Aude Gandon, global CMO, Nestle
When Aude Gandon and her husband decided to stay put on different continents, each with one of the couple’s kids, little did they know that what was going to be a few days of separation would become months of staying apart. Separated from family, friends and colleagues, those months were a lesson in what matters in life.
It was the first year of the pandemic. Borders closed fast but the coronavirus travelled faster, leaving people and places devastated in its wake.
We stockpiled toilet paper, sanitisers, and Maggi in an apocalyptic fashion. We sang and clanged thalis from our balconies and millions discovered the joys and pains of working from home for the first time.
While we waited for vaccines, we put herbs and turmeric in everything from lattes to lipsticks. Men learnt to cook and women working from home doubled up as 24x7 snack-dispensers. Parents began running out of ideas for entertainment and recipes. It’s a sentiment Gandon is familiar with.
2020 was also the year Gandon became the first-ever global chief marketing officer of Nestle, which is among the top three largest food companies in the world.
owns global power brands such as Nescafe, KitKat, Cerelac, and Maggi, which became the ultimate comfort food and backup dinner for people in locked-down India. And to think that just seven years ago, Maggi had almost lost almost all its magic and market share over the lead controversy. Its spectacular rise in the years since is the stuff of brand legends.
But as consumers become increasingly conscious about how they live and what they eat, reading pack labels for sugar and sodium content, and questioning sustainability credentials, how is Nestle keeping its biggest brands in play in our homes in a post-pandemic world?
In an exclusive and freewheeling conversation with Storyboard18
, Gandon tells us how Nestle is future-proofing its brands. She highlights how it’s preparing for a digital-first world and navigating the minefield of public sentiments online. We talk about the reality of TikTok turning into a global recipe platform and chat about metaverse and NFTs
Gandon also spotlights the power of purpose in building future-fit businesses and brands, dismissing the recent vehement criticism against the idea of brands striving to serve a higher purpose in society. Why can't you have your candy-with-a-cause and eat it too?
Edited for clarity.
Q. You joined Nestle in 2020 as its first global chief marketing officer, after several years at Google and many years on the agency side with Publicis Groupe. Given all the experience you’ve gathered, can you tell us how you are future-proofing Nestle brands?
The first thing is all the marketing fundamentals. It's very important to remember everything we've learned for a while on marketing, brands and brand strategy. We are making sure that all our brands have a clear strategy and a clear purpose. To be strong, active and relevant for people in the new normal, as we call it, a brand needs to have a purpose.
Consumers are looking into what type of ingredients have been used and how they have been grown and processed. But also, what does this brand do to give back to society and support communities. It's also a challenge because you need to make sure that your purpose is synced with the reality of your brand and your business.
We are making sure that everything we do is fit for the digital world. The acceleration has been crazy. I don't think any of us would have imagined needing a QR code to get into a restaurant. It's been two years, so the habits that have developed, the adoption of new apps and tools, is going to stay.
And then the third leg is on sustainability. It's a different subject, but purpose and sustainability are also linked. How brands are contributing to the future of the planet and the future of the communities as well? Because around the world, we all have accepted now that there are some actions to be made.
All these are very important parts of our business—to keep innovating on brands to make sure that they are going to be fit for the future.
Q. We’ve heard some very brutal criticism of brands with ‘purpose’, recently. Critics have asked why sauces and shampoo, candy and confectionery must serve a higher societal purpose. What’s your take?
I think it’s very important and paramount. I don't think it's new. Some brands have done it for a long time. And I'm a bit surprised. Who decides that some companies or products couldn’t have an impact on society? I don't see why your shampoo can’t have an impact on society.
You can't separate a brand, a product and a company from really wanting to invest in the society and the planet it's active on, it's living on. I don't agree with the debate at all. It’s important for every brand and every product around the world.
Q. People are becoming more conscious about how they live, what they consume and what they eat. How is Nestle addressing the trend toward healthier living? Because at the end of the day, you are in the business of making snacks and confectionery.
The pandemic has shed even more light on the importance of health, and nutrition is a part of health
. We believe that a healthy lifestyle is also linked to a balanced and tasty diet. Taste is very important as well because there's an element of pleasure in food.
We are constantly reevaluating our recipes and looking at the ingredients. We have new brands and we are also always looking at making sure that our brands get healthier. That's a constant kind of focus for us. Maggi is a brand that has always really been promoting home-cooking and the nutritious quality of homemade food.
During the pandemic, Maggi was at the heart of it. Suddenly everyone was in the kitchen. Some had to learn how to cook and other people had to cook more. I'm a mother and I was suddenly faced with having to do my job but also make sure to cook two meals a day. I was quickly running out of ideas for recipes. Maggi was there with its websites giving tips, nutrition advice and more recipes. We had an incredible relationship with the people looking for inspiration every day.
So that's also a part of a healthy lifestyle. It is cooking for yourself, learning how to cook, choosing your ingredients and having a brand like Maggi supporting you in the journey.
Q. What's the next big thing coming down the line in terms of technology? Right now, the buzzwords are metaverse and NFTs. Is it the marketer’s shiny new toy? Is it a distraction?
AR (augmented reality)
is kind of helping us to provide new experiences and shopping experiences. On Maggi and cooking, I think AR is going to enable us to get even more immersive experiences.
I do see AR having an impact on how we can increase our two-way relationship with consumers. Same thing for retail. The shopping experience being online or offline is also going to continue to evolve and to be immersive.
When I look at metaverse today, it's already a reality in some categories like gaming. But it’s a bit remote. NFTs are way more remote from us right now. We are, of course, looking and paying attention to everything that is happening.
Q. All of these technologies in our lives means that there’s an even greater amount of data generated about us. We live in a hyper-connected world, and at the same time, there's a sort of privacy consciousness among consumers and companies. What’s your view as a marketer?
is paramount. Everybody has the right to have their data protected and private. And that's the same position that Nestle as a corporate company has. You were asking earlier about how to future proof your business. For me, making sure that we have everything in place to keep our consumers’ data safe is the number one way to be future-proof. Data is very important for marketing. But if we don't pay attention to the privacy of this data, there's no way we can do business properly.
Q. Can you share a few examples of work on Nestle brands that are the benchmarks for you?
You were talking about purpose. I think Maggi is naturally a brand with purpose from a long time ago, even before anybody talked about purpose. What it did during the pandemic, you know, adapted its tone to the need for comfort and encouragement that we all felt. It answered the expectation and the questions people had about things like would the product be available and so on.
That, for me, was extremely efficient marketing because it was true to the brand. But it was also right on point for the time, completely answering a consumer need or question. Then, of course, you can look at how we are using and adapting all our messaging on different platforms. Nescafe does it extremely well as well, having different types of messages depending on what is the platform and what are the audiences on the platform. We still have a lot to learn.
We were talking about recipes earlier on. TikTok
is now one of the biggest recipe platforms in the world and we're not very active on it yet. So, we are following the constant evolution of the world surrounding us as well.
Q. Why hasn't Nestle jumped on the TikTok wagon yet?
It was also pending of who was the audience on the platform and it started by being a young audience. It was not always relevant for us and our products. What has been interesting to see, as we were talking about the impact of the pandemic, suddenly different generations were living under the same roof. We've also seen adoption from different generations on different platforms, exchanging a bit of what they are using. So it has an impact on people's behaviour.
Q. We live in increasingly polarised times where the slightest provocation of any kind can trigger outrage and become a catastrophe for brands, landing them in the middle of ‘cancel culture’. As a global marketer with brands in so many different countries, cultures and contexts, how do you deal with the minefield of public sentiments?
Obviously with caution and with respect. I think this is one of the biggest traits of Nestle. We have 186 teams around the world who understand the local culture and context. We work a lot with our local markets and there are a lot of things done locally as well. Compared to other big global companies, most of our day-to-day marketing messaging is still done locally. That helps because it means that we can adapt and be a lot closer to what is relevant and acceptable by the people in a given market. It's complex, but it's definitely powerful for us.
Q. Do you think people have a hard time discerning between actual consumer sentiment and the social media outrage and rhetoric that might be disproportionately amplified?
Yes, there's definitely an amplification effect. As a marketer, social media is incredible because it gives us incredible insights into people’s sentiments, trends that are picking up, and so on. It’s also a source for our R&D teams. We work with them to see where consumption is going. But I always caution the teams about the bubble effect.
If there is something that is asking us a question, then I think we need to go back to some of the fundamentals and do bigger research. Go and interview people, get a bit deeper. So we can separate ourselves from what is a surface, a bubble in a way, and what is a true sentiment? Then we will also know how to adapt our strategy while messaging. I think it's a time when critical and analytical senses are very important.
Q. Why does Japan have so many types of KitKat? (Matcha, melon, strawberry tiramisu, caramel pudding, aloe yoghurt, baked potato and chocolate, pistachio, wasabi, sake, sports drink and cough-drop flavour, are just a few among several KitKat variations launched in Japan over the years.)
You know, it's funny because it's exactly coming back to your previous questions. The strength of Nestle is its ability to listen to what is a market insight, what is an interest, what is a certain behaviour or taste, which is in one market and not in another. That's also why we sometimes adapt recipes, adding certain nutritional ingredients to our products depending on the local diet.
In Japan, someone had the idea of trying to play with KitKats. It was clear that the Japanese liked different kinds of sweet tastes. There was matcha which is a very specific taste and a very specific ingredient of Japan and they launched it. It was a great success. Then, you know, creativity takes over. That for me is a typical example of the beauty of Nestle. It's linked with each local culture and local context.
The interview also aired on CNBC-TV18. Read and watch Storyboard18 on Forbes India, Moneycontrol, CNBC-TV18, and CNBCTV18.com.