Ed Shirley, the vice chair of global beauty and grooming at Procter & Gamble, joined the company five years ago as part of its acquisition of Gillette. For someone from outside the company to rise to this level had been unheard of at P&G, which historically has groomed its leaders from the beginning of their careers. Shirley credits his unusual elevation within the P&G ranks in part to his “winning” mentality.
“I looked at every job as a challenge, and I always played to win,” Shirley told the CEW Newsmaker Forum audience on Sept. 15, 2010. Importantly, he added, “I play to win—but together, in a collaborative way. You can disagree with me, but just do it in a constructive way.”
P&G, a leader in market research, spends $350 million per year and talks to 5 million women. Shirley shared insights about reaching today’s consumer, gave novel ways to innovate and spoke of P&G’s efforts to advance the careers of women.
The Shifting Consumer Landscape
We are coming off of the peak of the (financial) crisis. It was a period of time where things changed tremendously—for budget shoppers and luxury shoppers. Some of our categories dropped 20–30%. We reframed our message to really focus on value. Consumers became more curious, more discerning and more involved. Making a mistake was unaffordable. Consumers did try retailer private labels, but research suggests they are coming back [to the brands]. Consumers can’t afford to fail [in their product selection] when they don’t have much discretionary income. Brands are trust marks.
Reframing the Message
Value doesn’t mean cheap—it means making the product relevant to consumers. That inspired us to fill out our portfolio. Within Olay, for example, we have a range of price points with Olay ProX, Regenerist and Total Effects. The lesson we learned is you don’t want to be in only one position. You don’t want to lose [consumers] to another brand if they trade down. A Regenerist customer may move down to Total Effects and figure, ‘When my situation changes, I’ll go back.’ People questioned launching OlayProX during the crisis. But to some consumers paying $65 for Olay ProX was a value compared to what they were paying for products in other channels.
We worked hard to communicate the value message—to show how this product is relevant to them. We reframed our television and print messages. Importantly, we changed our packaging and on-shelf messages to emphasize value. A lot of choices take place in the store.
The Holistic Consumer
We have been in business for 173 years, and we’ve been talking to `Her’ and the specific body parts of Her. We were somewhat of a ‘sum of the parts’ organization. We realized there was an opportunity to meet Her needs holistically and now to meet His needs holistically. Selling solutions is a big opportunity. For Her, why shouldn’t we make sure that if she is preparing herself with skin care, she [will also] complement her hair and makeup?
For Him, we had been focusing on wet shaving, but we also have deodorant, skin care, bar soaps and hair care. We don’t want the men’s business to have to relearn everything we already know [from the women’s business]. We have moved to be more collaborative and take away the internal competition.
Along with that, we have changed our prestige fine fragrances team to address the total prestige consumer. We think our Art of Shaving brand is a diamond in the rough. We will roll out a whole portfolio of prestige guy products. Why not? There is a consumer out there who wants to delight and pamper himself. We are also adding a color cosmetics collection to our Dolce & Gabbana fragrances. We want to be available for sale where consumers want to buy the product, and some of that will be unique to each brand.
Education Still Needed
We, as an industry, have an opportunity to help educate consumers. I think they would be willing to try more and do more. It really is about helping with the `how to’ aspect. People learn in different ways. I think we need to look at all the different mediums that we can use to help them and grow the category. As an example, we recently had a Covergirl eye shadow product that achieved a smoky eye look. There was information from an expert included on the packaging [telling the consumer] how to get that look using our product.
Innovation is the lifeblood of this industry, and we must understand what consumers are looking to achieve. But we quit on innovation too quickly. We launch and leave, instead of launch and leverage. We keep launching new products because we think that is the only way retailers will give us space. We [at P&G] are trying to change that approach.
There is commercial innovation, too—and that challenge is how to present the product in a meaningful way. We have done that through tie-ins with Gillette and Nascar, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Head & Shoulders and with a corporate commercial during the Olympics that struck an emotional chord with moms across America.
Regarding Troy, even ESPN was talking about his 'head & shoulders' hair. There was nothing changed about the product; it was a commercial innovation.
We use bloggers a lot. If you have a brand that delivers on its promise and the bloggers talk about it, you will create awareness that will lead to trial. It used to be that when you launched a product you would wait weeks until it was firmly in the market before you [advertised]. Now, we are seeding things ahead [of launch]. Before launching a new Gillette razor, we gave it to leading male bloggers as a trial. We said, ‘If you like it, talk about it.’ Of course, it was more risky. But we gave them 100 samples each to send out to their followers. So, we had thousands [of razors] out there before the actual launch.
Tapping Social Media
For the restage of Pantene, we also used social networking to get people to talk about it. And the Old Spice Man social media campaign with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, even drew a response from ABC newsman George Stephanopolous who asked him (Isaiah Mustafa, the spokesmodel featured in Old Spice media placements) what advice he would give to President Obama to gain more support with women. This was the real George.
Our communication strategies have changed. Everything is changing.
Diversity in the Workplace
Five years ago I was asked to head the Hispanic leadership team at P&G, which I found odd that a non-Hispanic be asked to do this. But actually, it is quite brilliant because I didn’t know anything about the issues, challenges and aspirations [of Hispanic employees]. The same holds for advancing the careers of women. The more you learn about a group, the more prepared you are [to reach them]. When we understand the challenges, we will be better supporters. That is true for the women we work for and for those who work for us. We are all in this together.
It’s incredibly important to operate in a much more collaborative environment. People want to work with people they like. Collaborating and focusing on solutions and possibilities is so much more fun than [dwelling] on what’s getting in the way. And you see things you might not have seen before. If you operate in a collaborative, team-like manner, it’s incredible what you can get done. Culture is critical. And I like to look at things with the glass half full.