1+1 = 3 on Nestlé's digital journey

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 9, 2013
Nestlé is embracing the tenets of customer conversations to good effect. Both the CMO and CIO are involved. This is what they're doing and an early report on the results.

Bruno Villetelle

One in one can make three, according to Bruno Villetelle, global head of digital services at Nestlé

Before anyone starts to questions Villetelle's grasp of arithmetic, we should quickly add that what he's talking about is one CMO and one CIO and that the three is reflective of the greater combined potential of the two individuals.

Part of Villetelle's mission is to manage what he admits remains a tension between the CMO and CIO in many organisations, but it's worth the effort to try:

"If you do it right, one and one can make three."

We've all come into contact with Nestlé in some form or another of course. The 330,000-plus-employee conglomerate manages some 2,000 brands ranging from Nespresso coffee to Purina Dog Chow to Pure Life bottled water to around 20 brands of food for infants. Each day it sells 1.2 billion items.

But 18 months ago, the firm's executive leadership decided it was time to explore some new ideas and approaches.
Villetelle recalls:

"We took a new look at digital and social media use in Nestlé to leverage competitive gaps. The goal was to server better and enhance the lives of consumers through the use of digital content and digital marketing."

That initiative led to the isolation of four key words that have since become a mantra within Nestlé:

  • Listening
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring 
  • Transforming

The first two are the most critical perhaps. Listening to the customers and to the wider world is crucial to successful strategy, argues Villetelle.

"We believe digital media can give us an unprecedented opportunity to listen to our consumers, the impressions they are sharing. We can identify the listeners and also proactively identify potential crises."

He cites the example of a voluntary recall in France of a product in the children's Nestlé P'tit Pot range. 


Because Nestlé was listening to reaction from the market, it fixed on a re-tweet of the recall notice by actress Alyssa Milano as a result of which Nestlé posted a second tweet of clarification on the scope of the recall which in turn Milano retweeted to her two million followers. Villetelle notes:

"We got a lot of positive vibes out of that."

As for engagement, Villettee talks about traditional media activity - such as advertising and PR - and earned media engagement, the latter of which is harder to achieve"

"Everyone has the same issue with social media engagement - how do you stand out from the crowd and earn a share of mind. We all say that content is king. I say that relevance is queen. Your content needs to be relevant to the consumers you're engaging with."

He cites as an example a campaign in the US for Nestlé's Purina pet brand. It was a campaign built around the notion that 'Life is better with pets'.

"Compared to the traditional way of doing marketing campaigns, we leveraged social media to use an adaptive type of marketing based on great content. We were able to take a pulse on how consumers were reacting to this a content and adapt it on the way."

The results after 7 weeks were impressive:

  • a 49% increase in reach.
  • a 311% increase in consumers talking about Purina.
  • a 120% increase in mobile penetration.

And the work goes on with the planned acquisition of Petfinder, the oldest and largest website dedicated to pet adoption.

The purchase is of interest part down to its pedigree (sorry!), but mostly, says Villetelle, because it is a source of "rich content" that will engage with online consumers.

For it's own part, Nestlé is now working to what Villetelle calls a:

"creative newsroom model focused on producing adaptive content. Every hour or so you engage with your consumers which means that your decision making processes need to be different of course."

That has resulted in Nestlé upping and accelerating its social and digital journey.

Some stats:

  • There are more than 30 million fans of Nestlé on Facebook. 
  • The firm publishes 1300 pieces of unique content each day.
  • There are 650 Facebook pages dedicated to Nestlé brands. 
  • And more than 200,000 employees are now active on Nestlé's internal social media platform.

As a sign of the wider corporate commitment to the digital journey, the firm has set up a Digital Acceleration Team under Pete Blackshaw, head of digital marketing.

"Digital acceleration' staff work not only on social media promotion, but also on damage control and reputation management. It takes around eight months of training to become a qualified member of the team.

A lot of this investment in digital undoubtedly stems from the PR nightmare that stemmed from Greenpeace's 2010 spoof KitKat ad on YouTube.

This showed someone in an office chewing on a chocolate wafer finger that mutates into a monkey claw and the message: "Give the orang-utan a break. Stop Nestlé buying palm oil from companies that destroy the rainforests."

Nestle did not handle that situation well, earning vilification for trying to get the video pulled from YouTube and threatening to delete any hostile messages on its Facebook pages.

It's hard to imagine a similarly heavy-handed approach today. When the DAT picks up a potential crisis looming, it co-ordinates the company’s engagement with the relevant parties, such as suppliers, campaigners, governments and consumers.

And to make sure the expertise is not locked in to a minority of people, Nestlé executives around the world find themselves visiting the DAT centre at the headquarters in Switzerland, to learn about managing social media communications and digital marketing.

Villetelle concludes that there is a simple recipe for success in digital transformation based on four elements:

  • A common vision.
  • Complementary perceptions by CIO and CMO.
  • Strategic pillars, such as listening and engaging.
  • The use of disruptive technologies, such as mobile and cloud computing.

Villetelle was talking at the Forrester Forum For CIOs & Enterprise Architecture Professionals EMEA in London. 

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