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Getting to know your customers is essential for building long-lasting relationships. Roisin Donnelly of P&G tells Justin Pearse why she’s keen to follow hers online

Roisin Donnelly, marketing chief at Procter & Gamble UK, makes you feel like she knows each of her customers personally. Describing how consumers behave, Donnelly constantly uses phrases like “she’s online” and “we understand how she feels”.

When she says that “it’s in our DNA to understand consumers”, you believe her.

So its unsurprising to find the company is following “her” online and dramatically increasing its investment in digital marketing. But it’s going much further than that. In fact, Donnelly says, “The internet is over ten years old now, it’s not a new medium. It’s now a central part of a brand manager’s job.”

For really new media, Donnelly has a dedicated team of four, led by head of interactive marketing Emma Jenkins, who has worked in interactive at P&G since 1999.

“This team’s job is to investigate new marketing models,” says Donnelly. “They’re looking for new ideas, spending a lot of time with early adopters and innovative agencies to see what ideas could be great. From this we expect some successes but also a large failure rate as we’re testing a lot of stuff that just doesn’t work, or doesn’t work yet.”

It’s this commitment to pushing the boundaries - somewhat surprising for a FMCG giant - that has made the company several times a digital pioneer. Along with claiming the first interactive TV ad on an early Cable & Wireless platform, P&G was one of the advertisers on ZagMe, the first large-scale attempt at mobile location-based marketing in 2001. It recently took part in a mobile couponing trial with Sainsbury’s-owned convenience store chain Jackson’s, and is working to launch the scheme with another large retail chain.

But ‘she’ always comes first. “I see a lot of technically brilliant ideas with no consumer at the end,” is one of Donnelly’s criticisms about the digital industry. Finding out exactly what ‘she’ does do online has led P&G to eschew the route of focusing solely on the top ten sites.

“I expect our marketing department to be out with consumers a large part of the week, in stores, in consumers’ homes, really understanding people,” Donnelly says. “We went into consumers’ homes with teenage girls to look at what they were doing, to see where they were, which led to us using smaller sites. We discover them from our consumers. We ask who they trust, which communities they’re in.”

This goes hand in hand with the company’s forming long-term partnerships with brands like Habbo Hotel, where it can develop campaigns that offer value to the community.

P&G’s continuing monitoring of consumer behaviour has thrown up one concern for Donnelly: a new form of teenage behaviour exhibited online that could throw up significant challenges to big brands. “I worry when I see how fickle teenagers are, floating from one site to another, and wonder if they’ll be as fickle in product choices,” she says. “You get whole communities moving en masse between social networks. So the challenge is to build loyalty by building trust and relationships.”

In the meantime, P&G is moving ever more of its marketing budget into digital. Donnelly says that its online spend is “four times higher than it’s ever been measured at and it’ll be even higher this year, especially as the hundreds of small sites we use aren’t being measured.”

But she’s not yet spending “huge budgets”. And she’s unlikely to start until some inherent problems are resolved.

“One of the barriers is cost,” she says. “The cost per thousand is much better on TV than on many websites. If you’re used to mass marketing, then cost per thousand on TV is terrific value and online can be quite high on the big sites. Another barrier is measurement. We know how to measure TV, we know what the ratings are. Online has been slower to set up measurement systems, even though ISBA is working on it now. It’s desperately needed.”

Donnelly believes it’s the responsibility of media owners to come together to develop a system, although this wouldn’t be without problems. “I’m not sure they have the passion to do it as I’m not sure the answer would be very good in terms of value. The cost is high when you look at effectiveness.”

However, all that said, Donnelly knows her customer is spending more of her time online, and P&G is going with her. As one of the UK’s biggest TV advertisers, the advent of internet TV services from all the terrestrial broadcasters is an obvious environment for P&G. Donnelly is convinced consumers aren’t going to pay for this content, making advertisers as important to the future as they’ve always been to TV. And despite P&G’s enthusiastic embrace of digital, Donnelly is keen to stress that “we’re watching as much TV as ever. We haven’t stopped watching TV ads. There will be different ways of watching, but it won’t go away.”

P&G is readying itself for the change by starting to develop different ads for online, in the same way as it does for cinema.

“It wasn’t appropriate to take a TV ad in-store and it’s not online,” she says. “Online you have the opportunity for longer, more appropriate messages. For instance, we’ve done some long ads for Max Factor, two-minute commercials going behind the scenes of movies, which could work very well online. You need the right brand with the right content.”


Name Roisin Donnelly
Title Corporate marketing director, Procter & Gamble
Age 45
University of Glasgow
1989-91: Marketing manager, haircare, UK and Western Europe, P&G
1991-92: Marketing manager, cosmetics & fragrances, UK & Ireland
1992-94: Marketing director, UK cosmetics & fragrances
1994-96: Marketing director, cosmetics & male toiletries, EMEA
1996-2000: Marketing director, fine fragrance, North & South America
2000: Corporate marketing director and head of marketing, UK & Ireland


Published 9 August, 2007 by NMA Staff

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