CMO profile: How Reckitt's consumer hygiene marketing chief is rethinking value

A/NZ marketing chief for brands such as Glen 20, Air Wick, Finish and Vanish talks through her brand priorities and how social impact, partnerships, data and digital are going to help fuel the next phase of growth

Florence Paoli
Florence Paoli

Are we back to normal? It’s a question marketers are increasingly seeking an answer to as Australia continues its progress out of the pandemic in 2022. And it’s a question recently appointed marketing director for Reckitt's consumer hygiene portfolio, Florence Paoli, is putting a lot of thought into.

“This idea of normalising is interesting – but I don’t think it’s going back to exactly where we were before,” she tells CMO. “In this ‘new normal’, we’re going to keep some of the behaviours from the pandemic. For example, we expect consumers to clean more often and the need for disinfection to remain stronger than it was before. It won’t be to the extent it was at the height of the pandemic, but we still expect a higher level to be maintained.”

When it comes to media consumption behaviours, we’re also arguably in a new era according to Paoli. “We all started watching video on our connected TV, and massively increased the time we spent on digital and on social media,” she continues.

“We are starting to go back to restaurants, so we do get exposed to some out-of-home for example and those sorts of channels are coming back. But a lot of behaviours that have changed during the pandemic are here to stay.”  

Even with the return to office, and people eager to come back and engage in a face-to-face way, they’re not going back five days a week.

“It’s true for our consumers too – they will continue to spend more time at home and use their dishwasher more often, enjoy air freshening sprays,” Paoli says.  

In response, Paoli is fine-tuning her team’s approach to ensure Reckitt’s portfolio of hygiene brands continue to demonstrate sustainable, impactful and value-based credentials within the consumer’s journey and against their altered behaviours.

Local and global brand knowledge

Paolo boasts of more than 10 years with Reckitt Benckiser and was most recently the global brand marketing lead for its Harpic brand based in its Dubai office. She officially took up the A/NZ consumer hygiene marketing chief reins in March but has only been in-country since August. The portfolio now under her purview includes iconic brands such as Finish, Glen20 and Air Wick.

Paolo replaced Saurabh Jain, who has returned to India after a two-year stint as Reckitt Hygiene’s A/NZ marketing director to continue his career with the organisation as regional marketing director and SPOC, South Asia. Locally, Paoli sits alongside Holly McCarthy, who runs Reckitt’s health business.

Paoli says an iconic moment of her tenure thus far was being the UK-based brand manager of Clearasil when the FMCG orchestrated its first fully digital campaign.

“We were aiming at a younger target audience, and it was the start of us realising there were interesting targeting opportunities using digital,” she recalls.  

As global brand leader for Harpic, she then had the opportunity to see the impact the brand was having on developing countries in terms of sanitation.

“There was an amazing brand contact and social impact. I really enjoyed how to improve on a daily basis the lives of people in those countries that don’t have access to what we think is normal,” she says. “And I really benefitted from having both local and global experiences. You get different challenges and opportunity to both. I enjoy the level of ownership in the local market, driving your own brand and have access to drive your own P&L. But I also enjoyed being exposed to such a variety of culture and business mindsets in a global position. The learning curve is incredibly steep.”

Brand priorities and trends

Paoli describes the portfolio she now oversees in A/NZ as a “superb” mix of global power brands with strong equity, such as Finish, Vanish and Airwick, with local gems like Glen 20 and Pine O Cleen.

“These are brands we deal with every day and it’s incredibly humbling to see their history. But it’s also exciting because there is so much more we can do in how we make such a difference to the lives of Australians every day,” she says.

“As so many of our habits changed during the pandemic, the brands that already existed and had a very strong connection with consumers driving the hygiene agenda were best placed to control the conversation and resonated by supporting people through this very difficult time.

“I love the brands also because of the purpose activations we are doing and how we are driving real impact. For example, our relationship with Meals and Wheels with Pine O Cleen plus Glen 20. You have a brand with so much equity and halo already, then on top of that we are having a tangible impact on the Australian community.”

It’s leveraging the brands to solve bigger societal problems with purpose that Paoli views as critical to the next phase of growth and consumer connection.

“It’s about giving your brand a role that’s bigger than just selling product. Just look at the impact we have had with the Finish Water Waste campaign work, for example, or the work we’re doing with Vanish to stop clothing going to landfill. These are the things that will continue to drive that brand halo and equity for the long term,” Paoli comments. “We have learnt now to do it well and understand the role this plays in building brand.”

Purpose and impact are also vital when facing into the more recent inflationary context and need to drive that value perception in a more holistic way with consumers.

“Value in coming months is going to be another of the big challenges,” she says. “For me, there’s the product and having a strong position and constant innovation, plus purpose. I have brands that stand for more than just a transaction.

“We really value the interaction with some of partners here. Look at Finish Water Waste: There is such a strong connection with the brand. We create something that’s really meaningful, and that has really elevated brand equity. Yes, I may be helping you as a consumer day-to-day to keep your family safe, but also as Glen 20, I’m helping older Australians in care homes to be safe too and be able to open up post-Covid. Those partnerships are incredibly value to us.”

Florence PaoliCredit: Reckitt
Florence Paoli

Consumer centricity is the complement to purpose, and something Paoli closely connects with data utilisation.

“It’s about how to best understand your consumer, how quickly I can identify new trends and react to them, then driving innovation that answers their [consumers’] needs. It’s also about speaking to them in the channels they are spending the most time. The role for data in both has become critical,” she says.  

“It’s also how we create those one-on-one relationships. We used to talk at consumers, whereas now we’re trying to build that two-way communication where we can really understand what their needs are and what they think of our product to further build our relationship with them. It’s about creating something that’s meaningful.”

Capability building

Hand-in-hand with data utilisation is digital transformation. Paoli said a huge priority for the entire Reckitt Benckiser A/NZ team is upskilling people as well as bringing in capabilities to embed digital into everything it’s doing.

“Our digital transformation is not about marketing, it’s across the business. The first thing is upskilling and capability building, so everyone uses the same terms, is clear on what are the key objectives, and embedding new terminology into the business,” she explains.

“We are also bringing digital media buying in-house. Data is king, and that’s the one thing we’re really focused on to build for the future of the company. One key way we’ll do that is by building capabilities in-house. Now, we’re bringing digital media buying in-house too.”

From a marketing function perspective, Reckitt has also created several new roles which sit in the brand team to really drive the digital agenda. Paoli describes these individuals as brand-led professionals with that all-important digital lens.

“What’s critical to me is they live and breathe the brand, but they also have a real focus of driving consistency through all the touchpoints,” she says. “Whether that’s traditional media like TV, which we still see playing a massive role, to a digital touchpoint like ecommerce or social, or whether it’s walking through a retailer, scrolling through Queen Elizabeth news and being exposed to our content, or ecommerce.

“It’s hard to make that consistent at any time where they are exposed to us, and that’s one of the big challenges we face as brands. We have gotten better at it – we have identified the opportunity, put in place a structure to keep getting better at that.”

Another spoke to Paoli’s leadership wheel is advocating diversity and inclusion. She is the global communications lead for the Women@Reckitt Employee Resource Group, now in 50 countries, as well as a member of the company’s diversity and inclusion committee. In joining the local leadership team, Paoli’s appointment gave Reckitt A/NZ’s executive team a 50:50 gender split.

But Paoli sees diversity and inclusion going well beyond gender. “It’s about how to foster diversity in every sense, from thoughts to cultural background. Everyone can bring a different point of view and an interesting one to the table,” she says.

“Our approach is consistent but there are definitely pockets of excellence. I’d say Australia is driving the agenda and is at the forefront of driving that change. There are other regions where the cultural stigma is heavier so driving that change is starting from further back.”  

Helping Paoli in her leadership progression and team management has been her training as a performance coach. As teams continue to try and counter burnout and the pace of change, she plans to leverage these performance-oriented skills to help keep them on track, engaged and fulfilled.

“This has been a game changer in my career. The biggest change it made in my leadership style is that the starting point is everyone is capable of the most amazing things,” she says. “It’s bang on to how you help people with resilience given all the changes at speed. You need to start from the point that you believe they can achieve anything and build from there.

“I’m leveraging that every day with the ongoing conversations and approach we take in the new normal.”

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