Bas Louwers – Johnson & Johnson Consumer

Bas Louwers – Johnson & Johnson Consumer

In his position of Head Customer & Shopper Marketing at Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Bas Louwers is involved in bringing the full range of J&J Consumer brands to the market, ranging from o.b.® tampons to Neutrogena® skin care, and from Nicorette® to Listerine®. Like in many multinational CPG organisations, J&J’s marketing strategy and product development are centralised in a few hubs; most brand decisions about product launches in the Netherlands are made in Germany. This interview therefore addresses innovation from a different angle than many others – how to get the in-market account and shopper strategy right to turn a new introduction into a success?

Winning the battle for shelf space

The local Dutch organisation has a strong focus on sales results; growing revenues (and bottom line). Bas: “In smaller markets like the Netherlands, brand performance is mainly assessed by the growth of market share, turnover and margins. Additional market information which we collect is mainly driven by international research. I don’t see this changing soon, the budgets are challenging, and the focus is on year on year growth. That makes the challenge to build new stories for the Dutch market not so easy. Retailers are keen to get something new and differentiate their shelves, and for our biggest category, tampons, there are little break-through innovations. Consequently, retailers are open to trying new things, for instance the organic brands or menstruation cups. So even if there are no real innovations, we need to have a strong story which fits the needs of the retailers, to avoid that the ‘o.b.® shelf space’ erodes to the competition. We also need to be creative to develop differentiated sales activations which fit both with the DNA of o.b.® and that of the retailer and brings value to the category.”

“We are in good shape this year – which is mainly the result of the growth of our Self Care-range and the implementation of a dedicated Revenue Growth Management programme” Bas explains. “If we look at the key drivers of growth within our categories, innovation plays a very important role. Especially our latest Nicorette® Spray-launch has increased our growth in sales; the product proves to be adopted very well, but it also attracts consumers to the NRT shelf which has a positive value impact on the total category.”

“A consequence of being one of the biggest Health Care related companies in the world, is that we have high quality standards; and thus, the innovation cycle takes longer than we would often like in the Netherlands. We have some amazing innovative products, for instance for the new brand Neutrogena®, with a light-therapy pen, a skin scanner that you can click on your phone to scan what your skin’s needs are, and personalised masks. But so far, these are only made available for the bigger markets, and it will take some strong international stakeholder management before these become available to us.”

Reinforcing relevance for the consumer

“For me, innovation is something that should fuel the relevance for the consumer,” Bas explains. “It doesn’t need to be something overwhelmingly new; it can be something small as well.” For example, he mentions the former product o.b.® Flexia; “With a limited support budget it was hard to bring the product benefits across. We then decided to change the product name to o.b.® Night – because this makes the product immediately relevant and easily recognisable for each woman.”

“Women know that napkins which are developed especially for the night give additional protection and are per piece more expensive then ‘regular’ napkins. So due to our name and pack design changes from o.b.® Flexia to o.b.® ProComfort® Night, we experienced an increased relevance and growth of our o.b.® tampon with wings. This is an example of a small change that triggered the relevance and growth of this specific tampon. For me, that counts as a commercial innovation.”

Finding shared interests

Bas: “Due to internal hurdle rates, not all J&J innovations will become available to the Dutch market. Simply because production costs and complexity are too high. The successful Nicorette® Spray for instance – we wouldn’t have had it if we hadn’t teamed up with Belgium to develop a shared pack. In many categories this may sound like a no-brainer, but in Self Care legislative requirements may differ strongly between countries, so it’s not that obvious and often takes several years. As a local market we need to look actively for shared interests with other countries in our cluster to make things happen. That goes for product development, but also relates to other elements in the marketing mix. There are so many excellent things happening in our global organisation that we could spread across countries. We have some excellent tools; think of an app developed by Listerine® to help blind people in their communication; the app registers if the person that you talk to starts laughing, which makes your phone vibrate. So, if you hold your phone close to your chest during your conversation, you will feel when the other person laughs, and that will make you laugh as well. I think that this is an excellent innovative branded tool; for me that is innovation as well.”

Making innovations a success

Bas: “If I think about a successful innovation, Nicorette® mouth spray is an excellent example. To start, it is a very effective product. It relieves your craving for a cigarette after 30 seconds. The mouth spray is suitable to quickly suppress the need for a cigarette at difficult moments. For example, after a meal, when you are stressed, or in a smoking environment. This reduces the risk of relapse and increases your chances of successfully stopping. But moreover, the underlying insight is that people who quit smoking, have often attempted to quit before. They like to be able to choose a new product for a new attempt. A prerequisite for success is to get the full picture right – that doesn’t stop with a top performing product, but includes packaging, a good brand story and support.”

“Key challenge in innovation for us as a small local market is in the first place simply to get the product. In general, innovations will not be initiated purely in response to a trend that becomes relevant in the Netherlands, only if it is picked up in bigger markets. Another challenge is the fast ROI demands; especially in Self Care, investments are needed for a new product, they may be higher than justifiable. For our number 1 brand o.b.® it would be much easier to earn back investments.”

To conclude, Bas stresses that a great idea is no guarantee for a successful innovation: “The processes in the internal international organisation and a strong cooperation with the market are at least as important. You don’t just sell a product to the consumer; first you need to negotiate internally to get priority in development, and next you need a convincing story to get a position in the market. These two elements are essential building blocks for success.”