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Keeping it simple: Nestle explains plan to ease ad tech and digital tensions

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By Seb Joseph | News editor

October 13, 2015 | 6 min read

There are no absolutes to how brands should adapt advertising technologies but marketers must overcome the temptation to "overcomplicate" strategies if they are to create value in a disruptive media space, according to Nestle's digital boss Pete Blackshaw.

Keeping it simple: Nestle explains plan to ease ad tech and digital tensions .

Business leaders, whether its senior marketers or C-level executives, always want to resolve tensions, explained the FMCG marketer. "Many see things in black and white," Blackshaw said at the Ad Tech: London conference today (13 October). It's why he was hired in 2011, tasked with identifying the various tension points preventing Nestle from baking digital into the business.

And with the ubiquity of mobile in shoppers' lives more apparent, its marketers are currently debating whether to outsource or internalise the bulk of its e-commerce efforts. Amazon executive Sebastien Szczepaniak was parachuted into the company earlier this year to help address these tensions, working closely with Blackshaw to manage the integration versus stimulation argument forming around its e-commerce discussions.

"There's a lot of things we have to encourage our brand builders to do right and at some levels we have to be intolerant of mistakes because in some cases it's one swing and you're out," said Blackshaw. "But then in others we have to shake up the house and drive innovation. There's no absolute but it's how do you manage that tension."

The trick to this is creating a start-up culture in a large company, he continued. There's no perfect solution but Nestle's early efforts through its Digital Accelerator Team (DAT) are proving successful. Nestle's digital drive flows outward from the DAT initiative, an internal unit formed in 2012 to turbo charge the proliferation of digital learnings throughout the company. Staff attend the centre in Switzerland for eight months where they undergo intense training in emerging technologies, including social media, data and mobile marketing.

For social media, the DAT programme is helping the business understand how the medium can drive purchases. "Sharing is one of the most under leveraged opportunities in the digital space," said Blackshaw. "Social media is a selling tool but not an overselling tool. Think about social media as an operating principle. It's a huge opportunity and it's not surprising to me that Facebook is moving in this direction."

One of Nestle's big KPIs for social media are calls to actions, which applies as much to offline a it does to online. The food maker is trying to build the discipline so that whether its packaging, TV in store or outdoor, it's thinking about how to drive connections between touchpoints to help clarify attribution and return on investment.

Nestle's more progressive attitude toward social media was shown earlier this year when it shifted the entire online real estate for its Nescafé brand onto Tumblr. "It was a bold move but it's one that recognises that owned media demands a certain degree of flexibility, agility and shareability. Will it work? We don't know but we're using our internal network to gauge if they suit and stay in touch. If it's not working the we'll learn pretty fast."

Elsewhere, the company is working to better integrate its upper funnel activity with that of its lower funnel efforts. As the company moves toward e-commerce, Blackshaw said this would be important because "hitting online sales targets will be critical and there will be more optimisation happening". But, it won't mean one or the other when it comes to performance spend versus brand building spend at Nestle. Both are equally important and the company expects seamless blending at the top and bottom parts of the funnel.

"Our opportunity as marketers is to get really good in the same way we talk about balancing the offline and the online," said Blackshaw. "It does bring some tension points because sometimes the performance community will doubt the return on the investment of brand building and those on that side will say performance is interruptive. Marketers find the harmony between the two, which is context."

Amidst the technology, innovations and buzzwords one thing has clearly emerged to define Nestle's approach to digital. "It's that simplicity always conquered technology," said Blackshaw. "As we try to deal with the world of radically smaller screens, we're going to have to really worship this God of simplicity if we're going to win. Whether you're on the client side or at an agency this is what shines."

The success of companies like Apple and Apple mean the call for simplicity is not lost on marketers but it's hard to do. Digital allows companies to do a lot of things and marketers are "always tempted to crowd that interface more than they need to," added the Nestle executive.

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