Technology is the “price of entry” for anyone who aspires to be a chief marketing officer, according to Nestle’s chief digital officer Pete Blackshaw, who also discussed the company's interest in wearable tech.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Blackshaw said: “There is a certain base level now for CMOs, not just chief digital officers. I always try to know enough that I can ask the right follow-up questions with my technology partners to ensure they are not leading me up the primrose path.
“But what I’m fascinated by is what drives human emotion – what drives people to keep checking their Facebook pages all the time for example – it’s not about technology – we need to understand that if we’re to be really successful in our jobs as digitally-powered brand builders,” he said.
He spoke of the concept of “digital dualism”, which are tension points that marketing leaders must manage to be successful in the fast paced digital landscape.
“There are a lot of them, which we don’t necessarily resolve, but manage – integration versus stimulation – we all have these endless debates over whether digital should be standalone or if it should be integrated, ROI versus intuition – we need ROI to figure out how to drink this glass of wine when in fact it’s actually quite natural to us to just drink it.
“But with technology it’s a matter of balance - you can’t go all in because you’ll just get lost. But you can’t go too far on the marketing side as you can lose sight of the opportunities out there.”
Blackshaw admitted attending events like Mobile World Congress left him with a feeling of “anxiety”, but that that acts as a great motivator in itself. “It can serve as a wake-up call. It’s a very fast evolving market place. When I think about last year versus this year – it’s doesn’t feel evolutionary it feels disruptive – and that’s just 12 months.”
"Clearly the word mobile motivates us and mobilises our engagement around this area, but mobile has become like air and water – ubiquitous and pervasive to every aspect of digital and brand building and business in general. We just need to be a bit careful about over siloing it when it is foundational to everything we do and is touching every part of the business mix."
He added that major companies can be guilty of self-congratulating themselves prematurely on having dipped their toe in the water with digital and mobile experimentation. “That’s not going to be good enough anymore,” he added.
Speaking separately to the Drum at the conference Blackshaw said it is clear now that connected devices, or the ‘internet of things’ hold great potential and can no longer be dismissed as hype.
Yet he stressed the importance of getting to grips with what they represent for people, whether they are matter of fashion, culture, or genuinely resolve an unmet need.
“Connected devices are measuring up to the hype, they have come of age. We have been talking about it for years- the connected fridges and cars – but it’s real now.”
He told The Drum Nestle is exploring opportunities around the future brand opportunities that may arise through wearable devices.
“There will be some unique opportunities around taking wearable or senor-based data and turning it into next-gen solutions for brands – whether it’s recipes, meal prep, pet services – there are lot of ways you can leverage those types of data streams. And we are just in the early stages of figuring those out.”
Blackshaw described Nestle as “radically decentralised” but with strong local teams and propositions. But he said the ambition was to leverage data and social media to ensure learning is “cross fertilised” across the global business. “To gain real competitive advantage and brand building today you also need to apply social media principles of sharing and collaboration to the mix,” he said.
The continuously disruptive mobile and digital landscape as a whole has driven Nestle to adopt an approach of thinking “discontinuously”, according to Blackshaw.
“To keep up with today’s consumer realities we have to think discontinuously in terms of how do we keep pace with consumer expectations and gain competitive advantage in this space. I’m not even sure it’s a choice anymore.”
The FMCG giant has launched a Silicon Valley outpost, which Blackshaw believes is crucial to ensure it remains abreast of the latest changes and capabilities coming from the start-up community.
“We are increasingly externally focused, and it’s crucial – you come out of meetings and sessions with start-ups thinking bigger than you ever would have from just focusing internally," he concluded.