GlaxoSmithKline marketing lead on digital trends for 2017

This is part of an ongoing series exploring current trends and initiatives in digital transformation with industry leaders. Mindtree’s Senior Director of Marketing, Anil Venkat, recently sat down with Matthew Pritchard, Global Lead of Digital Marketing at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK), to get his take on digital transformation in 2017 and how it could impact the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry over the next decade.

Has digital transformation become a central focus of marketing in the CPG world?

Yes, absolutely. In fact, as the C-suite starts to see the benefits of their first forays in digital marketing, I think they’re seeing opportunities for digital transformation across other areas of business. So, if anything, I see the pace and breadth of digitalization increasing.

What do you believe are the must-have ingredients to move or scale to digital?

First, you need C-suite buy-in. I believe the CEO must lead the initiative in order to rally the senior team around it. Second, you need to have the right capability. This doesn’t mean you need a massive team of experts. But you need an accelerated group who can foster change and deliver some wins so you can create greater advocacy. Third, you need a laser-focused approach to where you’re going to play. The trouble is that the opportunities are so great, you run the risk of diffusing your efforts. You need to be clear on where the biggest wins are for your business, then go after those first.

I had a conversation with a Forrester analyst today, and she said that the term “digital” will soon disappear. Instead, we’ll just call it “business.” Do you see digital transformation as an inevitable part of doing business?

I agree. We should be talking about doing business in a digital world. But I think that when you consider digital marketing, for example, you initially have to overinvest to drive that change. So, while I see in the long term the word “digital” disappearing, I don’t think it will happen in the next three to five years. But going back to my earlier point, we should be working toward marketing in a digital world—and doing business on a wider scale in a digital world.

What role will data play for the CPG industry in 2017?

I think data is the new currency of the 21st century. Any organization that fails to focus on how it captures and leverages data will be at a disadvantage.

About 10 years ago, people were only thinking about obtaining email addresses or phone numbers. Now the focus has shifted to accumulating data that will allow you to do two things: One, be more precise, which doesn’t mean hypertargeted. It just means using data that makes your activity more focused.

The second consideration, particularly in the CPG world, is how you can use that data to understand your opportunity, then create different services or products based on that understanding. Data allows you to discover relevant insights to make your product or service better than your competitor’s.

Do you think the cloud platforms that have propelled companies like Uber and Airbnb forward will produce similar results in other markets?

Yes, absolutely. If you look at the companies that have had such success in this space over the last three to five years, what they’ve done so effectively is to match a consumer with a need or a product. I think that connection will become even more relevant. But I think what you’ll also see is some organizations leveraging other big players. For example, in the CPG world, leveraging Amazon to connect me to a buyer will be very valuable.

What’s interesting is how this will affect retailers. Let’s say a person wakes up at night with a cold and says, “I need Theraflu.” Today, they’d have to get in their car to buy it. What I think will happen in, say, five years is that person will order it online and get a box of Theraflu delivered to their home in an hour wherever they live. So now, I’ve not only met my customer’s needs by connecting the person with my product, I’ve done so on demand—and this ability allows me to meet consumers needs in a way others may not – that makes me a better competitor.

How significant will machine learning and artificial intelligence be for the industry? Do you think they will become the new normal?

I do. But my worry is that it’s going to become a new shiny toy. So, there’s going to be an overinvestment in the short term, then a realignment, and after that it will have a much bigger impact in the long term.

I don’t think this is only about my business either. I believe that consumer behavior is going to lead the way here, and if you aren’t already doing these things, you’re going to be at a disadvantage. I think you’ll see some good testing, then a bit of adjustment. But I think everyone’s jumping in now.

Will connected ecosystems and application program interfaces (APIs) be integral to doing digital business?

Yes. Even though most see the world as more fragmented, I see it as getting more connected but using different channels. I believe that companies like GSK will accept the fact that we’re not a technology company, but we’ll partner with technology companies. The use of APIs and how we connect to each other will become more important, particularly as we get into the e-commerce world for concerns like how to make sure my product information is up to date and in-stock information is relevant.

The ability of companies to leverage a defined toolset and use APIs to connect those systems is going to become a critical part of a deliverable or an organizational structure within IT at a company like ours.

As the Global Digital Marketing Lead for the consumer health division of GSK, you must have a lot on your mind. What’s going to keep you awake this year?

The top three things that are going to keep me awake are: One, how am I scaling what I’m learning? Two, how do I continue to build the talent and capability of my organization at the speed I need to? And three, how do I continue to educate the C-suite and get them to support the plan we have? I think there’s always a risk of running off toward the next new thing , or seeing someone else doing this and saying, “We need to be doing it.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

From a marketing perspective, there are three areas that I want to make progress on this year. First, to continue to drive simplification and make it easy for marketers to do digital, because there’s going to be change. And if you make change difficult, they won’t embrace it. So keep things simple and make it easier. Second, begin to leverage that data opportunity, but do it in a controlled way because that’s where the most value comes from. And third, have a clear test-and-learn plan so you can fix foundations while you continually try to push the envelope.

Want to learn more? See Matthew Pritchard discuss how GSK leveraged Mindtree’s expertise to maximize the consumer health division’s digital engagement. Watch the video.