RB’s UK marketing boss on innovation, social purpose and not being ‘everyone’s cup of tea’

Reckitt Benckiser (RB) is mainly known for household brands such as Durex and Dettol but its new UK marketing boss is determined to convince young marketers RB is about “much more than selling boxes”.

When it comes to RB, most people will recognise its products before the company name. Its brands include big household names such as Durex, Dettol and Vanish, and the company claims to be the second biggest TV advertiser in the UK in terms of spend.

More recently, however, the company has put a bigger focus on shouting about its social purpose and appetite for innovation. At the Cannes Lions Festival this year, it organised a ‘hackathon’ in conjunction with Save the Children to come up with a new product that could protect children’s lungs from air pollution. It is now exploring how it can bring those innovations to market.

Becky Verano-Luri was promoted to the top UK marketing job just under four months ago, after joining the company in 2006. Talking to Marketing Week, she explains how she is hoping to set a “fresh” direction, why innovation will become an increasingly important part of its strategy and why it takes a particular type of marketer to thrive in its company culture.

What are you hoping to change with some of RB’s UK brands?

It all has to start with innovation. Like most big companies we take a big consumer-centric approach, but our job these days is to make our big bet [power brands] even bigger and better. Next year we have a very full agenda of innovation.

Regarding our healthcare brands next year, we are looking at new types of innovations. It’s not just about selling medicine that people can put inside their bodies but more connected innovations for our brands, which is totally new and a step change for us. You need a new marketing skill set to bring these products to market. There is only so far you can go with the physical products in the market, so to grow in these environments you need to step outside your comfort zone.

It’s all well and good building consumer-led brand strategies, but the UK trade environment is very turbulent. As a marketer, we need to listen to the trade challenges and we need to adapt our growth strategy so we can land the innovations in stores. In this day and age, you won’t get little line extensions on the shelf, the trade sector just isn’t interested anymore. As a result, we are extending our brands. For example, with Scholl we’re going to be launching in three new categories of hosiery.

How has RB’s marketing developed since you started?

Innovation has always been the focal point of our marketing strategy. However, the market has become more difficult and so innovation needs to be even bigger. We are all about digital too. It’s no longer about just TV and print, we need a full digital mix. This has a massive impact on creative, how you buy and measure media and the agencies you use. Our whole go-to-market model on media has changed. We can’t just accept our plans at the beginning of the year. We have to constantly evolve it. It’s a massive change for marketers.

Why would working at RB appeal to marketers?

RB is consistently outperforming the market. Attached to that, we invest a lot in our consumers. As a marketer, you have a lot of resources to play with. We are constantly developing new communications and have a super rich [innovation] pipeline. That said, RB has a reputation for being a challenging company as it’s very fast paced and not everyone’s cup of tea. You have to have that mindset of enjoying a fast pace and being quite resilient.

That said, I don’t know a company where you can as a marketing director go from talking about safe sex or reducing STIs through Durex in one meeting to removing stains with Vanish in the next. The intellectual acumen is incredibly high. You need to have a big brain to be able to adapt to the breadth of conversation we tend to have. You have to learn quickly.

“Compared to other companies, you get a lot more responsibility and are expected to deliver more at an earlier stage of your career, which is unique.”

Becky Verano-Luri, UK marketing director, RB

How important is employment marketing to RB?

We are always looking at new ways of getting ourselves out there. We do a lot internally. We have many internal reward programmes in place, which is linked up to our social marketing and partnership with Save the Children. One of the most important things for RB is to look at the younger generation and push the fact that working for a company like RB is working for a company with purpose. We don’t just talk the talk. We aren’t writing it down just to make us sound good, it’s probably discussed in a meeting on a daily basis. We link our innovations to our purpose of enabling healthier lives and healthier homes.

READ MORE: How marketers can put social purpose into practice

Why is social purpose so important to the company?

Social purpose is really driven from the top but we have all completely embraced it. As a human being, you feel a sense of pride if you work on a campaign that wants to make a difference. I’m a mum, and hearing about children dying of diarrhoea is mind blowing as it’s so preventable. Because you work for RB, you are doing something about it. It’s nice to work for a company that’s not just about selling boxes.

When it comes to younger marketers, there is definitely a bigger expectation of big companies having a social purpose. We are hearing that more in interviews – people don’t just want to know about the job but also what we stand for from a social point of view. We have to present a much more rounded picture.

Festival

Learn more about personal development and realising your potential at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.

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