A passion for BrandsReading Time: 11 minute
When you have a portfolio of over 30 brands and over 800 articles, it is a major challenge to create appropriate marketing strategies for each. But for Liliana Bock, marketing director of the importer and the distributor Maresi Foodbroker, it is a passion, especially because she knows each brand very well, as well as its story.
Last year was very difficult. How was it for Maresi?
2020 was a year that all of us will certainly remember. A year in which we had to learn and to adapt on the go. And I think nobody can tell us they were not affected in 2020. For us, it was a good year, because we, as distributors of premium fast mover consumer goods, this year we were at the crossroad of trends that marked the FMCG market in Romania: the increase of the consumption at home of the food products, wish, but also more time to cook and to try new recipes and, last but not least, the consumers’ concern for healthy eating.
But in terms of the marketing challenges?
The marketing challenges were many and diverse last year. They started in-store, where the year was dominated by the extremely aggressive promotions, and not all brands can support such promotions. And they continued with the unprecedented impetus of the online sales where the visibility is as important as the physical shops, but where it is much difficult to be visible because each online shop has its own rules. So, from the simple rules related to the number of shelf-faces to the height the product is placed at, or from the secondary placements that put your product on the alley that is most visited by the buyers, we got to sophisticated algorithms for more visibility, and, obviously, the promotions are also searched online (if not even more searched) – because online you have even more time to search for the best offers which are just a click away. But the biggest challenge was clearly the communication with the consumers. Our communication strategies had always as main pillars the online channels and the events. And this year was marked by the lack of events. And in online there was a lot of “noise” and we had to make ourselves heard under the conditions of an online environment invaded by the alarming news related to the pandemic and the uncertain future.
How hard is it to manage a portfolio of over 30 brands and over 800 products?
Firstly, I am not alone in this story. The marketing departament of Maresi means a team of five people managing each a number of brands – the portfolios are split according to the possible synergies between brands and the work volume behind each brand. Because not all the brands come with generous marketing budgets and their volume on the Romanian market is sometimes too small to justify large investments. Then, we have very good databases, elaborated in more than 25 years of activity, that help us keep an efficient management. So, it is not so hard! And I shall make another analogy with my previous life – it is not brain surgery, but it requires a lot of attention in order not to waste opportunities. But I can brag that I know all the products we have in our portfolio and I can tell you any time the story and the evolution of each from the launch. This is because our tagline – “Brands are our passion” – is not just words, but it is part of the DNA of the Maresi people (as we like to call ourselves).
How do you get to different brands, which are the criteria you impose yourselves when you start to work with a new brand?
Here I have to mention a small personal detail. I am a doctor by profession or by training. More precisely, I graduated the Faculty of Medicine in 1994 and even if I decided at that point to make a change to the marketing area – initially in the pharmaceutical field and later on in FMCG area – I took a principle with me in this new field: the brands we bring in the portfolio to be as healthy as possible. I have a saying: “Can I give it to my children to eat?”. But obviously the analysis does not stop here when we must decide what brands to include in the portfolio. When we start to analyze the potential of a brand we start to analyze the markets, we search for niches we can cover or, on the contrary, the categories of products that have high market rates, but to which we can come with an added value, with something that differentiates us. Sometimes these searches also come following the discussions with our retail partners that tell us that they would like to include some new categories of products in their offer. Then, there are also cases when the brands come to us, either because they want to enter the Romanian market, or they want to change the market approach strategy and choose us as partners. The decision to bring a certain brand in the portfolio goes through a complex process of analyses and estimations, the preparation of a business plan for a minimum of three years, negotiations with providers related to the correct position on the market and for the support of the market entry. And, if we see potential, from here it starts what we call “work” for launching the brand and developing it as beautifully and naturally as possible.
Coming back, how did you make the marketing strategy distinctly for each brand in the year that has just ended?
Not all our brands have budgets to develop integrated marketing campaigns; but we support all with plans of promotions at the shelf or in the catalogues of our partners, and obviously with a merchandising and secondary placement in order to increase the visibility; and I have to recognize that, here, our team in the field is very active and they do a very good job. In terms of brands in which we are supported by producers or where the volumes allow us to have marketing budgets that support campaigns, we start, as I believe all the marketers do, from the identification of the consumer, the so-called “persona”, of what describes them, their needs, how they take the purchase decision, what influences it, but also from the product and what it uniquely has to offer. And we try to think out of the box, in most cases, to be creative and to surprise – this is why every action of ours is “tailored” by the brand, by the communication channel and by the event. Perhaps, it comes from a certain limitation given by the smaller budgets we have as distributors, but I personally believe in a creative marketing, customized by the brand, sometimes by the range, by the market, more than in general ideas, that can apply universally.
I know this is how one of 2020 campaigns was created.
Precisely, it is about the campaign “The love story of 2020”, supported by Maresi Milk. We started from our consumer, who is a young person, very active and loves to try varieties of café latté. And we wanted to surprise them with a beautiful story. Why a love story? Because many love stories start with a café latté and because there is a love story between the coffee and the milk, from their combination it results a perfectly balanced beverage in terms of taste and texture. So, at the beginning of 2020 (right at the beginning of the pandemic, when I still did not think it will be so seriously) we invited our consumers to tell us their love story – by promising them that we shall choose the most beautiful one and we shall turn it into a short film where they are the actors. It was not easy to complete this project, under lockdown conditions imposed by the pandemic, but we have succeeded. And now we can say it was one of our most beautiful projects. We were glad to see how happy our consumer was with this campaign. And, last but not least, all our campaigns also had an educational component – because this is how we believe we bring many benefits in the long run. Such an example is Shan’Shi, where we developed together with Nissara, our ambassador, a genuine Asian chef, within the campaign “So simple, so Asian”, many recipes to prove that it is very easy, very quick and very healthy to cook in the Asian style.
Which are the brands in the portfolio you feel the closest?
I have to say that I love them all, and I am not just saying that because it is politically correct, but because for almost 18 years, since I have handled our portfolio you cannot escape getting attached to each brand, especially because each one of them has its story, beyond the figures. But obviously there are brands I am very closed to, because I raised them from the very first pieces sold in Romania, or even earlier, from an idea. Or, there are brands that have stories you cannot but take them further. Siviero Maria is a gelato brand launched in Romania in August 2010, when the market could not come back after the crisis in 2008, and we decided to make the first import at the end of the season, even if the strong seasonality of the ice cream market in Romania is well known. In 10 years, we managed to be present in all the retail networks and making the name of Siviero Maria be similar to the notion of gelato; I like very much to emphasize, every time I have the opportunity, that gelato is not similar to ice cream – but it is a traditional Italian dessert, made of milk, not whipped cream, and with less fat than the ice cream with a creamier texture. Then NUK – our brand of baby products is a very dear brand – firstly because I discovered it more than 20 years ago, in Germany, when I was looking for products for our first child; so, after 15 years, when we became NUK importers in Romania it was for me a great accomplishment; but even more because it is a brand that takes me very close to my profession of physician, working together with doctors and pharmacists at its promotion. And, last but least, Hipp is a brand you cannot but love. For more than 60 years Hipp has produced menus of fruits, vegetables and meat and, more recently milk formulas of ecological quality for children. Once you enter the family Hipp, because Hipp is a family business, you are always impressed by their efforts to provide what it is more precious in the nature for the babies. But each and every brand has a story and as a marketer I like stories: the crispy rye bread Finn Crisp was launched in Finland, in 1952, during the Olympic Games from Helsinki, as the official bread of the event. The fruit syrups YO, a brand launched in Austria in 1956 make you think of childhood and the syrup made by grandmother from real fruits.
How different is what you are doing in terms of the marketing strategy compared to a company that has its own products?
Firstly, we speak of other budgets. When a company launches its own product on the market it has an integrated plan, which includes not only the product development costs, but also the marketing budgets related to the launch and the support of the brand at least the first years after the launch. But it does not always happen at the entry on the new market, even if it would seem logical. Most brands prefer a less risky path: with prudent investments and to the extent they see the first results, they decide to invest more. And we have to show them there is potential sometimes within very low budgets. This is why creativity is very important. Then, in the case of many multinational companies there are already marketing plans prepared that must only be adapted to the Romanian market. Some can adapt, some cannot, because we have a consumer, a “persona”, in some cases, completely different or merely because we are finding ourselves in another moment of the brand evolution on the market and then we have to find the way to get to the consumer, without giving up the promotion guidelines set up by the brand. And, last but not least, we have to accept the fact that these brands are not ours – and that we can even lose them, out of different reasons – some even independently of our actions, such as their strategy changes or merely mergers and acquisitions of companies that are completely changing the situation (we had large brands in the portfolio that were bought by the companies already present in Romania, and that, after the purchase, were taken over by their subsidiaries from us, which is totally normal). This is why our first promotion line is and will be in-store, where the promotion is directly to the consumer and where we can also see the result immediately.
How has the consumer changed during these months?
The consumer of our products completely changed their life style or maybe not necessarily changed, but they had to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Probably they are waiting for this period to end and perhaps they will go back to their former lives, but we will find out later on to what extent. Maresi has mainly premium products in its portfolio, that are addressing to an educated consumer, concerned about what they eat and about the environment. And 2020 completely changed the habits of this type of consumer: they started to eat more at home – because they do no longer travel as they used to, they no longer eat out as they used to and they can no longer meet their friends outside their house, as they used to. But they are very willing to adapt, they are educated, and they are ready to learn, ready to experiment and they are not giving up having and using products of a certain quality.
Which are the challenges you are facing now?
If we talk about the marketing challenges the most important is the challenge to communicate efficiently with the consumer under these new conditions. Because we still have to communicate online more, where the news about the pandemic and the vaccine keeps our lines busy. But I believe this is not the only challenge of 2021. Because the second wave of the pandemic brought with it also a decrease of everybody’s optimism. We no longer hope it will go away, because it is clear it will take a while and we have to accept it and to adapt. And it is clear it will affect us from more points of view: we will change our behaviour and in terms of some aspects, the change will be final (we just don’t know where exactly) we will consume more responsibly no matter if it is out of the fear of tomorrow (because we cannot ignore the large number of people who lost their jobs) or out of responsibility towards ourselves (health must become a priority), we shall inform more also about more topics and I believe we will start to make plans both in the short and in the long run that we will fight to complete.
Which are the lessons you have learned during this year?
The most important one is the lesson of ongoing learning. The lesson of not considering that if you have worked on a market for 20-25 years you know everything. Because when a crisis or a pandemic comes everything changes. Because suddenly tomorrow you can no longer do what you did today, even if it seemed natural.
What trends do you think will we see on the medium term in marketing, FMCG and retail?
I think that the online will get more and more power, both in marketing, and in sales. So, we have to rapidly learn its new rules and to understand them well! And be prepared for a permanent change.
How will the market change and the consumer along with it?
The market and the consumers change and they have always changed. We never stayed put, perhaps in the last period the changes were quicker, and took some interesting turns provided by the external factors. For us it is very important not to lose the relation with the consumer. Because now, more than ever, the marketing is about the consumer.
Around the World in 30 Maresi brands
Maresi Romania brought 30 brands from all over the world on the local market, covering extremely different areas, varying from sweets, baby food, pasta or frozen or refrigerated pizza to detergents. These are the main brands in the Maresi portfolio and where they come from.
Translation Supported by AB Traduceri