GSK's Speichert: Marketers Are Missing Digital Fundamentals

Former Google Exec Gives Perspective From Both Sides of Realm

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Marc Speichert, chief digital officer of GSK Consumer Healthcare
Marc Speichert, chief digital officer of GSK Consumer Healthcare Credit: GSK

Marc Speichert has looked at digital marketing from both sides now -- or maybe three.

The former chief marketing officer at beauty giant L'Oreal turned heads three years ago by moving to Google to consult with brands across industries. Now he's back in packaged goods in a new role as chief digital officer of GSK Consumer Healthcare, marketer of such brands as Sensodyne, Theraflu, Flonase, Alli and Boost. That comes after a stint last year in a similar role at Swiss luxury manufacturer/retailer Richemont.

Being an alum isn't making him soft on Google: GSK is among companies that recently paused advertising there over brand-safety issues. It illustrates how the marketer role he returns to is different than what left. Spending is up, and with that comes increased expectations.

Speichert's remit includes digital marketing, media, insights (market research) and e-commerce. GlaxoSmithKline has a relatively new leadership team from CEO Emma Walmsley on down. Consumer Healthcare has no global CMO, but Speichert reports to Carlton Lawson, global head of categories, and will be based in London. Here he talks about how digital marketing has changed and what he learned at Google.

Ad Age: Why did you come to GSK?

Speichert: GSK was one of my clients at Google. So it's good when you get an inside view of what the client is all about. This gives me a chance to go back to the client side and drive some major transformation, and I could see myself fitting in from a cultural perspective.

Ad Age: Why did you leave Richemont?

Speichert: It was a great brand builder on one side and retailer on the other. I learned a lot. In the end, I was looking at where I could drive the biggest impact and innovation.

Ad Age: What did you take away from the Google experience?

Speichert: Being at Google enabled me to look under the hood and understand how things work. I worked with many different clients – CPG, beverage and tech clients. But what was interesting was that even though the industries were very different, they had similar hot topics.

Everyone was talking about data and insights into data. Do I have scale? Can I build competitive advantage by leveraging my first-party data? The other interesting area was content. It's even more fragmented and the need for it greater than ever. How do you build the right ecosystem of suppliers? A lot of people are developing their own direct-to-consumer sites and trying to do it themselves. But the other question is how do you become a better partner with the retailers and what does that mean about your media dollars and how do you do activation. And the other was looking at things in a much more granular way from a media side – how do you do precision buying?

Ad Age: Do brand marketers need to get under the hood to better understand the technology they work with?

Speichert: I think everybody in the organization should understand the fundamentals. Going back to my Google days, we had a lot of discussions with my clients around what marketing in a digital world and data-driven marketing should be about and how Google can help. In certain instances, you realize that some folks are jumping into things without having the fundamentals in place. Things like properly tagging your site so you can get learning from first-party data. These are foundational things that people aren't really doing. Here I'm really trying to push forward how an idea or technology can help them from a business perspective, and demystify and take it to a broader business conversation.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to build the right pipe from a programmatic side. And, yes, we need to build the right pipe, but it's also important to be as smart about what you put into the pipe and how you build an ecosystem to get you the right assets.

Ad Age: There's been a lot of industry pushback lately on your old employer Google, both on audience measurement and brand safety. What's your take on that?

Speichert: We are very stringent about brand-safety expectations. And we've taken some measures, some close, direct conversations in terms of what's required moving forward.

Ad Age: Did you pause advertising with Google?

Speichert: We did pause some of our advertising, and we are talking with Google about what are some of the tools that will give us full confidence in going back. We're waiting to get the measure of the tools they have in place before we go back.

Ad Age: Is it harder to do digital now with all the measurement and brand-safety worries?

Speichert: Absolutely yes in regard to brand safety. Given the criticality of brand-safe environments, it's requiring a great deal of resources. This is time that would be better spent developing and executing digital programs to grow our brands. As it relates to viewability and whitelist strategies, most major advertisers like GSK already have plans in place to ensure these KPIs are effectively met, so that is not adding additional complexity.

Ad Age: How do you handle programmatic buying? In house? Through an agency? A combination?

Speichert: We're really leveraging our agencies now – both PHD (Omnicom) and WPP -- to operate our programmatic campaign, and we're developing some internal capabilities as well to ensure it's a real partnership.

Ad Age: What should be the role of the big players in digital media – Google and Facebook? Where do you look to them for help?

Speichert: The focus on a shorter list of publishers is a good thing, because it lets you go deeper and drive the partnership in a more robust way. When you look at what I sometimes call the shiny-object syndrome, it's very tempting for marketers to experiment with the new players. I'm a big believer in nailing the basics. We've done a lot of great things already from a search perspective. Something with a company like Google is critical in that context.

It's very important to have that short list of publishers we have a privileged relationship with, and then of course we want to have a handful of folks we do experimentation with, test and learn, and make sure that's properly orchestrated.

We did some really cool stuff with IBM Watson in the U.S. before I arrived. That was a great example of AI-powered ads that very smartly helped you. It was a very smart move and we were one of the first companies to do that in the U.S. And we're now scaling to do that much farther and deeper.

Ad Age: Do you still need both digital and general creative agencies?

Speichert: As we simplified our agencies recently, we felt it was important to [have both]. It really depends on the level of maturity of the brand. As long as you have a powerful way to connect the agencies and have them work together, I think it's less about having a one-stop shop but having a complete collection.

Speichert is focused on relationships with biggest players, but cites this program using IBM Watson as example of experimentation with others.
Speichert is focused on relationships with biggest players, but cites this program using IBM Watson as example of experimentation with others. Credit: GSK

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