Digital Gets Delivered: Views From Mars, J&J and WD-40 E-Commerce Leaders

Lisa Johnston
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Clockwise from top left: Cheryl Perkins, Surabhi Pokhriyal, Claudia Fenske and Lee Bogner

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If there can be a universally accepted truth in today’s consumer goods industry, it’s that the pandemic has served as e-commerce rocket fuel.

And while the panel of e-com experts who convened at the Consumer Goods Sales & Marketing Summit all brought varying perspectives, it was agreed that the brands able to seize this digital moment will be the ones that maintain a competitive advantage moving forward — and that it requires a true team effort to get there.  

Moderated by Innovationedge CEO Cheryl Perkins, the panel included Lee Bogner, Mars global e-commerce architecture leader and strategist; Surabhi Pokhriyal, global director e-commerce acceleration, Johnson & Johnson; and Claudia Fenske, WD-40 Company sales director.

Wading through the third-quarter earnings reports of many CG brands shows just how front and center e-commerce is, Pokhriyal noted, and it’s moved far away from being mere lip service. “During these unprecedented times we have seen unprecedented action in terms of speed and agility and making e-commerce more purposeful.”   

The channel is now an all-hands-on-deck effort for most companies. Bogner recalled his first few years at Mars when he worked with business units to encourage them to go digital — and “now they’re pounding down the doors.” The company has been able to fulfill demand thanks to business model templates for DTC and BTB sales, including such things as a contactless ordering and mobile-first strategies in emerging countries.

Aligning internal efforts is crucial during this moment, Surabhi said, citing the old adage of “What gets measured gets delivered” as a guiding force during these turbulent and constantly evolving times.

“It doesn’t really matter where e-commerce sits anymore. {Divisions] all going to come together because they’re all uniquely incentivized,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of shift from [e-commerce] being perceived of being a channel builder to being a true business builder. It’s a core part of doing business itself.”

“We’re seeing a shift from [e-commerce] being perceived of being a channel builder to being a true business builder. It’s a core part of doing business itself.”
Surabhi Pokhriyal , Johnson & Johnson

Mars introduced its first virtual trick-or-treating experience this Halloween, and Bogner cited the initiative as an example of what can happen when collaboration meets inspiration meets process. The interactive experience began with a group of eight people working on it in May, to 100 Mars associates playing a role in two weeks, to the launch of the app within 90 days.

As an organization that operates in 80 countries, Mars has long been remotely collaborative, and had already fine-tuned its remote capabilities to help make this possible. The company has also become accustomed to developing processes of governance of how its business teams work with its operational teams.

“It’s constantly evolving, and we’re bringing more and more resources in and digital associates, but we’re also training many people in these areas,” he noted.

As part of this, the panel cited the attributes of employees — both leaders and associates — who hold the greatest chance of having success in this industry and “making things happen.” Chief among them was a desire for continuous learning and a beginners’ mindset.

“Things are changing so quickly,” said Fenske. “It’s about that agility and flexibility and openness to collaboration. You really want someone who loves working with others and learning.”

In dusting off their crystal balls, the group provided some predictions on what the CG industry and end users can expect to see in 2021, as well as trends their companies are currently focusing on.

Pokhriyal cited last-mile delivery as something that will play a crucial role and will accelerate over the next few years, providing Sephora’s new partnership with Kohl’s as a prime example, as well as the rise in DoorDash. “This just tells you the amount of friction that’s there in taking your product and making it reach the consumers’ doorstep is becoming less and less.”

As part of this, Fenske called out the importance of ensuring a brand is easy to find and purchase 24/7 when a customer is looking for it. By doing so, WD-40 aims to deliver on its promise to create positive lasting memories for its customers.

For Mars, Bogner said the company is focused on “content, community and commerce.” Given today’s remote culture, it’s taking this moment to listen to how consumers are using and engaging with its products at home, which in turn is providing valuable first-party data.

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