‘It’s about recognising that you will never ever master digital’ says this P&G marketer

For Alexandra Vogler, associate director – P&G beauty, digital transformation and communications at Procter & Gamble, digital marketing wasn’t the path from the start, having earned a degree in computer science which, as she candidly puts it, was “sexy at the time until the bubble burst in the early 2000s”.

In her current role, she specialises in building brands, human insights and new media models. She was part of the force which made digital-pull media integral to skincare brand SK-II, while bringing anti-bacterial soap Safeguard into the modern way of marketing.

During a recent Digital Marketing Asia conference organised by Marketing, she shared her experience of what it was like working with one of the biggest, truly data-driven brands globally, and also shared her views on what it really means to have digital transformation in an organisation which believes strongly on issues around brand safety and viewability.

For Vogler, “digital transformation” is the profound transformation of businesses and organisations based on the changes which are stemming in society from the vast availability of a mix of digital tools.

“What you have to do is think about how these technologies are changing a consumer’s life. For example, coming back from a holiday 10 years ago I probably would have tweeted something about the trip. Fast-forward to four years ago, I would have posted a picture, but now consumers tend to use videos or even do it with AR filters and on Instagram Stories,” she explained.

She added that at the end of the day, business needs to simply  understand the customer and see them as the boss. Only by putting themselves in the shoes of the customer can you truly be ready for the digital revolution.

Marketing: Digital has really picked up over the years, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Vogler: The most difficult thing with digital is the pace of change. When I first started in P&G and had to do my first TV advertisements, there were many experts who had worked on TV advertising for years, bringing a lot of counselling into the process. It also showed that for the past few decades, people were looking at perfecting the art of TV advertising and what happened when digital came along is that it was new and exciting, but there was no playbook.

I think people may have originally thought there would be a playbook or a specific way to master this space, but for me the biggest learning has been recognising it is a continuous journey. It’s about recognising that you will never ever master digital.

I can still remember launching SK-II’s Snapchat channel a few years back with great pride. But now in this region, Snapchat has less of a presence and we have to move on from it. As such, you have to constantly evolve and adapt what you are doing. That for me is one of the biggest changes and challenges, but once you embrace it and once you get your teams to embrace that you are never going to master it, all you can do is learn from it and do it a little bit better next time. Stay open to change and you will be able to continuously evolve.

Marketing: In recent times, P&G has taken a very strong stance on brand safety and viewability when it comes to digital. This is especially since P&G actually pulled out of YouTube for a year before coming back in recent months. How has the impact been in Asia?

Vogler: In general, we advertise across multiple platforms and the way I look at marketing is that it’s not just one platform. I don’t think it’s only about YouTube [when talking about the marketing mix]. Instead, it’s about bringing everything together and it really starts with figuring out your target consumer and who influences them.

It’s also about figuring out the right media mix and how we are serving these platforms. So while YouTube is one of the many video platforms [we advertise on], there are, of course, others. This includes using influencers and social media posts.

While it’s important to diversify, what is important is always putting your customer at the centre and knowing what they are interested in and where they get their information from.

Marketing: In the digital world, every company says they want to be data-driven. Has the word “data-driven” become overused?

Vogler: I don’t know if it has been overused, but data is actually useful because you can get a lot of knowledge from data – but it is important to use it and make it actionable. I think a lot of people get obsessed with collecting data, but just sitting on vast amounts of data won’t achieve anything.

The most difficult part about being data-driven is operationalising the data. I have worked on a number of different brands and through these brands, I’ve been through the journey of having a lot access to data, but not knowing what to do with it. It’s about figuring out not only how to collect the data – which is easier – but how to get the team and the decision makers together to review the data on a regular basis and draw conclusions and actually drive action from that data.

Even though being data-driven is something important, it’s really about the team habits and operationalisation.

Marketing: How then did you push your team to translate data into insights?

Vogler: The first step is getting everyone on the same call/page. If you have your partners, agencies and marketing team, or if you work on a regional business with different country teams, getting everyone on the same page and looking at the same data is important.

That way you can learn together what the data points you would like to look at are and how do you draw conclusions from them. Getting into the habit of doing this regularly maybe once a month at the start, and then accelerating it to once a week, gets you into a really good habit and you learn together as a team.

As the platforms evolve, KPIs tend to evolve so you tend to start learning together on the new KPIs and new platforms. As such it is about having the habit of dedicating time and having all the right people on call.

Marketing: Speaking of partners, what then do you think of the current capabilities of the digital agencies in this part of the world? Are they well-placed to deal with the fast pace of digital?

Vogler: There is a vast amount of digital marketing agencies or agencies in general and I think some agencies are more forward-thinking than others. And, honestly, the agencies who are forward-thinking are well-placed to deal with the way the future is shaping and some agencies which are less forward-thinking, it is going to be more difficult. Then again, everyone can reinvent themselves and I think that is the whole challenge of digital marketing, it is about how do you reinvent yourself given the constantly rapid pace.

Marketing: How hard was it for you to convince your team to be data-driven?

Vogler: It depends on the individual, I think in general people want to succeed in this space so I would say 99% of the people are there and you have one or two people who need a bit of convincing. I believe the best way to bring people along is to get them to try something.

There is no better way to learn in this space than to try and it’s what I do on a daily basis and what I try to encourage my teams to do. Going back to my computer science days, over time software development evolved from long project lead times to something called “agile software development”.

This meant short stints where they programme products, release them and get consumer feedback. They then improve them and repeat the cycle again and again. Taking a page from software programming’s book, I like the idea of “agile marketing” where instead of developing a campaign for six or 10 months, you do it quickly, put it out there and get some responses from the public and then you improve and iterate on that version. That’s what marketers can do in the modern world.

Marketing: How have your past experiences in computer science and traditional PR helped you in your current role?

Vogler: I studied computer science at a time where computer science was sexy and then the bubble burst in the early 2000s and then marketing became a lot more attractive, and amid a career mainly in marketing, I did a short stint in PR a few years back. With digital marketing, not only are the lines blurring between marketing and PR, but I can also use a lot of my knowledge about computer programming, coding and data understanding and apply it to marketing. I think they are coming together nicely and I now don’t have to make a choice anymore.

Marketing: What do you wish you knew before stepping into this role which involves a lot of digital and data?

Vogler: I wish I knew it was so much fun and had started the journey earlier for myself and pushed to have a digital role much earlier. That being said, the big thing that I need to continuously remind myself of is the pace of change and always keeping an open mind, and to never think that I have mastered it. I also need to stay open to what is coming next and how do I evolve and how do I change.

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