Q&A: Jerome Lemaire, UK marketing director at Reckitt Benckiser

After a 15-year career and counting at one of the biggest corporate champions of the importance of marketing, Jerome Lemaire is well placed to discuss the challenges facing marketers today and how the job of marketing and marketers has changed in that time.  

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Currently the marketing director at Reckitt Benckiser’s UK business, one of the company’s biggest markets, Lemaire talks to Marketing Week about the opportunities e-commerce presents FMCG companies, how the recession has changed consumers, the influence of marketing in the boardroom and the need to innovate.

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Marketing Week (MW): RB has experimented with e-commerce in recent years. What plans do you have to expand in this area?

Jerome Lemaire (JL): E-tailing and e-commerce are top priorities for us. E-tailing is number one. E-commerce we have big plans for over the next two years that will be much more ambitious [than previous initiatives such as selling a Cillit Bang variant exclusively through Facebook].

There will never be a RB [e-commerce] site, however. We are not going to mix brands such as Nurofen and Cillit Bang. For some brands it [e-commerce] makes sense. Those in the household or healthcare category, for example. There is not a lot of sense to have the brands together, though.

Is it about sales and engagement? It is about commerce. Engagement was the original reason we moved to digital but now we want to do business on it. E-tailers such as Tesco and Boots are our priorities but e-commerce has possibilities. E-commerce is important and interesting for the future but the reality is e-tailing is the priority. It is a world we know.

MW: What marketing opportunities excite you at the moment?

JL: Finding ways to combine products and services. As a marketer I find this interesting. The traditional explanation of a product belongs to the past. RB’s Vanish Tip Exchange, for example (where customers exchange tips on how to remove stains on social media) people can find different ways to use your product – share their own way. You can be passive or active. The future is combining a broad range of products with a broad range of services. Any kind of medium can bring this to life.

MW: Which products are going to see marketing investment over the next 12 months in the UK?

JL: We are keeping the investment stable as a minimum but some brands will see increased investment. Key brands in household are Finish, as always. We have a big innovation planned for next year. Also Vanish, which has a great momentum and is coming back after 4 years of sluggish growth since 2008. The brand has been flying in the last year, however. There will be more innovations next year.

Nurofen will be entering the cold and flu market later this year with a massive launch in October. Cold and flu is one of largest over the counter categories and Nurofen is one of the biggest brands in terms of equity. We will take two different approaches with two different cold and flu brands. Lemsip is all about comfort and taking time off to recover. Nurofen is for the go getters who take a pill and go to work. Nurofen entering cold and flu we believe is going to bring a lot of incremental sales as you are talking to different people and a different target audience.

MW: Has the influence of marketing grown in the boardroom in your time working at RB?

JL: At RB, 15-years ago when I joined about 90 per cent of the CEOs and SVPs were marketers. It is the same now. Top level discussions among executives quickly turn to brands. For RB, marketing is the essence of the company.

Even during the bad times we were spending the same levels on media. In the depths of the recession in 2008/09 there was some debate about marketing investment. We did do more promotion although it was a big mistake to do more promotion during the recession. Rewarding customers [in this way] rewards your loyal base but does not grow the market.

It gives you a short-term market share spike but long-term doesn’t do anything. It’s the easy way out. In the worst of recession we maintained media spend over promotion. At no point in time did we want to de-invest in media. Many of our brands are discretionary – extremely reliant on penetration development – fabric brands for example, so we needed to spend on media.

MW: Is there a danger that consumers and marketers are stuck in a recessionary mindset?

JL: Consumers have gotten used to [high levels of promotion]. An attitude of ‘If you don’t do buy one get one free (BOGOF) you are stupid’. It is going to be a journey with customers. We need to be committed to de-escalation in some categories. There will always be some level of promotion but in some categories we went mad. It is very difficult.

When consumers’ only criteria is to do BOGOF or half price then you can create the most engaging marketing campaign but they don’t care. They will buy the competitor if they are half price. It is an issue because your marketing works less. It [reducing the levels of promotion] is not going to happen over night but we will see over the next year whether we managed it or not. It has changed consumer behaviour. We need to have extremely good marketing programmes. It puts even more pressure on marketing. Great campaigns are required but we need in parallel to de-escalate.

MW: Why is innovation so important to FMCG marketers?

JL: The dynamics are different in each category. In household, it is difficult to create market growth so innovation is essential. It is about giving better solutions – convenience and performance, for example. You need to force it otherwise growth will be flat. In personal care, growth is a must. You innovate or die. For example, if wrinkle cream ceases to have any affect you will not succeed. You need a permanent flow of innovation to create excitement. Innovation is the lifeblood because consumers want to try new things.

MW: Does RB plan to communicate its sustainability achievements though marketing activity?

JL: Sustainability is fundamental at a corporate level but it is not essential to shout about it. We have tried to shout about in the past, to market it or make business out of it but it didn’t always work. Currently it is a corporate programme and we are not planning to exploit it massively on a brand level. 

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