obviously you can do it hammer and the CEO says so and so therefore we’re going to go and move, which does move some people, but ultimately that doesn’t move a culture, it doesn’t move anything that’s anything long term.

Athar Naser Diplomacy is such a big part of getting transformation, right, isn’t it? It’s a people game, right?

Adam Wright – Absolutely, always.

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Athar Naser- You also mentioned tech and data, Adam. What are the changes that are fundamentally having to take place across tech and data? Obviously things like retail media means that you’re having to upskill to change how you manage data. But tell us a little bit more about that in terms of in the context of change and transformation.

Adam Wright –  Yes, it depends on the maturity of the business. I think with a business like ours, if you look back ,  years, I’d say we were fairly far behind where we probably should have been at that point. And that’s an underinvestment, I guess probably from a people side, from any change, especially with tech, you start with mindset, then you go on skill set and then tool set is probably the final one. So your technology stack is actually should realistically be the last thing that moves moves along, that people have to understand the mindset around it. They have to have the skills to enact that. And then ultimately then you should then go and find the tech stack that then goes and suits and suits that I think that we as a business were probably behind on all of those. I think now we’ve caught up a lot and actually offend certain areas we lead the charge on. But I think that’s come about if you look at, say something like salesforce, for instance, that is a huge beast that I think if we’re to look in hindsight now, we probably took on a big technology before the mindset and skill set was there. And actually that’s probably a mistake in a lot of areas, I’d say. It goes back to my first point. I think we’re quite fascinated as marketeers of a tool is going to go and solve all of our problems. Similarly, if you look at something like retail media, it’s the same if you haven’t got the right skill set and mindset and strategy around governing that before you then run into it. Actually, regardless even the breadth of Amazon or the breadth of all the other retailers that we play with, you’re never going to get that right and operating in the right way unless you fix those first two.

Athar Naser  – Essentially you’ve got to have your strategy, right? You’ve got to have the right skill sets and then you start to embark on transforming your tech, transforming your data. Because as you say, and we’ve seen this a number of times when businesses bring in really expensive, really complicated tech and then realize that they don’t have the capacity to manage it and then it looks like a bad investment, right?

Adam Wrigh0 -t Absolutely. And a lot of that is also the same with data, same with everything. I sit on way more data than I could ever use. And the go to let’s go and solve this problem is let’s go and get a new tool or let’s go and let’s go and buy some more data that will answer all of our problems. And actually being able to query that in the right way or ask the right questions or have the right understanding of that makes a much bigger difference long term than just go and buy something. Again, because everyone just gets very disillusioned with the technology otherwise. And everyone writes it off before you get the true power of something like that.

Athar Naser – Yes. Tell me a little bit more if you can, of course, around on that data subject. Now, it’s interesting that you mentioned, obviously a lot of brands sit on a huge amount of data that they don’t necessarily use and they don’t mine. What’s your approach to that? Do you have plans to try and use more of that data? And it’s great to hear that you recognize you sit on a ton of data. How much of it are you using? Is that a frustration for you? Do you want to use more or are you using what you need to be using well enough for what you need right now?

Adam Wright – Yes, that’s a good question. We probably have way too much and it’s not connected enough at the moment would be my summary and I think this is probably the case for most businesses. I don’t think we’re necessarily alone with this. If you think about the way that our model is structured, we’re an indirect business. So we sell products to Boots or to Amazon or to Tesco and they then sell them on to the consumer. So automatically you have three stages of data then before you then have the end consumer. So what we tried to do really hard is work to both build up our direct consumer to brand data pool but also our brand to retailer data pool to get an understanding of actually what’s driving it from a retailer and a shopper perspective but also what’s driving the consumer behavior that sits behind that as well. So the reason that we set up our direct to consumer shop, for instance, was trying to close the gap on doing that. And we’re by no means perfect at the moment, but we’re a load better now than we were beforehand. So at least I’ve got now if I’m seeing something happen on a retailer website or saying something happened through Amazon, you have a way to send check and stress test actually. Are we seeing that same data replicated if we’re going directly or if we’re running this ad set and this landing page actually is consumer behavior happening in the way that we’d expect something like that too. So that can be a very granular to consumer and single party level now rather than it being aggregated or matched up. So  yes, I think to probably answer the question, I’d love to use data better than we are now and we’re definitely on a journey with that, but I think we’re a huge amount better now equipped than we probably were a few years ago.

Athar Naser – Yes, that’s a great answer, Adam. And I think to your point, this is a very common thing in the industry that data sits in silos and doesn’t connect well enough. And going back a step, what you mentioned around getting that the strategy right, getting the business case right, getting the narrative right internally before you go off and buy a bunch of tech. I think this speaks to that point insofar as if you understand how data can speak to each other and integrate a little bit better, then when you have that understanding, then you can start to think about, right, what technology do we need to actually create that spine, if you like?

Adam Wright – Definitely.

Athar Naser –  But  yes, really interesting. Thanks for that. In terms of there’s a lot of change that’s happening. Where do you see the role of agencies and consultancies in that? Obviously there seems to be obviously a rising consultancies. All of the network agencies now offer more and more consulting services. But how do you see those relationships changing or maturing?

Adam Wright – So I think it’s absolutely necessary to have. Consultancies and to have agencies working hand in hand essentially with the business and with the brands. I think if you think about our core competencies that we need to build as a business, they’re not necessarily in the areas that the peripheral areas of creativity or the way that we use data or the way that we look at the total retail, media landscape, all of those things. It doesn’t pay for us to necessarily in house those from the start. Yes, future thinking might be to look at something like that. But actually if you build a good network and a good agency model, a good consultancy model, that can help you move a huge amount faster than if you were to try and try and get those people in. Because also I think what we’ve tended to find is when you recruit people into areas that are growing so let’s take performance marketing for instance. If you recruit someone into that role, they’re essentially lonely for the first period of time because you haven’t essentially got a peer group to help inform and grow and push things faster or as hard as you want. Whereas agencies are built to help you do that and to hire in areas and hire an expert that you don’t necessarily have to have when you’re booked from the start. So I think as with all of these things, it’s a continual moving operation for us. But a business like ours heavily, heavily relies on those to help us move at the speed that we want to.

Athar Naser – Yes. So those external partners are more and more being relied on to add some of that speed boat capability, get us moving in these very specific areas a little bit faster.

Adam Wright –  Definitely.

Athar Naser -That’s really interesting. And just quickly. So I’ve only got two other bits to grill you on. One is one thing that I hear a lot of is, just business as usual gets in the way of, the transformation agenda. If you like. You put something on on someone’s plate and you ask, can you look into this for me? It’s not their priority, it’s your priority. How do you get around that? And do you find that to be a challenge?

Adam Wright – Yes, it is a challenge, definitely. I think it goes back to some of the earlier stuff that we talked about. If you can’t get it high enough on someone’s agenda, then they’re not going to put the thought into it to make a sizable change, whether it’s the sizable change in mindset or a sizeable change in the work that you’re allowing them to do to make that change in processes or meaningful change possible. And I think that everyone’s got busy lives, everyone’s got busy decks and plates to deal with. And I think that we tried to work a huge amount of the business to try and simplify operations and we’re constantly on that journey to try and do that, to give people the head space to be able to separate themselves from business as usual and think a bit more futuristically about that. But it’s always going to be always going to be a challenge. And as I said, especially with the macro environment where people have got other stuff to worry about and people have got lives outside and that also has a cognitive drain probably on people to give themselves that headspace to do it as well.

Athar Naser –   Yes, and I guess it goes back to your point of selling in the the need for change correctly, isn’t it? And if they but if the people have bought into that, they might escalate and that might go up in their priority list, definitely. Adam, I’m going to leave it to you to add anything else that you would want to add about transformation or marketing or is there anything else that you’d like to say at all?

Adam Wright- I think transformation, when it’s talked about, can often feel like a bit of a revolution. So you think about it as like completely ripping everything up. And I think that my experience with that is that if you sell it in as that, then generally organizations will try and ignore it probably as long as possible or certain swathes of the organization will or leave it to other teams. And that’s dangerous in any transformation, I think when it feels like something’s too far away or it’s too big a challenge, particularly when people have already got their own work to do, I think that’s probably the most dangerous thing that affects any sizable change that you want to make. So I think if you can work on lightning that, firing people and you can get people motivated enough to want to bring about that change, then you’ve probably already made the hardest leap that you’re going to have to do in any meaningful change. And in my experience, a lot of that comes with just very small steps at the start and building and building that momentum. And I think that by no means I’m learning all the time on this and it’s an area that I’m particularly fascinated around, how you bring change about quicker and move that in. But I think that’s probably the biggest learning that I’ve had over the last two years or so in bringing about change. So I think that’s probably my closing thought on it.

Athar Naser – That is a fantastic, fantastic way to end as well. Adam, thank you very much for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you.

 Adam Wright – Thank you. I appreciate it. Cheers.

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