Introduction to Continuous LearningThe following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled “The Never Ending Pursuit of Knowledge.” In it, Lester Estrada, the Country Marketing Director of Procter & Gamble, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in data and knowledge research.
There is always something to learn
In an era where job hopping is not only common but even pretty much expected, Lester Estrada is an anomaly. Not only has Estrada spent 15 years so far with consumer goods titan Procter & Gamble (P&G), but it’s also the only company he’s ever worked for since he started with them as an assistant brand manager for their hair care product Pantene.
Currently based in Singapore as P&G Asia Pacific’s hair care senior brand director, Estrada has no shortage of insights on what makes a good marketing and communications strategy. From the proper deployment of ads to the best ways to manage a team, Estrada has a wealth of experience that lends him a different perspective on almost everything.
Yet what’s remained consistent through his career is the commitment to lifelong learning. According to Estrada, it’s the key to how he’s managed to stay so long in one place. “At the beginning of my career, I told myself that I always wanted to find uncomfortable situations and learn from it,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to get it from P&G.”
With stints heading operations at P&G offices in both Singapore and Japan, Estrada knows that when you prioritize learning above all, pretty much everything else will follow. When he was moved to Singapore to handle the Rejoice brand for the entire Southeast Asian market, Estrada was forced to work with a host of cultural nuances that he didn’t have to worry about when he was in the Philippines, such as the fact that daily hair washing was not a common practice in many other ASEAN markets. When he was in Japan, the need for a translator forced him to be more concise when expressing his ideas. Even in the Philippines, in his first few years as Marketing Director, the responsibility of handling feminine care and diaper products (which he obviously doesn’t use) had him step outside of himself and sharpen his sense of empathy for customers.
According to Estrada, constant learning and upskilling is a horizontal benefit that can lead to a host of other opportunities. Take the idea of brand self-awareness, which is knowing how the market perceives your brand. Estrada acknowledged that a consumer is unlikely to buy their shampoo just because of one advertisement. This is as opposed to advertising for an airline, where one advert of a seat sale can prompt consumers to immediately book a flight for cheap.
“What we really want to accomplish is to be at the top of a consumer’s mind when they’re at the grocery store or shopping online,” Estrada said. “We know our product can’t function like that of an airline’s. When you learn to have this self-awareness, it’s easier to drive what you want to do.”
Estrada also encourages this sort of deeper thinking when leading his team. Rather than directing them how exactly to do things, he would much rather they think about the why behind a task or initiative. This approach leaves the team free to think outside the box in how to get things done, thereby incidentally also allowing room for upskilling.
Additionally, letting employees know why they have to do a certain task gives a deeper sense of purpose. “When your team knows the intention behind something, they know it isn’t just drudgework. They’ll be emotionally invested and want to give it their best.”
Estrada cited the example of driving premiumization in the beauty category. In order to accomplish this goal, he recalled telling his team why premiumization was desirable in the first place: consumers are willing to pay more for premium products, thus increasing P&G’s overall profits. Though brief, a simple explanation such as this proved more effective than just telling his team to go do a focused group discussion to find out whether their products were seen as premium or not.
Yet Estrada also acknowledged there are situations when he as the manager needs to zoom in and get involved with the finer details of a campaign. “When things aren’t working, say on a campaign that’s been going on for some months, then I really need to get into the granular details,” Estrada said. In order to figure out then where things are going wrong, he and his team will often conduct surveys and go out of their way to talk to consumers, then measure the results against their initial assumptions. Finally, the campaign will be recalibrated accordingly.
“There was a time when we noticed we weren’t getting as much engagement as we wanted from an ad,” Estrada said. “We noticed people stopped watching about five seconds in. So we looked at videos where consumers watched as much as 25 seconds, then changed our ad to be a little closer to the latter.”
Conversely, there are also times when zooming out and looking at the bigger picture is what’s needed. This is reserved for situations where the strategy appears to be working but not exactly the way it’s supposed to be. A brand can be a market leader in their category, but their gains happen ever so slowly so that they dominate with a market share of 35% but only add a 1% gain annually.
In situations like these, it pays to reconsider if there’s something that can be tweaked about the business model or even if adjacent markets should be looked at. In the case of shampoo, the booming skincare market is an adjacent market that can serve as possible inspiration for a revitalized campaign.
According to market research reported by CNN, the skincare market has grown at a breakneck speed in the past decade, hitting a global valuation of USD135 billion in 2018 alone, a figure that represents a 60% increase from 10 years prior. Thus, the idea here is to take the success of skincare and see if it can also be done with shampoo.
“The opportunity to learn something new is always there,” Estrada said.
This applies even in the case of highly technical skills such as mastering Google AdWords or gaining a better grasp of Google Analytics. Estrada and his team reach out to outside agencies for help on these but he also makes sure he learns alongside them. Once they’ve identified which experts they should reach out to, Estrada also likes to make sure his team sticks as close to them as possible so they can learn by osmosis.
It’s also important to be able to track learning. “Whenever possible, you want your team to have benchmarks to reach when they’re upskilling. You want to codify these learnings and maybe even get them certified,” he said.
Overall, Estrada urges all professionals to proactively seek uncomfortable situations where they’ll be forced to learn.
Though challenging, all of these experiences enabled Estrada to achieve professional growth. Truly, any professional that challenges themselves to always learn is sure to remain head and shoulders above their competition. “Constantly seeking opportunities to grow is key not only to succeeding in your current role,” Estrada concluded. “But it’s also the secret to a long-lasting career that withstands any challenge.”
As someone with 15 years of experience with P&G under his belt, Estrada certainly knows what he’s talking about.
To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Lester Estrada, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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