Ecommerce

27/10/2020

The Growth of Digital Transformation with Cicero Hennemann of Reckitt Benckiser

Today we're joined by Cicero Hennemann, the Marketing Technology Lead for Western Europe at Reckitt Benckiser. Cicero shares his views on digital transformation, how the D2C (direct to consumer) model compares to the marketplace model and how data is generated through these types of online selling.

Harry

Welcome to the MET interview series where we speak to some of the greatest minds in the world of e-commerce and retail. Today we are lucky enough to be joined by Cicero Hennemann, the marketing technology lead at Reckitt Benckiser. It's great to have you on today. Thank you.


Cicero

Thank you Harry I'm glad to be here. 


Harry

Fantastic. So how have the past few months been for yourself then?


Cicero

As we were chatting before the interview, I think it's been a rollercoaster and I think now that we’ve kind of almost gotten used to the groundhog day of being in and out doing the same thing, I think we're starting to try to find small things to break the routine. It hasn't been easy, but I think we've found a new balance of what it is and you can more proactively do something about it.


Harry

Definitely, definitely.  You mentioned before that as a business you’re working from home 'til sometime next year then, has that recently been announced?


Cicero

So I think it's a funny one right. I joined tech because I always wanted to work from home. I think that has always been an advantage that I thought I could profit from. I joined Reckitt in January so I’ve spent most of my time now working from home for the company. I was lucky enough to go to two events in February in Amsterdam and meet a lot of people across the business, but as soon as the events were gone it was March 6th when we were told yeah, you guys might want to go home just for us to test our IT reliability and we never came back.


Harry

Crazy isn't it. Absolutely crazy. It's a once in a lifetime thing hopefully.


Cicero

Hopefully.


Harry

To kick things off it would be really good to get a brief understanding and a bit of a background on yourself as well as how you ended up at RB? You know, a top-line understanding of your role and position there.


Cicero

I think I've always loved digital and the internet, and I've joked to people that the reason why I might be so ahead of them and no disrespect to them, but I've been spending my last 20 years using the internet right. From IM systems and anything that has to do with computers has been a personal passion so it obviously makes everything a lot easier for me. There's a blend almost to what I do in my free time and what I do for work and it obviously that has helped a great deal with my career. 


I have a background in business, so I'm not a computer science guy, I'm not an engineer. I think a role that I've maybe pursued in the past and I see that speaks a lot to is a solutions engineer. But because I had this business background and I was brought up in a more marketing and business led mentality of owning a business and thinking about it. It has almost been like a cross-breed between the two things, so a little bit of the applied mathematics that you have in business, the whole tech passion which is front and centre for me and then most recently the CPG role right. That was what brought me into Reckitt. 


Career-wise, I've been working for large companies for most of my life. So I started my tech experience at first was at hardware at Dell computers, my first internship. From the get go, the types of company were very similar in their ways of working.  I've done consulting, I've done agency work, I've worked in tech firms on media buying. Then I joined Dunnhumby on the modern things that they had around the address for connected TV. As well as Facebook measurement and that kind of made the shift to the client side with Reckitt to be able to enable them digitally.


Harry

Fantastic. A whole host of experience. Very prime to the current environment we're in. We've seen digital transformation explode over the past six months, so that leads us on to the next question in terms of how businesses that traditionally rely on retailers, other third-party sellers to distribute and sell their products like RB, how are these companies starting to adapt and innovate in this current market from your viewpoint?


Cicero

I think that is a great question. How can we reach consumers these days? I think I have worked for Dell and Dell has been doing that direct to consumer for many years so it's almost inbred in people's mentality, but when you go for CPG it's very different because sometimes your products are not very high value or their price points are very different than a notebook or from a lot of products that have originated on a DTC so you really need to evaluate the P&L and what is the solution. It's not about the product anymore but about the solution that you can bring to consumers that makes sense for them to come to you and not go to a marketplace and I think it is harder for some brands or some companies than others and Reckitt has a multitude of brands. So I find that a particular challenge for us.


Harry

That leads us nicely into the next question, in terms of the direct to consumer model, we've seen so much over the past month around all these businesses, how do we gain that first-hand data of who are customers are? So do you think the direct to consumer approach is right for every business or is there a certain type of business where it's just not going to work that D2C approach? 


Cicero

I think people need to think about their P&L. You need to look at the numbers and think what is the solution you can bring to people that will make sense for them first and foremost. You need a consumer-first approach and then you need to look internally, do you have the ability to deliver? Do you want to get in that space? And again does it make sense in terms of investment or you want to go with the marketplace strategy where you partner with other people that can do that and you know you'll find a win-win situation where marketplace owners win and you win yourself by selling to these people. It's not a straightforward calculation, how much does it cost to acquire a new customer on a DC environment? Especially when you need to transform the business on top of that.


Harry

Yeah 100% agree. In terms of the data then, so if you're looking at you know a D2C vs a marketplace and retail options, what sort of data are you able to generate from these marketplaces and the retail companies that you're working with and how reliable is that data that you can generate? 


Cicero

I think the interest of the marketplaces is not to lose their marketplaces.  So naturally, the amount of data will be limited. It then begs the question, what is the online journey that you will offer your consumers? So you can maybe bring them somewhere else. Do you offer a user experience online that is better or that is at least comparable to a marketplace? I think that sometimes for a CPG company, it's not their bread and butter. It's hard to find talent that is doing all of these things. I think those questions are usually harder to answer than the data itself. 


You also have the death of the third-party cookie. So you'll need to eventually own that data. It could even be your seller, it could be Tesco, it could be Sainsbury's. They also have their own websites. Tesco has a huge share of online sales. Probably bigger than their regular market share and I know that last year was a small part of their business and I'm sure that it has grown significantly. I received a Tesco CEO email the other day saying they have now 1.5 million deliveries a week from when it started and having worked at Dunnhumby, I know the figures from the inside as well, so I can only imagine how much that means in terms of their revenues. 


You know how many more people come to the website, how much more data you harness under you know Club Cards and loyalty programs in general. Although Amazon is getting a lot of praise and eyes, you can still look at CPG and think wait a minute, people are not buying their food, bread and milk on Amazon right, so it's interesting to see what will be in the mix and if it's worth finding a package solution that makes sense to the D2C model.


Harry

Yeah definitely, fully agree with that. What are some of the changes that you've experienced first-hand or seen within the industry from a digital transformation point of view over the past 6-months during this covid period? Is there anything that's been particularly accelerated from your viewpoint or anything that has changed?


Cicero

I think for all CPGs they had already been on this track. The biggest challenge for us is still to be able to deliver the products and to deliver what we need to do at the end of the day. I think if you have known anyone from Reckitt you know Reckitt is a super fast moving company already so I don't see it getting any faster. You can see in the news that we have a lot of our stock, a few of our products. We play a huge part in the current situation as well and I think the digital transformation that we're experiencing on the media marketing side at least it was already in the making. I don't think we could go any faster. 


Transformation of people takes time. You can build a D2C website tomorrow, but if you don't have people coming in and maturing, you don't have that cashflow coming in so you won't put in that investment. You need to also manage that as the market goes. More people are more used to QR codes in the UK for instance with the restaurants having their menus on QR codes. That opens a possibility for companies to work more with that type of technology because now users are used to it. It's just a point with their phones and then the magic happens. When you translate that to maybe other markets that also have that technology, it's natural for people to go and scan something. 


Harry

Yeah definitely, we've seen some interesting plays of recent with the likes of Heinz baked beans creating their D2C store, which is an interesting play, but we'll see how that one pans out. 


In terms of working remotely, you know as a digital workforce, you've got experience with large corporations and I'm sure they've managed to handle that fantastically well, do you feel that there's almost a disadvantage for large scale companies vs more agile and leaner teams with 5 to 50 people just because of the size of the organisation, do you feel that it's a bigger challenge FTSE 100 companies to manage their remote workforce?


Cicero

I've worked for a brief time in a smaller agency and more independent companies, and many weren't attached to Tesco so it was a bit smaller. I've worked for independent tech companies as well and I can definitely see the difference that it makes for you to kind of make a ripple and hit the fringes. 


I also think because you're lets say embedded in more technology-driven companies, agencies, media buying companies, they're closer to what is the latest technology available for them and they are I think a little bit, some of them not all of them, Dunnhumby is not one of them, they are a bit more relaxed on cyber security. A media agency doesn't hold as much critical data as RB has. We have factories, we have a lot of other things that must be protected and then also you know generates lead time. Large enterprises like RB will probably go through vetted solutions then yeah it will take more time. 


That being said, I think the business has done well in terms of transforming and putting tools out there available with our technology hubs and all that. For me the hardest part is still the people, to adapt and to know how to use the technology. I've been a fan of computers for 20 years, so when I look at the solutions I'm like oh yeah this looks like something I've seen 15 years ago, but actually it has a much better UI. Some people have never seen it so it's a lot harder for them to conceptualise. Their folders that were once in a hard drive, they're just now in share point. But the organisation rules are all the same. All of those little nuances will take time and you'll just go as fast as everyone kind of goes. Whereas in a smaller place, you're able to go to everyone's desks and evangelize them to that's what we're going to do.


Harry

Yeah. That leads onto the next question around technology. Over the past few months has there been any technology that's been fundamental for potentially you as a business or you know from an external point of view that you can see as really valuable and beneficial for others in the industry as well? 


Cicero

I think having everything available online, rather than in local servers and that kind of stuff definitely makes a difference. RB partners with Microsoft Teams teams just like everybody else. We do have work streams that you know try to evangelize people around that solution. I remember when I joined the business we still had a lot of people on Skype and it was day and night when they said ok we're going to go full on with Teams. It took a few days, but in a smaller company you might have a small slack channel where you're talking with 20/ 30 people because it's the whole company. 


Whereas at Reckitt you probably won't have that, you have an even more focused type of team. I think also people are so distributed in the work that they're doing, internationally as well and collaborating with so many people outside of the organisation. So pick the media teams, they will collaborate with their media agencies, their creative agencies,  their technology partner, then the marketing team will have their Neilsons, U and A studies. So with larger enterprises there's a lot more external collaborations than maybe you know a smaller service provider where they're servicing a client, but you know it's just one person.


In a large enterprise, the organisation needs to collaborate with a lot of people and then that's why you see so many project managers in these companies because they need to pull in all of these suppliers into the fold. It's not easy to find a platform to have everyone in. We tried to pull everyone in through Microsoft Teams, but it goes back to culture. Is it a very email heavy culture? Is it a more text Slack type of thing culture? Do they use Trello boards or other types of agile which is super common in tech but maybe not so much in marketing and finance? I've seen people with black screens and green text so I'm sure there are lots of legacy systems out there that you know make it hard for supply chain or even banking, we know with banking things are super old because you know it's what holds everything together.


Harry

Yeah it's a difficult thing to get everyone unified onto one system isn't it? To finish off, what are the biggest learnings over the past half a year or even of 2020 for yourself? What have they been from even a remote working standpoint to you know just a personal point of view is there any big learning or takeaways from this year?


Cicero

I think one big personal learning was that I thought I would enjoy more working from home. I'm ready to do a mix or to work from somewhere else, doesn't need to be the office, it could be an office, I'm a firm believer of distributed work. My role as a marketing lead for Western Europe means that we're naturally distributed as the marketing team. I work with the guys in Italy so it's not like I'm gonna go down there. Maybe in the old days I would take a flight I would spend maybe a couple days you know enjoying and actually meet the people and build a little bit more rapport. But I think that this distributed sense is something that I might see a trend. 


The other aspect of digital transformation is that you might want to push super hard on it, but you need to give people the time to grasp the new concept. They need to internalise those new concepts and how things are being done. Let's say now that everyone is talking about AI and these things what does it actually mean? What is linear regression? You know all of those concepts that most people don't read about in their free time. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but we at least need to bring the concepts so they know what we're talking about.


Harry

Brilliant. I won't keep any more of your time. It's been really good to speak to you and listen to a bit more about yourself, your views on digital transformation and what's been going on in the market, really good overview and great to talk with you. 


Cicero

Same Harry, thank you for giving me the platform to share a few of my thoughts and happy to help.


Harry

Fantastic. Thank you very much.


Cicero

Thank you Harry.



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