Podcast Transcript – Aparna Sundaresh from Unilever

Tune in to Time for A Reset

Paul – 00:00:03: Welcome to the Time for a Reset podcast, the podcast where I, Paul Frampton, interview senior marketers on the big issues of the day and the things that they want to see reset with an ever-changing landscape. Hello and welcome back to another episode for Time for a Reset. I’m delighted to be joined by Aparna Sundaresh, who’s out in the Netherlands.. Aparna has over 20 years of CPG experience, having started in Colgate-Palmolive Company, spent a long time in Unilever across many categories, cutting from beverages to ice cream, and then moved to Ecaterra, or some of you may know as Lipton, which obviously had a relationship with Unilever in the past, and has in many instances managed kind of transformation roles and also run profit and loss. So it’s been a very commercial market here. So a ton of experience across one of the most fascinating categories in marketing. So, Aparna, wonderful to have you this morning.

Aparna – 00:01:10: Great to chat, Paul. Looking forward to our conversation today.  

Paul – 00:01:29: Okay, so upon that, the place we always start on the podcast is just imagine you’ve got a big red reset button in front of you and you could change anything in the marketing industry, or would it be?

Aparna – 00:01:41: Yeah, it’s such a great question. I wish I had that button in front of me now. But if I did, I’d certainly reset this building tension between purpose and profit. I’ve always believed in kind of an and-and world. Very often we dissect different drivers, whether it’s, we often go, you either have functional communication or emotional, or you say you either focus on the purpose of a brand or profit. But I think it’s, you really have magic and long-term success and a more relevant role for the brand to play in people’s lives when the two come together. So when you have that very clear purpose, that very clear NorthStar kind of driving the brand, and that has to stay both timeless and timely, right? So the purpose, the North Star tends to be timeless. It’s something that can go on for decades or centuries even at times with powerful brands but You want to keep it timely over time. You want to keep it relevant to the times. You want to listen to popular culture. You want to listen to People and their kind of desires and worries and keep that relevant. And at the same time, keep a very sharp eye on what drives commercial value, right? And if you were to look at both as two circles in a Venn diagram, I think the consumer sits at the heart of both.

Paul – 00:02:57: I love that. And I’m also a big fan of And And. We seem to live in a world that’s a little bit too either or, don’t we? Brand or performance to your point, purpose or profit. You’ve obviously spent a lot of your career in or very close to the Unilever world, which is probably one of the best at putting purpose at the heart of its brands. Could you maybe just share how you would define purpose? If someone asked you to explain what it is, what would that be in your view?

Aparna – 00:03:26: Yeah, for me, it’s quite simple and intuitive, Paul. A brand’s purpose is the role that the product and the brand can play in people’s lives, right? Take, for instance, Dove, which is one of the biggest Unilever brands. So very clearly kind of Dove plays a role in nurturing people’s skin and beauty. But the point of view of the brand is very much about staying true to real beauty, right? Not feeling that pressure to conform to sometimes very unrealistic kinds of social standards in beauty. But kind of allowing People to express who they really are. Which I find goes back to our earlier point about Andan, doesn’t it? Or, you know, more recently in the tea business, the purpose of the category is very much bringing vitality in people’s lives. In quite a delicious, accessible and fun way, you know? So tea is something that most People have access to. It’s something that brings both taste and pleasure. And I do think we live in a world where we all want. That sense of well-being without compromise. And I think tea plays a great role. So for me, there again, the purpose of tea brands more often than not sit within the space of driving everyday well-being, right? In people’s lives. And then, of course, there’s a brand point of view. So we had a beautiful tea brand called PACA, which was all about nurturing People and the planet at the same time. And that’s a beautiful purpose, especially in today’s times where we’re all a lot more conscious in our consumption, aren’t we? Not as much. Not as much as we’d like to be. But you see that kind of undercurrent of consciousness kind of starting to strengthen.

Paul – 00:05:02: Yeah, no, I agree. I think that’s very beautifully put. And the examples you gave of either tea or Dove, the strength of that purpose there is that it feels very authentic and it feels very, that one has a right to be able to have that perspective. And Dove always feels that it steps into spaces, even spaces that can be quite challenging, it steps into them in the right way, in a very authentic way. And I think that’s where some brands… A little bit confused with the purpose. They just start with the Simon Sinek video of why do we exist? And it ends up being this highfalutin purpose. And of course, everybody is in some way contributing something to the planet or economy, but that’s quite a long way away from your actual day-to-day products or what you provide to a customer. So I like those examples. And it reminds me of a podcast I did a couple of weeks ago with Francisco Brown from Albertsons, actually. They’ve done an awful lot across their supermarket grocery brands in North America. Actually bring wellbeing kind of into consumers’ lives, including creating… I mean, a Sincerely Health app, which is a bit like the Vitality Health app in the UK, where you collect points, you understand your health, and why wouldn’t a grocer play that kind of role within people’s lives? But yet, still few brands actually do it kind of through the line to create products and communication that lives on purpose.

Aparna – 00:06:27: Yeah. No, listen, I love what you said before we talked about the example you just outlined. I love what you said about credibility and authenticity. I would add two more to it. I would add commitment and consistency, right? Because brands are like People, aren’t they? In the end, you build trust and you build credibility based on what you do, not just what you say and what you do over a period of time. And I think we live in such a plural world today that everything’s changing, isn’t it? I mean, it’s almost silly to say it now because we’ve seen incredible change in the world of marketing in the past few years. But with all that plurality, I think keeping consistency and keeping your commitment very clear, it’s a skill, it’s an art and a science. And I think the brands that do that really well win longer term. And that’s another key thing with purpose as well, Paul, to your point. What time frame are we talking, right? Are we talking the next year? Are we talking five years? Are we talking a few years? Are we talking a few years? Are we talking a few years? Are we talking 10? Are we really thinking long term enough with very clear and tangible short term actions? I think that’s critical as well. And it sounds like the example that you’d outline the North American retail chain, the work they’re doing with the app, I’m sure is substantiated by work they’re doing elsewhere, right? Or the kind of choices they’re making on the products on the shelf and so on and so forth. So I think People rightly so expect brands to walk the talk and do so consistently.

Paul – 00:07:53: Yeah, no, that’s a brilliant point. I love that consistency and commitment piece because actually in a global downturn, in economic challenging times and where there’s not a lot of growth everywhere, a lot of brands, the first thing that gets cut is probably the commitment to purpose. And marketing per se sometimes struggles, obviously, in these environments. But in the last years, post-COVID, I’m sure there are brands that ran a communication around something purposeful that then stopped doing it. Whereas actually the great examples, as you say, are those where you don’t need to explain Dove and Purpose because you see it in almost all of their communication. It’s kind of infused into the DNA of everything they do. And then they have clear movement and commitment to getting into a country where there may be a particular issue and following through on it. And I think that is to your point. Consumers these days are looking for proof and believability. They don’t just accept that what they see in an ad is actually true. They read the press. They look on social media. They look at where companies are based. Everything, there’s radical transparency these days, isn’t there? So brands have to be authentic. Otherwise, they’re going to get found out. And, of course, that has happened.

 Aparna – 00:09:13: No, absolutely. Yeah. I also think, I mean, to the point you made earlier, purpose isn’t a very lofty, disconnected kind of narrative that you can pick and run as you choose. It’s very much, very closely linked to what your product delivers, right? So when I worked in India on marketing as well, one of the key brands was Lifebuoy, which is a hand-washing kind of brand. But the purpose of that brand, obviously, was very much to help kids live a healthier life, you know, to kind of build that hand-washing habit early on. There’s a lot of work done with school contact programs and whatnot. That’s one kind of example. And a completely different example is ice cream for kids. And there, the purpose is to bring joy, but allow kids to make the right choices in terms of what they eat or drink. Because how often do we make choices based on perception, right? And. I think there’s something to be said about the fact that when you buy into ice cream, you know, you’re buying a treat. There isn’t hidden sugar. You know, there’s sugar. Our products were formulated for, you know, a kid-sized body. You know, the amount of calories, the amount of sugar, et cetera, without compromising, obviously, on the fun of it. But it is an integral part of a child growing up, having a treat, having a bit of fun, but also helping kids understand. So we had this beautiful kind of calorie meter and sugar meter that helped kids understand that at times, there’d be more sugar hidden in a pack of fries than there are in ice cream. But you wouldn’t know there’s sugar there. You know, you wouldn’t expect as a child or even an adult to kind of see sugar there. So I do think brands have that. As you say, People are reading stuff, but also people don’t have enough time to read enough. And therefore, it’s the responsibility of brands to kind of bring the right information in the easiest possible manner. So I think purpose really is in service of the consumer, right? In service of. People and profit in the end is what I say. They aren’t disconnected at all.

Paul – 00:11:10: Nice. No, I like that because in the early days of advertising. Advertising was just about a single-minded, sell the benefits of the products and keeping all the other stuff hidden so you can just sell products. Whereas, as you say, that’s not the world we live in anymore. A part of that, it strikes me that… Maybe there needs to be a bit of a reset around how brands are built. We’ve had a real shift towards performance marketing in the last five to 10 years because there’s a lot of BCP-backed , D2C businesses that have to grow quickly. And then there are a lot of stock market shareholder-backed businesses that have to show growth as well, which has created this focus on the short term. But it sounds to me like you’re a big believer that if you invest and commit in the long term to purpose, then you’ll have a more profitable. So do you feel that there’s something that needs to be actually reset in the way that brands are built?

Aparna – 00:12:04: Yes, in reset, but also reinforce proven ways of working, right? So I remember seeing lots of researchers, to be honest, that have proven long-term commitment to the brand purpose as being very commercially valuable over time. And it doesn’t come at the expense of product at all. The Lifebuoy example that I just kind of shared, products are the heart of it, right? Or I remember in a very early stage of my career, I worked on laundry detergent on O Mop and O-Mop’s product feature that we wanted to talk about consistently was stain removal. Now, you can talk about stain removal in a very functional, boring manner, or you can link it to the fact that moms want their kids to go out and play, but they’re worried they’ll come back with a ton of stains. So the brand idea at that time was dirt is good, which is counterintuitive. Dirt is normally not good. Dirt is bad. It’s terrible. But we said, no, dirt is good because we’ll take care of the stains and you can let your kids go, you know? Let them go out, play. That’s how they learn. So that’s another great example of product and purpose interwoven into a very tight idea. And that then cascades very nicely into performance marketing. You still talk about stain removal. You can still talk about the different stains that kids kind of get onto their shirts when they play every day and how O-Mop’s fantastic from a detergent point of view and you get your click-throughs. And you can still talk about the championing of kids playing outdoors. I remember reading a very… Very scary statistic once, Paul, which said kids have lesser time outdoors than jail inmates do. Absolutely shocked me, you know? So there’s a reason to encourage moms to let their kids go out and play. And if as a brand, we can take away one reason, I’m sure there are multiple reasons, but one reason, which is don’t worry about them getting dirty. We’ve got that sorted. You reinforce the brand’s superior stain removal performance, which drives those conversion and click-throughs. And you build a much stronger emotional bond. The consumer, right? Longer term. So this was what we discussed early on, this idea of end to end.

Paul – 00:14:09: Yeah, no, that’s a really lovely way of showing how it connects into every age story because, of course, parents care about their kids exploring the outdoors and they don’t worry too much. So any product has a role in everyday life. But sometimes, to your point, the focus is just a little bit too much on the functional rather than the emotional. Whereas it actually what you showed there is that it’s both the function and the emotion that need to come together. So I think that the thing that breaks on my boss, J. Friedman, often talks about the idea that actually when you have brand purpose, right, it helps People, humanity to be able to self-express and connect, which then obviously allows marketing to be more measurable. So I wondered if that was something that resonated with you, that actually brands help People to identify and to kind of communicate, that it then actually is done well. It makes it much easier to prove the effectiveness of actual marketing per se.

Aparna – 00:15:02: I love that. I absolutely love that. Because what I normally challenge back to People that think purpose is kind of a lovely, non-commercial little narrative that you play with when you have the time and the energy to exactly what you said, which is, it actually breaks clutter, doesn’t it? It actually creates kind of a direct line into people’s minds and hearts. I mean, talking back to our earlier example, how many laundry brands talk about stain removal? Probably all of them, every single one of them. And what are the ways in which you can break clutter? And to your point, capture people’s imagination, sense of expression. Connect with what their deepest desires and fears are on an everyday basis. And not in a lofty way, but in a very accessible everyday manner, right? Because that’s the beauty of CPG. You have a million opportunities every day to connect to a consumer. Life happens in its little moments, right? So whilst some of our PowerPoints, et cetera, might talk to the lofty words. Championing a kid’s right to play outdoors. In the end, what you’re communicating to People is to let them go out, explore, and don’t worry about one thing. We’ve got that sorted. I think to your point, getting that direct line into people’s hearts, it actually pays off in terms of hardcore metrics. Your cut through is much stronger. Your conversions are much better. And with consistency, you build those brand memorable assets. So People kind of look at it and go, yeah, I’ve seen that before. I get that. And then they go with you that extra mile, you know. So when you have an innovation, let’s say, again, taking the laundry train, when you have an innovation that says saving more water, but still getting rid of stains, you can take it that level further, you know. So, yeah, I actually love that example. I love the quote that you shared of your boss, which really links it directly into performance metrics.

Paul – 00:17:02: No, no, it’s interesting. And that’s why I love how you framed that and purpose and profit is, there seems to be this anti-purpose narrative, which is, well, it doesn’t drive, it’s either purpose or performance marketing, which is total not. And actually, if you believe in that, the connectivity from the purpose all the way through into how it connects to people’s everyday lives and their emotion, and of course, People respond and they put their hand in their pocket and they buy a product. So I like it too. And. Changing tact a little bit. We’ve obviously talked quite a lot about this. One of the things that… Really interested me about your career journeys. You’ve obviously managed P&Ls and sat at the kind of top exec table when it comes to the role of marketing. And I wondered how being so close to seeing how the business makes money, how that changed your perception of marketing before you had that exposure? Because obviously some marketers never have that commercial P&L part of their role and some CEOs will critique that marketers need to be closer to it, whereas you’ve obviously had that exposure. So I wondered what that threw up for you the first time you started to look at the P&L and then you looked at the marketing investment.

Aparna – 00:18:13: Yeah, I think it changes your narrative, doesn’t it? So in many ways, the role of a CMO at the board is to drive growth, right? And if you were to break down everything else, the role of a CMO is to drive growth. You would have other C-suite members that drive cost focus. You’d have a lot of others driving logistics focus, et cetera, et cetera. But the role of a CMO is to drive growth. And what that does is it brings a very clear focus into all of the plans. It brings a very clear focus into key decisions. Like you talked about how very often there’s the trade-off between if volumes are slowing down, et cetera, the first question is, should we cut A and B? I remember seeing a study around, this was during COVID. I’ve also seen the same study play out during many recessions and many tough times in different countries, right? Latin America. Parts of Asia, Middle East and Turkey, et cetera. And I think really the brands that win, and there are different tactics of playing. So I’m not saying have exactly the same media plan in a recession as you would otherwise, but keeping that salience and keeping that brand relevance really pays off long-term. So I learned a lot, Paul, to use evidence-based narratives. So I shifted a lot from conviction-based narratives to evidence-based narratives. I learned better eventually, and my team got a lot savvier in ensuring that we picked the right KPIs. We studied long-term correlation, and we were able to prove the point on the table. And we were able to do that from the lens of growth, i.e., if we want to grow this company, if we want to drive volumes and value, then here’s what we need to do. And within that, fully understanding cost pressures, here’s what you can let go, and here’s what you absolutely cannot let, right? Right. I also think that’s a very key skill for CMOs today to drive. I think gone are the days where the CMOs are evangelists of the brand, and we need to be that. We need to be brand custodians and brand evangelists. But above all, I think we need to be growth evangelists.

Paul – 00:20:21: Well said. Yeah. And I really love that moving from conviction to evidence, especially in a world where there’s a greater ability to find that evidence and those signals than there ever has been. Even if you don’t have the perfect evidence, you can start to picture what stage of the change that you’re hoping to get from consumers actually is, whether it’s just brand favorability all the way through to market share volume value.

Aparna – 00:20:46: It actually forces you to think innovatively. So just to give you an example, I remember during COVID, a lot of people were cutting back on everyday staples, right? It was a tough time. It was tough economically for many People. But at the same time, they were still leaving enough room for little indulgences. And I distinctly remember we had on tea a small but thriving gifting business, you know, because think about it. I mean, you think about the chocolates industry, I think about a third of the industry is gifting, right? Because it’s as much about the consumption moment as the gifting moment. And tea is a beautiful gift. It’s sustainable. It’s versatile. It’s a gift of well-being is what I’d say. And we made a strategic decision to keep the lights on on gifting. Why? Because it played a fantastic role in the brand’s equity and built that equity around here, something that’s beyond a beverage. It’s a gift of well-being. So it built those health credentials that were critical for us. At the same time, it was almost paid sampling, Paul, because if you get a gift box, you bring it out when your friends are in, they kind of have a sense of what PACA is and they might go out and buy it themselves. So that’s what I mean by making smart strategic choices, big and small, keeping the lights on  the rightparts of the marketing program with the lens of how do you drive growth longer term, right?

Paul – 00:22:10: Yeah. Oh, that’s right.

Aparna – 00:22:11: I always look at that as a very different example. It’s not your conventional one.

Paul – 00:22:15: No, no, no, it’s a great example. And I think the undertone, the other implicit thing in what you said is that there are certain things that were stopped. And I think sometimes marketing teams can be a little bit reticent to give away anything. They’re like, we need all of it. We need all of our investment and we need more. Whereas the reality is, to your point, if it’s not driving growth or if there is a relativity in terms of which tactics are driving more, right, then of course there are priorities that can be applied to it like they can in anything in life. So I think that’s good advice because having grown up a lot in the agency side of the world in the past and then running ad marketing teams, I think that one of the disadvantages that marketing just has is that no one ever thinks they’ve got enough money to do the job they need to do.

 Aparna – 00:23:04: Yeah, but that’s a great thing, right? I feel like we’ve done our best work during times of constraints. I mean, I’m sure you can relate. Having spent so much time, you get sharper as to what your one-page brief is because you really don’t have the time to go through reams and reams of a kind of hypothesis, right? You get sharper in terms of what you need to deliver. You double down and deliver it. So I always find constraints of time and money are actually a good thing. They force you to be more creative.

Paul – 00:23:30: I agree totally. The kind of riskiest, most telling innovations are created in times of abundance. It’s rare. I mean, it does happen, but it’s rare.

Aparna – 00:23:39: Yeah absolutely. 

Paul – 00:23:41: I mean, look, Unilever clearly as an organization has marketing very much at the core of it. I wonder about Ecaterra and Lipton, how much was marketing at the top of the boardroom conversation when you arrived versus as you started to play that role? Was marketing always central or did it go on a journey?

Aparna – 00:23:59: Yeah, no, I think it was central. I think Ecotera was still a company that very much focused on driving value through brands and our R&D and innovation capabilities. What changed, Paul, was… The definition of marketing and a more execution-driven approach to marketing. So not to say that execution isn’t important in Unilever, it’s tremendously important. But, you know, bear in mind, we were trying to set up a standalone company separated from the mothership. It was a circa 2 billion business that was separating from a circa 50 billion business. And therefore, we had to rewire kind of an end-to-end connected marketing thinking. You know, we could have started top-down. We could have started with strategy and driving it down. But actually, our strategy was never wrong. I always say this. I think companies rarely get their strategy wrong. Most companies get execution wrong because execution is either not high quality or it’s not consistent through the kind of marketing funnel. Yeah. So we actually focused a lot on capability building from an execution standpoint, from a shelf point of view, from a performance marketing point of view, etc. And built it back into the strategy, which was already solid. So as a new company standing on its feet, funnily enough, it was the execution end of things that needed tightening in a way.

Paul – 00:25:30: And with the world, obviously moving more towards technology, marketing technology and data. Did that play a role in some of the capabilities that you were looking at building out? Or were they more around a brand and effective?

Aparna – 00:25:46: Now, it played a massive role and goes back to what you said, Paul, around putting down a few stakes in the ground, not too many, because then none of them is going to work, but a few choices. And very early on, we put ecommerce down as a key priority, right? Because think about it. T, it’s almost designed for e-commerce. It’s high value density. It’s almost next to nothing in terms of weight, but in terms of price, especially as you start to premiumize, get into gifting, etc. You really build that higher value density, which works really well for customers like Amazon, right? In building that flywheel. So we really put a stake in the ground in terms of e-commerce capabilities, right? So we actually went from, I distinctly remember this, e-commerce was about 4% of our turnover prior to COVID. And we hit about 14% in just a couple of years, right? Now, obviously, COVID played a big role. This goes back to your point about the brands that win are the ones that watch the environment. And are agile enough to go with the flow. It’s so much easier to go with the flow than to go against the grain, right? And here was a time when people were adopting digital with a fervour that we’d never seen before, digital commerce specifically. So therefore, putting a stake in the ground in e-commerce was a no-brainer. But that focus allowed us to build capabilities rapidly, right? Because on the one hand, we had a direct-to-consumer brand called T2. It’s 100% DTC. It’s an Aussie brand. And here’s where there’s the beauty of playing the portfolio, right? So we had T2 on the one hand, which was highly data mature. We had a lot of first-party data thinking. As I said, 98% of our sales were direct-to-consumer. Half of it through stores, half of it online. We were able to pilot and learn and sharpen things with rapid agility and speed. And that would then trickle down in terms of learnings to a massive 1.1 billion Lipton, right? And that’s where we were able to build a strong, robust, and sustainable portfolio. So I think if you have the luxury of playing the portfolio, I’d also, as much as being choiceful as to what priorities are, I’d also be choiceful as to the role of the brands within the portfolio. Because we tried to experiment with a core giant like Lipton that would have slowed us down. But experimenting and getting the high-end learnings from T2 and then taking the relevant ones across the board made our transformation. That much faster.

Paul – 00:28:14: That’s a great example. I think, as you say, being very choiceful about where to test and then how transferable those tests are into other brands and other markets is something that I think is super important. You touched on first-party data there, and obviously e-comm, if you’re selling stuff at 90% of it is a known customer with a kind of lifetime value, you know their customer acquisition cost is much easier. One of the things that fascinates me about the landscape at the moment between CPG and retail is obviously this shift from the traditional buyer-seller kind of relationship into retailers now actually selling through packaging their customer data in different ways through retail media networks or side services. And I just wondered what your reflection on that was, having spent a lot of your career in CPG where unless you’ve got a D2C brand, you’ve obviously got a paucity of real customer data and customer insight. How do you think that is going to play out, and how do you think that’s going to play out? How is that changing the landscape for CPGs, the kind of businesses you work?

Aparna – 00:29:19: Yeah, it’s a great question, Paul. And I would say data fit for purpose, right? In a way, because I remember we went through quite a cycle, didn’t we, in CPG. There was a time when we weren’t very data savvy, let’s say about 10 years back, right? And then we all discovered the power of data, especially by smaller, more disruptive brands, which where data is really central to their strategy. So with a DTC brand, first-party data is central to your strategy because very often that’s how you get your, as you say, acquisition costs under control. That’s how you can think lifetime value. And you have the luxury of tracking lifetime value, right? How do you track lifetime value for a 1.1 billion euro brand? That’s an entirely different gig. And I think at some point we erred on the side of over targeting with big brands. So we went, yeah, this is trending with smaller brands. Let’s do exactly the same thing with big brands. Let’s create kind of lots of lookalike audiences. Let’s segment like crazy. Let’s do customized creative per target audience. And before we knew it, we lost sight of the wood from the trees, right? We were more focused on the process than the outcome. So we were doing a fantastic job at segmenting and targeting and proliferating multiple segments. And, but we lost sight of. What we were trying to say and whether we were truly adding incremental value for each of the different segments, right? So what I’m saying is, I think the data strategy needs to be built to scale. So if you have an environment, if you have a context and a user journey where you can control the entire user journey, then you run it a different way. If you don’t have control of the entire user journey and you’re relying a lot on third-party data, then you want to ensure there’s the good balance of scale and customization. And we don’t over-proliferate segmentation and get lost in the process. So I think data needs to be fit for scale. That’s been a big learning I’ve had through my  journey.

Paul – 00:31:25: Yeah, no, that’s a really interesting insight. I think you’re right. There are a lot of brands that have been chasing personalization at scale using data. And I think a lot have struggled to get there. And I think there’s some truth when you reflect on that. On the retail media network piece specifically, with a lot of the CPG brands that we’ve worked with, a lot of their investment is shifting over time there, away from other places. Do you see that as a trend across the board? Or do you have a skepticism about retail media just being the new shiny thing?

Aparna – 00:32:02: Yeah, no, I’m very optimistic about retail media. I think, again, within the user journey, the mindset of the shopper at that point is just so much sharper, Paul. So that gives you a very clear space within which to play. So you know you’re really driving conversion at that point. You obviously used off-retail media to drive awareness and desire, and you’re using retail media then to reinforce and convert. So I’m a big believer in keeping that very sharp and very clear and driving those performance metrics. So going back to an earlier point, I would absolutely segment in retail media because there you’re talking about conversion, you’re talking about, and even scalable brands can segment very efficiently and effectively in retail media, right? I’m also a big believer in a lot of the joint retail kind of platforms like Criteo , etc., that allow both the retailer and the brand to kind of build the right kind of IP around segmenting and targeting, etc., together. You know, to create that bit of win-win. So yeah, off-retail and on-retail need to be connected. But I think on-retail gives you, going back to our conversation, it gives you that context and control to be able to drive effectiveness and efficiency through conversion.

Paul – 00:33:19: Yes. Because as you said before, clearly, you know the propensity of someone to purchase a particular product or in a category and could move from a category to another category. I think it’s just interesting that obviously the media, that the old school media world was very much driven by just consumption. You know people consume certain media and therefore the assumption is that that has an affinity to certain brands or certain contexts. And then obviously you go to retail and retail has transaction data. And then if you go into marketplaces aggregators, there’s then multiple brands and multiple retail environments. So you’ve got even more data, but you need to have the right kind of mix of all of those things because you can’t always only be in a transactional environment. You need to, to your point earlier. The kind of media consumption side, the kind of higher part of the funnel, is where the brand purpose and the stories are told before people get down to that, okay, I now am in the shortlisting. A part of my purchasing decision and then at that point I think you’re absolutely right that If I know somebody’s previously bought or they have a propensity to buy something, why wouldn’t you buy that media rather than just buy something that is just watching a fairly generic TV program in a particular kind of context. So I think it’s a really interesting evolution of media that data is bringing to us now.

Aparna – 00:34:46: Yeah, no, absolutely. And you know, what I find fascinating about what you said is the one thing that keeps me awake at night a little bit from a data point of view is data attribution, right? It’s one of those rabbit holes that you can dive into and get lost. But it’s the point you made around how you connect work that you do in the upper funnel with the lower funnel? And how do you start building that insight and understanding and slowly start to scale that up? I think that’s probably going to be the next frontier for more scalable brands. The smaller brands do that, of course, for, you know, for the obvious reasons that we talked about before, but for big CPG brands, really kind of connecting the upper funnel and lower funnel, right? And a great example is social commerce. Look at where social commerce is taking off. So is it an upper funnel? Is it a lower funnel? Because suddenly social used to be the upper funnel back in the day.

Paul – 00:35:39: Yeah, which you can go from discovery to purchase on social media now is like very, very fast, I mean.

Aparna – 00:35:49: The huge point of convergence so it’s I’m sure there’s a lot to learn in that space.

Paul – 00:35:54: Yeah no I agree let’s give a take tap to the final part of the interview now our partner so i’d love to kind of get your personal view i mean you’ve alluded to it a little bit already but The CMO of the future, what are the most important attributes kind of going forward with everything we’ve talked about?

Aparna – 00:36:11: Yeah, again, it’s a great question, but I think someone very clever, I think it’s the CEO of Microsoft, once talked about the learn-it-alls versus the know-it-alls, right? And to your point, Paul. Life’s changing massively. Media channels are proliferating at the speed of light. And the more we dive in and learn, the easier it becomes to form a perspective, to create hypotheses, test them, prove them or disprove them, learn from them and move on. So I think having that kind of learning mindset has always been critical for CMOs, but never more critical than today than ever before, right? And that would be my advice to myself, but also other CMOs, which is. Constantly stand on the front line, learn, learn, learn, and take in as much as you can and own your craft day in and day out. Because the fundamentals of the craft remain the same, right? How you would target, how you would build a proposition and how you build kind of a marketing funnel. The fundamentals remain the same, but they change so fast based on where consumers are going, right? And therefore, I’d really kind of ask all CMOs to become learn-it-alls, right? So learn it. Learn about technology, even if it’s not entirely what you need to do in your job, but learn it and understand it. Learn about consumer trends and keep incorporating them into your thinking daily.

Paul – 00:37:41: Advice. And finally, I’m sure there’s a lot of listeners listening to this thing, thinking a partner’s worked at some of the biggest orgs in the most senior commercial roles and she knows everything. I always like to finish these interviews by kind of reminding everyone that everyone’s a work in progress, allowing everyone to be a little bit vulnerable for a second. And I’d love to hear what you’d share that you’re working on individually to improve.

Aparna – 00:38:07: This has been something that I’ve been working on for a long time. As you say, we’re all a work in progress. And there are certain things that you need to constantly hone. And I think it’s the power of listening as a marketeer. The power of really deeply listening. I think there’s a big difference between hearing and listening, right? Because we hear a lot. From reports, from market research reports, from people, concerns from within the organization, from the customers, et cetera. But deep listening is a skill. You know, deep listening where you go beyond the surface of what people are saying to why they’re saying it and taking that moment to understand that, I think gives you that. It gives you the foundation to be able to build your insights from there. So I constantly remind myself to be an active listener, to be a deep listener, to go beyond the surface and to really, you know, have the patience and the resilience to listen. I think listening takes energy. I sometimes feel it’s easier to speak. It takes a lot more energy to actually listen, right? Which you probably know better than most of us.

Paul – 00:39:14: I’m working on this. Yeah. I think in all aspects of life, in any of our relationships, actively listening is very powerful. I think a lot of marketers are confident, articulate people, right? And therefore, it’s easy to fill spaces rather than to actually look for the questions elsewhere and just assume a kind of naiveness. I remember very early on in my career, someone, a strategist once said to me, listen to the naive experts most when you’re trying to find answers, which I thought was a super valuable insight. It’s like, they’re very smart, wise people, but they don’t know the decks and the intricacies of what it is you’re doing. There’s something in that, isn’t there? And I’ve always got to assume that you can learn something from somebody else. Otherwise, we’d all do everything on our own. 

Aparna – 00:40:06: Absolutely. Yeah, no, I love it. Because I think, as you say, listening to the, perhaps the least experienced voice in the room, this is so important to build that creative culture. 

Paul – 00:40:19: Well, look, what a wonderful interview. We’ve covered so much ground. We’ve gone from talking about the importance of purpose and profit and the fact that actually, they can live together. And then we’ve talked about how all the way kind of through from thinking about how strategy through to execution needs to work, the role that marketing plays and moving from convictions, evidence. And then you beautifully swung us around to the fact that everybody in the marketing industry needs to focus on a learning mindset. And I do often think that there’s a danger that senior marketers can be a little bit too far away from what’s actually happening. So I love your language, live on the front line, understand what’s going on with data, with marketing technology, with e-commerce, with AI, because he’s going to change your world. Yet, as you said, the craft of what we do, the understanding of how you build something valuable, how you build a value proposition, tell stories connected through to purpose, that hasn’t changed. So I’ve loved this interview and you’ve taken us through a really interesting journey. So all that remains is for me to thank you for your time, Apana

Aparna – 00:41:25: Thank you, Paul. I really enjoyed our conversation as well. You know, I always take something away from every conversation as well. And I really loved your articulation of driving brand purpose all the way to attention from a People point of view, all the way to conversion. So I loved that. Something for me to take away as well. Thank you. Yeah, I greatly enjoyed our chat.

Paul – 00:41:46: Well, that’s great. I’ll say it was Jay’s, my boss’s, but I’ll take that. So thank you. Really enjoyed that. Thanks Apana. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Time for a Reset. I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I do. We’ll be back talking to a senior marketeer very soon. Make sure you don’t miss out on any new episodes by subscribing on Apple or Spotify.

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