Diana Haussling: Somebody could be experiencing your brand in what we would consider upper funnel and move very quickly to the point of purchase. Somebody could be in a store but also be making decisions about future purchases. Or it could be a gateway on a brand experience. The way that we assume consumers are going to sit down, experience our campaign, then they're going to make a list, and then they're going to go... Those days are no more.
Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I am Greg Stuart, the CEO of the nonprofit MMA Global. We have three goals: to change how we think about marketing, to understand the challenges that CMOs face, and to unlock the true power that marketing can have. This podcast is not a place for hero worship or how great CMOs are. Instead, we're going to talk about real leadership in marketing and what it takes to drive growth today. Today's guest is Diana Haussling. She's the vice president and general manager of consumer experience and growth at Colgate-Palmolive and serves as a board of directors member at the MMA.
She started at Colgate in 2021 when she was brought in to run digital commerce. That background has given her a unique perspective on marketing, and she's going to tell us why it's time to rethink some basic fundamentals like the funnel. We're also going to talk about maintaining the culture of a 217-year-old company like Colgate and helping other people find their superpowers and the importance of holding onto your convictions. You can find a full transcript of this interview and more at bettercmos.com. If you like the podcast, do me a favor and leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. If you don't like the podcast, email me, seriously. I'm firstname.lastname@example.org. Now let's get right to my conversation with Diana Haussling.
Diana, I'm glad you could join me today on Building Better CMOs. How you doing?
DH: Awesome. Better now that I'm here with you.
GS: Oh, you're too nice. You're too kind. Flattery will get you, well, I think they say everything, I think is what they actually say around that. Where are you today? What part of the world are you in?
DH: I am in sunny Jersey outside of Philadelphia in my home. Working from home today, living that hybrid lifestyle.
GS: You betcha. Absolutely. Hey, don't you actually have a trip planned pretty soon, too? Aren't you going somewhere?
DH: Yes. I have a very, very fun vacation to Turks and Caicos coming up, which I know is one of your favorite spots as well. I'm living for the moment that I will be on vacation.
GS: You and I have never missed a conversation where Turks and Caicos somehow didn't get worked into it is what I noticed.
DH: Yes, of course.
GS: Oh, great. No, I do love it there. Although, oh my god, they really took an island and made it very expensive, which I think is funny for New Yorkers to say, but whatever.
DH: They sure did.
GS: I always like to just start with something going on in the news. ChatGPT is all in the news. It's everywhere. You talked about it at the MMA's Possible event recently, so I didn't get a chance to hear all those comments because I was busy sort of running the event. What's your take on this whole AI? Is this a real thing? What's yours or Colgate's take?
DH: Not just is it cool and do I wish that we had it when I was in college so I could play around with it. But I think what's exciting about it is our ability to leverage it to drive efficiency. We're leveraging it from media to supply chain in a lot of cool ways, but I think the less sexy way that I think it's exciting is the time that it's going to give us. So, how do you shift over some tactical work that you don't really want to spend your big agency dollars on or have your big strategic minds on? How can you shift that work over to make more space? And then the question becomes, what will we do with all that space and time to actually be marketers?
GS: Wait, are you suggesting we get to work less than 60-hour weeks here soon? Is that where you're going?
DH: I'm pretty sure I will find activities to fill that time with, but I am a leader that loves a rest and recharge. But I do think there's an opportunity for our time with all the bureaucracies, especially when you're working in larger CPGs, like Colgate-Palmolive is 217 years old. A lot of bureaucracy comes into play. And then there's a lot of maintenance and a lot of things that you just have to do from a good brand hygiene standpoint. If we can shift some of that work over—lower-impact but high-complexity work—over to something else that could be more efficient, what could we do with all that brain power? I don't know. I feel like I'm having a little evil genius moment, but I think we could do something with that.
GS: I totally see that coming. It's funny, I actually had to write a press release for Building Better CMOs over the weekend. I don't know, it'll take me what? An hour to sit and write a press release. I actually took the liner notes that Eric, my producer, had given me. I just threw them in, said give me a press release. And voila, 15 seconds later, I had a full press release. It was actually pretty good. I've sent it to Eric, so I think we got a pretty good... You're right, that's a lot of extra time that's put to better use than sitting around laboring over it, getting every word right.
DH: Yeah, and I don't think... It's not going to replace the creative genius and the intuition and the experience or even just the gut and the know-how that comes from marketers, but what we can start to do is really shift our team's focus on high-impact, highly complex work streams that allow us to drive business impact.
GS: Yeah. Listen, I'm with you. I know you well enough. I think you and I are both like people trying to live in the future all the time. So, bring it on. Let's figure this out and go take advantage of it.
GS: Diana, you mentioned something else there that caught my attention I saw in the news. Colgate, I don't know if I remembered it was over 200 years old, but it is an incredibly well entrenched in America company, no question about it. But didn't you guys also just win some awards recently for innovation?
DH: Yes, we did, across our other brands. First of all, we invented the first recyclable tube and shared that innovation with the entire industry. Sustainability is a huge focus for us, but it's not just for us to sell more items. It's really about how do we play our role as good corporate citizens and ensure that we're making a sustainable future for everyone and we all have to play a part in that. That was really exciting for the team, and it's also exciting for the industry. And the work that we're doing there is pretty remarkable. From a Colgate North America perspective, we actually have a huge focus on sustainability across all our brands, but it's led by our Tom's of Maine brand, which happens to be a B Corp. Off the bat, a percentage of profits are going to invest back in the community. As a real part of their brand focus—which is about just being do-gooders and investing back in the community—they've launched not only a focus on sustainability across all their brands, but they've also invested in an incubator program, which is really cool if you haven't seen it.
It really highlights activists across the sustainability environmentalist playing field. It gives them a voice and specifically in a lot of communities which are overly impacted by the challenges that we see with the environment but are often underrepresented. So, think about Black and brown communities that may or may not have the same level of voice in this environmental sustainability conversation and really allowing them to take up space and giving them dollars to support their cause. It's pretty cool. I'm very proud of it. If you haven't checked it out on LinkedIn, please do. Cris Martini is the CEO of Tom's of Maine, and she is really leading the charge and it's really exciting to see it all unfold.
GS: That's actually interesting, Diana. I don't know that I was aware that there was a B Corp as a subsidiary of Colgate, I'm assuming, correct?
GS: What's the company, what's the product, what's the business a little bit? Just to make sure everybody's clear on it.
DH: It's called Tom's of Maine. It's the OG of naturals. Tom's of Maine is in the oral care department, deodorants across the board, think about personal care items. A really cool brand with huge consumer loyalty, but a real value proposition that, I think, resonates not only with consumers who find themselves very ingrained in this space, but consumers who just want to do their part. And buying Tom's of Maine product is an easy way to not only get a good consumer experience, but actually do your part and make that decision to invest back in your communities.
GS: Phenomenal. I don't think I realized that that's how they structured it. That's really corporately living your values, I guess, is the way you'd put that. Oh, good for them.
DH: A hundred percent.
GS: A hundred percent. Excellent. Good. Let's get into our topic today. You know the theme here, this is all thematic with the MMA. What are we doing to make marketing better, stronger, which means we have to first admit that we're maybe not great at something or we've missed the boat or we haven't gotten something else. So we can go in any direction. But why don't we start with a little bit about—I always like to ask this question, I can't tell if it sounds too negative, I hope it doesn't—but what do you think in your experience, exposure that marketing or marketers don't necessarily get right about marketing? I'm not looking for research. I'm looking for your opinion as you look out at the world, what do you think we don't fully understand?
DH: I love that question and the challenge. I consider myself and my team disruptors for good. So, anything that pushes against the status quo, I'm here for it, so bring it. For me, specifically, as I think about marketing as an art form, I do not have a traditional marketing background. And I think that is one of the biggest opportunities as we think about how we approach marketing. There's a lot of folks that take a textbook or a philosophy and that's it, ride or die. And I think my challenge is that some of the constructs that we think have existed for such a long time, especially the upper funnel/lower funnel, have really blown up as technology and change have really put consumers in the driver's seat and in control.
I think the challenge for marketers of today is to take the fundamentals of marketing but also apply them with the reality and the human insights of today. That means that that notion of the upper funnel/lower funnel is a little archaic. Consumers can come in and out at any moment in time. Our role as marketers is to create products that delight, that create products that anticipate consumers' needs, but also to allow them to engage and build loyalty with our brands so that we're able to continue to offer up new and exciting innovation and withstand the test of time and be around for another 200 years.
GS: If the funnel's collapsing, is that the thematic that we don't have to run a brand ad, lure them in, and then suddenly give them a performance ad later on, weeks, months down the road or whatever? Is that why the funnel sort of fails?
DH: It's not product led, it's consumer led. I think in theory we all know this. We all say how we're consumer centric. On my team, we talk about how we're consumer obsessed and we're people obsessed. But to be people and human obsessed means you have to put them at the center of the experience. So, really understanding for that consumer, either you are trying to bring in or the ones that you already have, how do you meet them where they are and talk to them in a way that resonates and breaks through all the chatter and all the noise? There was a point in time where consumers only had a few hundred, maybe a thousand or so impressions a day or interactions. Now if you just think about the fact that we carry little computers around in our back pockets, we're also inundated with so many different messages. And typically, consumers are leveraging multiple screens at a time.
So, how do you actually break through, engage, and communicate with consumers if you are forced to live within the constructs of an upper funnel/lower funnel mentality. Somebody could be experiencing your brand in what we would consider upper funnel and move very quickly to the point of purchase. Somebody could be in a store but also be making decisions about future purchases or it could be a gateway on brand experience. So, the way that we assume consumers are going to sit down, experience our campaign, then they're going to make a list, and then they're going to go... Those days are no more, especially for Gen Z who want more of an instant gratification and are used to that. They're expecting to get things when they want them and how they want them. And our consumers are expecting us to speak to them. In a lot of our touchpoints, and you think about them being mass-produced, we have to figure out a way to drive scale but also personalization, which requires a unique approach to campaign development.
GS: We certainly have reset customer expectations. I mean I think for me, I first saw that when... It's a little old at this point, but when Uber came around and actually said, "Here's where the car is and here's how fast it'll be to you." At that moment I was like, "Oh my god, they're going to reset everybody's expectations for every category." If you can say, how much of Colgate's business now is done through more immediacy of channels, i.e. delivery or e-commerce, how much of that is going on to date?
DH: We're still primarily a brick-and-mortar business and most of our conversion happens in the brick-and-mortar space. Although, we are seeing tremendous growth in digital commerce across all modalities, whether it's click and collect, whether it's intermediaries like in Instacart, or even if it's traditional e-commerce, pure play delivery. So, it's about balancing the fact that the store is here to stay and people want that experience, but people are promiscuous. They also want to be able to get something shipped to their door depending on their need state, or they want to be able to do both. We know most of our consumers who do click and collect, 40 percent of them actually go into the store and make additional purchases.
For our categories, I think the biggest challenge that we have is that when somebody's shopping in the digital commerce space, they're typically thinking about a grocery trip, like "What am I going to make for dinner? What meal am I going to prepare?" And we have to make sure we get in that consideration set because we do lose the ability of folks to... You're browsing in the aisle: "Oh yeah, I forgot I needed toothpaste or I need this Fabuloso." So, we miss a little of that. Being able to remind consumers of our purchase is something that we definitely focus on. But I think for us it's about balance. We want you to choose us when you go into the store and to choose us when you shop online. We also found that the consumer types aren't that different between brick and mortar and digital commerce anymore. Really, the pandemic has democratized who is shopping online and who has access to online, and it's also proven to folks that it can be convenient but also effective for their lifestyle. So, it's important that we win in both areas.
GS: We take this assumption then that the funnel is collapsed. I don't know if we've gone so far to say the funnel is dead, which some people have said. I've heard that before. How does that change then what Colgate does? How do you get the teams to re-look at how they activate in that arena, and in particular would you say with the consumer-centricity around it?
DH: There's a couple of things. First, the formation of my team was really designed to address this very issue. I have a very unique model for my team. We have revenue growth management, insights, data and advance analytics, what I would call integrated marketing. So, think about your traditional media, campaign development, digital commerce, D2C, and then the pure play team all sit within my team. For a lot of folks when they first hear that construct, it's like, well, those things don't quite go together. But if you think about our ability to put the consumer at the center of everything that we do, all of their touchpoints across the brand at the center of that universe, and really designing an experience for them that puts them at the center of it, that was really how my team came about. First, it's structure because for larger corporations, structure does sometimes drive how teams work together.
And then the second component that is just rethinking the constructs, a lot of these very traditional functions that are so critical to being successful but people don't always think of top of mind when you talk about marketing. Legal and how we approach legal in a very litigious category that has a lot of claims. How do we leverage our legal partners at the right moment in time? For us, that's very early, even in the R&D process, so that we're able to develop products and brands that work well. Our science, by the way, is bar none. But also, that we're able to talk about it in a way that makes consumer excited but protects us also. And then if you think about other functions like finance. Flexibility within a P&L is really critical if you're going to shift as the consumer shifts. And your ability to place big bets around things that are working and pull money away from things that aren't working is also critical. All of those things really have to be reimagined and adjusted so that we could really move in this new way of engaging consumers.
GS: Let's take Colgate, one of the most storied brand companies of all time. There's no question about that. Some amazing brands that have been built over a long legacy. But then you also said you have DTC in your group, direct to consumer. Boy, that's like letting cats and dogs sleep together at some level. I don't know, there's a complexity because those are two totally different skill sets. To do the soft sell of brand, combined with the hard-edge analytics, transaction orientation of DTC. Talk more about how you do that, how you structure that because I think that's going to catch a lot of people's attention.
DH: Just so you know, we're the number one brand in the planet. I like to throw that in there from time and time again, as Colgate.
GS: Colgate, number one brand?
DH: Number one brand in the planet, just a little trivia for you. But from a D2C perspective, we thought about this a couple of different ways. But specifically for D2C, obviously we're converting, we're driving conversion through our D2C channels, but we're also leveraging it for insights. Both our CRM and insights arm of our team sits with D2C. So, think about being able to talk to your loyalest consumers, listen to what they want, what they like, what they don't like, and act quickly; to test creative relatively quickly for either our national partners or even our retail media friends who have big ships as well; and to take those learnings and to feed them into our innovation pipeline, our strategy. So, D2C serves several roles. One is us actually being able to give consumers a delightful experience but also being able to get insights and data and build that 1P data relationship with a lot of consumers that we can then leverage to drive our strategies but also to build better innovation.
GS: Diana, I got to say this sounds a little bit like utopia, especially when you just throw in the CRM, which is a whole other dynamic of customer experience as a marketing strategy. It feels like you're just breaking all the molds here. Is that emblematic to you? Was that a Colgate decision and then they found you? Where did you get this orientation to the world?
DH: Initially, I was brought in to lead a team called the Hive, which is our digital commerce team. What I love about Colgate, and which is really cool about a company that's been around so long, is actually it's a company of innovators. Innovative, not from just a product standpoint, but innovative in an openness to how things are done. And that's really cool. It wasn't something I expected, especially for a company that's been around for 217 years and with some of the preconceived notions that I had about the company. But if you think about... to be the number one brand in the planet means you have to have a presence everywhere. That level of human insight that it takes to be relevant in market to market, city to city, income level, that changes dynamics, that changes cultural shifts means that you have to be open to doing things differently.
I think as the company made bold moves to think about what's going to take us to the next 200 years and how do we push forward, running the old play wasn't going to necessarily do that. The cool thing about Colgate-Palmolive and the leadership team here is that they actually looked at what it would take to get us to the next 200 years. So what had gotten us here and that running that same old play isn't going to work going forward. We also realized as we were bringing in and really developing specialists in order to do things differently, to win in CRM, to win in search, to win in digital and transform digitally like everybody's doing, but that we really needed to create an environment that allowed those subject matter experts to thrive. As we've looked at the team, we tried to figure out how we could put them in the best position so that they could drive the business but also allow them to bring in and influence how we transformed.
That was really the catalyst, really considering that my title is consumer experience and growth. So, at the heart of it, how do we create that consumer experience that drives loyalty and is demand generating, but then how do we grow as an organization? That's the focus for my remit at Colgate-Palmolive.
GS: Okay, okay. This sounds a little bit like Mark Zuckerberg and the old Facebook, now Meta: "Move fast and break things." I wouldn't have expected that within Colgate. There's got to create some angst somewhere in the company. There's got to create some uncertainty, and there's got to be a latitude to let you be wrong every once in a while, I would think. Talk a little bit about how the corporation or your particular management supports you on that because you couldn't do this on your own.
DH: Oh, absolutely not.
GS: You got to have buy-in.
DH: Yeah, I would say Jesper Nordengaard is my president and he is a phenomenal leader, but he also really does... One of the cool things that I think leaders do is create a path for you to do and be awesome, but then also gives you air cover so you can fail and fail fast and move forward. That's just something in his leadership style. The cool thing about Jesper is he has been at Colgate since he was 19, so he knows Colgate, but he also has an entrepreneurial spirit, so that the marrying of the two worlds is awesome. But aside from just having the support system of my leader and his vision for North America, I think what is something unique about Colgate is that the culture at Colgate is consistent no matter what office you go into anywhere around the world. I was like, "Are you guys just drinking the Kool-Aid or is this really a thing?"
In my experience now that I've actually gone to our general management meeting, visited some different locations, that is true and they really do a good job about moving talent around the globe. As a result, there's this natural trust that exists not only within each other because think about this, you're moving your family around and you're really investing your future in the organization. There's this connection point that I think some other organizations don't really benefit from. But it also creates a trust with the employee population and it's a long-tenured organization. For a lot of folks, you've known them for years, so that trust is built in. Now some people may say, okay then great—and I asked myself this question when I came there, everyone I interviewed with had been there for 25 years—will the organ reject new? Can new come in and drive change?
I always describe Colgate as the land of the willing; they're hungry for it. Bring in that new idea, bring in that new concept. Because of the fluidity of career movement and the fact that you grow within the organization, the ego of protecting your turf isn't quite there. It's something I haven't experienced before. It's kind of, what else could we be doing? In order to make something like that, you need that as your foundation point, otherwise you'll have organ rejection. I think the other piece is as an organization, we've made a concerted effort to bring folks in that have certain experiences that bring a perspective, while also valuing the awesomeness that allowed the company to be around for 217 years and growing because there's a lot in there that we don't want to leave behind and we don't want to lose. We want to keep that momentum going.
I think the other part is making sure that we upskilled everyone so that we are creating an equal playing field. The cool thing about my team is it's a nice mix of folks that are external, folks that have been at Colgate for 15, 20 years, and folks from around the globe. So, you're really getting the best of what Colgate has to offer while also attracting the best externally. That's pretty exciting.
GS: I'm going to ask you for the five-point plan to making something like this successful. Just off the top of your head... I'm hearing there's a culture that allows and accepts change at some dynamic and puts an element of trust, I heard there. But if you were to masterly design a company that could do this... And what you're talking about cannot be easily recreated so I hate to oversimplify, but what do you think that five-point plan would be?
DH: The first thing is the culture piece. So, you have to meet the culture and the company where it is on the journey. You can't copy-paste this structure and put it in another company. This would not work at the Campbell Soup organization where I recently came from, at least three years ago when I was there.
GS: This is not a mission statement put on the plaque in headquarters. Yea, I got it.
DH: And then everybody cut and paste and rinse and repeat. It really has to meet. And there was a lot of discussion that we had with where things should go based off of where we are today. There also needs to be a line of sight because you can't get overprotective about where it is today, about where it needs to be tomorrow. There's some elements that are in my team today for a moment in time. Once they get to a certain point, they should be able to integrate in other areas. And you kind of need to have a line of sight to that but not be married to it because as you evolve and grow, it may change.
GS: Is that a predefined, we're going to kick them out of this when? I don't know if that's really what it is.
DH: It's more scenario plannings like, "Hey, if it goes this way, I could see this group going here—"
GS: Love scenario planning.
DH: And really having that potential. Where could we take it?
GS: I think the scenario planning is the single most underrated thing that marketers don't do. Oh boy, you really just triggered me on this one. They develop a series of sacred cows and people protect their fiefdoms. And therefore change doesn't happen because we've not agreed on the original goals, we've not agreed how to measure it, and we've not agreed to the actions we're going to take when we find out that our assumption hypothesis was off. By the way, this is something Linda Lee and I just talked about from Campbell's. Okay, keep going, what else?
DH: And then there has to be a conviction in your decisions. I am definitely somebody who pushes the status quo. I'm definitely somebody who does that with my leadership, with my partners. But once we align on something and leave that room, that conviction that we are all on board, this is the right thing to do, has to be there. If you don't think your cross-functional partners will have that conviction, it's going to fall down before it even gets to the teams. Because if you are not one team, if you're not your first team, it's going to be impossible for you to galvanize an organization to follow you in any direction.