It's a Petite Planet After All for Giant J&J Trying to Act Small -- Like Amazon

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Credit: Johnson & Johnson

It's a small world, or a Petite Planet, after all – even if you're a consumer-products business with $13.6 billion in annual sales inside a $76.5 billion global healthcare behemoth. Johnson & Johnson is trying to act more like the digitally enabled local players that collectively have become its biggest competitive threat.

As part of a presentation last week at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Fla., Alison Lewis, chief marketing officer of J&J's Consumer Cos., talked about how her far-flung business is thinking smaller. It's accomplishing that, in part, by reorganizing into multidisciplinary "squads" of no more than 10 people even on big brands, starting in North America. J&J is also encouraging its giant agency holding companies to operate similarly, using a single profit-and-loss statement.

A demonstration project here is Petite Planet – the tip of the spear in a global relaunch of the venerable Johnson's Baby franchise. That relaunch is necessitated in part by inroads that small, digitally focused local players have made. So Petite Planet is trying to act more like they do -- but on a global scale and with some advice from Amazon.

Lewis describes talking with moms in seven parts of the world to discover the natural ingredients and "kitchen logic" they use in caring for babies. All those ingredients will be piled into Petite Planet, but J&J will focus more on Nordic berries in the Nordic countries, Karite in the African Savanna, rice water in Japan, rooibos tea in South Africa, and coconut-oil massages in South Asia. Petite Planet will launch in e-commerce first at the end of this month on Amazon and Buy Buy Baby in the U.S., plus select retailers in the Pacific region. It won't come to the U.K. until June via Amazon, specialist premium sites and in-store at Boots.

BBDO, VaynerMedia and DeVries PR are handling things globally, with some local in-region teams as well.

In an interview with Ad Age, Lewis describes how J&J is managing the paradox of a global player trying to act local.

So is everyone at J&J ultimately going to these squads, and how will that work?

It's a concept we're moving to in everything we do – a dedicated team with the right 10 people, a clear team leader who empowers them to break down the barriers and work more like a startup. The last 10 to 15 years we've had more of a matrix structure. But we're flattening it. And our heritage – brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno – was more of a collection of startups.

Do the countries have more autonomy than before?

I wouldn't say more autonomy, but recognition of what people need to keep it simple.

Why 10 people?

A learning we got from Amazon was the two-pizza rule – a clear person who is the decision maker and no more people on a team than could eat two pizzas in a meeting, which is probably seven to 10. Each of those people has unique accountability and experience. With 30 people in the room, how is any decision ever going to be made? Amazon is a giant startup, no longer a small guy, but they have some philosophies and approaches that keep them small.

So how did you manage that global rollout with local ingredients?

We're taking ingredients and curating them to bring products with kitchen logic and unique rituals from around the world. This scored off-the-charts with consumers.

Part of this was aided by BabyCenter, a digital property J&J owns. Everyone, including your competitors, can advertise there. But do you have proprietary access to the data?

The data is subject to the privacy the members sign up for. But we have access to research that no one else does. We're moving our media from traditional demographics and psychographics to more behavior-based audiences based on pulling data from different places and combining it in a unique way to find that mom who might be high potential for Petite Planet

Where do things stand with your new agency model to break down silos like you have with the internal squads?

We are moving to activate April 1 [in North America]. It's a perfect match because we now will have all our agencies and specialties sitting together in the same place. It flattens the decision-making and eliminates the silos of shopper marketing or PR where the poor brand manager had to pull it all together. Sometimes they're Omnicom or WPP, but sometimes they're not. And J3, which is Interpublic, is staying.

We all know the agency model needed to evolve. Sometimes it's hard, because they're burdened by their P&L structure, which has driven some unintentional bad behavior in the past. This should eliminate that, and the rest of the regions are developing similar models.

Global marketers have generally wanted global agencies. Is that changing for J&J?

We still from an agency-of-record standpoint, if that's even a term that we'll use in the future, will have a single agency for each brand. But the way the other specialties integrate into that depends on that local market.

How is e-commerce changing your marketing?

I remember being in India in the home of a new mother and she was talking about premium brands. And I was asking her 'How do you know about that brand? It's not in India?' She was saying, 'Well, I get it online.' I asked her how she could form an opinion about it and she said she asked friends in the U.S.

Aveeno Baby launched a year ago in China and now is the No. 2 brand in the combination of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar, and No. 1 on Alibaba. How can that be in a year? Because the Chinese consumer was fully briefed on it thanks to e-commerce.

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