CMO interview: 5 learnings from Nestle on modern marketing and communications

Nestle’s Australian director, marketing and communications, Therese Kallie, talks about the brand's long-term relevance as it celebrates 150 years as a brand, and how marketing has changed

Therese Kaillie
Therese Kaillie

Nestle is celebrating 150 years as a global brand this year. It’s an anniversary that has the whole marketing team reflecting on the iconic food and beverage products, as well as advertising campaigns, that have resonated with consumers for so long.

For Nestle’s Australian director, marketing and communications, Therese Kallie, it’s also been an opportunity to gauge how marketing as a function and discipline has changed.

“There was a time when we you had to be big – you could dominate the airways if you had enough money and an interesting idea,” she says. “Today, for us, it’s about staying relevant, finding those places to be relevant, and adding as much value as possible.”

Kaillie has been with Nestle for 10 years, and moved to Australia two years ago to lead the marketing and communications helm. She sits across 11 companies underneath the Nestle umbrella, managing a 60-person team that provides communications strategy and expertise, along with consumer insights, in a shared services arrangement.

It’s a wide FMCG portfolio, stretching from coffee brands such as Nescafe Blend 43 and Gold, to energy drinks like Milo, the Allens confectionary range, and Maggi food products. All have distinct category challenges and consumer needs, but through an increasingly holistic health and nutrition-based approach, Nestle is hoping it’s setting up the foundations for success for the long term.

Kaillie caught up with CMO to talk about how marketing programs and teams have had to adjust as a result of digital innovation, consumer insight, the rise of the barista coffee culture and the quest to lead the health and wellness stakes.

Learning 1: The importance of storytelling

As part of the 150-year celebrations, Kaillie asked consumers what they remember from the group’s key brands. What shone through is the importance of aligning with consumer needs and values.

She points to Nescafe as a key brand, and how the storytelling approach of 30 or 40 years ago has again become the way into the hearts and minds of modern consumers. One of the group’s most successful campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, was ‘the valley’, which centred around the journey of a young man who moves into a new area, the people he meets and times they spend together.

“We’re coming back to storytelling,” Kaillie says. “In the middle, we lost our way, and we started talking about what’s in the jar. But today, everything is being positioned in terms of emotion. The challenge is that not just about being big, it’s about being something that consumers choose to have in their lifestyle.”

That’s not just about messaging, but getting the products right. As most Australians are aware, coffee consumption has changed, and consumers have changed with it. Kaillie said the barista culture that’s taken root has been one key trend Nestle has had to respond to.

Today, Nescafe not only represents the mainstream Blend 43 product, it’s also introduced the barista style, micronized Gold coffee brand, and is relaunching its niche Green blend for consumers wanting a higher antioxidant coffee. At the higher end, it has Nespresso.

“The challenge then for marketing is how to get the right message through so people believe you and they’re willing to try it,” Kaillie says. “The same consumers are consuming all these different offerings at different times, so there is a space for all these things.

“In some instances, brands can become wide and unmanageable, and you have to go back and cut the long tail on a regular basis. That’s part of the marketing challenge: You will try things that don’t necessarily work, not everything you launch is going to survive.”

Learning 2: Identify and match up to consumer values

Another key brand in the Nestle portfolio is Milo, an energy drink invented in Australia in 1934. Milo has always had a link to athletes and sports, and in Australia remains aligned with our most popular sport, cricket. But the way it is positioned has had to change to retain relevance, Kaillie says.

Cricket legend, Richard Benaud, and the ad campaigns of the 1960s have been replaced by new commercials aimed at younger athletes focused on fuelling their ambition. The brand is also regularly sponsoring sports days to pursue a physical brand presence.

“In more recent years, Milo has been the ugly betty and has had no cool factor, so we knew had to change that,” Kaillie says. “Our new commercial is about speaking to younger athletes about ambition and what they want to do. It’s not about winning, but the resilience, learnings and friendships formed through sport. That’s where the brand plays a constructive role.”

Another recent initiative was introducing a Milo Fitbit for kids, called Milo Champions band, that is being used to build a database of insight on their fitness levels.

“It also forced us to look at the offering – it’s got to become more convenient and if the sport is out of home, we need to be there,” Kaillie says.

At the same time, the kids consuming Milo are not the ones buying the product, so the brand has to reach Mums as well. The ‘Milo Valuable Players’ program allowed mums at any school to vote for their kid’s everyday achievements via a dedicated website. Another content series, called ‘Sport is a great teacher, Mum is a great coach’, saw the brand speaking about how Mum contributes to a child’s success as an athlete.

“That allows us to have a dialogue with our consumers and mums,” Kaillie says. “But it remains a challenge for us, as we still need awareness on an ongoing basis. Showing up as Milo on mum’s Facebook feed as a friend is not necessarily the best way to do it.

“What it comes down to is an evolution – we need to understand our purpose and big idea, and how we bring that to life in the real and virtual world. If we choose a digital asset, we need to ask how and why is it relevant and for how long. It’s increasingly complex to stay relevant and to stay with the program and not chop and change.”

Another Nestle brand reflecting this emphasis on consumer values is Nescafe. The brand recently partnered with universities on a ‘Headstart’ program, allowing students to come in and compete in an annual Dragon’s Den style competition for money to pursue an idea.

“That’s what’s valuable to young people coming out of uni – getting going, exposure, funding and access to people to help them,” Kaillie says. “And they do need coffee, it’s part and parcel of being a student.”

Up next: Embracing health and wellness as a brand purpose

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