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Making the Case for Investment in Design

Alex Blyth

Managing Partner

Undeterred by the train strike, a few dozen in-house agency leaders recently gathered in London’s Borough Market to hear Nick Horan, Global Brand Experience Lead, at Reckitt Hygiene, talk about how he and his team have been making the case for investment in design. They will have been glad they did.

Not so long ago, Reckitt had a very traditional design management that was an interface between brands and agencies. Hampered by a scarcity of resources, there was little consistency on brands, and a brand experience that simply didn’t match the quality of the products.

Horan and his colleague Jos Harrison, Global Head of Brand Experience & Design, set out to change that. For anyone also on that journey – instilling design values throughout an organisation to improve the brand experience – Horan’s story was both inspiring and instructive.

For decades Reckitt Hygiene and its six power brands – Vanish, Finish, Harpic, Mortein, Airwick and Lysol (Dettol in the UK), had found success using the moment of truth (MOT) philosophy pioneered by Proctor & Gamble and adopted by the majority of the world’s CPG brands. This highly successful model had the opportunity to be developed for an increasingly digital world, but it took the COVID pandemic to change everything.

“The core channel we use to sell products was disrupted overnight,” said Horan. “In our team we’d been demonstrating online and offline brand experiences for years, but sometimes found it challenging to expand our creative work to land these in markets. Suddenly our marketing teams were turning to us and demanding digital touchpoints, very often in spaces that had never had digital touchpoints before.”

Yet still, as in any large organisation, significant change takes time and effort. Horan and the now 30 strong brand experience design team at Reckitt Hygiene had a more receptive internal audience but still they needed to persuade them to invest in brand experience design.

How did they do it?

Firstly, they stopped waiting for permission. They found small projects - the ones where experimentation would be more acceptable - and used them as a showcase for what can be done. For example, on Vanish Multiaction tablets, they were able to show an increase in conversion rates in ecommerce to two times those of the core portfolio. The numbers were small but the percentages were eye catching, and people started to ask how they were doing it. It led to them overhauling the whole ecommerce Vanish portfolio.

Secondly, they worked hard to tell people about their success stories. It’s never enough to do great design work. You have to point people to it, explain the role of design, make the case explicitly for investment.

Thirdly, they don’t sit back and wait for design briefs. They go out and shape them. Regardless of how well a brand is performing, they’re always asking what’s next, how do we move this on?

As Horan concluded: “The more success stories we have and can tell, the more we’re able to show colleagues that looking beyond the pack and the shelf to a broader brand experience is what grows revenues and margins.”

It’s easy to see why there’s a growing buzz around the In-House Agency Leaders Club. While agencies have long had forums to share common issues and ideas, those leading in-house design teams have not. Those design leaders are recognising the importance of learning from each other, and of finding ways to not only do great design work but to tell people inside and outside their organisation about it.

It’s not only in CPG. Horan was followed on stage by David Harris, Executive Creative Director at Deloitte, who shared how he’s making the case for investment in design at a professional services organisation. Sadly, the train strikes had prevented me from making it to the event, and the sound on the live feed wasn’t quite good enough for me to catch what Harris said.

I look forward to attending future IHALC events, and would encourage anyone running an in-house design team to join me there.

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