As some struggle amid the morphing and mounting complexity ofdigital and social media, Pete Blackshaw seems to maintain Zen-like perspective while harnessing their power in the service of the 2,000-plus global and local brands of Nestlé S.A., the world’s largest food company ($100.1 billion in 2014 sales, operating in 197 countries).
“The secret sauce” of leadership in a digital world is understanding that tensions are good and becoming great at managing them, rather than trying to resolve them, Nestlé’s global head of digital and social media has stressed in his writings and presentations. This requires embracing “digital dualisms,” or seemingly opposing concepts, like ROI versus intuition, online versus offline, global versus local, collaboration versus chaos, and stimulating digital innovation versus integrating it, he explains.
But it also requires being anchored in fundamentals. That’s one of Nestlé’s “four pillars of success” and the basis of “Brand Building the Nestlé Way,” the internal marketing bible that helped draw Blackshaw to the company in 2011. Brand-building and winning with consumers come down to “listening, engaging and inspiring,” and that’s true across all consumer touchpoints, not just digital, he stresses.
The other pillars are rapid scale and innovation (“We believe that digital is as much an operating principle as a communication channel,” pronounces Blackwell); external focus (Nestlé’s culture and brand messaging cohere around its focus on nutrition, health and wellness); and media productivity (innovating advertising formats in all platforms and setting aggressive ROI goals).
Blackshaw is a walking billboard for his philosophy of fluid thinking, versatility and agility. He’s equally known as a data guru and social media analytics pioneer and as an intuitive marketer who never loses touch with human motivations and needs.
He says that his favorite phrase is “trust your inner consumer,” and that he and his Nestlé team “don’t build digital and social on the sidelines,” but instead focus on how these media follow brand-building fundamentals. While digital enables taking the brand experience to the next level at an accelerated pace, “simplicity always conquered technology,” he’s observed. “As we try to deal with the world of radically smaller screens, we’re going to have to worship this god of simplicity if we’re going to win.”
He’s been called “The Godfather of Consumer-Generated Media,” “one of the brightest stars in the social-media universe,” and a visionary who translates concepts into actionable, effective strategies.
His unusually diverse experience also spans brand management, PR, investor relations, consumer affairs and public policy. In the mid 1990s, while a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, he co-founded P&G’s first interactive marketing unit. After founding Planetfeedback.com — a portal enabling consumers to communicate directly with companies about products — in 1999, he sold it to Intelliseek. He successively served as CMO at Intelliseek, Nielsen BuzzMetrics and the Nielsen/McKinsey & Co. media intelligence and consumer insights joint venture NM Incite.
Soon after he joined Nestlé — which was trying to recover from a social media-driven PR crisis resulting from a Greenpeace viral video accusing the company of destroying rain forests through unsustainable palm oil sourcing — Blackshaw and other senior executives went to Silicon Valley to help formulate their strategy for being a digital and social leader in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector.
He soon formed the groundbreaking Digital Acceleration Team (DAT). DAT conducts intensive training at the company’s Swiss HQ for its most promising talent around the world; creates training videos for Nestlé’s operating units; runs regular hackathons; acts as a lab to test emerging technologies; and oversees an internal social network used by 200,000 employees to communicate about their ideas and work.
Importantly, DAT also uses special software to monitor millions of consumer posts with relevance to Nestlé across platforms globally every day, engages and “inspires” followers, and heads off negative issues.
Worldwide, Nestlé has 2,000 social media brand profiles, and produces more than 1,500 pieces of content daily. Social analytics and custom data-management solutions are used to determine which health/wellness and nutrition content is used to engage followers through regional Nestlé pages. Regionals average about 600,000 followers, versus the average 12.3 million for the brands’ global pages, but regionals post twice as often (about 20 times per month) as global pages, and generate about four times as much interaction.
In 2013, Nestlé also established a Silicon Valley outpost focused on enhancing its partnerships with the major tech players and identifying promising startups to work with.
Innovative partnerships are a cornerstone of the digital strategy. Successful examples under Blackshaw include Purina’s acquisition of leading pet adoption network Petfinder, and an unprecedented Google partnership in which an Android update was named “Kit Kat.” In late 2015, Nestlé reported that the latter effort, which targeted the 18-to-35 audience and included rebranding wrappers and making videos with a YouTube influencer, had pushed Kit Kat’s awareness to a five-year high and significantly upped sales.
Nescafé pioneered two notable millennial-focused partnerships in 2015: It became the first global brand to migrate all of its Web sites to Tumblr, and then became one of six global brands to participate in Facebook’s launch of immersive video technology (with a video showing real people across the world performing a song with utensils and coffee jars).
Shifting from FMCG’s traditional all-paid media model to incorporating and exploiting owned and earned is clearly paying off with the younger set. Moosylvania’s most recent ranking of millennials’ favorite brands saw Nestlé at #17 among food brands and #34 among all brands.