Johnson & Johnson's Alison Lewis on building memorable brands

In an exclusive interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Johnson & Johnson's first global consumer-sector CMO shares the challenges of delivering global campaigns and meeting local market needs.

As the first global chief marketing officer of Johnson & Johnson's consumer sector, Alison Lewis is leading a new marketing philosophy and brand framework at the packaged-goods giant. The challenge for Lewis, who took on the role in late 2013, has been to unite the various brands across the different business units under new ways of working and getting a 400-person marketing team fit for the future and collaborating better with agencies and partners in local markets. The task has involved redesigning marketing functions and establishing an innovation strategy for the company that connects with customers and ultimately leads to business growth. 

With more than 25 years' experience in CPG, Lewis started her career at Kraft in Canada, where she learned the fundamentals of brand management before moving to Coca-Cola, a global "marketing-led" organisation that enabled her to travel the world for 18 years, giving her what she describes as "the best schooling in marketing".

Our interview takes place in Cannes, where Lewis discusses the challenges of taking global campaigns into local markets, J&J's innovation pipeline and the importance of partnerships such as J3, a unit that's part of IPG Mediabrands dedicated entirely to handling all of J&J's media needs.

Atifa Silk (Campaign): As CMO, how do you balance local needs with a global mandate? 

Alison Lewis: While J&J had a global structure, it didn't previously have a CMO or a lead at this level. So, it's been a little bit of a journey defining where we want to be as marketers to building admired brands so that we grow faster than the competition.

The real mission in coming to Johnson & Johnson was to take what had been a very successful business, with iconic brands from OTC to beauty brands, and to build global scale into the operating model and capability. The balancing act is that while you activate and sell brands locally, you need to leverage global scale to help you to truly drive the power of innovation and the power of equity to build capability.

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A first step was to define the J&J way of brand building through integrated marketing communications and creating a brand building framework so we could all speak the same language. We set up a six-step process, a common way of working, on how we build brands. 

Atifa Silk: What's the biggest challenge in executing global campaigns?

Alison Lewis: One of the big challenges is making sure that the voice of the brand is understood. Once you have that big idea, how do you get that voice of the brand consistent yet reflective of local nuances — how humor is interpreted, local tastes and behaviors.

This is critical, and Listerine is a good example of where we got the voice of the brand right. If you look at the execution for Asia-Pacific, you can see that we've captured the same humour or reverence and intelligence into the execution but done it in a way that works for Asian consumers. We have to protect that voice of the brand but make sure it's translating into local culture. Delivering that is our biggest challenge. 

Atifa Silk: Where can local markets improve?

Alison Lewis: This is perhaps a broad industry comment but it's getting local marketers to really own and embrace the connection to planning, or media planning to a greater degree. From an industry standpoint, we delegate this to our agencies and don't own it ourselves. The brand building process clearly articulates that connections planning and the moments that matter are locally understood and activated.

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We are trying to emphasise accelerated ownership at a local level, because it's not something that you can do globally. Anyone who thinks they can run a business globally with media and connections planning is kidding themselves.

If you think about it, those are the points of influence and conversion and they vary by market. So, understanding that and driving against it is very important but local markets have to embrace that, rather than spending all their time on content. Yes, content is important, but how it comes to life in today's world is even more important. 

I don't think, as marketers, we have spent as much time as we need to on that. The way the world is shifting, with big data at the heart of media planning, you have to embrace that as a local marketer. We are trying to emphasise that accelerated ownership at a local level because it's not something that you can do globally. Anyone who thinks they can run a business globally with media and connections planning is kidding themselves.

At J&J, we don't have in-house media planning and buying, but at the same time it can't be delegated 100% to the agency, there has to be an ownership that the brand manager feels, because when you own it you think about how and where you can influence and convert. And that's what's delivering against every dollar that you're investing and the thing that matters.  

Atifa Silk: Is your innovation strategy valuable in terms of business growth? 

Alison Lewis: The challenge in innovation is that you have limited resources, from an R&D standpoint, and you've got to apply those resources against the most valuable opportunities. What we have done successfully over the last couple of years is reduce the number of projects in the pipeline by two times. We have cut in half the number of projects, but increased the dollar sales value by three times. Every project is that much more valuable. 

The growth from innovation is going to be substantial. We've built a more sufficient innovation pipeline, that allows for accelerate growth in categories, but most importantly, meets consumers' needs. 

This includes developments such as Neutrogena Hydro Boost, a platform that is based on a technology called hyaluronic acid that plumps the skin. This was launched in North America and we globalized it so it becomes our number-one facecare innovation that is rolling out in Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

Asia is the start of new products coming out of that platform. The region is the heart of the beauty market and there's no larger market in the world. It is the hotbed for introducing innovations and drawing them west. Hydro Boost is an example of a platform that grew from Asia and is scaling around the world. 

Atifa Silk: Can you give an example of an insight-led innovation from Asia that has led to global product developments?

Alison Lewis: In the baby business we have just launched Half Bath Wipe, an oversized wipe. As a mother you know that it often takes more time to get your child ready to go out than the actual activity itself once you're out of the house. There's nothing worse than when you're ready to go and the kids spill apple juice or write all over themselves with a crayon, or have what we call an ‘explosive' moment. The half bath wipe is a quick way to bathe and clean up without doing the whole routine all over again. So it's a real convenience play.

In developing markets, there is a massive concern around the quality and safety of water and this is way to clean your child without those fears as germ protect is high on the needs list in these markets. It's a great example of insight led innovation. The growth from innovation is going to be substantial. We've built a more sufficient innovation pipeline, that allows for accelerate growth in categories, but most importantly, meets consumers' needs, which is the real value of the innovation pipeline. 

Atifa Silk: How are you using data to make meaningful connections?

Alison Lewis: The amount of data and choices are almost overwhelming. You have to be that much more clear on the problem that you're trying to solve and be very smart, focused, and purposeful around the problems you need to solve.

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With Johnson's Baby, the problem we're trying to solve is recruiting more moms and babies into our franchise around the world. Historically, we have marketed to moms after 40 weeks of pregnancy, or the birth of the child. What we learned through mining the data is that actually the nesting period is at 26 weeks of pregnancy when they're buying the baby toiletry products. That's when they're making the nursery and in learning that we need to figure out how we activate marketing at 26 weeks of pregnancy versus post 40 weeks when that child is born. When we talk about influence and conversion, these are the moments that matter.

Atifa Silk: How do you use creativity in your approach to drive growth?

Alison Lewis: That's on my mind a lot. I believe it's about being clear on the problem you're trying to solve and building a creative approach that is executed through the moments that matter so you can actually influence and convert.

There's the comment you hear about marketers: a new brand manager went in and they changed the packaging, the campaign or the agency. You can get caught up with the novelty but at the end of the day marketing is there and it's called brand management for a reason.

Why are we in business? We can never forget that we're here to build brands, serve consumers needs, and drive growth. If we do that, we also drive the P&L of our business. Ultimately, we need to deliver on what the expectations are for each of our businesses with our leadership.

Atifa Silk: What can your agencies do better?

Alison Lewis: I want partners who can help me drive global scale, but protect the local activation. That's the piece that sometimes gets ignored when you're sitting in my role doing the transformation. You're setting up your partnership with your agencies and getting them structured right, but it's equally important structuring your own internal organisation, and setting your own internal vision and mission in play.

We have to protect that voice of the brand but make sure it's translating into local culture.

We did a lot of work on making sure that our agency partners were setting themselves up to deliver against the sort of plug in socket approach that we were taking in global to region to country activation. We set up our global agency operating model, which allowed the agencies to mirror our structure in terms of global to region to local. 

Atifa Silk: What media partnerships do you need and where do they add value?

Alison Lewis: Google and Facebook are two good examples where we've built global partnerships that get stewarded at the center, but activated locally. And all the markets have embraced that because when we build that at global scale we bring more value into the partnership.

The analytics, test and learn opportunities, and value-add, that Google is providing us, we wouldn't get if we were doing it at a local level. We leveraged that global scale to really bring additional value to the overarching relationship. Once you become an important partner to Googles and Facebooks of this world it gets exciting for every region because they also become part of regional leadership team meetings, talking to the managing directors, heads or marketing.

In the world that we're in today, keeping pace with change and being close to these media partners is important for us because they are at the forefront of change and can help educate beyond just activation and train and develop our people. Facebook set up a global infrastructure to support and drive our business. We have people that are now J&J Facebook people. We have top-to-top with them, where we talk about what's working, what's not. These are the sort of  new relationships that are so critical to how we drive forward in this new world that, frankly, can be overwhelming to people.

Atifa Silk: What are you doing internally to get your marketing teams fit for the future?

Alison Lewis: We have about 500 people and five franchises: Beauty, OTC, Baby, Oral and Wound Care, and Women's Health. There are leaders on each of these that report to me, and I have a global marketing services organization, which is where all the capability work sits (insights and analytics, professional marketing, digital marketing, etc).

We're in a team sport like never before, at a time when we're seeing a level of change like never before. You need people that can drive that through. And if you can do that, you'll be wildly successful.

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MX marketing excellence is our training and development group. It sits under marketing, not under HR, which is a different model, but it works because it focuses on modern marketing capabilities that we need and how they apply against a career experience framework. Marry those two things with the business strategy and the career piece, and you hit a sweet spot.

Every quarter, I have an all-hands community call for all of marketing around the world. We cover what's going on in the world and what's changing, as well as new developments from an activation standpoint. With the pace of change, it's important that we benchmark our own capabilities and ask, are we getting better and are we continuously improving?

The kinds of people we need today are those that can drive change, who are agile, adaptable and thought leaders — and people that can work as a team. We're in a team sport like never before, at a time when we're seeing a level of change like never before. You need people that can drive that through. And if you can do that, you'll be wildly successful.

This story originally appeared in Campaign Asia-Pacific.