Rene Lassauzet, Head of Brand & Creative Excellence and The LEAD – Content Studio at Nestlé USA, talks about empowering a brand to live on forever, and how brands have their work cut out trying to connect to different ‘generations’ of users.

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Headshot of Rene Lassauzet

Rene Lassauzet, Head of Brand & Creative Excellence and The LEAD – Content Studio, Nestlé USA

Tell us about your role and background?

I am Head of Brand & Creative Excellence and The LEAD – Content Studio. I've been at Nestlé for 19 years and I am responsible for helping all brands in Nestlé USA with everything from brand strategy, positioning, and  communications strategy to creative development. I’m also fortunate to lead our internal content studio (The LEAD) responsible for creating 100% of all our digital content for all of our brands; as well as leading the relationships with our advertising agencies.

What is the evolution in the marketing space that you have seen over the years? What has had the biggest impact on your brands or sector right now?

There have been so many changes that it’s hard to pinpoint just one. But fundamentally, the landscape has become very complex and multi-dimensional. A few years ago, it was a very stable field and more about advertising and having just three or four touchpoints to tell your story compellingly. Then the digital space exploded and [offered] several possibilities for content creation and brand communication. These opportunities became even more complex as the generations changed. We now have Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z and brands must be able to connect with them.

There are two other things. One, some fundamentals remain true, including the importance of the right insights and strategies to identify a need or behavior. Even some industry veterans have lost sight of this fact. The second is how and where you bring these to life in a way that they show tremendous potential and compete with everything else. Brands must not necessarily be present everywhere. They need to really be where its most strategic and compelling. The last thing is what do you talk about? At Nestlé, we’ve been intentional about driving relevance, whether cultural or social. In a nutshell, what has changed the industry is so much change.

The convergence of all these changes has thrown marketers for a loop over recent years. I want to ask more about ‘relevance’ in the light of marketers facing the challenge of balance. How do you approach that at Nestlé?

We’ve tried to be very strategic. We don’t lose sight of what helps our brand live on forever. Then we come up with different manifestations of this vision. In some cases, it is about enhancing [brand value] to make it more relevant and bring it to life. Another key element is touchpoint design – critical in terms of where you show up. Companies like ours may or may not be excited about, or able to, take risks in terms of investment, so it's a hard balance.

Do you think that the concept of a marketing funnel is as relevant as it used to be?

I feel like a lot of people spend endless hours debating if it might exist, now that it looks like it has collapsed. Who cares, apart from some marketers and advertisers? For me, it is more about understanding consumer data and insight and if there is awareness for your brand, if you need to drive consideration, and if you need to focus your energies on driving repurchase or even advocacy and loyalty. It is not productive for me to wonder and theorize about the marketing funnel as much as spend that same time trying to find the biggest growth opportunity and focusing on it. I am still a believer in the traditional funnel, but there are other considerations to work on.

What kind of KPIs are you looking at?

We have a remarkable media team that serves as my team’s counterpart led by Karen Crawford, Head of the Media Center of Excellence. The teams work in making decisions and working with the brands, in terms of their investment levels and what they're trying to achieve. They then come up with the best possible plan to achieve our objectives. So, our teams work closely, especially in what we’re putting out there for the community.

Most brands feel that the biggest KPI is growing the business. This makes marketing efforts lose track at times. The other danger is that you could be focused more on short-term sales. I think the KPIs must be a mix of investment to build value for the brand, and then the intangibles that get you through inflationary environments and out-of-stock circumstances for example.

With such a fragmented media landscape you have to look at different channels and create content in multiple ways. Are there specific channels that do better than others?

The real challenge is in having the ability to think through the value of these different channels. That, and to add a lot more depth and detail to the marketing effort. Some of the work we’ve done has got us a lot of eyeballs over the years, but was the messaging ideal? There’s a trick here, in that there are various creative ideas and different ways to position your brands on certain outlets which makes them more conducive [to growth].

Let's talk about digital audio. People are tuning into music or podcasts. Where do you see digital audio fitting into your work?

I'll tell you the line I leveraged with my team when I first joined and when I was trying to think about providing vision and ambition for our brands. I wanted to “enable brands to evolve from advertising to engagement.” You can advertise in the form of one-way communication, by just shouting through the megaphone. But what are you shouting about? Are you telling people something of value? What is the first premise [of the campaign]?

The second premise is thinking about some of these touchpoints, particularly with audio. At the end of the day, human beings have five senses, and historically, brands have only really leveraged sight. The same message is completely different across print, TV and audio. You can enhance the listener’s perspective when you introduce music and even silence at the right spots, so I’m excited about digital audio.