Focused On the Fundamentals Part 1

Nestlé's Pete Blackshaw explains why traditional brand-building approaches yield big results in the digital and social space
 Focused On the Fundamentals

By Ken Beaulieu, Director of Marketing and Communications for the ANA (Association of National Advertisers)


A new study by American Express found that 83 percent of consumers who have used social media for customer service have abandoned a purchase because of poor service. They are also significantly more likely to broadcast their bad service experiences than people who haven’t used social media for customer service. Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social media at Nestlé and author of the book Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 (Doubleday), contends that brands have no choice today but to raise the service bar. “Consumers don’t just want advertising, they want answers, solutions, and value-added service,” he says. “If you carefully listen to earned-media patterns, you’ll see in vivid Technicolor that brands that work hard to service consumers get paid huge dividends.” Blackshaw, who will speak the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, July 15-17, in Dana Point, CA, recently explained why focusing on the fundamentals is critically important in today’s Internet-driven world, and how Nestlé is engaging consumers in the digital/social space.


Ken Beaulieu: You believe the fundamental rules for social media — listening, relationship marketing, creating brand experiences, etc. — are deeply rooted in the traditions of great brand building. Please explain why.

Pete Blackshaw: We tend to underestimate how the timeless brand fundamentals relate to new areas like social media. Our perspective at Nestlé — and something I’ve strongly believed in since I started in digital 15 years ago — is that the fundamentals of successful brand building have not changed and are, in fact, timeless. In periods of such dramatic and rapid change, it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed, to imagine that nothing is like it was before and that all the “old” approaches and principles must be discarded. Perhaps motivated by the fear of change, it’s equally easy to resist transformational realities and insist stubbornly that current best practices will remain effective when applied to the new landscape. 

Consider “listening.” We often talk about social media listening as though it’s a new concept. That’s absurd! Great listening has always been at the core of world-class brand building. What’s unique about the digital and social space is that it allows brands to have deeper, more intimate, more sustaining conversations with consumers. And the cost structure and immediacy, if managed properly, is far more attractive.

Success for Nestlé is delighting consumers and building or strengthening great brands. For us, this means strong brand affinity, loyalty, and advocacy that translates into profitable and sustainable growth in sales and market share. We capture all this in a brand-building framework known as “Brand Building the Nestlé Way.” The brand-building house, led by my boss, Tom Buday, head of marketing and consumer communications, serves as a repository of best practices, tools, and case studies but, more importantly, as a continuously evolving learning environment for our 8,000 marketing people worldwide and many others involved in building brands.


KB: Studies show that consumers are increasingly using social media to share information about customer service, especially poor service experiences. How important is it to treat every customer interaction as an opportunity to build customer loyalty and a positive brand image?

PB: It’s a huge opportunity. In my book, I focus a great deal of attention on what I dub “The Six Drivers of Brand Credibility” — trust, authenticity, transparency, affirmation, listening, and responsiveness. Over the past 12 years, I’ve monitored billions and billions of online conversations. There’s an unmistakable correlations between service and earned media. Even at Nestlé, you can see this in action with our Nespresso and Nescafe Dolce Gusto brands, where consumers will give public shout-outs on Twitter for great service. On the flip side, if the service is bad, so-called “spurned media” takes over.

The hard part for brands is translating all this into operational reality. The challenge is more complicated than properly funding or resourcing call centers, or making “contact us” forms easier. Now we have the explosion of mobile devices and apps that are reducing all friction in the feedback process. And in the social media space we have the advent of the “community manager” who inevitably carries the responsibility of answering a ton of consumer questions. How do we pull all this together?


KB: Social media monitoring continues to confound many companies. What best practices does Nestlé have in place to listen to, and participate in, consumer conversations about your brands?

PB: This is a topic close to my heart, as I founded one of the industry’s first social media monitoring companies, which was ultimately sold to Nielsen. My view remains the same at Nestlé: the online conversation is infinitely revealing of brand value, and smart marketers will extract that value from all vantage points — consumer understanding, brand engagement, customer business development, corporate reputation, and even social responsibility. To do this right, you need smart and consistent metrics, an appreciation for the disproportionate impact of advocates and detractors, and really simple “add-water-and-stir approaches” for translating and acting on the data. We use a host of providers, and we’ve been particularly happy with’s Radian6 solution. The key here is to focus as much on culture as on technology. Listening solutions used to sit in a room in the corner, often managed by specialists. In today’s digital and social environment, everyone has an interest in tapping into the conversation. There’s a real cost and consequence to waiting for others to do the translating.

It’s also really important to think holistically. I’m obsessed with call-center and consumer affairs data as I think it represents extreme, and often more revealing, dimensions of consumer emotion. We also know there’s a clear correlation between how consumers talk directly to brands and their earned media potential. I think the brand builder today needs to look at all contact points and determine how to engage, follow up, and respond to consumers.


To read more about new innovations, digital growth, and how Nestlé applies its core fundamental goals to social media, check out Focused on the Fundamentals Part 2

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