P&G finds the boss demanding, busy, hard to reach

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As every Procter & Gamble Co. marketer knows well, "the consumer is boss." That's what recently brought Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel and his sidekick Kim Dedeker, VP-global consumer and market knowledge, for a face-to-face kitchen-table chat with the boss from hell.

Not that Pam, as we'll call her simply, isn't one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. She's a good Baptist mother of four who lives on one of God's little acres of rolling Kentucky countryside carved out of her family's farm, surrounded by relatives in nearby parcels in a community where she doesn't bother to lock the door when she leaves, though she's only 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati.

She has five small bedrooms and three small baths, 200 Longaberger baskets, a taste for moderately expensive purses and clothes-and hardly a single P&G product. The world's biggest advertiser is largely invisible to her most of the week because she rarely has time for TV or magazines and rarely goes online.


The P&Gers came calling to help put a face on all that quantitative data they're swimming into, as Ms. Dedeker put it, "understand consumers with our guts, not just our heads."

But like lots of bosses, Pam often says one thing and does another. She and her family defy any easy labeling, and in countless ways over two hours she shows how various forms of quantitative, qualitative and attitudinal research can consistently miss the mark-or tell only partial and misleading truths.

Pam was screened as part of a family of under $50,000 income, yet her lifestyle, even assuming the house is paid for, seems well beyond that. She has all the right demographic trappings to be a staunch, exurban citizen of Wal-Mart America, but she prefers pricier fare from such stores as Target, Meijer and B. Moss Clothing Co. And despite her seemingly modest means and two sons in college, she has written off the entire mass beauty business, buying almost all her products from Mary Kay, and her Paul Mitchell salon hair products at a beauty-supply store with her friends' discount card. All those purchases fall outside most forms of syndicated retail sales tracking.

"A lot of times, women will say they buy Mary Kay, but there will be a few products on top of the makeup kit and the rest will be our Cover Girl products," Ms. Dedeker said. Not so with Pam. She has three different eye creams alone, all from Mary Kay, though she does have a few products from Unilever's Suave and Vaseline.

Pam, quite the free talker and spender, acknowledges she's been to marriage counseling over money matters. Now, she and her husband have set a budget for groceries that she clearly chafes under.

family values

Her two older sons are traditional scions of rural Kentucky, high-school athletes now at University of Kentucky. Her younger son, 16, is more of a non-conformist, a film nut with his room decorated in movie motifs. Yet it was the older boys who broke mom's heart by sneaking drinks. The younger boy she trusts to watch TV unsupervised without watching forbidden MTV [so much for that P&G-Viacom cross-platform deal] or surf the Web to approved sites only.

Pam's 10-year-old daughter, like Mom, has some pricey tastes for items from Bath & Body Works and Limited Too. But she also likes squirrel hunting with dad, and even skins the squirrels.

They're about to acquire two pygmy goats for their daughter, joining a Pekinese mix as family pets. But despite the expensive tastes in other things, there's none of P&G's pricey Iams here. Kibbles `n Bits are "the only thing she'll eat," Pam said of her dog.

"She's rationalizing," Ms. Dedeker said later, out of earshot, noting that Pam is a "classic scrimp and splurge consumer."

P&G has become increasingly aware of how direct sellers like Mary Kay and salon products have cut into the mass market. Some of the 100 or so ideas for new marketing platforms P&G recently fielded from its marketers globally were for direct-selling initiatives in developing markets, Mr. Stengel said.

Living in a rural area and with a large network of friends, Pam is a ripe target for such direct sellers as Mary Kay and Longaberger, Ms. Dedeker said.

Indeed, Pam is exceptional on many levels. She is exactly the sort of superwoman feminists say don't really exist. Rising at 5:30 each weekday morning, she usually pops a load in the laundry before starting her fairly elaborate beauty regimen and, on many mornings, cooking breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy for the family as she fluffs and folds. Then, she heads off for work 30 hours a week as a nurse supervisor at a Cincinnati area nursing home, also earning some extra cash as a housekeeper for a couple of nearby homes on the side. All this doesn't prevent her from keeping up with her large network of friends, with whom she shares breakfast or dinner dates at least once a week. All of Pam's frenetic activity seems to come at the expense of her media consumption. About the only TV she watches regularly, she claimed, is the evening news, where the only P&G brands she's likely to encounter are Metamucil, Prilosec and Actonel.

Ms. Dedeker, however,notes later that when the P&G crew arrived, Pam switched off the 5-foot projection TV that dominates her small living room, making a hurried and somewhat embarrassed aside that "I have to have background noise."

media impact

"I bet she's seeing or at least hearing a lot of advertising during the day," Ms. Dedeker said. Pam may be busily cleaning as she soaks it in, but that's about the best the country's biggest TV spender has come to expect. "Our research shows people are almost never paying full attention to TV," Mr. Stengel noted later.

Some media clearly have a huge impact on Pam's purchases, but they're ones P&G's main creative agencies have little to do with. She spends about 45 minutes each Sunday with coupon inserts and store circulars planning her weekly grocery purchases. Armed with a list and a fistful of coupons, she seldom loses focus as she moves through a Meijer supercenter, P&G entourage in tow, in about 20 minutes.

"I bet our BrandSaver [Sunday coupon] insert is very big with her, though we didn't get a chance to ask," Mr. Stengel said later.

But somewhat chagrined, he notes that as Pam piled two 12-roll packs of Georgia-Pacific's Angel Soft toilet paper into her cart despite only having a coupon for one, she never even noticed Charmin also was on sale nearby. "If we're not in that [Meijer] circular, we're just not on her radar," Mr. Stengel lamented.

"She's a connector, an influencer, exactly the kind of person we need to be reaching," Mr. Stengel said later, noting her network of dozens of close friends and acquaintances and active involvement in church and school.

Fortunately for P&G, Pam really isn't so average, Ms. Dedeker said. "But she is typical of a type of consumer, and if we had more time, we'd delve into ways of exploring that."

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