P&G’s Allan Soares: ‘Focus on the fundamentals of true consumer insights’ | M&M Global

P&G’s Allan Soares: ‘Focus on the fundamentals of true consumer insights’

Procter & Gamble’s Harley Procter brand director Allan Soares – chair of the jury at the Festival of Media Global Awards 2016 – tells M&M Global how the marketing industry is changing, and what we can learn from emerging markets.

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Allan Soares leads Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Brand Operations organisation across India, Middle East and Africa, and is responsible for the execution of marketing plans for all Procter & Gamble brands.  He is also P&G’s global media capabilities Leader.

In 2009, in recognition of sustained high performance and mastery across many years, he was accorded the Harley Procter designation – the highest accolade in P&G marketing.

M&M Global caught up with Soares ahead of the Festival of Media Global 2016 in Rome, where he will be chairing the jury for this year’s Festival of Media Global Awards.

M&M Global: How did you start out in marketing?

Soares: “Frankly, I did not entirely know what I was getting myself into when I joined P&G UK in a marketing role.

“I chose to join P&G as a result of childhood experiences with an iconic global brand – Head & Shoulders.  I grew up in India at a time when the country was not as open to the global economy as it is today. But I was one of the fortunate ones, able to travel abroad due to my father’s job. Consistent with the Indian gift-giving culture, I took back the usual foodstuffs, but high on the list of attractive gifts was Head & Shoulders, which was not available locally at the time.

“I did not understand the significance then, but years later, when I was vacillating between a career in banking or marketing, I chose P&G out of respect for their brand-building prowess on Head & Shoulders, and other iconic brands I had subsequently discovered in their stable. No regrets.”

What have been the most noticeable changes to the profession since you began your career?

“Easily one of the most significant changes was the recognition that media deserved an equal seat at the brand-building table. As a result, media moved out of the back-office and the resulting changes in the industry spawned immense value creation.

“P&G was at the forefront of this change and helped shape its direction via consolidation for scale, productivity and capability building. Clearly the other most noticeable change has been the advent of digital technologies and new companies which have disrupted the prevailing eco-system, and provide an entirely new array of possibilities to connect with consumers when they are most receptive.

“Our industry has lost trust and transparency and the benefits that come from common standards”

“We are still at the early stages of this change, which has already, and will continue to impact all of us profoundly. But the time has come for us to leverage these changes more productively. At P&G we have raised the bar yet again on the performance and capabilities of our partners, and everyone in the industry needs to do the same.

“Our industry has lost trust and transparency and the benefits that come from common standards. We need to work together to leave behind a much better legacy.”

Is there anything you miss from your first years in the industry?

“I try to never look back with regret. And, given the dramatic and continuing change in the industry, it would be a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

“That said, I think there could be greater appreciation for the fundamentals, which can get sidelined if the pursuit of technology takes over. And much greater rigour in testing and analysis before declaring success. At P&G, we are increasing focus on the fundamentals of true consumer insights, reach, continuity and creative quality.

“Secondly, and perhaps with more profound consequences, the rise of walled gardens which impact standards of measurement and trading, and the lowering of the bar on quality and proof of performance – such as issues related to fraud, bots and viewability – are holding us back.

“Of course, these issues existed before in some form, but the industry was more cohesive and willing to work together to create and adopt common standards and supplier-neutral measurement. We must all work together to address these issues comprehensively and bring back trust to our industry.”

What do you most enjoy about working at P&G?

“The empowering, winning culture combined with integrity and caring for people. By design, P&G recruits people who have a winning track record, and then gives those people immense responsibility from day one. The expectations and possibilities only increase going forward, but all enabled by a supportive culture and infrastructure.

“Equally crucial is winning with integrity, and always doing the right thing. This applies to every aspect, be it in how we serve consumers, starting with true insights which lead to products which improve lives; be it in the impeccable standards we set for our suppliers and partners; the high-bar we set for our employees in terms of performance and career development; and finally the many ways by which we give back to the communities that we are part of.

“I’m proud I work for P&G.”

What is the favourite campaign that you have worked on or overseen?

“That’s easy, but you’ll have to be comfortable with a non-standard response. The Always (known as Whisper in India) School Education Programme that we run in many countries in my region is special in so many ways.

“In developing markets such as India, Pakistan and Africa, many girls don’t go to school during their periods due to cultural practices and lack of product knowledge. Worse, many use unsanitary means of protection and expose themselves to unnecessary infections and complications. The resulting negative personal, societal and economic impact is enormous.

“The world would be a better, safer place if women were free and able to play their full role in society”

“The world would be a better, safer place if women were free and able to play their full role in society, and an important piece of that is good foundational education. Through our programme we equip girls entering puberty with all of the knowledge to manage their needs effectively, and to lead more confident, fuller lives. That’s a life-time payoff!”

How did you come to be awarded the Harley Procter designation?

“Let’s start by acknowledging Harley Procter himself. He was the first person at P&G to begin thinking about branding and how it could positively impact the Company’s products. He named our first brand – Ivory soap – and pioneered the use of advertising, packaging and other marketing elements to establish an iconic brand.

“In 1999, P&G established the Harley Procter Marketer recognition to distinguish marketing directors who have demonstrated outstanding marketing results and mastery throughout their careers. I was inducted in 2009, in large part for my work in the media space.”

What words of advice do you most repeat to younger colleagues starting out in the industry?

“I tell them the following:

“One, embrace the power of execution. Strategy and planning is cool; brilliant execution is cooler, because it’s the only thing the consumer ever sees. Raising the bar on execution will absolutely deliver better results, whereas poor execution will absolutely dilute results.

“Two, focus on the fundamentals. It’s easy to get distracted by the latest technology and the newest buzz words, but at best these are enablers. Deep focus on fundamentals such as consumer insights, reach, continuity and creative quality will always pay off.

“Passion. It’s infectious, it makes everything more enjoyable, and it means you care”

“Three, integrate and collaborate. Today’s reality brings even better opportunities to integrate across all marketing plan elements, and puts even more onus on outstanding collaboration between the many stakeholders and suppliers. P&G creates and executes plans through multiple external partners and we raise the bar very high on both individual performance, as well as collaboration.

“Finally, I share my personal ‘RAMPS’ for success:

“R = Results. The journey is important, but winning and ever better results really matter.

“A = Action Orientated. Meet, discuss, but focus on action and getting things done fast.

“M = Mastery. Be the best at whatever you’re doing at that point in time.

“P = Passion. It’s infectious, it makes everything more enjoyable, and it means you care.

“S = Selfless/servant leadership. Lead on behalf of others, to serve, not for yourself.”

What most excites you about marketing and media today? 

“I think the opportunities to do a better job in serving consumers and stakeholders have never been more plentiful. If we can bring the new technologies and endless data streams to bear in a sustainable manner, we can do a better job in delivering the fundamentals.

“The ability to go much deeper on issues, to move and learn fast and fail cheap, and to increase productivity is exciting. Consumers are also much more engaged, and that raises the bar on the quality of brand-building. That’s a good thing because winners always want to do better.

“I also think there’s a great opportunity to create a legacy. When I got promoted to brand manager, a very significant role in P&G, I was told that a crucial expectation was that I leave the brand in a better shape than I found it. I think the same expectation can apply to the media and marketing model we leave behind for those to come.”

As a marketer overseeing emerging markets in India, Middle East and Africa (IMEA), what changes do you predict for marketing in the coming years?

“Forecasting is a mug’s game, so I won’t go there. But, based on current trends and challenges, I’ll tell you what I hope will happen, noting that all industry stakeholders will need to work together to make this happen.

“The most obvious one is the imperative to master mobile for brand-building, and to create the infrastructure to enable this. The vast majority of consumers will never own a traditional computer, and some may never own a TV set. Mobile is much more challenging to master, but it’s a no-miss for success, and it’s not just about advertising – it’s about everything, including research and insights, entertainment, selling.

“I also hope that transparency and measurement standards in media will improve significantly across the region”

“I also hope that transparency and measurement standards in media will improve significantly across the region. This is especially desirable in the Middle East, where hundreds of millions are spent on the basis of limited and infrequent data gathered via outdated methods, or no data at all. This is an irresponsible position for the industry to be in and I hope that more stakeholders will express their dissatisfaction and turn that dissatisfaction into sustainable solutions.

“Finally, IMEA holds enormous promise for the world, given its demographic and socio-economic trends. I hope more industry stakeholders see this and then invest accordingly, thereby raising standards and the bar for all of us.”

Click here for more information about the speaker line-up at Festival of Media Global 2016, and how you can attend.

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