Nestlé’s global head of marketing on why he hates ‘data-driven marketing’

Tom Buday speaks about tech innovation, staying creative and why marketing should remain people driven, not data driven.


Tom Buday, global head of marketing and consumer communications at Nestlé, was at the Dmexco ad tech conference to talk innovation and digital disruption. Marketing Week caught up with him to pick his brains on data, creativity and his advice for marketers starting out in 2016.

Why is it important for brands to be at the forefront of technology innovation?

It is important for three reasons. First, technology is affecting consumers’ lives, changing the way they live and interact with brands so you need to keep up with that evolution if not get ahead of it.

Second, technology is fundamentally changing how marketing is done. Improving productivity, increasing efficiency in the marketing job – here I’m speaking marketing automation.

And third, we are largely in the food and beverage business, physical products. But increasingly we are using technology to add layers of service, incremental service surrounding product or to reduce friction in the existing brand proposition.

We are working very hard to make online shopping easier for consumers by leveraging ‘buy now’ technology on our digital properties. That is an example of removing friction.

An example of adding service layers is Milo, a chocolate malt beverage product. We recently launched a fitness tracker that links to an app that parents can use to monitor their eating and nutritional intake and to provide recommendations to parents on how to achieve balanced diets while having the child involved in friendly competition with their friends, through sports tips and augmented reality.

“The connected kitchen potential is huge for us because we play a big role in the kitchen today, specifically in cooking.”

Tom Buday, global head of marketing and consumer communications, Nestlé

How do you measure ROI on new tech?

If anything we are putting more rigour and discipline into measuring newer stuff. Maybe because it is new. It is almost a bit unfair, we know more about the ROI of new media platforms than existing ones. But for whatever reason they are subject to more scrutiny to prove that than the ones we take for granted.

We measure as much as possible but we don’t get hung up, we don’t not do things because the ROI can’t be measured accurately. That’s not a good reason not to do something if we feel strongly we want to do it.

Is there any tech you have your eye on?

The connected kitchen potential is huge for us because we play a big role in the kitchen today, specifically in cooking.

We are increasingly collaborative and open on innovation approaches. We worked for many years and tried largely to go our own way in solving problems. More and more we understand we can do better by collaborating with others.

What are the challenges of new technology?

One is it requires exercising a new set of muscles that we have not traditionally used. It requires building competency we didn’t have in the past. I think we have done that relatively well. If you look at the competency profile of Nestlé employees today versus five years ago, it’s significantly different on the technology side because we are training people but also bringing in new people from outside with different skill sets.

And then more on the classical marketing and communications side it is just getting harder to connect with audiences. They are more media savvy, especially the younger generation. They find it much easier to avoid advertising, they have shorter attention spans, they consume content faster. You don’t have much time to grab attention so we work harder and harder to figure out how to do that.

How do you do that?

We test and learn. Luckily the new media channels are incredible laboratories of diagnosis and understanding. You can figure out why something did or did not work.

How do you ensure Nestlé remains creative in a digital world?

We want to take advantage of relevant data and use it to inform our creative decision-making as much as possible.

“We will stop short of letting it become an engineering exercise because communication is not engineering, it is not a perfect science.”

Measurement contributions are becoming more and more powerful but there is still the creative, subjective element and for a long time it will be human beings that decide what is the best way to start a conversation or deliver a message or inspire people to do something. We want our communication to be data-powered not data-driven, I hate the notion of data driven marketing. People drive, data doesn’t drive, at least in the year 2016.

Has marketing changed since you started out in the industry?

The core tenets are the same. The fundamentals of great brand building have not changed in a long time. I have no crystal balls but I would be surprised if they change much in the next 10 or 15 years.

Having said that the way those fundamentals have to be applied has changed rapidly. How to delight consumers and build great brands.

I spend a lot of time reminding people, especially the younger people, about the historical fundamentals. It is beneficial to have experienced people like me who can remind them of the importance of timeless fundamentals. But we need fresh energy as well to help the organisation understand how those fundamentals need to be applied in different ways.

What advice would you give someone starting their career now?

Find your passion and work for companies and brands whose purpose is something you genuinely care about. One, you will perform better and the brand will perform better if you care about what it is trying to do. And because life is too short not to care about your job.