About the Brand Enabled Podcast & all episodes

A true mark of a successful product is when it becomes an important part of people’s lives. This is especially true in the world of CPG, where you really need to be in people’s homes. So how do you achieve that? In this episode, we have award-winning Global Marketing mentor Drew Deering to enlighten us. Drew emphasizes the importance of getting external as we think about our brand and marketing. That is, by actually going out and spending time with people. Only then can you fully understand your brand purpose and deliver the true brand experience. Plus, Drew discusses the differences between working with huge brands and small brands. He gives real-life examples of their successes and weaknesses, illustrating the framework you need as a marketer and the pitfalls you need to avoid. Full of great insights on branding and marketing through the lens of CPG and more, this conversation with Drew is something you won’t want to miss!

Drew, it’s great to meet you. Thanks for joining the show. This is the first time that we have someone who has true CPG background. It’s going to be interesting and exciting to dig into your experience and how that view of brand changes, not only through the lens of CPG but also in working with huge brands and small brands. Let’s get started.

I’m very excited to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Talk a bit about your background and what it’s been like, maybe that contrast of working with big brands and small brands within one of these big conglomerates.

First of all, I came out of school with a marketing background. My goal was to make all the marketing changes in the world and solve all the world’s problems. Of course, that doesn’t always work as a marketer, but I was able to land starting off in pretty big organizations. Lever Brothers, what it was known when I was working for the organization, now Unilever in the US, then Colgate-Palmolive, and working on really big massive global brands. When you’re working on those kinds of brands, they’re a machine. If you think about Procter & Gambles, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, or any of these big organizations, they’re a machine that has been doing it well for a long time.

As a marketer, you learn these beautiful basic building blocks of a building. That’s a great place to start off as an organization and learn those. You tend to be moving the peanut a little bit at a time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to know that that’s the position of what you’re there for. For me, I’ve been a little bit lucky that I’ve worked for some big organizations, but at the same time, I’ve had a chance to do some brand transformations. It’s some brands that were pretty weak and struggling. I had a chance to work on them and hone them.

I was having a conversation with a friend who comes from the world of CPG. We were talking about the difference between when you work in brand marketing at a CPG versus companies where you think about the corporate brand role, whether it’s financial services, technology, or other industries. He summed up the difference by saying, “When you’re in these other industries, marketing and brand is often fighting to have a seat at the top table.” In CPG, the marketing decides who comes to the table.

That’s a great analogy. I would say that my experience has been similar. I have been working for quite some time in a very financially-driven organization in CPG. In the world of CPG organizations, we follow that world, but we drive the business. At the end of the day, brand DNA, what you look, feel, and smell like, what the advertising and messaging you’re doing, what the innovation you’re doing, and the brand experience you’re putting together, fundamentally, you are driving that business. You’re working closely with all of your cross-functional partners, but we’re all working to do the same thing, which is to build that product and get that product onto a shelf, eCommerce, online, or wherever virtual shelf it would be. It is driven by marketing, for sure.

Talk about some of the similarities and differences in how you think about brands in a CPG compared to other industries. I don’t think it’s some of the main fundamental principles to apply, but maybe talk about what is different and how you think differently.

I’ll start by saying what I think is the same, which is that brand purpose is the same everywhere. Not what your brand purpose is but the idea of having a brand purpose. Now it’s become quite a buzzword over the last few years. Everyone has to have a brand purpose. Everyone needs to have a heart and a center.

Fundamentally, in any world that you’re marketing, you need to understand what is consumer tension, what is the reason for being, how your product, brand, or service help, and how you’re actually helping someone along their journey that they want to lean in to be part of you. To me, that’s the same everywhere. I don’t care what you’re marketing. You can be marketing people, financial services, or toothpaste or deodorant on the shelf.

I think that that’s critical no matter what because otherwise, you’re just someone out there that’s picking whatever the latest and greatest is and running around in circles, and then people have a hard time choosing you. Some of the areas that are probably different are how close you get in CPG to people. The reality is to do CPG, or at least in my experience, is you need to be in people’s homes. You need to be in their bathroom, in the cabinet, spending time in their living room, depending on what your product is, or in their kitchen. You need to spend time with people. You can’t take guesstimates because you’ll always be wrong and, a lot of times, in some brands, you have the ability to bring people in and maybe do a qual in a room of 5 or 10 people.

In CPG, I don’t think you can get away with that. You get group speak and people, but you don’t get the real life of what’s actually happening for people. Think about the world that we are in. We like to show our certain faces. I’m wearing a shirt with a collar and looking this way, and this is what I’m trying to express. The reality is who I really am is when I’m off of the camera, and I’m not Facebooking or whatever else I might be doing or Instagramming. That’s the piece where I think CPG matters.

This is the special show-only hoodie that I’m wearing.

I’m often wearing a hoodie as well, but I thought I’m going to be on video now. I’m not used to that. I better bring a collar out.

Your story about the ethnographic piece and being in the home with consumers is an interesting one. Can you share any specific stories or insights from your career where you’ve been in a home and something that you have then observed that has then led to either, not just even the position? It’d be great to talk about something that might have been an insight that informed the brand or the marketing but would be even more interesting. Anything that is maybe innovation or packaging something more fundamental than the brand and marketing itself.

I have millions of them. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in businesses and in a world that supports you getting on the ground and spending time with people. Again, let’s not forget that we’re people too. It’s like, “What do I do, and how would I do it? How does my family do things?” I’ll give you a great example. I was working on an underarm protection brand for a period of time. I was doing pretty traditional things. We were coming up with innovation and doing the testing against that. We had formulations. We would put those things to traditional tests by saying, “What’s the right claim? What do you get when you talk about underarm protection?”

The story is 12% better sweat protection or 26% better sweat protection. When you’re in the marketing and innovation world, you think you just uncovered gold. I’m going to be 23% better at sweat protection than they’re going to be, and people are going to want me. The testing proved that it was okay. What you realize is I learned from it, I launched that, and it was a failure. What I realized is that by going and spending some time with people, we decided to do, “Let’s not do quals in a traditional way. Let’s not do what we normally do. Let’s not bring 10 or 15 people in a room and ask them what they think. Let’s actually spend time with 5 or 6 that happen to be in a male underarm protection brand. Let’s go spend time with 5 or 6 guys in real life wherever they’re at.”

I’m from Wisconsin originally so we were in the Midwest and we decided to go where people were going to go bowling. We’re like, “Let’s go bowling. Let’s go spend some time and I’ll bowl with you. Let’s do it.” We start talking and bowling, and of course, I start asking questions as a marketer does about how you care about your underarm protection. When are the times that you get nervous and anxious, and you need it? He’s telling me the story of whatever guy says, “I don’t get nervous. I don’t have anxiety. I don’t really care about those things. They don’t bother me. I’m great.”

We invite his friends over, and we’re all bowling together, and his friends come over. I then start saying, “Joe over here is telling me that he doesn’t get nervous and worry about it.” What do all his friends do to him? “Tell the truth. Joe has never asked anyone out on a date in his life. He’s so afraid of it. You should see him. He’s been wanting to ask so and so out. Every time we see him, he gets hot and sweaty.” Those moments matter to you. What happens in that moment? You get hot, sweaty, and stinky. That’s the moment that matters, and people care about when it comes to underarm protection.

Some don’t care if they’re sweaty on the court or in the gym. Someone doesn’t care if they’re 13% better at sweat protection. You start to realize that in this world, we’re real people who choose brands that feel like us and look like us, and that’s what we’re looking for. You can imagine if you go through the brands of men’s underarm protection, there’s a brand that stands for rugged masculinity or amazing on the courts.

We needed to think about who our brand is and what does it stand for. I know I’m going a long way to get to your question, but if you get to the end of it, you are able to articulate specifically why to choose us as a brand. That then drives what my packaging should look like, what my innovation needs to be, what my formulas need to be, what my form might even need to be, the colors that I use, and how I bring it to life. I would say everyone, not just guys, but gals, anyone in between and around, doesn’t really care what 13% better sweat protection means. That’s marketing speak.

I love the story, but I don’t think we finish here. You got to bring it home for us, Drew. Based on that insight, tell us what happened. What did this actually lead to? Did it lead to new product innovation, or was it an insight that drove the brand story for the existing product?

I would say that that was the first time that, as an organization, we embraced completely stepping back and spending time developing a real brand purpose and putting it onto paper. Who are we, and what’s the tension that’s in consumers’ lives? A real tension, not 13% better sweat protection. A real consumer tension, and we spent a ton of time teasing that out, then figuring out why our brand would even matter. Again, no one is going to use our underarm protection and then all of a sudden save the world. That’s not what’s going to happen, but I can give them a little moment at that moment that matters to feel comfortable.

To bring it home, we completely reset who our brand is, what our brand purpose is, and what we are trying to do. That led to a completely much more refined brand personality but a new innovation line, so we had an entirely new line of products that came out built off of just for that. Probably the most important is the brand experience. The story that we brought to life was completely different than any story we’ve been bringing together in years around underarm protection.

To touch on that, when you talk about the brand experience in that context, are you still referring to how the experience feels through comms because, again, we’re talking about a product brand, or was there a way to bring its life through a real-life experience?

When I say brand experience, it’s a catchall for the words in the language we use. For me, comms is the easy one. At the end of the day, here’s the story we want to tell and how we want it to come to life. I would see a broader brand experience, which is how do you get people to interact with your product or try it or use it? I guess we could relate this to comms, but when people hear comms, they often think of a TV advertisement or, nowadays, a poster or a video. What we really spent time on is, where does someone interact with our products and our brands and can experience it in a real way?

How do we find those moments? What we started calling, and you hear this a lot now, the moments that matter, where are the moments that matter that really hit somebody? For us, what we find in underarm protection is not on the shelf. It’s not making sure that the right POP is sitting there or hitting someone up with a TV advertisement for 30 seconds and telling them that. What we realized is, it reminds someone of those moments when they’re on the subway commuting to work, and they’re sitting in that environment, or they’re going to their friend’s wedding or such-and-such event. It’s those kinds of moments, which I know sounds still very traditional, but it’s amazing how little people spend in those moments bringing their brand to life to get a true brand experience.

Think about wafting the fragrance of a certain individual product across a concert where people do care about who they’re standing next to and what they smell like in those moments. How about bringing across the beautiful fragrance that you have or the musk or whatever it would be? How about wafting that across in an open concert so people are smelling it, realizing it, and then linking to it some advertising that says, “This is what you smell, and it’s amazing what this could do for you.” Again, that sounds very old and traditional, but think how different that is versus, “That smells good.” We do that with fragrance all the time.

Did you do that at a concert?

We did.

What are the machinations of actually getting that done?

It’s massive. We worked with the fragrance houses who are our masters of this thing. If you think about CPG, we often get brought down into these traditional pieces but the reality is we’re working with super inspirational and forward-thinking organizations such as fragrance houses. Fragrance houses are doing this every day with perfumes and colognes. One of the things they’re great at is thinking about a store. Think about walking into a certain skincare brand store or a certain home care brand store, and there’s a smell you get. It’s that smell or that fragrance that you lean into, and you’re like, “This is for me.”

We worked with them and said, “You do this in a store. You do this in a pop-up. How do we do this in a concert with 30,000 people?” What we brought to life was a series of the same machines that basically waft that fragrance or that smell or the tones underneath it in multiple different places at different times when the music was changed. It was less of a concert and more of a DJ mixing music but still a concert.

We played closely with that DJ and their producers that had the right music. Just like you see the lights going off, you would get the fragrance whiffs that would come in the same way, and then you link it to the messaging. We can do that nowadays by targeting people on their phones. How many people have their phone out taking a recording of it? How many are posting on social media? Now I can hit them up exactly that moment and say, “Do you like what you smell? Do you know what you’re smelling? This is what it is. You could be this smell.” That type of messaging.

Through geofencing technology, you’re targeting people at specific locations.

That’s exactly right. Of course, as you know, nowadays, the magic is that you can catch people wherever they are. Again, if you do it right, you’re not being intrusive or obscene about it. You’re linking in a message to people that care. You’re not serving it to everybody that’s sitting in the concert. You’re serving it to the people that you’ve learned from, you’ve targeted, and you’ve had some reactions to it. Those type of interactions for us is what I would say is true brand experience. You don’t really think about this as CPG usually. People always think, “This is an old stuffy world.” It’s not. In fact, that’s where I think the magic comes in in CPG.

It’s great that you mentioned that it wasn’t a specific artist because, in my mind, or maybe some of the people, this might have been thinking, “I was at a Taylor Swift concert. Was that this campaign or was that just a person next to me who had put on a bit too much?”

Maybe both. I’m not a big old-school sampler kind of a person. We are all about sustainability here. I can tell you that.

Let’s go back to the purpose conversation then because there’s been so much written about purpose. Let’s talk about purpose done right. There’s an author whom I love to read about, an Aussie-Brit called Mark Ritson, who writes in Marketing Week. He has written some pretty scathing things about this over-indexation on purpose, especially in the world of CPG. It’s like, “You’re in the business of doing good strategy and positioning, but this over-index on purpose.” He is over-criticized a lot. Imagine that I’m him with less swear words. How would you respond to that?

I might keep the swear words in, but I agree with quite a few things that he says. The concept of it, which is that everyone has decided that brand purpose means emotion, giant storytelling, and being in the clouds. Everyone has moved to think that you need to go save the world from something. That’s the reason why people choose you. There were brands that do that, and they deserve to talk about that.

Patagonia is the one who can authentically because it’s in the business strategy.

They’re very good at it. To me, what brand purpose does, if it’s done right, is it keeps the guardrails on who you are and why you do what you do. It keeps marketers, customer development, and everyone on the ship understanding that this is my framework. What I always say about brand purpose is fundamentally an inside-facing document to me. Brand purpose is not talking to someone and telling them about your brand purpose. If I tell you about my brand purpose, you don’t care. You don’t need to. It’s our brand purpose. What they should feel is our brand purpose. This, to me, takes it away from this way up in the clouds and lands the plane. It’s one of the things that I talk about with my teams, if it’s the China team, the US team, the global team, or any of the teams that I work with day in and day out.

The brand purpose and the brand experience report to me, which is Brand DNA. The innovation reports to me, and a lot of the markets report to me. What I always say is, “You have to be able to talk about why our brand has the right to play in this place. Why do we have a right to win, and most importantly, how are you going to land the plane because fundamentally, someone does need to buy you?” I think that’s the piece that a lot of marketers lose. They love doing brand purpose in the clouds, and you love it.

You want to tell people about that brand purpose when actually back to your quote of our friend which is, “If you only stay up in the clouds, then as a real person.” I’m sitting there, and I say, let’s go back to underarm protection, “I want underarm protection that is going to protect me in the moments that I care about. That’s what I need. Stop telling me that you’re going to go save the world.”

Let’s talk about this specifically and then into the brand that you are leading now. We’re talking about EltaMD. It’s part of Colgate-Palmolive, but there are probably a lot of people that don’t know what EltaMD is. Maybe talk a bit about that. Also, when you think about what might move the needle at Colgate-Palmolive, what’s the role in the broader portfolio of having a smaller brand like this?

First, let’s talk a little bit about EltaMD because most people don’t know it. EltaMD is the number one used, recommended, and sold professional sunscreen brand in the United States. It’s primarily used, recommended, and sold from dermatologist offices. It is a cosmetically elegant, beautifully made skincare product. It’s a protection brand, and sun protection is the fundamentals behind it but also, we have a series of restoring products that bring your skin back to normal. Think of it as not gloopy messes at the beach. It’s a pure skin cancer play, which is extremely important, by the way. We do that too.

This is, “I have a skincare routine, and I want to protect my skin from those aggressors, but I also want to make sure that I am protecting myself from aging because the sun is the number one aging of our skin.” That’s what our brand is. It’s about protection, restoring, and bringing that to life, and it’s a very small brand. We’re only in a handful of markets around the world. If you think about a company as big as Colgate-Palmolive, we’re in over 200 countries. I guess your question is, why buy EltaMD?

One of the things that makes brands like EltaMD magic, which is something that Colgate really believes in, is it’s easy to get caught up in Colgate and think it’s just a CPG brand selling CPG products. Colgate is magical in the way that we use technology, innovation, and bring it to life in partnerships with the profession. Our oral care products are not only to be marketed. It’s real technology and innovation. We have huge R&D resources, and it is not only to deliver a different flavor. It’s to deliver things that change the way that the product works and helps you in a healthy way. We bring it to life through the profession, so dentists and hygienists around the world.

Colgate-Palmolive owns Hill’s Science Diet pet food, which most people don’t know. Also, very scientific and brought to life through who? Veterinarians. The profession is important. We’ve moved into a journey with Colgate-Palmolive that we think is an analogy of those which is bringing to life what we call skin health. That brings brands that are not hope in a bottle. This is not skincare hope in a bottle. Those brands are out there too.

These are real brands with real innovation and technology. When they say something, they’re going to do it and prove it. That’s why it’s loved by the profession, like our old care products, pet food products, and pet care. That’s why we think we have a right as a Colgate-Palmolive to play there because we think it matches in mirrors, and we’re early in the journey. These are small brands. They’ve only been owned by Colgate-Palmolive for a few years. It’s very different than 200 years in 200 countries.

Take us behind the scenes into getting to the purpose. First, what is that story, and what was the process to get there?

Remember, the way that we vision, and I personally vision brand purpose, is it’s an internal framework that allows you. Our brand purpose at EltaMD is that everybody has the right to live freely under the sun. Now that’s a very high-level purpose that is fundamentally a brand about getting you outside and supporting you, and you don’t have to worry about what happens when you do that. You don’t have to worry about the sun, pollution, Blu-rays, or free radicals. We’re going to make it easy, so you don’t have to worry about it. We’re going to protect you from those things and restore your skin. That’s internal. I’m not going to say that line to anybody outside, including my wife or significant other, because she’s going to laugh at me and she’s going to be like, “You’re up in the clouds.”

This is really what drives us internally to say, “What does that mean from a product standpoint? What do people expect from us? What is the innovation or the feeling that people should have? What are the forms that we would bring to life?” What that tells me is, let’s use that purpose and bring it to life. I’ll use a real-life example of innovation. What that means is, is that I am open to, as a brand, bringing to life new forms that allow you to protect yourself in a simpler and easier way. Maybe thinking about sunscreens in a roll-on or photoprotection with antioxidants that by putting it in your skincare routine will help you better deflect the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Those are all in scope because that’s what my brand stands for.

What my brand is not going to go do is I am not going to address your acne or acne skin because you have internal tensions that are driven and then the sun reacts to that and is causing you to have acne. I’m not going to come to fix your acne skin. That’s not right for our brand because that is not tied to who we are, both living freely and going out, spending the day outside, and doing what we want to go do and not worrying about it.

It helps give you a filter also for what not to do because that’s the essence of strategy oftentimes. It’s the notion. Strategy isn’t “We’re going to do more.” Strategy is making trade-offs about what we’re purposely not going to do.

I think that’s the hardest part as a marketer. If I could choose one thing in my career that I wish I had learned earlier, that’s it. As a marketer, we believe we can do it all, and we should because you can sell a unit of something. Pick a number, I don’t care if it’s $1 or $1 million. At the end of the day, that doesn’t mean you should do it. As marketers, we love to try to do everything. We keep expanding. Next thing you know, I’m selling sun protection, photoprotection, or anti-aging and now, all of a sudden, I’m launching lasagna. I’m over-exaggerating that, but that’s what happens. We all think it. The other piece is the next marketer that comes behind us in the business thinks they need to add the next ten things because that marketer didn’t do it as good as I can do it.

To me, brand purpose and focus are all about what we’re not going to do. It is an unbelievably clear filter. Think about your technology team and your R&D team. They got the filter. Is this in or out? Does it fit this or doesn’t it? Since we’re all real-life people, you take your company hat off for a second, and you would say, “Would I buy this from this brand? Do they have a right to play there?” The answer, most of the time, honestly, is no.

How have you then taken that purpose and at least drawn a dotted line to then the external articulation? What does the brand house look like, the brand pyramid, whatever framework you use in order to then start to transition over to the external promise?

Some of the things that make our brand specifically special in that world of living freely are that it is amazingly cosmetically elegant. Now what the heck does cosmetically elegant mean? What it means is it is protection or photoprotection. You are able to put it on like a skincare product. It is not ruining your other skincare product. It plays nicely. It’s not leaving you a white goopy mess, so you don’t want to be seen outside. It’s not flaking off and balling up. It’s none of those types of things so you want to wear it versus I have to wear it. For us, if you think about our brand purpose and bringing it to life, if I want people to feel comfortable and to live freely and under the sun and not worry about it, they have to want to wear it, not because a doctor tells them to.

I want, and a doctor does tell them to, and we are going to be the brand that protects you from UVA and UVB, but fundamentally, people were only going to wear it so long if I’m told I have to versus I want to. Think about how that comes to life. Back to your question. The forms that we put to life, and I need to make reapplication easy. If I have skincare and makeup on in the morning, I’m going to go spend the day and I’m in the office, now I’m going to go outside in the afternoon or in the evening, and I’m going to go have whatever you’re going to do, meet up with some friends or social, and you need to reprotect yourself, I don’t want to ruin my makeup and other skincare. I need to have a reapplication that’s easy to put on, so I’ll call it cosmetically elegant.

I need to have those forms. That’s the thinking that we do and how we bring it to life. Now to your storytelling, where those things type really matter? Those things don’t matter on the beach. The average person knows I need to protect the beach. I’m not bringing my brand experience to life, showing random people running on a beach spraying themselves and throttling in the water. Of course, that is there.

What I’m doing is thinking about your day as you go on your commute and you finish your skincare, whatever that skincare routine is. If it’s only our product, 60 products, or whatever it may be, I’m linking you into getting ready in the morning and feeling great and confident when you walk out the door and I’m going to help you support you in that journey. When you get done at the end of the night, I’m going to help restore your skin back to where it needs to be because it’s been attacked all day long. We’ve been protecting it but let’s restore it. That’s the world that we show and we bring to life in our brand experience.

Is there a broader concept here when you think about skincare and the importance of SPF as even another potential pillar of wellness? For years, we thought of wellness as exercise and nutrition. I think it’s one of the reasons why now there are such premium mattresses and beds because sleep is that additional pillar of wellness. Is this one of those elements where it’s not for people who have very sensitive skin? Is this maybe where the growth opportunity is more broadly, which is it’s a change in an overall consumer mindset that SPF should be part of everybody’s day-to-day? I’m not being paid or sponsored to say that.

Honestly, I was like, “Here’s the $5.” I will tell you that this is exactly the link. There weren’t a lot of great things out of COVID. It was a horrible time for everybody and an unbelievably painful time around the world. There’s one thing that I personally feel came out of it as a benefit, and that is people rethinking themselves, their healthcare, and what matters to them as an individual, but also as a healthy body. It doesn’t mean that everyone goes to the gym for five hours. What it means is you think about those things a little bit differently than you used to, and SPF is that exact world. It used to be that we would scare people. We didn’t as a brand, but sun care brands scared you into thinking, “I’m going to get skin cancer. I better protect myself.”

That is so critical. I will never back away from that. There’s a healthiness to just being healthier overall in the things that you use to brush your teeth, in what you put on your skin, and in the way that you protect yourself from the free radicals and the UVA and UVB rays. The way in the things that you put into your hair to keep that as healthy as it possibly can. All of these things ladder up to the larger idea, which is health and wellness. I don’t talk about a lot of brands on here, but Colgate-Palmolive, one of the things that I love about this company is that it all ladders to that. That’s why science, technology, and real things, and not hope in a bottle, matter to this company.

We’ve got to prove that this isn’t a PR exercise for Colgate-Palmolive. We’ve got to get under the herd and bring got to bring some of the pain. Drew, talk to us about some of the things that haven’t worked.

There is a lot of pain on the journey. In fact, I would say that my best learnings in life have been through horribly painful situations, either personal or work-related, which is good for learning. I talked earlier a little bit about underarm protection and some of the pain of learning that the hard way. I would say in the brand I’m on now, one of the things that we learned is that we hadn’t articulated who we were. It was in the minds of people. Since it was in the minds of some people, it was hard and we did expand too far, too fast around too many products. If you go across our portfolio, we have a portfolio of 40-some-odd products, and we’ve had to do some heavy pruning.

Where does the pain come in? Where the pain comes in is in the last few years, we’ve launched things and spent a ton of money on beautiful products that don’t fit. We’ve launched products that would play in a space that I would call rejuvenation. Beautiful products that work are great products, but they’re not right for our brand. We spent hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars developing these beautiful products and doing that, and then realizing too late that that’s not right. That’s not the place for us. That’s not who we are, and that’s not how people look at us. That adds to the second pain, and that is hard learning.

You like to be everything for everybody. That’s what marketers love to do. We love to say, “I have this target.” I will say on this brand, that’s where we started. Who doesn’t need sun protection? The answer is everyone needs it. We lean in, and we think as a brand that I need to talk to everybody. We did that at first. I would say that probably one of the hardest and biggest learnings we had. We spent a ton of resources and money trying to talk to everybody because who doesn’t need us, versus talking to the right groups that matter and can make a big difference in who we are. They will then be the advocates to the next cohort.

Can you talk a bit about that core?

If I give you demographics, that’s a very old-school way to say it. I would say that we are spending time thinking about, generally, females, but it’s not always female. Specific in the US, it would be females who have a skincare routine so they are already using two to some odd products so that they’re in the skincare routine what it would be. They’re open to products that are beyond what we would call pharmacy brands. There’s nothing wrong with it. Pharmacy brands are beautiful. I use many pharmacy brands myself, including in skincare. People that are willing to maybe get a little bit higher efficacy in some of the things that you can get from the profession in those areas are open to that space and want to be healthier. This is the link to the point earlier about wellness.

Fundamentally, it’s beauty in a way of being healthier. Being healthier delivers your beauty. Whatever that beauty is that you want it to be, having healthier skin and taking care of it will help you get there. It is not about hiding, remaking, and beauty in that sense. This is your beauty and how to go do it. For us, bringing that to life is extremely important. That’s who we’re looking for. Now it tends to be female. We have a whole group of males as well. It tends to be in this age range of 20s to 40-ish. It’s a long-range, but remember, we’re not grouping people by age.

I’m not selecting targets because I’m going in and saying, “I want 25 to 40-year-old females who do this.” It’s not. We’re doing it the opposite way, which we’re saying, “We’re looking for people that use products like this that are on this journey, have linked these things, and ask these questions.” These are the folks that we think we want to talk to and we think are the best. Of course, you test your way through that. That’s where we think we can make a difference.

It’s a really interesting approach. You flip segmentation a little bit on its head. Not in terms of what the outcome is and that persona but in terms of screening questions of how you might bring someone into the conversation.

For me personally, and there are probably brands, I don’t know of any, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that need to target that way. I don’t know what they are, but for any brand that I’ve worked on, and especially the one I’m working on right now, the age range of someone or traditional demographics is not the driver of who’s interested in my brand. As a marketer, we’re so far past that. We use that because we didn’t have a choice before. There was no other option. Now we have information, data, people, and understanding, and it allows us to be so much more targeted and personalized. Not in a scary, freaky way but more like, “This is a brand that is interested in me, and I’m glad they’re talking to me.”

It’s a fascinating conversation. I want to switch gears over to a rapid-fire wisdom round. What advice would you have given to yourself a few years ago? You can’t use the, “We believe that we would’ve done it.” You have to think of something else.

I’ll tell you, ask questions. Early in your career, we love to think we’ve got this education. When we come out of the education, we think we’re really smart and then we get into a company or a business, start working on brands, and do something successfully. We think, “Look at us. Look what we can do.” You start telling people what to go do. I would say that I wish I would have that earlier. You need to ask questions.

What questions would you have asked?

I would ask, why did someone select what they use? In fact, I’d go further and not ask the question. I’d just go spend time with people. I’d see it because if you ask the question, you probably don’t get the right answer. When I say ask questions, it’s more like get external and spend time with people in their homes, in the bowling alley, or wherever they may be. Where they go shopping and not traditional ways. Listen, watch, and observe. Asking questions, you’ve been doing to sponge it in, and you start to realize and get the real threads of gold that you can pull out of that.

One of the best marketing books that I’ve read isn’t a marketing book. It was the only book that I read before I was going to become a father for the first time. It’s a book called Bringing Up Bébé, which is written by an American journalist who moved to France with her husband. She was fascinated as to why French children didn’t cry, why they ate three meals a day and didn’t need a snack, and why they were well-behaved at restaurants without their iPads. When they were at the park, they would be playing with their friends. The mothers or the fathers were having conversations on park benches with each other and didn’t have to be playing with the kids.

When she went and spoke to French people to ask them what is it that they did from a parenting standpoint that their kids were so different, none of them could articulate what is it they did. She had to drop this ethnographic approach because people couldn’t articulate what they did that was so different.

People don’t know they’re different because they’re not different. I love using the line, “Every person thinks they’re unique like everybody else.” You don’t even realize what that is. When you ask the question, how does someone answer it? One of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my career is living internationally in different markets. Again, you can do that even right in the US by living in different states, being in different markets, and spending time with different people than yourself and your close cohort. You start to open up to how wide the world is and how everyone is unique like everyone else in that group. You think you know but you don’t.

That goes back to asking the questions, but I would say it’s further than that. See and observe what people are doing. That is sponging that in and starting with the answer that you don’t know. You think you do, but you don’t. You think you know why that person selected that, but you don’t. How do you figure it out?

What are the innate traits that you look for when you think about your 2 by 2 talent matrix? When you think about your top right box in terms of your top talent, what are the criteria and things that those people have that set them apart from everyone else?

There are four, and I’m pretty specific on the four. I’ve anally written these down, so I’m on it. Again, not everyone needs to fit this because you need a mix. I will say I have found that around my career and hiring of individuals and building teams that having a good mix of these individuals breed success. The first one is embracing risk. Someone that is comfortable leaning forward in the chair when there’s a risky situation, something a little bit risky, asking a little different question that’s there, or putting something forward that is not what everyone else is saying. It’s embracing risk. They have to show me that somewhere they’ve done that.

I don’t mean to go jump off a cliff. I mean that they are open to the embracing of risk and they’ve shown that in their life, whatever it may be, or their career so far. Two, as you’ve probably heard a lot from me is getting external. I want to know that the people that I work with are natural in looking for being around real people and my light going off to save energy again, but this is natural, getting external and not focus groups. Number three, when change needs to happen, it’s up to you to drive change. I want to see people that have been changed drivers, not flag waivers. Not, “There’s a problem. Who’s going to fix it? We need to get everybody in the room to fix it.” We do need to get everybody in the room, but I want to see people that drive the change when there’s something that needs to be changed.

Number four is people that recognize when something is magical and aggressively scale it. That’s the other piece. When you find magic, because it’s not always magic, it’s rare that you find plutonium, but when you find it, you should do everything you can to scale it. For me, the four, and it’s been consistent for many years of my hiring practices and looking, I want to see people that embrace risk. I want to see people that are getting external in real life with real people. I want to see people that have driven change when there’s a problem or an issue, not just to drive change like there’s a reason and scale amazing when you see it. If you do those four things, I personally think you’ll be successful, marketing or not. Whatever you do, if you do those four things, you’ll be magical.

Are there characteristics of what magic is and isn’t?

I think that’s 1 of the hardest things of the 4. How do people deliver against that? If you’re on the other side of an interview with me and you want to show these things off, finding out where those moments of plutonium to me are probably the hardest thing for someone to be able to do. If you jump too fast, you may have thought you found plutonium, but you actually found dust. Part of that is back to embracing risk in moments and the level of risk. I’m not talking about a free for all, but earlier in your career, you can embrace those moments that you think are magic, embrace that little risk that you have, and go after it.

You’re going to fail. Think about how many products make it to a shelf or a digital shelf, or a physical shelf, and it’s okay. It’s about learning from that, which then you’ll get better at finding out where those spots of plutonium are, recognizing those, and being able to go after them. Without a doubt, I’m many years in the industry. I will say that I still have a hit rate that is not beautiful. I still fail consistently, but that’s okay. I’m getting better every time at recognizing those moments.

What are some of the really important lessons for you for how to get the most out of agency partners?

They’re very similar, to be quite honest with you, to some of the conversations we’ve been having along this journey. One, I’m not smarter than my agency. I think as a marketer and someone who’s brought innovation to life or developed the innovation or built this, you know so much of it and you think you are. You need to allow agency partners to do what they’re magical at. I’m going to give you a really bad analogy or an example, but I like when the plumber plumb and the electricians do the electricity. I know that I am not as creative as the creatives. That’s what they’re magical at. That’s their sweet spot. That’s who they are. I’m not as innovative as the innovators. I’m not a better planner than the media planners.

I’m using an agency like that type of agency, but any agency. There are people who are magic and really good at what they’re doing. Let them go do it. One of the way that I try to, I’m not always great at it, but I try harder every day and I try to instill this in my team, which is, when you give feedback on things to the agency, you should never pick more than 2 or 3 things ever. Let’s use creative. If they come to you with a creative idea and they lay it out after a brief, and you have to give them more than 2 or 3 feedback loops, then you’ve done something wrong. You briefed it wrong and set it up wrong. You’ve gone too far. What are the things that you’re thinking about that might need to be worked on or the areas? Let the magic people go and do the magic.

Final question. What advice do you have when you think about criteria when you are choosing agencies? What are the things that you look for?

The first one is I want to see groups that have approved and track records. That doesn’t mean they have to have 100 brands underneath them. In fact, I often find that that case is sometimes stale. Not always, but sometimes it is. I want someone to be able to or an agency to be able to articulate, “Here’s what we have learned along our journey.” Honestly, it’s exactly the conversation we’re having. Here are the mistakes that we’ve made, how we’ve learned from that, and here’s the magic we’d then be able to create.

Now I know you’re a real person, and you’re not just going to show me fluff and fake and hide things. Now I know we’re going to have a great relationship where you’re going to come to me and say, “I want to take this risk. It’s going to be a bet. Are you willing to bet on it with me? Let’s do it,” or the opposite which is, “We’ve made a mistake. It’s okay.” For me, that’s important. I would say the second one is that you have to have personal, and I don’t mean personal like, “What are you doing tonight for drinks?” A personal relationship with your agency. You have to be able to talk about each other openly and have a conversation. What do you like to do, and where do you go?

You become personal, so it’s not this walled garden. To me, that’s when the magic happens because you start to learn from each other. You also then make feedback stronger because when you’re having conversations, people start to learn and get each other. I’m using marketers, but I don’t think it’s just marketers. I think it’s from marketers to senior leadership. A lot of times, we like to catch people.

We want them to come in and present something over, and then we want to catch them on why they’re wrong or question them on why that’s done that way versus, “We’re in this together. If we get this right, you win, I win. You get more business, we get more business.” Fundamentally, people win. They want to lean into your brand and do more of it and get more of it. That allows us to then create more and build more. We’re not in a competition. We’re in this to win together.

Drew, at some point, I’m going to have to put a stop to this because we could keep going for another round. I’m loving the conversation but I don’t want you to have to sit in the dark for the rest of the day.

We’re saving energy and money. This is a good thing.

Thank you so much for all of your insights and the time. It’s been a fascinating conversation.

I appreciate it. As you can tell, one of the reasons I think we have a long conversation is that I’m really passionate about this. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. Not that I’m magical, I’m still learning hard lessons, and so I always love the conversation and the thinking. I’m always open to anybody reaching out and having conversations. That’s how we all get better and grow.

Thanks, Drew.

Thank you.

About Drew Deering

Drew Deering is an award winning Global Marketing mentor with vast experience spanning blue sky brand creation to repositioning of the well established, while never forgetting to land the plane.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Marketing and completing a Masters in Global Management, Drew embarked on a broad range of growth experiences spanning; organizations such as Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, CP Skin Health, EltaMD, PCA Skin, and Filorga Laboratories, across Global Management, Brand Marketing, Digital Transformation, Customer Development, and Integrated Brand Experience (IMC), in the markets of North America, Asia Pacific, China, India, and Europe.

Drew is currently the Global Brand Leader of EltaMD in the CP Skin Health Group based in New York. He leads the development of the brands DNA, Brand Experience, Innovation, Digital Transformation and Global expansion including a newly designed China transformation team.

With a great passion for building long term brand purpose via consumer tensions and universal truths, he has helped numerous brands prosper from purpose that builds long range strategic growth.